FIRST READING 1 Kings 19:15–16, 19–21
15 Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 19 So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20 He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” 21 He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
PSALM Psalm 16
1 Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” 2 All my delight is in the godly that are in the land, upon those who are noble among the people. 3 But those who run after other gods shall have their troubles multiplied. 4 I will not pour out drink offerings to such gods, never take their names upon my lips. 5 O LORD, you are my portion and my cup; it is you who uphold my lot. 6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a rich inheritance. 7 I will bless the LORD who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me night after night. 8 I have set the LORD always before me; because God is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. 10 For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the pit. 11 You 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
1 For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. 16 Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21 envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
GOSPEL Luke 9:51–62
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And 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.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
A lady at a yard sale not long ago and was taking her time browsing through the items. Before long, she struck up a conversation with the homeowner and was overheard saying, “My husband is going to be very angry with me when he finds out I stopped at your yard sale.” “I’m sure he’ll understand when you tell him about all the bargains I have,” the homeowner replied. “Normally, yes,” the lady said. “But he just broke his leg, and he’s waiting for me to take him to the hospital to have it set.” I guess it’s safe to say that some things in life cannot be delayed. But often we do delay them. Not for any sinister reasons, but because we don’t attach any real urgency to them. Pastor Gene Sikkink has a name for this behavior, he calls it, the “But-First Syndrome.”
The American Medical Association hasn’t recognized the “But-First Syndrome” as a disease yet, but that doesn’t mean that many people aren’t suffering from some of its symptoms. Here are some examples of this ailment that Pastor Sikkink has noticed in his own life. He says: I decide to do the laundry. I sit down with the intention of doing just that and notice the newspaper on the table. I intend to do the laundry, but first I’m going to read the paper. After that I notice some mail on the table. I intend to stick the newspaper in the recycle bin, but first I’ll look through the mail to see if there are any unpaid bills. As I leaf through the mail, I notice the empty glass on the coffee table from yesterday. But first, I need to look for the checkbook to take care of those unpaid bills, but before that, I need to put that empty glass in the sink. I head for the kitchen with the glass, but then I notice through the window that our poor flowers need some water. I put the glass in the sink and see that the TV remote and the portable phone are both lying on the countertop. I don’t know how they got there, but I do need to put them away, but first, I need to water those plants . . .” I think you get the idea.
By the end of the day, he says, he manages to get some of the laundry done, the newspapers are still on the floor by the table, the glass is now in the sink. However, the bills never got paid, the checkbook was never found, and the dog ate the remote control . . . There was so much he meant to do, but he got sidetracked by the “But-First Syndrome.”
In our gospel reading for today, Luke records, that as Jesus was walking along the road, He encountered three men. The first man said to Him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” What a great statement! However, it makes one wonder what the circumstances were that caused this man to feel this way. Was this a well thought out statement or one made in the heat of the moment? We’ve all probably felt this way at some time or another. We’ve had some mountaintop experience; maybe some of us attended a gospel concert, a crusade or convocation, or we were at a youth gathering or some other inspiring situation and we felt so close to Christ that we said in our hearts, “I’ll go wherever you want me to go. But as time passes, those feelings fade and the truth of the matter is, that we have lived pretty ordinary lives since then. There have been plenty of instances where we could have served Christ better, but somehow other things got in the way.
Some of you may remember when Billy Graham crusades were a big deal. Crowds as large as 100,000 would pack stadiums to hear Billy’s sermons, and thousands would go forward as the choir sang, “Just as I am without one plea . . .” to make decisions for Christ. Recently, I read that only between 2% to 4% of those who went forward on such occasions are still actively observing the Christian life now. This isn’t to say that these crusades had no impact. There are people whose lives were touched in a wonderful way in these crusades, but, for the majority of those who went forward, it didn’t last. The point is, in some situations, we might say, “Yes, Lord, I’m yours,” but Christ knows you’re just caught up in the moment. This was obviously the way it was with this first man who said to Him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Notice Jesus’ response to him, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus seems to be saying to him in a gentle way: You don’t know what you’re saying. Following Me isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t not for people who are concerned about material possessions or comforts. It’s for people who are ready to put it all on the line. It isn’t for people who get excited on one occasion, who respond for an hour to a nice, warm, spiritual feeling. It’s for people who are ready to be a child, man or woman of Christ, regardless of their current circumstance or how they happen to be feeling at the moment. “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” The first man was caught up in the excitement and wasn’t considering the cost of discipleship, the second man however, was different.
Notice Jesus’ encounter with the second man. Jesus says to him, “Follow me.” To this the man replies, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” This is a man suffering from the “But-first” syndrome. From our modern day perspective, we might wonder what the man was doing talking to Jesus if his father had just died? In the first century, the Jews buried the dead almost immediately, usually the same day. There weren’t well-equipped mortuaries to handle such needs back then. Based on his response, this man felt like he was needed back home. So why does Jesus give him such a hard time, you may ask? The man after all makes a perfectly normal request: “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” To this Jesus’ answer seems a bit harsh, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Commentators differ over whether the man’s father had just died, whether he was near death, or whether he had a few years yet to go. Bible scholar G. Campbell Morgan refers to a traveler in the Middle East who was trying to enlist a young Arab man as his guide. The young Arab replied that he couldn’t go, because he had to bury his father. When the traveler expressed his sympathy, he learned that the young man’s father hadn’t died, but that this was just an expression, meaning that his father was getting up in years and he felt responsible for him. Some of us can certainly identify with that. Our parents, too, are aging. We feel responsible for them. “As long as my Mom and Dad depend on me,” this man seems to be saying, “I better stay home.” The third man too, makes a request that’s just as reasonable, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” These are nice guys and they want to follow Jesus, but as far as they’re concerned, they’ve got responsibilities.
And so they say to him, “Yes, but first . . .” Jesus is just as short with this third man as He was with the others. Jesus says to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Obviously Jesus regarded the statement of the first man that he would follow Him anywhere, as superficial, and the replies of the second two, as mere excuses. One message we can take from these encounters is that Jesus didn’t need any more half-hearted disciples. He wants people who were ready to make a commitment.
Another way of saying this, is that Jesus isn’t looking for fans; He’s looking for followers. Fans are easy to come by. Show the world that you’re a winner, as the world defines a winner, and the world will regard you with adulation. Of course, some of those fans will be fickle.
In 2010 when the Carolina Panthers were not enjoying their best football season, their fans got a bit frustrated. We’re told about a woman who left her season tickets on the dashboard of her locked car. While she was in the store shopping, someone broke into her vehicle. When she returned, instead of having two season tickets on her dash, she found four tickets. The Panthers aren’t the only team with fickle fans.
One man tells about his father who, he says, is an avid football fan. During a recent season his team got off to a poor start. Almost every Sunday afternoon Dad sat depressed, ranting at the TV screen. One day, after shouts of disgust, silence fell. Puzzled, his wife went into the living room to find him quietly watching a World War II movie. “I just switched over to something that I knew our side would win!” his Dad explained. Jesus doesn’t want more fans. Fans are with you, win or tie. Jesus has all the fans He needs. Instead, Jesus wants people who will walk in His footsteps daily, regardless of the circumstances.
Jesus wants people who will be with Him whether He ascends to a throne or is crucified on a cross. Jesus wants people who mirror His compassion and His love, even when such love and compassion are unpopular. Bishop William Willimon tells about a baptism for a graduate student, from China, he participated in when he was in campus ministry at Duke University. The grad student had been attracted to the Christian faith while a student at Duke.
Willimon had met the young man once or twice before and joyfully participated in his baptism. Bishop Willimon thought it to be a good idea to bring his camera and take a few pictures after the baptism. “You can send these pictures to your family back in China,” Willimon said to the grad student. “You can share your baptism day with your friends at home,” he said as he maneuvered everyone into place for the snapshots. He noticed that the group looked a little shy and awkward, but they all stood together as he took his pictures. After the baptism, the campus minister said to him, “Oh, that was embarrassing, you with your camera and all.”
“Embarrassing?” Willimon asked, “Why?” “Well, because now that he’s baptized,” his colleague explained, “his life has been ruined. His parents say they will disinherit him. The government will probably take away his scholarship. He can’t show those pictures to anybody back home. His life, as he knows it, is over; he’s been baptized into Jesus.” That young graduate student was making a decision that would cause him much pain. He was making a decision to be more than a fan of Jesus Christ. He was making a decision to be a follower no matter the cost. He was making the decision to walk in Christ’s footsteps and in accordance with His commands.
When we read the accounts of Jesus’ life in the gospels we find Him giving this command on many occasions: Follow me! He went to Peter, Andrew, James and John, all fishermen, and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19). When the rich young ruler asked what he must do to have eternal life, Jesus answered, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow me” (Mark 10:21). And we read in all three of the Synoptic Gospels the command: “If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” Jesus doesn’t want fans. He wants followers. Jesus wants people who will do more than simply sit in a pew and clap and cheer. He wants people who will take up the cross of Christ daily, the cross of service and love.
Some of you may know the story of Rich Stearns. When Rich Stearns was a young man and a new Christian, he got engaged. His fiancée, like many young brides, wanted to register for china at the local department store. But he said to her, ‘‘As long as there are children starving in the world, we will not own china, crystal, or silver.” It was a wonderful statement of discipleship. His answer reminds me of that first man in our lesson who said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” However, as Rich entered the corporate world and started climbing the ladder, he found he had a really good head for business. Ironically, twenty years later, he was the CEO of Lennox, the top producer of fine china in the country.
One day Rich received a phone call from an organization called World Vision, asking if he would consider getting involved with them. So Rich went to Uganda, an area considered ground zero for the AIDS pandemic. In that village he sat in a thatched hut with a thirteen-year-old boy with the same first name as his, Richard. A pile of stones outside the door of the hut marked where they had buried Richard’s father, who had died of AIDS. Another pile of stones marked where they buried his mother, who also died of AIDS. Rich talked for a while with young Richard, now the head of the household trying to raise his two younger brothers, and asked him at one point, “Do you have a Bible?”
Yes, the boy said, and he went into the other room and brought back the one book in their house. “Are you able to read it?” Rich asked, and at that the boy’s face lit up. “I love to read the gospel of John because it says Jesus loves children,” the boy said. Suddenly Rich Stearns knew what he had to do. He needed to follow Jesus full-time. He left his job and his house and his title. Today he’s working for God.
Rich Stearns is the kind of person Christ is looking for. Christ isn’t looking for people who’ll get excited for a few moments on Sunday morning and then forget all about their good intentions. He isn’t looking for people who are suffering from the “But-first” syndrome and who are continually making excuses about why now isn’t a good time for them to make a commitment. Jesus is looking for followers, people who will wake up each day with a determination to live as Christ would have them live. Christ is saying to each of us, “Follow Me”. The question we need to answer is, are we ready to follow, or are we busy making of excuses?