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Journey Without End - Sermon on Luke 9:51-62

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Jesus time was short on Earth. Even now following him is not always easy nor convenient. But it is nevertheless rewarding. 

Please listen to the sermon rather than read it.  The delivered sermon is often considerably different than the sermon notes which are included for convenience below.  

Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley. 

June 26, 2016- 6th Sunday after Pentecost

"Journey Without End".  Text is from Luke 9:51-62

Click here for sermon audio

 



Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

Good morning to you my sisters and brothers, saints and sinners, disciples of Christ and children of God.

Let the dead bury their own dead.  No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.  These sayings of Jesus seem particularly hard and unsympathetic responses for people who simply want to enlist in the life that Jesus is offering. Here they have had the call to change their lives and following the Lord, and all they want is closure on their old lives, and this one who they would follow seems to be making it especially hard on them. How would that make you feel? 

This is a section of Luke known as the "Travel Narrative" which details the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. But make no mistake, this is just the beginning of what encompasses ten chapters of Luke. Caught in here is the beginning of that journey, when Jesus "sets his face" on Jerusalem and first encounters a Samaritan village whose residents close their doors on Jesus.    

In order to understand the encounter with the Samaritan village, it might help to have some historical context.  There is a centuries old enmity between the Jews and the Samaritans owing on part to their theology, particularly with regard to whether, as the Jews believed, Mount Zion was the holy place and the center of worship, for they in fact, built this great temple, or whether it was Mount Gerizim, where the Samaritans believed God's presence was concentrated. In fact, these minor theological differences, created such a chasm between the two peoples that the Jews considered the Samaritans in some way worse than Gentiles, because they practiced a similar faith but did so in a heretical manner. In some ways we can compare it to the differences between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, whose differences have been the cause of numerous wars and conflicts over the years. 

A 12 km long journey takes you to the top (fort)

So while Jesus is traveling through this country of the Samaritans, maybe we shouldn't be surprised that in one village, they completely reject him, this traveling Jewish holy man and his companions, lest they start trouble in their midst or become accomplices to this revolutionary message that this Jesus of Nazareth is proclaiming. Nevertheless, the beloved brothers John and James, who have recently been given great power by the Lord, an ability to create miracles are seeing this as an opportunity to test those powers, as Elijah once did, by raining down fire upon this offensive village.  

Jesus, of course, rebukes them for even suggesting it. He's not here to expose those who would reject him, but to carry the good news to those that would hear it. And they move on to a different village, presumably still in Samaria. Indeed, any condemnation one would have about Samaria or the Samaritan people based on this one village would be misdirected, for it is not long later that Jesus tells the parable about the Good Samaritan, once more turning the tables on what we expect his followers to believe versus the reality that Jesus is one who intentionally travels to Gentile and Samaritan lands because he is not just the savior for the children of Israel, but one who is there for all people, that he his mission to the people on the margins crosses ethnic and class boundaries; and his followers would do well to remember that. 

Of course, along the way following the rejection by the Samaritan village are three encounters with those that wish to follow Jesus, and like the call stories of the disciples, there is an immediacy necessary in that call. And furthermore, the gravity of what it means to follow Jesus can be discouraging.  To the first person Jesus tells allegorically that unlike foxes and birds, he has nowhere to call home. That the Way, as Luke calls it later in Acts of the Apostles, is also the same word that translates as Road.  That following Jesus is a continuous journey. 

The next two would-be followers only want to create closure in their lives, but Jesus' words would discourage them from focusing on the past and putting their hearts forward. God has made the decision to become a human being, and each second matters in that decision. Jesus will have moved on the way to Jerusalem by the time the father is buried or the family's goodbyes are said. To follow Jesus is to maintain perseverance that Jesus is everpresent on one's mind. 

We may find Jesus' words harsh or uncaring. Not bury our dead? Not say good bye to our loved ones? But Jesus' call to let go of their lives is not a call to abandon the good things one's lives, but to place a life of following Christ into context. That each second in that time makes a different.  We who live in the twentieth century have, really, no concept of the passage of time in Jesus' day. 

What does time mean for people without smartphones, where messages were generally delivered by word of mouth via traveling neighbors? When the most common mode of transport was one's two feet? How does the immediacy of writing a document compare with hand scribed lettering written with care on papyrus scrolls? Jesus could not stand and wait around for these people to put their lives in order. 

The work of following Jesus is not one that is done when one can fit it into one's schedule or at a convenient time when other things are out of the way. We bring Jesus into everything we do. And if that act of following Christ conflicts with other things in our lives, then we have to reexamine our priorities. If we have to set aside our love of God and love of neighbor in order that we may engage in some activity, then that activity is something that needs to be reexamined. 

Being a follower of Jesus Christ is a lifestyle choice that intersects and becomes a part of every single moment of our day and night, every activity, every decision, ever interaction, from friends, family, work, vacation, health, money, and politics. Our days can be full of work from sunup to sundown, or we may be retired with ample spare time, we may be in an office or on jobsites or in a hospital, school or sports arena. But in our choice to follow the Way of Jesus Christ, our God is remains with us in everything we do, infusing every detail of our work lives and home lives, blessing every moment that we live. 

How does that look to structure our lives around being a disciple of Jesus Christ...being a witness to the good news that he has brought us, being a proclaimer of the happiness that Jesus has been a part of our lives? Well, for much of our time, it may look a lot like life already is, because living in Christ is all about being filled with the Spirit and letting the natural inclination to do right and be kind to others guide us. But other times it means responding to impulses like anger and resentment and remembering that even as we are the beloved children of God so are those that we are dealing with. It means giving in to the reality that our God is a God of all people, and that we, no longer bound by the weight of being the center of the universe can now pour out that love that has filled us up. 

We open our doors and welcome Jesus, and we don't worry about someone else's decision to close themselves to him. With Christ as our light, it means that every moment is precious, every second that we spend is sacred. That no matter where this journey takes us, through what villages and lands, when we follow Christ we do so with a trust that Jesus leads us to things that are enriched by his gifts and his grace and filled with good news of a destination that is one that, with his promise of salvation, will bring us into the comfort of God, who loves us, unconditionally, for all time. 

Amen. 

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