Sermon for Pentecost 6
Luke 9:51-62 + 1 Kings 19:14-21 + Galatians 5:1,13-25
“Yes, Dad, but first, let me…” whatever. Parents hear it all the time. Some direction is given, some instruction, some command to “Do this or that,” and the child responds, “Yes, but first…” Sometimes the command isn’t that urgent and it’s OK to let them do that other thing first. Sometimes, the command is urgent. “Come on! You’re in the middle of the parking lot. Come over here by me!” “Yes, but first…” Very dangerous. “There’s a fire in the house! Come on! Let’s go!” “Yes, Dad, but first, let me just…” No. There’s no time for “let me just” anything. There’s danger and death if we linger in this burning house.
Our Gospel today is full of followers of Jesus who wanted to follow him, but who also wanted to add a, “Yes, Lord, but first…” to their following. But Jesus hammers it home to them in some pretty strong language that it doesn’t work that way in God’s Kingdom. His call is urgent. There is no “Yes, Lord, but first…” when it comes to following Jesus.
NOT REVENGE FIRST
Notice where Jesus was headed in our Gospel. As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Resolutely, with his face fixed on the Holy City, still many days’ journey away – Jesus’ road was laid out for him, the road to rejection and suffering and death. The road to the cross. Remember? In last week’s Gospel he told his disciples what was coming for him and for them.
He would take his time getting there, though. Jesus still had some preaching to do in the towns and villages along the way. He was traveling with quite a crowd, and since he couldn’t call ahead and make reservations at the Samaritan hotel, he sent some messengers ahead of him to make those reservations, but, kind of like when he was born, there was no room for them in the inn. Why not? Because Jesus, the famous Jewish preacher, was heading for the Jewish capital of Jerusalem, and the Samaritans didn’t like the Jews and the Jews didn’t like the Samaritans, and if Jesus was going to be Jerusalem’s Messiah, then the Samaritans didn’t want anything to do with him. “The people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem.”
Oh, how that angered Jesus’ disciples, James and John. There they were following Jesus, and both he – and they – were actually being rejected by someone. (Can you believe it?) Jesus took it in stride and just kept on walking, but James and John weren’t ready to keep following just yet. “Yes, Lord, but first, before we go on, before we follow you to Jerusalem… do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy these unbelievers?”
But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. That’s not how it works in Jesus’ kingdom, as Jesus’ follower. You don’t get to wait to follow him so that you can take revenge on the unbelieving world first. You don’t get to be proud or arrogant or mean-spirited toward those who are mean to you. You put up with the rejection and with the scorn, and all the pain that goes along with it. You take up your cross and bear it as you follow him. Because Jesus isn’t slowing down to wipe out the wicked before judgment day. And that’s a good thing for you! He’s come to save the wicked, to die for those who reject him, to bear the cross that men impose on him. His moving on means your salvation. So there is no, “Yes, Lord, but first, let me seek revenge” when it comes to following Jesus.
NOT COMFORT FIRST
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” That sounds like a very fine offer, but maybe a bit presumptuous. Can you volunteer to be Jesus’ disciple, to be a subject of his kingdom? It never works that way in Scripture. People who start out dead in sin can’t offer to become alive. He calls you, you don’t choose him. But even then, “I’ll follow you wherever you go…” Jesus’ own disciples promised that, too. They said they would happily drink the cup Jesus would drink. They said they would even die with him rather than disown him. But such was not the case. They were offering to follow, without knowing where that following would lead.
In their minds, and in the mind of this man in our text, was a condition, “Yes, Lord, I’ll follow you, but first…just so you know, I’m assuming there will be happiness there for me, and comfort, that it won’t be too hard.” But Jesus rips all that away in his response to that man, Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” If the Lord of Creation takes a detour around comfort and earthly happiness and stability on the road to the cross, then his followers shouldn’t expect those things as they follow him. There may not always be money in the savings account, or a dependable job, or a happy home for the follower of Jesus. He sometimes grants those things, but you don’t get to expect those things or depend on those things. He hasn’t promised any of that to his followers. What he has promised is a life like his, a life of sacrifice. There is no, “Yes, Lord, but first, I’d like some assurances of earthly comfort and happiness” when it comes to following Jesus.
NOT EARTHLY CARES AND WORRIES FIRST
He said to another man, “Follow me.” There’s the call! There’s the invitation from the Son of God! But the man 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.”
There he goes again, saying such harsh things to people. This man’s father just died, apparently, probably that same day. Now is not the time to follow Jesus. Not yet. First, he has to mourn. First, he has to take care of the funeral arrangements. First, he has to tend to his earthly responsibilities. Maybe then, after that, it would be time to follow Jesus.
Notice, Jesus doesn’t tell him that those things are wrong – to mourn, to go to a funeral, to take care of your earthly obligations. What he says to this man is that he is being called to something greater, even at this time of earthly loss. He is being called to life in God’s kingdom, the life that conquers death, the life that comes by faith in the Son of God. He is being called to follow the One who is just about to face death on the cross to remove the sting of death forever. He is being called to proclaim the kingdom of God, the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins by faith in Christ Jesus.
That can’t wait. The message of life can’t wait. You can’t set it aside while you first go back and tend to a dead body that’s now beyond human help. There are others who can bury dead bodies. There are spiritually dead people out there who don’t know Jesus and don’t follow Jesus – they have nothing to offer the world, no life to give, nothing better to do than to bury the dead, so let them do it, while you go and proclaim the word of life to the spiritually dead.
When Jesus says, “Follow me!”, there is no “Yes, Lord, but first let me tend to life’s cares and worries.” You can’t turn off your faith while you deal with the worries of this life and check your Christian life at the door. Follow Jesus, even in the midst of life’s cares and worries. That’s the time to stay closest to Jesus and his Word and Sacraments. That’s just the time to trust in him and proclaim the word of life to those around you.
NO EARTHLY LIFE FIRST
Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
But didn’t we hear Elisha make the same request of Elijah in the Old Testament lesson today? And didn’t Elijah tell him it was OK? Ah, but what did Elisha do when he went back to his family? He burned his plow, killed his livelihood – his oxen, and then fed the village with the meat. He didn’t just go back to say, “Goodbye for now, I’ll see you soon!” He went back to make sure there was no job to come back to. His heart had already said goodbye to his family. His going back wasn’t a, “Yes, Elijah, I’ll follow you, but first…” Elisha’s going back was the first step of his following.
Apparently it wasn’t so in the case of the man in the Gospel today, nor is it the case with most of us. When the man in the Gospel said, “Yes, Lord, but first,” it appears that his heart was torn, torn between following Jesus and being with his family. He thought he could follow Jesus after saying a quick goodbye to his family, and then he’d be on his way, well, soon, I mean, when it was a convenient time to leave the family. “Oh, but, they’re asking me to stay, just a little while longer. Ummm, OK, Jesus will always be there, I guess. Yes, Lord, I’ll follow you, but not right now. Not yet. Someday. When I have time.”
Jesus said, “Don’t bother following me if your heart is only halfway in it, if you’re torn between following me and keeping your earthly life with family or friends or education or career or fun. You would make an unsuitable candidate for God’s kingdom.”
He’s so demanding, isn’t he? He just won’t let anything else come first, will he?, no matter how “important” it is. That Jesus – he just insists on being all in all to his followers. Your sinful nature doesn’t want Jesus to be all in all. That part of you would much rather wallow in the mud, in that whole list of sins you heard today in the reading from Galatians. And Satan tempts you to think you can say to Jesus, “Yes, I’ll follow you, but first, let me gratify the desires of my sinful nature. Let me serve myself first. Then I’ll follow you.” But there’s danger if you wait, if you linger in that burning house. As the Apostle Paul warned in Galatians 5, those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Instead, Jesus says, “Enough with the excuses. Follow me! Follow me now and always!” Repent now! Change now! Because if you put something else first, then you’ll miss the first place to which he leads: to the cross where he paid for your sins. To the Gospel where he announces forgiveness to you for all the firsts you’ve put in the way of following him. He put you first. He put your salvation first, ahead of revenge, ahead of comfort for himself, ahead of being with his Father in heaven, ahead of all heavenly or earthly ties. He put you first because he knew you couldn’t put him first, nor did you want to. And there is your salvation. There is your comfort. Repent and trust in him!
And from his cross, Jesus calls you to follow, bearing your own cross, and there’s no, “Yes, Lord, but first…” Not now. Not now that you’ve seen what the grace of the Lord Jesus looks like. Now everything else has to fall in line with following Jesus, instead of the examples in our Gospel where following Jesus had to fall in line with everything else. Now he calls you to live by the Spirit, in all the Spirit’s fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. He calls you to break your heart away from a sin-oriented life, from an earthly-oriented life. He calls you to follow him to the mansions in heaven, by his merits alone, and to bear the cross along the way, with him there by your side. Don’t tell him, “Yes, Lord, but first…” Just follow, and trust that he knows where he’s going. Amen.