Updated: Aug 24, 2019
Sermon for June 30 2019
Texts: Micah 4:1-4; Psalm 56; 1 John 2:7-11; Luke 9:51-62
Sermon: "Where He Leads Us"
Right into the heart of enemy territory -- that is where Jesus chooses to go as he turns toward Jerusalem and all that awaits him there; enemy territory, Samaria, a place most Jewish people of that time avoid, a place where enemies have lived for centuries before the time of Jesus.
Let us feel with him and with his disciples the tension of the moment.
If it were our journey, we might see a sign that says, "Danger ahead" or "Expect rock slides" or, maybe it would be like a sign I saw again and again years ago when I traveled through the Birmingham area, "Blasting area."
If these few verses we read from Luke this morning do not blast you out of your seat, maybe they should. They do that to me.
Where is Jesus leading us? What is God up to in this, our, place? How are we doing? Are we with Jesus on his way?
I remember a time I tried to take a break from discipleship, to pretend that God could understand that the time of my life before me was difficult and that I needed to concentrate on things other than the leadership of Jesus. I had forgotten the words of Paul:
"Beloved…this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Jesus Christ" (Philippians 3:13-14).
I began telling Jesus how I would be a disciple. I was setting the terms. That's the easy way. That's the comfortable way. That is not Jesus' way.
I hope that many of you have noted that way during our study of parables in Matthew during the last eight weeks. I hope that you have seen how radical the teaching of Jesus really was and continues to be. In our lesson this morning, we certainly see that again. What lesson does that radical, even subversive way of Jesus teach us? What comfort does that give? How do we respond to teaching that blasts us out of our seats?
Let us remember: This is a pivotal point in the journey of Jesus. The journey to Jerusalem is beginning. And Jesus will lay hard teaching upon his disciples and upon all others who say they want to follow him.
In the beginning of his ministry, Jesus calls the disciples; they drop what they are doing; and they go along with him. It is a remarkable story. But the stakes are getting higher now. Jesus wants them to be prepared for the high stakes, the hard way of discipleship.
So he takes them through the villages of the Samaritans, where there are sure to be conflicts and perhaps even violence. Going through Samaria made sense. It was the shortest way from Galilee to Jerusalem. But, yes, most Jews avoided Samaria because of the centuries-old bitterness between the two peoples.
This is Jesus' way -- right into enemy territory, right into the bitterness, right into the rejection that was likely to be met. Love your enemies, Jesus has taught. Pray for those who persecute you. Invite the ones called sinners to dinner. Touch the ones called unclean people. Help the blind man to get up and teach him to see. Embrace the unwanted children.
When Samaritan villagers refuse hospitality to Jesus, disciples James and John become angry and are ready to set fire to the town. Lesson number one on this first day of the journey toward Jerusalem: that is not Jesus' way, and he is quick to tell the disciples that.
We can search for the way of Jesus right here in our own community. Our we can go to far corners of the earth. For example, the late priest and writer Henri Nouwen writes about finding God while working in the slums of Lima, Peru. He found God, he says, in the "confusing, unplanned, and often chaotic conglomeration of people, dogs, and houses" and he found God "where the hungry children play, the old ladies beg, and the shoeshine boys pick your pockets." (Seeds of Hope, 141)
"Follow me," Jesus says. And often he leads us right into the middle of Samaria, right where we don't want to be, where it is messy and confusing and not at all comfortable.
"Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" James and John wanted to know. Jesus rebuked them. That is not Jesus' way.
What is Jesus' way? Jesus illustrates with only a few words when he responds to the three unnamed people who think they want to be followers of Jesus.
They have been listening to the teachings. They are ready to commit. But Jesus tells them how it will be to follow, how it will be to be true disciples.
Hear again how it goes: "As they were going in the way, someone said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.'" Jesus responds. "Are you prepared to give up those comforts I know you like," Jesus asks. "How far will you really come with me? You know, sometimes I do not have even a pillow for my head."
To the second would-be follower, Jesus says simply, "Follow me." The second one replies, "Oh, well yes, Jesus, I want to follow you, but first I have to bury my father." Jesus asks, "How committed are you? Go now and proclaim the kingdom of God."
The third one is ready to follow but first wants to go to his home and tell friends and family goodbye. "What kind of disciple are you," Jesus asks. "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
Jesus throws out the challenge. Are you with me? Are you traveling with me in this way I put before you? Can you move away from your comfortable, predictable life even though you'd like to stay there, feel at home there, and practice your discipleship from there?
Clearly, the way Jesus calls disciples to follow is not easy. His way is a place where we may be blasted out of our comfort and complacency.
Go through Samaria. That's the first blast. Look for Jesus in the places where it's hard to go, where there may be conflict or pain or a need for healing that only you can provide in Jesus' name.
The second blast comes when Jesus says, "I'm homeless. Can you drink this cup? Can you follow me even when it means stepping out into the unknown road ahead?"
The third blast comes when Jesus says you may have to go against the way of the world around you, against the way of family traditions. Listen to this, Jesus says. "If you are going to follow my lead, you have to put me first. Go and proclaim the kingdom of God if you want to be my disciple."
The final blast comes when Jesus says to keep that hand on the plow and keep moving forward as a kingdom builder.
It is hard teaching. Go! Do! Be! Proclaim! Heal!
We want to say: "Jesus, may we pray your prayer from the garden? Will you take this cup from us? You know how hard it is for us to be your disciples."
The good news is that Jesus leads us if we follow.
Jesus speaks to us if we only listen.
And, yes, Jesus loves us, really loves us.
So first, we must listen carefully to what Jesus says lest we become faint of heart, lest we think we do not have time, lest we think that it is just too hard for us to carry out such a mission as Jesus describes. Jesus is speaking to us, the church!
And, second, we can take courage in his message: "Follow ME."
Jesus does not abandon us in the way to make this hard journey of discipleship by ourselves. And that makes all the difference.
Blasted out of our seats and into difficult work of the kingdom, we can do it -- if we keep our eyes on the prize that is ours in Jesus Christ, if we know that even if we stumble, Jesus is there to pick us up again.
So where does Jesus lead us? Is it to our Samaria? What are the comfort zones he calls to church people to leave? What is the hard work of the kingdom to which he calls us? Is it outside the walls of the place we claim as our worship space, here in the church?
Jesus will give us answers as we keep our hearts open to hear him as we study and pray together. He will show us the way. And he will lead us. May God help us to be ready and open to the call.
Let us pray together then: 'Not our way but your way is the way, Lord. Give us through your Holy Spirit the courage to persevere in the way. Fill us with the joy and peace that is ours when serving you with abandon. Amen."