St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Pentecost 5 Sermon 2010
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Rev. Lorraine Dierick 

When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.  Something critical is happening in Jesus’ mission, as the time is coming when he will be taken up. This is a clue to what lay ahead; this hints at Jesus’ dying and rising, his passion and resurrection.

Jesus’ path is changing course and all too soon his earthly journey will come to an end.  It’s only a matter of time until Jesus lays down his mantle. As his purpose is accomplished, those early followers, the disciples and apostles, will be the ones who take up that mantle and proclaim the Good News.

He chooses the most direct route through the unfriendly territory of the Samaritans.  There were major theological differences between Jews and Samaritans contributing to long standing conflict so Jesus found no welcome passing through their land.

Determined and resolute, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem.  He seems to be aware now of the danger that lies ahead, he doesn’t waver. Surely his strength comes from knowing that this is the path God sets before him.

To those who claim to be willing to follow him, to walk this path with him he responds with harsh challenges.

St. Teresa of Avila once said, “If that’s how God treats his friends, no wonder there are so few of them.

Does Jesus really mean that in order to follow him we can expect to be homeless?  He did say to the first person who wanted to join him that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.

“Let the dead bury their own dead”, Jesus says to another.  Could Jesus be asking us to neglect our desire to honor our deceased?

And to the last he says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”

Does following Jesus mean not giving so much as a backward glance to people we love?

I don’t know about all of you, but Im not hearing much good news in this Gospel for today.

We all know that choosing the Christian life is not the easy choice but must it be all or nothing?  How much is enough?

In the first readings this month we have followed the call and journey story as Elijah prepares to pass his mantle as prophet to Elisha.

How different Jesus’ demands seem from the story in 1 Kings as Elisha left his oxen and ran after Elijah, calling out, “Let me kiss my father and mother, then I will follow you.”  Elijah allows him to go, then Elisha sacrifices his oxen and burns the yoke and plow.  He rids himself of the tools of his old life and occupation to follow Elijah, understanding the full commitment of this new path, walking in the way of the Lord.

Though Jesus’ remarks sound like harsh rebukes he may be teaching about the nature of God’s Kingdom.  He directs the listeners to go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.  The Kingdom is about life abundant, life that transforms everything so that old worries and concerns are swept away.  Don’t be like a spiritually dead person oneself, Jesus seems to tell us.  Don’t even be slowed down by matters of the moment.

Jesus’ words are much less lenient than Elijah’s when he speaks to the would be followers, “No one who puts his hand to the plow, then looks back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.”  Jesus tells us it is not something you would ever turn aside from if you truly caught sight of it.  The Message translation read, Jesus said, “No backwards looks, no procrastination.  You can’t put off God’s Kingdom until tomorrow.  Seize the day.”

Remember, Jesus know his time is growing short, his face is set to Jerusalem, he needs followers willing to decide now, he needs followers ready to fully commit to a new life, an urgent calling to a new identity.  Jesus calls us to journey with him on a path of life, learning, growth and service.  He is simply being honest about the demands and the cost of a commitment we take too lightly.  Jesus is on the way to the cross, there is no place for misunderstanding regarding the cost of following him.

These are hard sayings and my first reaction is to try to soften those words to make them more acceptable to us, ordinary Christians just trying to do the best we can.

And then, in researching this scripture I came across a reflection that quoted our Bishop Greg, and I was delighted to find his words that speak directly to this challenge to Christians.

I paraphrase slightly here as he suggests that we need not consider these life choices to be strictly either/or.  That is, must it be Jesus’ way or the world’s way?  Must it entirely be one way or the other?  Jesus may be offering instead a both/and way of life.  That is, follow me anyway.  Follow me even though there are many responsibilities you need to attend to.  Follow me while doing those things.  Follow me in a way that causes you to do those things in a new way.  Follow me forever.  It doesn’t mean not doing anything else.  It means doing everything else with your face set toward Jerusalem.

Thank you, Bishop Greg.  We can do that, can’t we?  We can live in the world as a Christian, taking care of those things we must do in the way Jesus would have us do them.  And always, always remember God’s grace is with us forever.

I was totally amazed when I went to the computer and “Googled” the phrase, The Grace of God.  There were seven million, three hundred sixty thousand results.  That’s a tremendous amount of grace.  Needless to say, I didn’t try to read all of them.  That doesn’t mean that the word grace actually appears that many times in the Bible.  The listings of scripture passages were of every conceivable way God has blessed us and all creation with his favor.  Imagine that, one can find more than seven million Biblical accounts of ways the entire universe has been upheld, empowered, and graced by our Lord. 

So, there we are, no excuses, there is no greater calling than to follow Jesus in all we do all of the time.  It is with God’s never ending grace that we are able to set our face and walk with Jesus, even to Jerusalem.

AMEN.

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