What does it mean to follow Christ? What are the expectations that are put on us as believers? What are the roadblocks we put in our own way? This past Sunday we looked at some of the opposition Jesus faced and the expectations put on disciples in order to discover what is expected of us.
Text: Luke 9: 51-62
It isn’t easy being a follower of Christ. For much of history the “world” was nominally Christian. Of course when I say world, I mean Europe and then North America, followed by the global south. However, the world has never been “Christian”. Yes, the church has existed in many countries and has enjoyed great influence over the years, but the “world” has never really been Christian.
We live in a time that as Christians we refer to as ‘post-Christendom’. This is a time when the influence of the church in North Atlantic society is waning, when whole generations have never attended church never mind knowing God.
Our passage from Luke’s gospel this morning makes several things clear. First, there are many who will reject God. For them they have no desire to hear the good news. They would rather have us steer clear of them. This is evident in the Samaritans reaction to Jesus. Now, culturally Jews and Samaritans were at odds. So when the Samaritans learn where Jesus is going they want nothing to do with him. However, we should note that Jesus was interested in them. He chose to go there. When Jesus sets his sights on Jerusalem the direct path would not have taken him through Samaria. A reminder that God’s message is for all people, even those who do not want to hear it.
James and John are a little upset by the cold reception that the Samaritans provide. They say to Jesus “Do you want us to call down fire from heaven and destroy them?”
Jesus rebukes them. He tells them know. Some older manuscripts of Luke include the following words, “You don’t know what king of a Spirit you belong to; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy human lives, but to save them.” This leads us to our second point and it tells us something very powerful about Jesus.
Jesus isn’t interested in violence. After the attacks of 9/11 a pastor told me that a member of his church came up to him and said I’ve got you covered. The member then showed him the concealed handgun he brought to church that Sunday. Last year during a chapel service Jerry Falwell Jr. encouraged students at Liberty University to get permits to carry guns. Liberty University is a Christian University.
After the violence in Orlando two weeks ago a pastor in Sacramento during his sermon indicated that the shooting was God’s will and that “they” had it coming. On top of being bad theology, statements like this are out of step with what Jesus taught about love, acceptance and violence.
There is a time when violence is regrettably required. Our police officers and armed forces are called upon to do this. Most of you know that I served as a Reservist in the Canadian Forces as an Infantry Soldier. Sometimes, the use of force is a necessary but unfortunate outcome of events. Sometimes we need to defend ourselves. However, Jesus makes it clear that he isn’t interested in destroying people. Jesus came to save people.
As the church, as followers of Christ we are also supposed to save people. To offer hope, love and life. We can’t do that if we are living in fear. We can’t do that if we are trying to hurt people. We can’t help people as Christ would if we are living outside of Christ’s love ourselves.
Which brings us to the third point. What does it look like to follow Jesus? If we go by the examples in the second half of our gospel lesson this morning it doesn’t look that appealing. Most of us would probably say, sorry Jesus but I can’t do that. I need to bury the dead, I need to say good bye to my family and I would like a pillow to lie my head on at night.
What Jesus is asking seems very out of step with our modern living. Have we as Christians gotten it all wrong? Is this an example of us picking parts of the gospel that we like and then ignoring other portions?
Jesus is using these encounters to illustrate what serving him will be like. Let’s also be clear that Jesus doesn’t say no to these people. Instead he gives them a sense of what is required, of what the demands on them might be like. We all have conditions attached to our life of discipleship. All of us have baggage that we bring with us on our journey with Jesus.
Richard Shaffer Jr writes, “The Christian journey does not demand that we reject our responsibilities to family and vocation but, rather, encourages us to see those needs in the light of our faith and through the lens of our deepening commitment to Christ.”
Jesus is telling us that things might get uncomfortable when he indicates that the Son of Man has no place to lie down and rest. When we think about where Jesus is going, that he has set he face towards Jerusalem and he knows he will die on the cross. For Jesus there is a literally sense that he will not be able to lie down and rest for he will die for our sake. This statement by him expresses his commitment to embrace the cross for the sake of the world.
What these responses of Jesus tell us is that every moment counts. That we should stop making excuses, stop worrying about getting it right. Don’t worry about figuring everything out. Don’t worry about being a perfect Christian, there aren’t any of those. Perfect Christians don’t exist, they are like Unicorns. They are a fairy tales. Instead we are all works in progress and we all have things in our life that drag us down. What Jesus is saying is that every moment counts and I need you now.
The work of the Kingdom can’t wait for you to get everything right, it needs you now. God needs you now. You were created in God’s image so stop putting up walls and making excuses and just get to it. God’s kingdom can’t wait.
We could ask the question, how do you measure your life? How do you count the days?
Friends, every moment counts. You count, you matter. What you do on behalf of God’s kingdom matters.
Folks, every moment counts. God has a claim on you, on me, on everyone outside those doors. God expects us to follow in the example of his son. To offer grace and life, even to those who will not receive us. We are not called to rebuke people or destroy them because they are different or because they are not interested. We are called to love them and care for them. To offer them grace and encouragement. The world might not be “Christian” but it is God’s and God is interested in it. God has a plan for creation and we are a part of that plan. Along the way we can expect a fair amount of rejection, there will be bumps on the road. The journey is not smooth, there will be hardships and difficult choices. However, the journey is worth it and the destination is eternity spent with our creator. Amen.