Sermons That Work

No One Who Puts His Hand…, Proper 8 (C) – 2004

June 27, 2004

No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God. What kind of harsh statement is this? And exclusive, too. How about unrealistic? Undoable? Ridiculous? OK, maybe now we are getting carried away. But when you read this, do you have a nagging question in the back of your mind? “Then, who is ever fit for the Kingdom of God?” Even in this multitasking world we live in, with every possible organizational gadget we can possibly manufacture, most people metaphorically, “Put their hands to the plow” and then look back, or leave the plow all together!! If what this means is never failing faith, without doubt or regret, ever, then there might well be a new word for us all—denial.

However, as is always the case, we would do well to try to read the whole story, from Luke and this 9th chapter, as well as the whole story of the Gospel. When we do both of those things we can see that the picture is bigger, as it almost always is. As in so many things in this life, we like to make this an either/or scenario. It’s got to be one or the other. Can you say—Perspective?

But take a closer look at this text: instead of an “either/or,” Jesus is really positing a “both/and.” Notice that both of the poor souls that ask to go take care of other business are exclusive in their request as well. “Sure, I will follow you Lord, but first, let me go bury my father.” And then another, “well sure I’ll follow you Lord, would love to, but first let me go tell them good bye at home; I mean they are expecting me for dinner; it would be rude to just not show up!”

In both cases, and in many cases in this world as well, and the church is not excluded, the answer is, “Yes, Lord, I will follow, I will pray, I will give, I will work, I will whatever, BUT FIRST, I need to pay off my boat; I need to find a job; I need to get my taxes done; I need to get the clothes washed. It is the “But First” that seems to be key here.

Those who come to Jesus, meaning well, who wanted to follow Jesus, seem to be telling Jesus, “to get on your train, I have to get off mine.” In a sense that is true, but this thinking makes it seem like two different journeys. It seems unlikely that we could live on the Christian journey at all if this were the truth. And this is the whole notion of setting one’ s face to Jerusalem, that Luke begins in this passage and carries on for some nine chapters, a journey motif, harkening back to Elijah, with many prophetic references. Setting your face toward Jerusalem, on a journey. But is it one you must start only after all else in your life is finished? One would hope not, or else we would never get started on it.

You might well wonder, what if these folks had responded to Jesus, “I will follow you AND I will go bury my father.” “I will follow you AND I will go and tell them , those I love at home, about that as well.”

In some ways we should expect no other response from Jesus, he says loud and clear to them: “Hey, you can’t compartmentalize following me, you can’t do it when you get time, when you clear some space on your Palm Pilot, after the clothes are washed. This is a way of life, which means yes, the clothes must get washed, and the bills must get paid, and the kids must get fed, and the taxes must get paid, and you most likely have to keep those appointments in your Palm Pilot.”

“BUT, follow me anyway; follow me while doing those things; follow me in a way that makes you do those things in a new way. Follow me forever: no ‘BUT FIRSTs;’ no ‘insteads;’ no ‘YES AND’—not ‘either/or.’ Instead: ‘both/and.’”

This is all a very Benedictine idea, doing the ordinary extraordinarily well, making all of life a prayer. It is mysteriously in that sense we have when we understand that all of our concentration and focus, that which we lavish on details that really don’ t matter, on so many specifics that we forget why we do in the first place, all of those distractions help us avoid the greater conversation that rises above all of that. Setting our face toward Jerusalem is to tilt our head in a way that makes us see things as never before, makes us walk in directions we might not have ever walked, provides us with companions we may not have ever picked if left to ourselves.

It’s not about what you are doing or not doing; it is instead about what and who you are being. It is about what we finally put our hope and trust in everyday, and all days. Following Jesus is 24/7, it doesn’t mean not doing everything else, it means doing everything else with your face set toward Jerusalem, with your heart invested in God, through the power and witness of Jesus Christ. Can you say: Thanks be to God?

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Christopher Sikkema


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