Committing to Discipleship: Sermon on Luke 9

Sermon on Luke 9:51-52

By the Rev. Anna Doherty

 13041435_1159982794033037_1825211134944730220_oJesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.

 With those eight words, the entire tenor of Luke’s gospel changes.

Up until this point in Luke’s gospel, Jesus has calmed a storm, healed a woman, raised a girl to life, cast out demons and fed multitudes.

And then, in today’s gospel, Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem,

and for the next ten chapters of Luke, Jesus is on a journey that leads directly to his crucifixion and death on a cross.

Jesus continues to heal people, he teaches, tells parables and performs miracles, all while he makes his way towards the city where he will die.

But from the moment when Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem, the urgency of what he is doing in the world become even greater.

For Jesus, from the moment he begins his journey to Jerusalem,time is running out.

This sense of urgency and unrelenting commitment is what drives today’s gospel lesson.

It is difficult for us to understand Jesus’ frankly unpastoral responses to the people who wish to follow him.

Especially Jesus’ response to the man who wishes to bury his father, or the man who wishes to say goodbye to his family….

Jesus doesn’t seem to have time or patience for the normal, loving acts of human life.

And Jesus’ words can be especially painful to those of us who understand part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus…

to care for the dying, or our family members or our children.

It’s not as if choosing to care for an aging parent is antithetical to the gospel—it is following Jesus, in a very real and hands on way.

And so we hear Jesus’ words today almost as a rebuke.

As if the ways in which we choose to show love to the most beloved people in our lives isn’t good enough…

or part of what it means to follow Jesus.

This is not what Jesus means.

Jesus isn’t telling us not to show love and care to our family and beloved people in our lives.

But what Jesus is saying is, when it comes to following Jesus, there needs to be a sense of urgency and of unrelenting commitment.

Because this is a journey of discipleship that makes its way towards Jerusalem.

And there is not a minute to lose.

Our world needs to see and know the presence of God now, this moment; there isn’t a moment to lose.

We can see signs of the urgent need for God’s kingdom all around us.

People are dying from violent, hate-filled acts.

We are destroying our planet, God’s own creation.

God has blessed us with abundant resources and yet people are hungry, cold, unable to feed or care for themselves and the people they love.

That’s why Jesus says such shocking things,

as a way of declaring the urgency and commitment that the life of discipleship demands:

“Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

The need of the world is too great for us to not proclaim God’s kingdom this moment, right now.

Otherwise we will simply go on burying the dead.

It’s important to recognize that while Jesus’ words convey a sense of urgency and the deep level of commitment that discipleship demands of us…

they don’t convey a sense of retribution, or opposing those who stand in our way.

The inhospitable Samaritan village will not welcome and provide for Jesus on his journey towards Jerusalem.

In Jesus’ day, there was conflict and distain, sometimes even violence,

between the Samaritan and Jewish communities, even though they believed in the same God.

The root of the disagreement between Jews and Samaritans stemmed directly from their beliefs about the location of God’s dwelling place.

Jews believed that God dwelt in God’s temple in Jerusalem,

and the Samaritans believed that God dwelt on top of Mt. Gerizim in Samaria.

For Samaritans to welcome Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem, would have been almost anathema to what the Samaritans believed about God.

It is thus not surprising that the Samaritan village doesn’t welcome Jesus;

they are fundamentally opposed to the idea of journeying to Jerusalem in the first place.

And yet, despite the importance of what Jesus is called to do…

he doesn’t seek vengeance on those who oppose him.

Even though there isn’t a moment to lose in declaring God’s kingdom,

Jesus rebukes James and John for wanting to send fire upon the disobliging Samaritans.

Sometimes we have a tendency to confuse urgency and commitment with a sense of moral superiority…

that we ourselves are somehow exempt from the law or our own standards of behavior when it comes to those who stand in our way.

And let’s be honest, it is easier to do this when the people who stand in our way are different from us.

It’s easier for us to be a loving disciple towards our family and friends

than to be a disciple to the person who disagrees with us or even offends us.

Perhaps this is part of what Jesus means also, in his harsh words to those who wish to follow him today.

The urgent need to make God’s kingdom known in the world is not just for the people who we know and love.

We are not called to simply bury our father or lovingly greet our family.

We are called to a discipleship that is meant for everyone, even those who are different.

We have a tendency sometimes to think of people who are different from us as somehow less than us,

less deserving than we are, and at it’s worse, less than human.

Like a shooter who kills 49 innocent people because of their sexual orientation.

Or politicians who would seek to exclude people because of their lifestyle, ethnicity or religion.

Or James and John wanting to rain fire upon a Samaritan village who won’t accommodate their journey to Jerusalem.

Jesus has always been about ending the cycles of fear and oppression that haunt human life.

The moment when we seek to add to the violence and harm in this world, we are confusing Jesus’ mission with our own desire to control what we ourselves fear.

And our sense of urgency and commitment becomes about us, rather than about making God known in the world.

Jesus has set his fact towards Jerusalem.

He’s on an urgent mission to make God known and it is a mission that demands deep commitment from its followers.

So deep, in fact, that Jesus is about to die for the sake of it.

Jesus goes to Jerusalem to be unjustly tried, brutally tortured, and painfully killed for the sake of God’s kingdom on earth.

Jesus’ response to the frightening forces of this world is not to try to control or defeat them

but instead to accept, love, and have compassion…even to the point of death.

And of course, within this place of fear and death, God enters in and raises Jesus to new life.

Into our places of darkness and fear, God dwells with us and brings us to new life on the other side.

The way to make God’s kingdom a reality on this earth, it seems, is not control, exclusion, violence or fear…

…but compassion, love, and trust.

And new life will come of it.

This is the mission that is so urgent.

Jesus will call his followers to commit themselves in the deepest possible way to what it means to be a disciple.

Have compassion on others, love and trust in God.

It’s that simple, and that difficult.

And there is not a moment to lose.