The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean

Luke 9:51-62

“He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” No one could ever accuse Luke of not knowing how to turn a phrase. This is a strong and powerful statement which says that Jesus has accepted his fate—his call and mission. He knows full well what lay ahead of him and he is ready to move on toward that goal, to accomplish the purpose for which he had been sent.

With single-mindedness and dedication, “He set his face toward Jerusalem,” which meant, as we now know, Palm Sunday’s triumphant entry, Maundy Thursday’s final meal, Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial, Gethsemane’s anguish and Calvary’s pain and death. And ultimately, it meant the empty tomb.

Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” and single-mindedly subordinated all – everything – to the accomplishment of what that mission was to be.

With that as the back drop for Luke’s gospel story, enter three would-be followers onto the scene. The first one volunteers, “Lord, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus’ autobiographical response is, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In effect, Jesus is saying: “The cost of following me may well be rejection, hatred, persecution, and even death. You cannot become a disciple of mine unless you are willing to count the cost.” We have no way of knowing whether that person decided to follow or not. Chances are that this was not the kind of discipleship he was looking for. He probably wanted something a little more comfortable, a little easier, a little less demanding and a little more on his terms. He was probably looking for something a little less costly. But Jesus called for single-mindedness.

Enter the second would-be disciple, to whom Jesus says, “Follow me.” His response: “Yes, I’ll follow you Jesus. But Lord, first let me go and bury my father, then I’ll come and follow you.” That sounds like a reasonable request, a family obligation and a major one at that. How could Jesus be so insensitive as to respond, “Let the dead bury their own dead”?

Because Jesus knew what the man was really saying: that there were more important things to do; that there were more important things in his life. Jesus knew that in the long haul his disciples were going to be tested to the Nth degree, and if anyone of them put any other loyalty ahead of him, even one as important as the family obligation of burying one’s own father, then that would be the crack in the mortar that would cause the disciple to shrink back and run away at those times when Jesus would need his followers to be strong and true. In short, absolute loyalty and single-mindedness was what Jesus was demanding.

So, enter the third would-be follower who in volunteering says, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to my family and friends.” Again, a reasonable request; a simple bit of social etiquette. Yet again, Jesus says no. And he says it in a way that is as plain and understandable to us today as it was to the would-be disciple he was addressing: “Anyone who puts his hands to the plow cannot look back.” You don’t need to know much about farming to realize that no one can plow a straight furrow by looking back. Jesus was saying, “I want my disciples to have no distractions, nothing to waylay them on their mission. If you’re going to be a disciple of mine, then God’s kingdom must take precedence over every other loyalty. You’ve got to be focused, single-minded in your attention toward me.”

Three volunteers; three would-be followers; three tough responses from Jesus. So, how do they apply to us as modern day disciples? The same issue is there: single-mindedness, and it asks us: What about our discipleship? What about our following the Lord, individually and collectively? Where is that single-minded subordination of everything to the will of the Lord?

We may, like that first would-be disciple, want an easier way, something that won’t be quite so demanding. Or like the second, we may want to allow other loyalties, even great ones, to interfere with our discipleship with the Lord. Or like the third, we may let our discipleship be distracted by even secondary matters. But Jesus continues to call us to a discipleship which is single-minded. And that has always been a hard call to answer.

Sometimes we are seduced into a “convenience store” kind of Christianity. We pick and choose what we want our discipleship to be like and what we want our relationship with the Lord to be about—how much we’re willing to give of ourselves and when we’re willing to offer our faithfulness and dedication and devotion—on our terms, following our agenda.

Or sometimes we play the “Yes, but…” game of discipleship. For example, “Yes, Jesus, I want to be a follower of yours, but you know my job is so demanding. I work hard and long hours. I don’t have time for a lot of church involvement on top of everything else I have to do! Besides, I’m at church most Sundays. Surely, you don’t expect more than that from me! Don’t make me subordinate my job to you! My time to you! My life to you!

Or, “Yes, Jesus, I want to be your disciple, but there are a lot of folks out there who really don’t understand this discipleship stuff. And if people become aware that I’m really serving you, and if you really are the dominant factor in the decisions I make and the way I live, well, I could lose some friends. It could affect a lot of my relationships. People could think I’m weird! My family—my spouse, my kids—might not approve of my priority shift. I always have to put the family first, right? Yes, I want to be your disciple but if you don’t mind, I’ll just continue to work undercover, so no one will know. Don’t make me subordinate my relationships to you.”

Or how about this one, regarding your stewardship and life within the congregation: “Yes, Jesus, I want to be your follower, but please don’t ask me to tithe. After all, you know I have all these other obligations, and I need to be responsible to them first. Besides, I’m not really sure the church knows how to properly use my money. Yes, I want to be your disciple, but don’t make me subordinate my wealth—my money.

Or within the community: Yes, Jesus, I want to be a good follower of yours, but there are all those people out there who are different from me and hard to love. They’ve got ideas different than mine, and their skin is different, their politics are different, their economic standing is different, their religion is different, their needs are different. And I don’t want to deal with them. & They probably don’t want to deal with me. So don’t make me subordinate myself to them. Surely, there is a way to love and serve you without loving and serving them.

And so it goes: “Yes, Jesus, I want to follow you, but make it on my terms, let me set the conditions, so that, in reality, it’s you serving me, not me serving you.” Yes, but. . .” discipleship.

If we were to examine our lives over this past week, my bet is that all of us would come up with a few “Yes, buts.” And those “buts” may seem significant. Yet, Jesus is saying in the Gospel today, “all those buts don’t amount to a hill of beans in your relationship with me. You’ve got to be single-mindedly in my corner. Everything else needs to be in subordination to me.”

Christianity is not a comfortable pew; it’s not a convenience store; it’s not a smorgasbord dinner where you pick and choose whatever you want from it. Christianity—discipleship—is total subordination of self to Jesus Christ, pure and simple. And amidst the options in our world today, that’s tough stuff. But then, Jesus never promised us a rose garden, did he?

What he did promise, though, was life and vitality and energy and endurance and peace. The peace of God. For as we subordinate ourselves to God, as we give ourselves over to God entirely, completely, we find that our lives take on new and deeper and broader dimensions. We know as never before who we are and what we’re about and why we’re here and what lies ahead. And that doesn’t frighten us, because we know God will be there with us.

Yet, such subordination isn’t easy. We want to hold on to the ways of the world. We like the convenience store Christianity where we come and go as we please, where we address human needs as it suits us, where we live out love and reconciliation when we want, and hold grudges when we choose, where we do our thing as we want to, and where faith and discipleship doesn’t much come into play at all.

It’s hard, too, because we can sense the conflict of loyalties between our call to follow Jesus and the way we live out our family life and our business life and our community life.

But when we do truly follow Jesus, we find that his presence in our lives in fact enhances all those relationships and brings to them new life and a new vitality. We find that we are in harmony with Christ and his call to be his disciples in the world.

We’ll never know what happened to those three potential followers in Luke’s gospel story, but we do know that the call that Jesus extended to them is the same call he extends to us today: to be single-minded about our following him. For it is through such discipleship that Christ has promised us “life, and life in all its abundance.” (Jn 10:10)

It’s ours for the asking, for the taking, for the commitment. May God grant us all the grace and faith and peace of single-minded discipleship in Jesus, and in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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