Sermon Archives

Sunday, June 26, 2016
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8, Year C)
The Reverend Andrew Van Culin, Rector
On Christian Discipleship

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

On the surface of things, today’s is a hard and confusing lesson. 

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;
 but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

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

“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back
is fit for the kingdom of God.”

(Excerpts from Luke 9:51-62)

At least he doesn’t accept the recommendation of James and John and rain down fire on the Samaritan village they have entered for their lack of reception and hospitality.

Fortunately, he rebuked James and John for their suggestion and merely leaves us with perplexing words about foxes and birds, and burials and plows.  Not much better, but I’ll take what I can get!

On the surface of it all, this text appears to make no sense because it seems to have little, if any, connection with the person of Jesus we come to know elsewhere in the Gospels.  To complicate matters even further, it appears here that Jesus contradicts himself.  We should be quick to recall that, only last week, Jesus sends the Gerasene demoniac home after he has healed him.  So much for not going back and only looking ahead!

And yet, the apostles before us held onto this troubling story, not only as a story of James and John, but fundamentally a story about Jesus, and if a story about Jesus, then also a story about us, his disciples and companions along the way.

So let us begin.

At the heart of our struggles is our understanding and experience of Jesus.  Among the more well-known quotes of Jesus, and one of the more formative as well, is that Jesus, the Son of Man, came not to be served, but to serve.  Couple this with his healings and forgiveness, and we may be left with a meek and mild Jesus serving at the pleasure of those around him, a divine butler of sorts, striving to serve the diverse and ever changing needs of those around him.

You can see, I am sure, how tempting, alluring eve, such an understanding of Jesus would be – who among us wouldn’t want God to be our servant, responding to our needs and desires as swiftly as he made the waters still and the winds to calm?

And yet, such an understanding of Jesus is fundamentally miss-guided.  Yes, he came to serve, but we must ask who?  And that answer is the troubling part.  Jesus was not born of Mary, did not endure temptation in the wilderness, suffer at the hands of Pilate, or die on the cross to serve the needs and desires of humanity; he does all that he does not to serve humanity, but to serve God from whom we came.

We are confounded by todays reading and others like it when we think that Jesus is here solely for us, forgetting that, in fact, Jesus first served God, and in serving God, serves the world.

Consider, for a moment, how different the Gospels would be, were it the other way around.  We need look no further than the last couple of weeks to see how starkly different the story would be if we believe Jesus came principally to serve women and men of 1st century Palestine:

  • Two weeks ago as the Pharisee host looked with discomfort at a woman washing Jesus’ feet; out of service to his host, Jesus would have rebuked the woman, not the Pharisee;
  • Just last week, in the name of caring, Jesus would not have sent the Gerasene demoniac home, but would have received him into his boat so that they might continue on together;
  • and today, out of kindness to those he met along the way, he would have sent them home, one to bury the dead, the other to say good bye, and received them amongst his disciples whenever it was right for them.

Seldom do we have trouble accepting that Jesus came not to be served, but we often fall into the trap of thinking that Jesus came to serve us; and when we have, a lesson such as today’s becomes immensely difficult, for today’s reading is not about us, at least it’s not about how Jesus serves us

On the contrary, today’s lesson from Luke is entirely about how Jesus serves God, and in that sense, it’s also entirely about us; that is, it is about us as well as followers of Jesus and fellow servants to God.  Here in this brief exchange captured long ago along the dusty road to Jerusalem, Jesus lays out key marks of discipleship.

The first is his focus.  From the moment this passage begins as Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem, until the challenging conclusion

“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
-Luke 9:62

we are reminded that discipleship begins with our vision, and for Jesus it could be no clearer – the Kingdom of God.  This alone is his focus.  Each step that he takes is upon a path that leads only to the Kingdom of God.  Amidst all the temptations and challenges of life, Jesus lives with a remarkable clarity of vision – all that matters for him is the Kingdom that he has been called to proclaim and establish, a kingdom of justice and healing, of mercy and of grace.

Jesus is equally clear about the way to the kingdom – it goes through Jerusalem.  The path to the God’s Kingdom, must go through the streets of Jerusalem and all that they will bring – the persecution, the betrayal, the denial, the rejection; for the Kingdom of God can only be found, it can only be built through love that is willing to suffer completely for another, even an enemy and persecutor; only that love builds up the Kingdom made by God.

There is no other way.

This, too, he reminds us, is to be our vision, as well.  As disciples we are not called to wealth or comfort, or even popularity; we are called instead to join Jesus in his vision, to build and proclaim the Kingdom of God here and now.  It is our task now to proclaim this same kingdom built with justice and healing, with mercy and grace, and ultimately with sacrificial love; and it is equally our task to build it within our own lives.  Like skilled craftsmen at work building an ancient cathedral, it is our task to attend to our small area, building and perfecting it as well as we can, trusting that others are doing the same around the corner or far overhead.

Jesus reminds us as well that this Kingdom, God’s Kingdom, confronts the world in a way that stands in stark contrast to the powers of the world and the passion of human emotion.  As Saint James and Saint John encourage wrath and destruction in the face of humiliation and disrespect, they reflect the ways of both worldly power and human emotion.  No one in the ancient world would have been surprised by a God who brought down fire upon a community that did not receive Him; and few even today would even consider challenging a friend who, after being slighted by a stranger, rained down fire in the form of a Facebook screed or icy cold shoulder.  Ancient or modern, it doesn’t matter – it has always been socially acceptable to respond to rejection, humiliation, and disrespect with wrath and anger, be it human or divine.

But not so for Jesus.  In his stern rebuke to James and John, Jesus resets our way in the face of natural human conflicts.  No longer is anger, wrath, or destruction the way forward.  No, in the new Kingdom, the way through conflict is, again, the way through Jerusalem. 

There is no other way in the Kingdom of God.

Today’s lesson is a troubling lesson, to be sure; but for reasons other than we often think.  Indeed, today’s Gospel lesson is troubling, not because it presents an incongruous Jesus, but because it presents such a challenging understanding of discipleship.  Here in these few verses, Jesus reminds us, his modern day disciples, just what it is that discipleship actually means. 

He reminds us that discipleship begins with our vision, setting our vision on the Kingdom of God and nothing else.  He reminds us, also, that the path to that Kingdom only and always goes through Jerusalem – there is no other way.  He reminds us, too, that this Kingdom is built on service – service not to ourselves, nor even primarily to the world, but service first and always to God.