< back to Sermon archive

Sermon for Pentecost 3, 26 June 2022

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:9b-21

9bBehold, the word of the Lord came to {Elijah}, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 11And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 15And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 19So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. 20And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.

Psalm 16

1Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” 2All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, upon those who are noble among the people. 3But those who run after other gods shall have their troubles multiplied. 4Their libations of blood I will not offer, nor take the names of their gods upon my lips. 5O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; it is you who uphold my lot. 6My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a goodly heritage. 7I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me, night after night. 8I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall. 9My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. 10For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the Pit. 11You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25

1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

Gospel: Luke 9:51-62

51When the days drew near for {Jesus} to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56And they went on to another village. 57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Selling the Path of Discipleship

It’s interesting, but have you ever noticed how some professions seem to have more jokes told about them than others.  There are numerous puns about Lawyers, blond jokes are too many to count, and even pastors seem to be a popular target, especially jokes about clergy walking into bars.  And then there are the stories about salespeople.  I did read two jokes the other day that I thought you might enjoy this morning.

After closing his first deal, a real estate salesman discovered that the plot of ground he had sold was completely underwater.  He called his boss and said, “The customer’s going to be really mad.  Should I offer him a refund?”  “Refund?  Are you kidding me?” the boss yelled.  “Get out there and sell him a houseboat!” 

A store manager returned from lunch to find her clerk bandaging up his hand.  Before she could ask him about the bandage, the clerk announced, “Good news!  I finally sold that hideously ugly suit we’ve had hanging on the sales racks for who knows how long!”  “Do you mean you sold that repulsive pink-and-yellow striped leisure suit?”  “That’s it!” the clerk beamed.  “Great job!” the manager said. “I don’t know how you did it.  That’s the ugliest suit this store has ever carried.  By the way, what happened to your hand?”  “Oh,” the clerk said, “after I sold the guy that suit, his seeing-eye dog bit me.”

If I were to make a list of the worst sales tactics I’ve ever heard of, I’d list things like lying about the product or service, overselling its benefits, trying to coerce a customer into buying something they don’t need, putting pressure on a customer, not listening to the customer, or getting angry when the customer says “No, thanks.”  I’m sure we all could create our own list of the worst sales tactics that we’ve experienced.  It’s with this list of sales strategies in mind, that I find it interesting how Jesus responded in our gospel lesson to the different, let’s call them, “sales situations.”

Our reading from Luke begins, “As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”  Now please keep that sentence in mind.  It’s an important part of this story, and we’ll get back to it in a minute.  In the first situation, Jesus and His disciples plan to pass through a Samaritan village and they need a place to assemble for teaching as well as a place to stay and food to eat.  So, Jesus dispatches a few of the disciples to go on ahead to make the arrangements.  But when the Samaritans learn that Jesus was heading to Jerusalem for the Passover, they reject Him.  The Samaritans believed that religious sacrifices should be made on Mt. Gerizim there in Samaria, not in Jerusalem (John 4:19).  Because of this, they refused hospitality to Jesus and His followers.

In response, two of Jesus’ disciples, the brothers James and John, ask Jesus if they should call fire down from heaven to destroy the Samaritans.  I’m not so sure this is on the list of best sales techniques!  Let’s put the fear of God into those Samaritans if they won’t buy our “product!”  Instead of pushing the issue, Jesus instead rebukes the disciples and presses on toward Jerusalem.  In the next “sales situation,” an unnamed man approaches Jesus and says, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  To this Jesus replies, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  Here Jesus has a willing recruit, but then tries to talk the man out of following Him.  This is an interesting response, it would appear that Jesus is discouraging the man from a commitment to becoming a follower. 

On the surface this might seem counterproductive.  But Jesus knows the heart, and Jesus wants to ensure we understand the cost of discipleship.  Key to this encounter is in the 1St Commandment; God must be first in our lives.  There is no glitz or glamor in a life of discipleship.  For the disciples then, and for the many hundreds throughout the centuries, the life of discipleship ended in martyrdom.  The reward for faithfulness in this life is peace and life in God’s new kingdom to come.  Jesus would also clarify this later by saying, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25).  Our story continues with two other sales encounters.

In these next sales opportunities Jesus approaches one man and says, “Follow me.”  But this man says, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Then another guy responds to Jesus’ offer by saying, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”  Again, if we look only at the surface, it appears that Jesus is missing a lot of opportunities to sell people on following Him.  

Our first inclination in reading this passage is to consider that a good salesman would have begun by listing the benefits of being a disciple.  But Jesus didn’t appeal to their fear of missing out on a good deal, or their desire to look good in the eyes of others.  Is it possible that Jesus is the worst salesman ever?  What’s important for us to do here is to look deeper into what’s going on in this passage.  Recall the verse that opens our lesson today.  In verse 51, St Luke records: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”  

We know that Jesus knows what’s waiting for Him in Jerusalem: arrest, torture, and a lonely, painful, humiliating death.  And yet our gospel passage says Jesus “resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”  He didn’t procrastinate, protest, or try to protect Himself.  Jesus didn’t take the long way home.  He’s headed straight toward the cross, knowing that He will be fulfilling God’s plan and purpose by giving His life in our behalf.  Jesus knew what was required and He was determined to be obedient, even to death.

When Steve Jobs, the late founder of Apple Inc., was 17 years old, he read a quote that changed his life: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”  He said that after he read this quote, he began every morning by looking in the mirror and asking himself this question, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

In a 2005 speech, Jobs said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.  Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.  Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”  Steve Jobs is of course talking about being successful in business and in this life.  However, I believe there is an import principle here.

As mortal beings, we need to constantly remind ourselves that each day we live and breathe on this earth is a gift.  Tomorrow is not guaranteed.  And with no guarantee of tomorrow in mind, as Christians, we need to ask ourselves, what is it that’s truly important for me to be doing today: do the plans I have for today center on serving God as He has called me to serve?  If this is the case, what then does that mean for my life and my plans for today?

The Greek word for “follow” as in “follow me” that Jesus uses in this passage is actually made up of two separate words.  One word means “to follow, accompany, or travel with.”  The other word refers to the person’s path or journey.  Literally, the word “follow” in this passage means “to join the person on the path that they are walking, to accompany them to the end.”  That’s what Jesus was inviting these folks to do.  That’s what Jesus is inviting each of us to do each and every day.  We’re being asked to join with Jesus and walk His path.  There is no fine print in Jesus’ offer.  He wants His followers to know, up-front, the challenges we may face while walking His path.  He wants us to know and to count the cost.  Jesus isn’t trying to hoodwink anyone; He isn’t trying to deceive with bait and switch tactics.  He wants us to fully understand up front the cost of discipleship.

I ask this frequently, and we should ask ourselves this question each day: How do people know that we’re a follower of Jesus?  Is it because we attend church?  Is it because we study your Bible, or we pray before meals, or we don’t curse, don’t dance, don’t drink or buy lottery tickets?  Folks simply following a set of rules to earn a place in heaven is works salvation.  Works salvation places its faith in the list of dos and don’ts, not on the grace of God and the call of discipleship.  Jesus’ path requires obedience and commitment.  It requires a level of courage and sacrifice that goes beyond just trying to be a better version of ourselves.  Being a follower of Jesus means we work each day at becoming more and more like Jesus.  It means walking a path that focuses on God and others, not on our perceived wants and desires.

Jesus tells us plainly that the road to heaven, the path of discipleship is the narrow path that leads to life.  Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).  The path Jesus calls us to follow isn’t the easy path, but it is the path to life and joy and meaning, and God has called us for this very purpose. 

And to follow the path Jesus calls us to travel, we need to understand three key things; first, Jesus’ path is a path of commitment.  Jesus was fully committed to obeying God in every moment of His life.  It was through prayer and obedience, that He kept His heart, mind and will constantly aligned with that of God the Father.  And this alignment of His whole self with the Father allowed Him to live purposefully, without fear or distractions.

But what does an undistracted, purposeful living look like?  To me, it looks like the life of an Irish missionary named Amy Carmichael.  In 1901, Carmichael moved to Southern India to minister to women and children there.  Not long after her arrival, she met a seven-year-old girl who had been held as a ritual prostitute in a Hindu temple.  So concerned about this practice, Amy Carmichael and her associates opened an orphanage and then a school to rescue young girls out of prostitution.  Eventually her facilities admitted boys as well.

The Dohnavur Fellowship grew to include an orphanage, schools, a dairy farm, fruit and vegetable farms, and numerous businesses to provide jobs for the poorest Indian citizens.  Despite significant opposition, Amy dedicated the rest of her life to ministering to the poorest women and children in Dohnavur.  She died at the age of 83 and is buried in the Indian village she loved and dedicated her life to.  She once said of her ministry challenges, “If one is truly called of God, all the difficulties and discouragements only intensify the Call.”  Jesus made it clear that His followers would experience difficulties and discouragement, “small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it”.

What was it Jesus said to the first person who offered to follow Him?  “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  Jesus isn’t offering earthly security or comfort.  St. Paul in Philippians 3 reminds us, that we know Jesus when we share in His suffering.  It’s in the difficulties and discouragement of following in Jesus’ path that we understand Jesus’ love for us in a deeper way.  And by persevering through the difficulties and discouragements, we show the world how much we love Jesus.  Jesus calls us to walk His path of commitment with Him.  

The second thing we see in this passage is that Jesus also calls us to walk the path of courage. Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, once said, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”  When you love someone deeply, you’re willing to confront your fears and face down challenges unflinchingly for their sake.  That was the source of Jesus’ courage too.  Jesus knew He was loved unconditionally by His Father, and that was the source of His strength.  And Jesus loved God and us deeply; that was the source of His courage.  There was no pain He would not bear to show His love for us.  And now He calls you and me to show that same level of courage in loving others in His name.

I’ve shared this with you in the past but it’s worth sharing again.  In 1947, evangelist Bob Pierce held a series of preaching events with Youth for Christ in China.  He got the opportunity to preach to many thousands of Chinese citizens, and thousands became followers of Jesus through his messages.  Once the people accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord, Bob would challenge them to go home and tell their families about their new commitment to Jesus.

On one occasion Bob stopped by one of the schools and found the director attempting to console a sobbing girl.  From the child’s injuries, it was obvious she had been beaten.  The director told Pierce that this little girl had committed herself to Jesus and returned home and told her father, and that her father had beaten her with a cane and thrown her out of the house.  Bob Pierce was stunned!  He said, “. . . you’re going to take care of her, aren’t you?”

The director replied, “I’m caring for as many children as I can.  The question isn’t what I’m going to do.  The question is what are you going to do?”  And she handed the little girl to Bob Pierce.  In response, Bob gave all the money he had with him that day and promised to send more to cover the costs of caring for this abandoned child.  On the trip back home, Bob couldn’t get over the little girl’s courage, and what her love for Jesus had cost her.  From this single event, Bob began collecting the support to begin a new mission organization.  Today, World Vision is a “global Christian humanitarian organization” that provides food, education, health care and disaster relief to millions of people around the world.  

We would do well to remember the school director’s challenge, “The question isn’t what I’m going to do.  The question is what are you going to do?”  Jesus calls us to walk the path of courage with Him.  Finally, Jesus also calls us to walk the path of sacrifice.Sacrifice is simply “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.”

Jesus considered our life more valuable that His.  That’s why He set His face to go to Jerusalem.  He knew what lay ahead, and He was willing to face the challenges that giving up His life as the “once for all” sacrifice, a sacrifice in our place, meant.  In His death, He took on the weight and the penalty of our sins, so that nothing would stand between us and a holy, righteous God.

Author T.R. Glover once wrote that the secret to the spread of Christianity across the Western world was because the followers of Jesus “out-loved, out-gave, and out-died” the devotees of the other religions and cults.  We have a great example.  Jesus did it first.  His love for us motivated Him to walk the path of commitment, courage, and sacrifice for us.  Each day He invites us to follow Him, knowing full well the cost.  

We have two questions to ask ourselves each day.  First, is remembering that tomorrow is not guaranteed, so what is it that’s truly important for me to be doing today: do the plans I have for today center on serving God as He has called me to serve?  If this is the case, what then does that mean for my life and my plans for today?  And the second thing for us to remind ourselves is, the question isn’t what I’m going to do.  The question is what are you going to do?”  The path Jesus invites us to follow is the harder path, the narrow path, but it’s also the path that leads to peace, and joy, and life.


Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.

< back to Sermon archive