There is, in some circles even among Christians, a belief that once someone gives their life to Christ, then life will be great and all of their problems will disappear as they bask in the light of God’s amazing love. But is that what Jesus said? I don’t think so and this morning I want to challenge that assumption because I think Jesus challenged it in a very clear way.
Today we’re going to be reading from Luke 9 and, if we were to read the entire chapter of Luke 9, we’d see hints that there really is a cost to following Jesus. Back in Luke 9:23-24 (NIV) Jesus said this: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.” That kind of puts a different twist on things, does it not. Jesus says that following him means taking up the cross. It means denying yourself some of the things that you want. It means giving up your life as you know in the hopes of gaining something better even if you don’t know exactly what that is. There is a cost to following Jesus.
This morning I want to talk about that cost because that’s an important consideration for anyone who wants to be a Christ follower. To do that I want to use two short stories in Luke 9. The first one is Luke 9:51-56 (NIV) which says this:
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.
The most important verse for our purposes is the very first one which says, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” What that’s referring to is Jesus’ journey toward Jerusalem. Until now in the gospel of Luke, Jesus and his disciples have done most of their ministry in Galilee which is in the northern part of Judea. It’s the area where Jesus grew up.
But now he’s headed south to Jerusalem. Why? Because Jesus knows that he needs to go to the cross and that he will find the cross in Jerusalem. Jesus’ life is coming to an end. Good Friday and Easter are just over the horizon. God’s plan to pay for the sins of all humanity is beginning to unfold in earnest.
Jesus knows that. Do you think he’s looking forward to it? I doubt it. He understands that death by crucifixion is horribly painful and demeaning. No one wants to suffer that much. But Jesus knows his role as the Messiah and what he must do. And so he heads for Jerusalem.
I want us, however, to note the adjective that Luke uses to talk about Jesus’ attitude during this whole thing. Again he writes, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” He set out resolutely. That means that he set out purposely, determined and in an unwavering matter. He knew where he was going. He knew the price he would pay for going there. He knew what to expect but he did it anyway. Why? Because that was his ultimate purpose in life. It is why he was born, so that he could die to pay the price of all of the sins of humanity for all time.
His journey through Samaria was an interesting one. It seems that he was not welcomed there because he was going to Jerusalem and racism was just as common then as it is now. The Samaritans did not like the Jews so that did not put Jesus in their good books. Jesus was treated so poorly, in fact, that the disciples asked if they could rain fire on the Samaritans to destroy them but Jesus said, “No.” They just made their way to Jerusalem.
On the road to Jerusalem, Jesus meets three men who want to become his disciples, who want to follow him. They have probably heard all about Jesus. By now, he’s become well known because of his teaching, healing and the miracles that he was known to perform. So, he was quite the rock star. Lots of people wanted to follow him, to jump on the Jesus bandwagon. Let’s find out what happens to these particular three.
We read about the first man in Luke 9:57-58 (NIV) which says, “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’”
Here’s a man who thinks he’s ready to follow Jesus. He wants to be associated with the amazing man who is travelling around the county side drawing huge crowds who want to hear him and see him and touch him. Like I said, Jesus was the rock star of his day. But this man who wants to follow Jesus, does he want to really be a disciple of Jesus or is he just a groupie?
To find out, Jesus tells him what to expect. He says, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Note that he doesn’t actually ask the man any questions. He just gives him an idea of what anyone should expect if they really want to follow Jesus. Jesus tells him that at least the foxes and birds have a place to lay their heads at night. “But don’t expect that if you want to follow me.”
What Jesus is doing is challenging the man’s expectations. He’s saying that part of following Jesus is self-denial. Those who want to follow Jesus must be ready to give up somethings that they want. They must be willing to give of themselves, of their time, of their talents, of their money And not only must they be willing to give some of these things. They must be willing to give them sacrificially.
There’s another similar story in the gospel. In Mark 10 is the story of a rich young man who wanted to know how he had to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer to him is found in Mark 10:21 (NIV). He said, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
The man’s response is found in Mark 10:22 (NIV): “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” He went away sad because he could imagine giving up all of his creature comforts to follow Jesus. That was too much of a sacrifice for him.
You know that we are blessed here in Canada. There are no significant costs to being a Christian. Oh, I know that there are those who like to claim that we are a persecuted minority in a sea of secularism. But honestly, any suffering that we face as Christians in Canada is dwarfed by what is happening to other Christians around the world.
Today, Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. I was reading an article the other day about how bad it is getting especially in Asia where it is estimated that one in three Christians faces persecution. We’ve all heard about the two Canadians, Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who have been held hostage in China for more than six months. They’re being held simply because their Canadians. But China is also currently actively persecuting 50 million Chinese Christians. That’s about half of the Christians population in China. By the way, did you know that the Church in China is exploding. If the current rate of growth continues, by the year 2030, China is expected to have the largest Christian population in the world.
Christianity in China isn’t burgeoning because people expect that Jesus will give them an easy life. They totally understand that while foxes have dens and birds have nests, that the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. And they’re willing to take on that challenge quite literally sometimes because they understand what it means to be devoted to the point of self-denial.
The man who wanted to follow Jesus did get it and so he left disappointed. Each of us has to face that decision too. What are we willing to give up, what creature comforts and securities, for the privilege of following Jesus? Remember that foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.
DON’T WAIT, DO IT NOW
Let’s have a look at the second man. We read about him in Luke 9:59-60 (NIV): “He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’” Woe, that sounds pretty insensitive, doesn’t it? Does Jesus really expect the man to leave without even attending his own father’s funeral?
Actually, he doesn’t. Do you remember how I’m always harping on the context of the biblical writings? This is one of those where we really have to understand the context. Here it is. The reality is that the man is not being asked to miss his father’s funeral. In fact, there is no indication here that the father is anything but alive and well. What this man is saying is that he will follow Jesus after his father has died. Maybe there is a family business that requires the son’s attention. Maybe they farm together. Who knows? Whatever the reason, the son does not feel he can leave his father right now. But when he does die and after the son has buried the father, then he will follow Jesus.
Jesus’ response is clear: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” With this response, Jesus is saying two things. One of them is easier for us to understand than the other. Let’s start with the easier one. What Jesus is telling the man is that if he wants to follow Jesus, then he has to start now. Why wait until your father has died. “If you really want to follow me,” says Jesus, “do it now.” But note the way that Jesus said it. He doesn’t actually tell the man that he has to physically follow him to Jerusalem. What he told him is that, if he wants to follow Jesus, he has to proclaim the kingdom of God.
Does he have to be with Jesus to do that? No. Does he have to go to Jerusalem to do that? No. Can he do it where he currently lives and works? Of course he can. And I think that’s Jesus’ point. We don’t know where the man lives and works but wherever that is, he can still proclaim the kingdom of God. Wherever he lives, there are people nearby that need to hear the message of Jesus.
That is just as true of us as it was of him. Wherever we are, there are people around us who a hungry for a word of hope, who need the strength and courage and healing that comes from faith in Jesus Christ. We all know people who need to hear about the love and mercy and compassion that is available to everyone through Jesus. Our job is to share that good news with them.
That’s the first point, that we can proclaim the kingdom of God whenever we can to whoever we can. The second point is one that is more difficult. Jesus is telling the man that if he wants to follow him, then Jesus has to be his highest priority – even higher than his family. That’s a tough one for a lot of people.
But I know that that’s the way it works in our family. Ruth knows that my relationship with her comes second to my relationship with Jesus. And I know that I’m also second place on her list of relationships. We’re okay with that because that’s the way God intends it to be. Does that mean that Ruth is not important to me and that I’m not important to Ruth? No. It just means that we understand that Jesus comes first, that faith comes first.
If you really love your family, then you need to put Jesus first because when you do you become a better spouse, parent, grandparent, child, brother or sister. Putting Jesus first and living the way that he wants you to live benefits not only you; it benefits all of those around you and especially your family that you love. Making Jesus your first priority is a win win for everyone. So let the dead bury their own dead. You go and proclaim the kingdom of God.
Let’s take a look at the third man. We read about him in Luke 9:61-62 (NIV): “Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’” At first glance, it sort of sounds like the previous man who wanted to go back to his family but it’s really not because the reason is different.
The issue that Jesus detects with this third man is that he is stuck in the past. Did you hear what Jesus said? He said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and LOOKS BACK is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” If you want to follow Jesus, you can’t spend your time looking back. You have to focus on looking forward.
I must confess that I’ve never plowed a single furrow in my whole long life but I’m always amazed at how straight the rows in the fields are when the corn or the beans or the wheat or whatever start to come up out of the ground. I have enough trouble getting my tomato plants straight in my little vegetable garden. But the farmers in the congregation will totally get this. When you are driving your tractor and planting your seeds where do you look? I can only imagine that you look forward. That’s because if you looked backward, you’d probably go off the right of the left and you won’t get a straight row.
I do know that planting straight rows is a real art, so much so that during fairs and plowing matches, farmers compete to see who can plow the straightest rows. And to win one of those competitions is a really big deal.
About the only thing I can really relate this to is riding my mountain bike on a narrow single track path in the woods. With trees on either side, you can’t look back because even a slight glance backward could mean that you miss a root or a rock on the path and, if you do that, pretty soon you’re wrapped around a tree.
The point is that to follow Jesus is to look forward toward what he calls us to do. It does no good to focus on the past because you can’t change it. Maybe you’d like to. All of us have things in the past that we wish we would have changed. But the past is the past. While you may be able to learn from it, you can’t change it.
The Church is often guilty of that. So many congregations dwell on the way things used to be. They remember when times were good and the churches were filled with people. And in communities like Cottam, the church was the centre of the community. And people look back at that and wish they could go back there. But we can’t do that as a church any more than we can do that as individuals. So churches have to ask themselves what they really want to do. Or rather, they must seek to discern what God wants them to do.
Here at Cottam United Church we’re trying to move forward. We’re trying to reach out in the community in new ways, to share the gospel message in ways that make sense today. That’s one of the main reasons for the prayer garden that we are going to start in the fall. We want to move forward in partnership with our community. That’s also why we are looking at hiring a family minister, to help us reach out to the many new families that have moved to Cottam in the past few years. That’s why it’s so important to help with the other projects in our community, such as Murchadha House. Rick and I have been talking a lot lately about something called incarnational theology. What that means is that we start sharing the gospel by reaching out to our community in real and practical ways. We show, by what we say and do, the difference that Jesus makes in our lives. What that can do, if we do it well, is open the door to plant seeds in the hearts of people who otherwise would not have given the Church a second thought.
But we can’t do that if we keep looking back and wishing that things could just return to the way they used to be. They’re not going to. Jesus tells us that there is only one way to go and that is forward. And that is why he says that, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God”
To the first man Jesus said, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” To the second man he said, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And to the third man he said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God”
Jesus asks all of us the same question. He asks if we are really ready to follow him because there will be a cost. Following Jesus will not be the instant ticket to a sweet life that people think it is. There can be a cost that we need to be willing to pay because it is so worth it. For as we also read in the Bible in Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV): “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
I can do all things through him who
gives me strength. That’s been my experience and the experience of countless
other Christians throughout the ages. Jesus is asking all of us to follow him
regardless of the cost. And I would ask all of you to consider saying, “Yes,”
because I know that you will never regret it.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Your love abounds, O God, and your mercy thunders. You are the one who created us, who redeemed us and who sustains us every day of our lives. We offer our thanks for your many blessing, blessings that we know and even those which we have forgotten.
We thank you for the strength and peace that we have through faith. Many things are subject to change. Emotions, feelings, and circumstances are can vary from day to day, moment to moment. But you are constant and faithful. We are never alone for we live in your world. When the circumstances of life bring us down, you build us up. When all around us falters, you give us consistency and a firm resolve. Help us to always look to you and know that all is well because your Holy Spirit lives within us.
We also give thanks for Canada. With Canada Day coming up tomorrow, we remember that we enjoy freedom. We enjoy prosperity. We enjoy the security of property and person. Sometimes we take our privileges for granted but help us truly appreciate all that we have. Bless our leaders and inspire them by your Spirit. Bless, also, the thousands of Canadian soldiers who are overseas defending this land and its people in far away places. We pray especially today for the families of the two medics who paid the ultimate sacrifice yesterday in their efforts to save others. We cannot be grateful enough for them.
Our lift up in prayer those who mourn this day. We pray especially for the family and friends of Lou Parish who was known to many people in our congregation. May they find peace through these difficult times through the support of the community, We pray also for those who mourn for any other reason, for loss of jobs or security or relationships or health or innocence. Bring hope and healing to whatever sorrow people hold.
We remember those who are sick this week at home or in hospital, especially Mary and Sharon. Bless them, O God, with your Healing and Holy Spirit. Touch all of us in those places where we need you the most.
Holy God, we are so thankful for
the confidence the we can place in you. You never ignore our prayers, or reject
our cries for help. You hear us and honour our heartfelt petitions. Your love
for us is so absolute that we can hardly comprehend it. We want to trust in
your love more confidently, without doubt, having complete faith that you will
never fail to deliver us. We raise these prayers in Jesus’ holy name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
June 30, 2019 / Pentecost 3 / Proper 8
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Luke 9:51-62; Galatians 5:1, 13-15
CALL TO WORSHIP
Remember, O people, the wonders of the Lord;
Remember, O people, the grace of the Lord;
Remember, O people, the love of the Lord;
Let us rejoice in the presence of God as we come to worship.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of Love and Joy, you are our heavenly Father and we come to you seeking refreshment and renewal. We hunger after the things of your Spirit. We rejoice that we have a secure relationship with you. Keep us confident that you are near, hearing our prayers and responding to our needs. You love is unfailing. Your grace is endless. We praise you, O God, from the depths of our hearts and thank you for your constant presence. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
God of Grace and Mercy, we seek your forgiveness for we have sinned. We are aware of the way that we have treated others. We have hurt them with our words and actions, just as they have hurt us. You forgave us when we did not deserve it. You have called us to extend the same mercy to those who have caused us pain whether or not their actions were intentional. Your love is unconditional and limitless. That is the same love that we are called to show towards others. Enable us to keep your example of forgiveness before us at all times.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The mercy of God is so amazing that nothing can stand in the way of forgiveness when we truly and humbly confess our sins to God. Like the perfect parent, God always welcomes us home and gives us healing, rest and peace.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
For gifts given, for lives dedicated, for generousity shown towards others, and compassion which stands strong and gentle in the face of great suffering, we offer our thanks. Give us the wisdom to use all that we possess for the glory and grace of your realm. Amen.
May the love of God which is beyond our understanding keep our minds active, our hearts gentle, our hands strong and our lives eternal. Go in the name of Jesus Christ to love and serve all those whom we will meet in his Holy Name.