St. John's, Centreville
June 30, 2019
Proper 8 C
God of new beginnings, meet us where we are on our journey, imperfect as we are, and use us in ways we cannot imagine to make a difference in the world for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
The story is told of a funeral director who just buried the husband of a very wealthy old friend who had died after a long illness. After the graveside service, the now very wealthy widow was the only mourner to get into the big funeral limousine. She had no children and no other relatives.
During the drive home, the funeral director spoke in earnest tones to the widow. "Mary," he said, "I want to tell you something, but please don't be offended. I've been secretly in love with you all these years. That's why I never married. Because John was my friend, I never said anything about it. But now he's gone. All my life I have been a procrastinator. All my life I have been too slow about everything. But this time, I am not going to wait. So, Mary, if you should ever think of marrying again, just remember, I asked you first."
Mary looked at him, smiled sweetly, and answered, "Tom, I appreciate that very much, but John's doctor has already asked me."
Many of us are procrastinators. We think we have all the time in the world to take the trip we have always wanted to take, to visit the relatives we haven't seen in years, to get our will written and our affairs in order. It often takes something dramatic - a health scare, the death of a loved one, an accident - to make us realize we don't have all the time in the world. Our time in this world is finite and none of us knows how long we will have.
In our gospel lesson this morning, we meet three procrastinators who wanted to put off their call to follow Jesus. Jesus and his disciples are headed toward Jerusalem, where Jesus will be crucified. Among those he encounters along the way are three people who say they want to follow him. The first one volunteers. "I will follow you wherever you go," he says. Jesus replies, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests but the Son of God has nowhere to lay his head." In other words, being a follower of Jesus means giving up all the comforts of home. It means not knowing where you will sleep or where your next meal might come from. The life of a disciple is hard. The cost of discipleship is high and Jesus wants to be sure this person is willing to pay the price, not just be caught up in the excitement of the moment. After Jesus' reply, we don't hear from this man any more. Perhaps he has had second thoughts about giving up his comfort and security to follow Jesus.
The second man is asked by Jesus to follow him. But the man replies, "Let me first go bury my father." That seems like a reasonable request so we are surprised when Jesus replies, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." That doesn't sound like the compassionate Jesus that we know. But we also don't know if his father has died or is even in poor health. It may be years before the father dies, which would delay this person's commitment to become a disciple for years. For Jesus, that is unacceptable. Following Jesus must come before anything else, including family. This man cannot put off his commitment to following Jesus.
The third person Jesus encounters says he wants to follow Jesus but he has to say goodbye to his family first. Again, that seems like a reasonable request, especially if he might not see them for a long time. But Jesus replies, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." In order to plow straight rows, you must look ahead, not back. There is urgency in becoming a disciple. It cannot be put off. It is not something we can do at our convenience, when we have done everything else first and we have all our ducks in a row. Jesus calls us to be disciples NOW.
Jesus does not want half-hearted disciples. Adopting a life of discipleship cannot be a part-time or momentary commitment. It is a life-changing shift is direction and priorities, in which our human needs and wants become secondary to the call of God. The three people in the gospel lesson each saw following Jesus as one among a number of options, with each one putting something ahead of his desire to follow Jesus.
What priorities do we put ahead of following Jesus? Are we disciples only when it is convenient and fits our schedule? Are we willing to pay the high cost of being a disciple of Jesus Christ? Do we ask first, "what's in it for me?" Are we procrastinators, waiting until "later" to become his followers?
Jesus invites us to walk the journey with him. He doesn't force us or punish us if we fall short. But rather his love surrounds us and envelopes us and when we respond to that love, willingly and freely, then we can experience the fullness of life.
Jesus knew that he was heading toward his death in Jerusalem and he needed to teach his disciples to carry on his mission after he was gone. He not only taught them with his words but also by his actions.
And that's how we can teach others about being a follower of Jesus Christ - by putting God first in our lives NOW, without making any excuses, without procrastinating; by living as God would have us to live; by loving others as Christ loves us, by forgiving others as God forgives us; and by teaching others about the love of God so that the work of God continues from one generation to another. Amen