Posts Tagged ‘Luke 9:51-62’

Jesus What Are You Talking About 6-30-19

In this sermon, based on Luke 9:51-62, I explore several odd encounters between Jesus and potential followers.  Comparing these exchanges with other similar situations in the gospels creates a tension, as we see that the calling of God in our lives will manifest in many different ways.

You cal listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

May the grace and peace of the Triune God be yours, now and forever. Amen.

How many of you have heard the expression “Man plans and God laughs?” (Pause) How many of you have lived it? (Pause) I can’t help but think I’ve been through several periods in my life that fit this bill…but perhaps none more on the nose than an expectation I had early in my college years.

Many of you know by now that I worked at camp for a couple of summers…Ingham Lake Bible Camp…first the summer of 97, right out of high school, as I worked half time running the lawn mower around the camp, but also jumping in and forming relationships outside work hours.  Then, fast-forward a year, and in 98 I worked full-time as the maintenance director through the summer…and as that was wrapping up, and I was heading back for my second and final year of community college…I thought I had it all planned out.

I’d graduate with my associates degree, come back on staff for another summer, this time as a counselor working directly with the kids…and then I would get hired by the camp in a year round role that they support…a role that is split half time between the camp itself and the wintertime retreat season, and a local congregation in a half-time youth director role.

It was perfect right? I’m going to do God’s work…CERTAINLY God will agree with me and help that happen right? (Nod yes, moving into no). Nope…that was not what God had in mind for me…and that door slammed closed rather abruptly through the following school year…and my plans had to change pretty dramatically.

And I remember really struggling with that…wondering why it didn’t work out the way I thought it should…why God would deny this idea and this track of ministry that I wanted to follow…it made me ask a lot of questions…questions of why? Questions like “what are you doing here?” Or “Now what does this mean?” There was a sense of loss…a sense of confusion…and the complete lack of knowing where to turn…Ever experienced that in your lives?  Those questions? Those insecurities…they take a lot of forms…sometimes in the midst of the day to day that we lead…sometimes in the matters of faith that we encounter…and I can’t help but think…maybe, even in some of our encounters with the scriptures. (pause)
And that is where we are wading into today’s oddball little passage…full disclosure…earlier this week, I was messaging back and forth with a group of fellow pastors…sharing insights into the passage…and my first entry into the conversation…I really hate this text…and I do…its probably horrible for me to say it, but I find this mashup of exchanges from Jesus troublesome to say the least…I would probably even call it downright infuriating.

Because the words of Jesus are just so unexpectedly out there…and honestly almost seem contradictory to what we see and hear from him in other encounters…it’s a head scratcher…its confusing…and it makes me ask the question…repeatedly…Jesus, what are you talking about? (Pause)

First off…this whole little exchange with James and John over the Samaritan Village. Its weird from the get-go.  We hear, right away, that Jesus turns his face towards Jerusalem. Now this is unique in Luke’s gospel…an intentionality of Jesus’ goal and ultimate destination…and even though its going to take him 10 more chapters of the gospel before he finally gets there…we do see that, even now, at this point…the ultimate thrust of Jesus’ work and ministry…we could even say his very life’s purpose…is aimed at his death and resurrection in Jerusalem.

And…it begins here…as he departs from Galilee in the north heading towards Jerusalem in the south…and in order to get there…he’s either gotta go around Samaria, or he’s gotta go right through it.  And…its probably clear that relations between the Jewish people and the Samaritans was strained at best…who knows why other than general rivalry that goes back about 700 odd years or so…but they aren’t big fans of one another…and so, as Jesus prepares to enter into the village…the messengers are pretty much told off…leading James and John…two of the original disciples…2 of Jesus’ own inner circle…ask to call down fire to consume the village.

Now, at first glance, maybe Jesus’ response that puts the brothers in their place isn’t surprising…evidence of Jesus mercy…of forgiveness…but at the same time…Jesus is also the one who’ll crack a whip at people and throw tables around in an epic righteous hissy fit in the cleansing of the temple, with a claim of religious zeal for the house of God.  Sometimes we like to call this sort of thing righteous anger.  But it would seem that in THIS case…Jesus is having none of that…so Jesus…what are you talking about? (pause)

Following this…seemingly in various encounters along the road with some potential followers…we get some more craziness.  The first guy wants to follow along…we don’t know if there’s been an invitation or not…but he flat says “Jesus, I’ll follow wherever you go.” Now, while Jesus ministry took him all over the place, and was fully reliant on the hospitality of others…his response is still odd. “Fox have holes…birds have nests…the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  I can only image the guy just sorta standing there scratching his head…wondering the same thing we are.  Jesus…what are you talking about?

And the second one…this time we know that Jesus extends the invitation…same one he offered to several different disciples…one that he often says. Follow me…and guy pretty much say “Okay…I’ll follow along, but I’ve gotta go bury my father first.” And Jesus seems to squawk…apparently telling him to blow off that responsibility.  And that’s just odd.

In that culture…this was an expectation…we might even call it an extension of the law…because to honor your father and mother…which you might recall is one the commandments…that includes proper burial.  Jesus knows this…and he’s no stranger to caring for his parents either…even as he hangs on the cross he makes sure that his mother is taken care of…so…what’s up with this dead burying their own dead thing? Jesus…what are you talking about? (pause)

And then the last guy…I’ll follow you, but let me go say goodbye first…and now we have this crazy thing about plowing and not looking backwards…which…as a farm kid who’s struggled with the technique of cultivating as a teenager…I get it…but its still weird…Yes Jesus called people to follow him…and many did…but they didn’t always leave everything behind…Peter still had a house…which they frequented whenever they were in the area…so Jesus…what are you talking about? (pause)

That’s the tension that I see in this passage.  Jesus seems to be implying a sense of urgency…that his ultimate mission…his ultimate goal for the kingdom of God that he mentions a couple different times…that’s the priority…that’s number one on the list…and it sorta seems, at face value anyway…that he expects the same urgency out of those who be his followers.

And yet…as we know…when it gets right down to it…he’s alone…none of these would be followers…none of the disciples…no one else…shares his fate…except maybe a couple of insurrectionists who are hung up beside him…and yet in the midst of even that…Jesus is offering forgiveness. (pause)
So what do we do with this text today? What do we do with the tension that we find in considering Jesus’ response in these particular moments and comparing it with the polar opposite response in other situations?  And maybe, just maybe, the only thing we can do is realize that this tension reveals a truth that Jesus was fully aware of…that this life is messy…and that what applies in one situation, might not cut it in the next…or what God is calling one person into might be completely different than what God desires for the next person…even when the situations seem remarkably similar.

That’s the truth that I continue to find in scripture…I see it in my own study…I find it in honest conversation with others…its visible as we open our eyes to see that which is happening around us.  Life is messy…and its unexpected and there’s no manual…and I can’t help but think that the Bible in all its crazy back and forth glory…the Bible is honest about that.

And yet, in the midst of all this craziness…maybe we find just a touch of reassurance in the ultimate dedication that Jesus shows, even in this little passage.  He has turned his face towards Jerusalem and all that will happen there…and we hear that, not just once but twice…in fact, that’s the only explanation we have for why the Samaritans rejected him in the first place…because his face was set towards Jerusalem.

Whatever it is that God’s up to…whatever it is that Christ was accomplishing…whatever it is that the Spirit continues to empower…its moving in a specific direction and that is forward.  Maybe not at the speed that we would hope for…maybe not in the individual moments that we expect…but it is going somewhere…and whenever creation reaches that glorious day…whether it happens in our lifetime or if we have joined the ranks of the blessed saints who have gone on before us…but when we finally join with Christ in the resurrection…whatever and whenever and however that’s gonna be…when God makes good on that promise for you and for me…that promise to make everything new…I don’t think we’re gonna be disappointed.

Today we are left asking the question Jesus, what are you talking about? I don’t quite know what he’s talking about…but something tells me its good news anyway. Amen.

At the Last Minute 6-26-16

In this sermon from Luke 9:51-62, I explore several odd interactions that Jesus has with potential followers.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and Peace to you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years of regular preaching…its that I never know quite where the spark of inspiration is going to come from. This week, I was sitting in the sanctuary, pondering on the text, and the baptismal font caught my eye.

I sat there looking at it for a moment, and I found myself thinking about the various baptisms that I’ve participated in here at Underwood…and then I got to thinking about my own baptism.  Now I don’t remember it, because I was only 6 days old when it happened.

Now, that’s pretty early…typically a child is at least a couple months old before we baptize them…not because they need to be, but because logistics of lining up a date usually take about that long…but in my case, it was a little different.

At the time of my birth, Bethel Lutheran Church in Graettinger Iowa was served by Pastor Auto Reitz…he’d been there for a few years, long enough to have baptized my brother in 1974 and my sister in ’76…but by late April of ’79, he was about to leave…in fact…he had one more Sunday to go before he was done…and I was born on Monday…and I guess Mom REALLY wanted him to complete the set, so he said “If you can have him here on Sunday, we’ll get him baptized.” And so, 6 days later, I took a dip in the water…what amounts to the very last official act that Pr Reitz did at Bethel Lutheran. I was, almost literally, baptized at the last minute as far as he was concerned.

Funny enough, that’s not the only time I’ve been on the receiving end of a Pastor’s last deal. Fast forward to June of 2013, and the current Western Iowa Synod Bishop, Michael Last, was in his final days of being bishop before retiring…and if you think about it, that was right after I’d graduated seminary…in fact, to my knowledge, the last thing that Michael Last did as Bishop of Western Iowa, was my ordination…and then he was out the door.

Two very important events in my life, overseen by two different pastors, and completed at the last minute…done just before they closed the door on one thing and moved on to the next. (pause) And in today’s story, there’s a little snippet that indicates the notion that Jesus is making a transition as well…listen to our opening verse again. When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face towards Jerusalem.

This is a bit of foreshadowing to the tail end of Luke’s gospel…for the closing verses of Luke highlight Jesus’ being taken up into heaven…and important event that was followed up his resurrection, which of course followed his death on the cross…all of which happened…in Jerusalem.

And so we hear that its getting on towards time for Jesus mission on earth…his work of redeeming humankind and renewing our relationship with the Lord…its coming to head…but before it can happen, well…Jesus has to get his tail to Jerusalem.

Up to this point, he’s mostly stayed around Galilee…hanging out in his home territory in the northern part of the region…of course he does get out and about as well…moving into various area to do his ministry…to perform the healings…to teach the masses…but now at this point…as we hear…Jesus decides that its time to head south…and if you’re familiar with the region, it explains a bit. Galilee is in the north, Jerusalem in the south…but to get from one spot to the other, you’ve got to go through Samaria…it was the central region, and so you either walked right through, or you went around.

And now here’s the thing…Samaritans and Jews…well they weren’t on the best of terms. Each group saw the other as outsiders…and even though they worshiped the same Lord, they did it differently and so neither group recognized the validity of the other one…and so lets just say that their interactions with one another…which only occurred in the instances that they absolutely could not avoid…were tense at best. (pause)

But this passage marks the switch. Jesus changes gears from what he’s been doing…and now he’s intentionally on the way to Jerusalem…it just takes him a long time to get there…we’re in chapter 9 now…he’s finally make it into town on the back of a donkey at the end of chapter 19…so we see that there’s a lot of interaction…a lot of ministry still going on as he’s on the way…but from this point on, everything that Jesus is doing…everywhere he goes…Jerusalem, is the end game…that’s the goal.

But boy, aren’t there some crazy events happening while he’s on the way? First the whole deal with the Samaritan village…just what’s going on there we don’t know…only that they refuse Jesus…we don’t know why, other than because he’s set on Jerusalem…but regardless…James and John decide that the best course of action…the best way to respond to this snub…is to ask permission to call down fire from heaven and consume the town.

Just what is going on in their heads is hard to say. This event does occur between two different times when Jesus sends his followers out, empowered, in order to heal and proclaim the kingdom…the first time around its just the 12, and it occurs shortly before this…the second time, it’s a larger group, and Jesus sends them out two by two into the villages that he plans to visit on the way to Jerusalem…and it would seem, that this particular Samaritan village is the first.

Now James and John…maybe they’re just jonesing for another chance to utilize a little bit of divine power that they’ve gotten a taste of…but regardless, Jesus turns around and rebukes them…he flat out rips into them…because he knows…that the Good News…the gospel…the coming Kingdom of God is going to be met with opposition…but Jesus doesn’t chose to condemn that…Call down fire? Heck no…let them be…we’ll head on to the next town.

Now maybe this is just a bit of foreshadowing…because once Jesus gets to Jerusalem…well we all know how much opposition he faces don’t we…it gets pretty dire…but even as he’s hanging on the cross…completely innocent and yet condemned to die…he didn’t call down fire on his captors…actually he forgave them. (pause)

And so, as we see, James and John put back in their place, Jesus and his followers continue…and then we hear of three quite random encounters that occurred somewhere along the road. (pause) Now just who these random three people are, we don’t know…some think based on the different statements that are present here in Luke’s account that it MAY have been conversations between Jesus and some of the disciples…but we don’t know. It could very easily have just been three random people that he encountered…that’s a pretty common theme in the gospels as well.

But what we do know, is that three people are given something of a harsh reaction as they express interest in being a follower of Christ. I will follow you where you go…You will huh? Well, that means that you will have no home…and you will wander. (pause) Another gets the invitation but says “Well first I need to go bury my father.” Let the dead bury their own dead. (pause) And then finally, I’ll come, but let me go home and tell everyone goodbye…Looking back is pointless. (pause)
Isn’t that a little weird…the way that Jesus has reacted in these three encounters?

Because aren’t there times when we face those same choices? I think we all like having a home to go to…a place to lay down at night. And there are times when we are called to care for our loved ones…and there are times when we need to grieve their loss…And likewise, we all have relationships to maintain at home…for our lives as Christians include relationship…so just what is Jesus really talking about here? How are we supposed to respond when we hear this?

Are we called to abandon everything? I don’t know about you…but I really don’t think so…and so what do we do with this? (pause) Maybe, what Jesus is talking about here…is priorities…and doing what we are called to do. And yes, sometimes that call is to be at home with the ones that we love…or to grieve the lives that are lost….but there are also times when we are called to go out and care for the needy…or times when we are called to visit the sick…and there are times when we are called to serve at a shelter…we all face countless choices of ways to serve the kingdom of God.

And the crazy thing about all of this…and what kind of seems to be going on here in the story, is the reminder that we simply are not capable of being all things to all people all the time.  Perhaps you are called to serve God over here…but if you are doing that here, well then something is being missed over there.

For any of my fellow geek culture nerds out there…guess what…you share this trait with Superman…because his greatest burden is that choosing to help someone means not being available to help someone else. (pause)
This is simply evidence of our flawed reality…that no matter how good our intensions are…we fall short… (pause)

And so this raises the question…if this entire passage is Jesus seeming to rebuke those who have expressed a desire to follow him…then where’s the good news? Where is the hope that we find?

And the good news lies in the simple action that Jesus makes right at the beginning. He turns his face to Jerusalem. Jesus willingly and intentionally goes to the place where he knows he’s going to be tortured and killed…and he does so because he knows that this is the only way to overcome the power of sin and death in this world…those powers that are present that hinder us…those things that tie us down…those things that ultimate isolate us from God and from one another.

That’s the good news…and remember this…Luke’s gospel more than any of the others shows us…time and time again…that Jesus will always stand with the marginalized…with the isolated…and we remember that in the end…when we have reached our last minute…on that day when each and every one of us faces our judgement…we need Christ to stand with us…and because of what he has done…because of the amazing love that he holds for each and every one of us….when we need him…he WILL be standing there with us…not because he has to…but because he choses to.

He has set his face towards Jerusalem…and in doing so…he has set his mind upon you…not expecting us to be perfect…to have every answer, or provide every service…not needing us to get everything right…but asking only to follow me…knowing that at times we will fail…but when we recognize it and ask his forgiveness…his grace is big enough to provide it….this is good news for all of us…because the last act that Jesus does as part of his ministry…its for you…YOU are the recipient of what Jesus does…quite literally in HIS…last minute. Amen.