Sunday, January 04, 2015

Sermon: Luke 9: 51-62 Follow Me

The buzz of Christmas is almost over. The tree might be already down. You might be glad to see the end of it. How did you spend your Christmas night? Perhaps you were with family or friends, taking things easy, enjoying the chat or what was on the telly, or maybe even playing board games. Right across the country, though, there were some hardy souls who took an early night. They set their alarm for the early hours. They got up before the scrake of dawn, and headed off to join a queue to be there for 5am for the start of the Next sale. For the sake of the bargains, everything else took second place - sleep, comfort, laziness. Maybe when they wakened they wanted to lie on, but to get the special prices, they got up anyway. They set their face, nothing (and nobody) would stand in their way.

As we rejoin Luke’s gospel at the end of chapter 9, we find Jesus with the same determination. But it’s not for sale bargains that he’s setting his face. ‘When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his fcae to go to Jerusalem.’ Earlier in chapter 9, Peter had declared that Jesus was the Messiah of God (20). Jesus then met with Moses and Elijah to discuss his ‘departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem’ (31). The time is drawing near, Jesus has an appointment with the cross, the means of his being taken up again to glory. So he sets his face toward Jerusalem.

Over the next couple of months, we’re going to go with Jesus on the journey to Jerusalem. We’ll listen in to his teaching. We’ll discover more about the kingdom of God, and Jesus the King. But today, as he begins his journey, we hear his call to follow him, to go with him to and through the cross. We’ll see what following Jesus looks like, and also see some of the different responses to Jesus.

The first response comes in verses 52-56. Jesus sends messengers ahead to get things ready for him. They’re passing through Samaritan territory, but the response isn’t good. You see, the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get on. They hated each other, because each didn’t think the other worshipped God the right way. Because Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, they ‘did not receive him.’ They don’t want to help him on his way. The guest houses suddenly have ‘no vacancy’ signs in the windows. The cafes are closing up. We don’t want your sort around here.

They see Jesus as just another Jew, another person from the group they hate. They reject him before they even listen to him. They have written him off already. Prejudice about Jesus is all too rife. Imagine the pity of the scene - the King is passing through on his way to the cross; the Saviour has come, but they all turn their backs and tell him to move on and get out.

But prejudice isn’t just something that non-Christians have. James and John jump in to give them what they think they deserve. Together they were called the Sons of Thunder, and here we see why. ‘they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ Let’s give them fire from heaven for refusing you, Jesus. But Jesus rebukes them. Following him isn’t about using and abusing power to sort people out and give them what we think they deserve. Jesus continues on his way to the cross.

On the road, we meet a variety of volunteers & conscripts. In each of the three conversations, the word ‘follow’ is used. But even though the word is used, the action doesn’t follow through. There’s plenty of talk of following, but not much actual following. Each conversation gives us a glimpse of what following Jesus looks like.

Firstly, it’s not easy or comfortable. The first man’s words sound impressive: ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ That sounds great, get him signed up, watch him follow closely. What Jesus says in reply sounds strange, but actually gets to the heart of the man’s problem. ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ (58). Jesus doesn’t move from mansion to mansion; he’s not staying in the penthouse suite of the Hilton in each town. It’s not easy, and it’s not comfortable. He has nowhere to lay his head. He’s always on the move, edging closer to Jerusalem and the cross.

Have we imagined that following Jesus is always going to be easy? Do we say we’ll follow Jesus wherever, so long as he leaves us where we are? Are there things he has called you to do, to follow him in, but you’re reluctant to take a step out? Is he calling you to go somewhere when you want to stay put? Following is not always easy or comfortable, but it’s worth it to be with Jesus.

Second, following Jesus is urgent. The first man came up to offer his services. In the second, Jesus gives the charge: ‘Follow me.’ The man gives what sounds like a reasonable answer. ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ I’ve duties to perform, rites and ceremonies to fulfil to make sure my father has a proper decent funeral. Let me do that, then I’ll go. But there’s no indication that his father is actually dead! If he had just died, his son wouldn’t be out on the road listening to Jesus. He would have been at home, already doing all those duties. What he’s really saying is - wait until my father dies, then I’ll come and follow you, if you can wait ten or twenty years... But Jesus’ reply shows that there’s an urgency to following him: ‘Let the dead bury their dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

Let those who are spiritually dead bury those who are dead. Don’t delay. Don’t hesitate. Get on with following Jesus, proclaiming the kingdom in your life and words. Have we tried to put off following Jesus? We’re happy to come to church, but hold back from making a commitment to Jesus? We’ll wait until it suits us, when we’re old & have nothing else to do. Or wait til we’re on on our deathbed it’ll be time enough then? Following Jesus is an urgent priority.

Finally, following Jesus takes determination to press on. The third man volunteers to go, but wants to say farewell at home first. After all, he doesn’t know when (or if) he’ll be back. It’s a reasonable request. But Jesus uses a ploughing picture. ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ If you’re driving a car forward, then you don’t sit looking out the back window, at where you’ve come from. If you’re ploughing, you look straight ahead, keeping your eye on a fixed point to go straight towards it. If you look over your shoulder, if you look back to see how you’ve been doing, you’ll make it crooked.

Are we in danger of looking back to the good old days, rather than pressing forward to what Jesus is calling us to now, this year, and in the future? Are we looking back to what we’ve left behind, the old way of life, the old sins that still seem attractive? Following Jesus is about pressing on, not looking back.

Perhaps you’re just getting back into the swing of things after Christmas (when you don’t know what day it is and there’s nothing but repeats on the TV). You’re wanting a ‘new you’ in the new year. You’re setting targets, resolving resolutions and establishing priorities. Jesus is calling you to follow. Following Jesus is not always easy or comfortable; it’s an urgent call; and it takes determination to press on. He doesn’t shout commands from the sideline. He isn’t pushing you from behind. He calls you to follow - to go where he is; where he has already gone. To, and through the cross, to his glory. Will you follow him today?

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 4th January 2015.

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