Sermons by Rev. John Kidd Moving forward without looking back July 17, 2016 Luke 9:51-62 and Isaiah 43:1-3, 18-19
Intro: When I was 19 years old I went to work on a research farm in Boynton Beach Florida. I was raised in a city and had never spent any time on a farm. The mission of this farm was to be the first field testing of newly developed herbicides and pesticides. My job was to assist the researchers in their work. That meant I would weigh out the chemicals and label them, help apply them, and help to record the results. This also meant I occasionally had to use a tractor.
The first time I was to turn something under and prepare the raised beds was an adventure. Keeping the rows straight was a challenge as the temptation to look back at the disk or the bed maker was great. I learned quickly the desired straight rows did not happen without practice, without looking forward, and trusting that you positioned yourself right to do the job. Eventually I was able to do that.
The discipline of not looking back all the time is one that has to be learned and practiced. I believe the reason is that to look back is to bring comfort to us. We know what was and is there. We know what to expect. We know our surroundings and we feel safe. Looking forward is much more of a challenge, as we do not know where we are going, we do not know the landmarks, we are uncomfortable and we are afraid.
Trans: In the gospel lesson Jesus tells us that to be his follower we must let go of everything, go with him and not look back. 1 Our text in Luke’s gospel is a major turning point in the story. Just before our text, Jesus has sent out the seventy on a successful mission. He has been transfigured before Peter, James, and John. His mission was confirmed by the Father. Jesus reminds them again that his mission will lead to his death and also his resurrection. Now Jesus sets out. Luke says He set his face towards Jerusalem.
This descriptive statement by Luke reminds us that Jesus is like the suffering servant of Isaiah who set his face like flint heading to Jerusalem to fulfill his work. Jesus knows what lay ahead. He knows that this journey to the spiritual and political capital city will end only one way. It will end on a cross with his death. Jesus goes. The story of Jesus journey goes until it climaxes at his entry to Jerusalem on a donkey colt. It is the start of the journey we are concerned with today.
The journey to Jerusalem got off to a rough start when Jesus and his party are rejected in Samaria. Ordinarily travelers going from Galilee to Jerusalem would avoid Samaria even though it was the most direct route. The Jews and Samaritans were enemies even though they shared a common heritage. James and John took the affront personally. They wanted to call down fire on them. Jesus would not allow that. He rebuked them. Jesus knew that the Samaritans were included in his ministry even if the Jews did not like it. As they move down the road on the way, a conversation takes place about following, faithfulness and commitments. It is a tough conversation.
One person declares “I will follow you wherever you go.” Notice that Jesus does not say welcome aboard, glad to have you along and your support. Jesus says “foxes have holes and birds have their nest, but the Son of man has no place to lay his head.” Not a textbook recruiting method. It is a truthful and powerful one that says that this promise you are making is not an easy one to live out.
I imagine that there was silence for a time as that powerful, but disconcerting, statement by Jesus began to sink in. Jesus saw someone and said follow me. The person replied I will but I need to bury my father. We expect to hear sorry for your loss, bury him and join us as soon as you can. What we hear is” let the dead bury their own dead.” Again silence. This time it is an uncomfortable silence.
This was not like Jesus. What was going on? What was wrong with Jesus that he is acting like that? Yet in the harshness of Jesus’ words, we see the critical importance of the commitment to following Jesus. The journey continues with an uncomfortable silence that allows for a lot of questions to run around in the heads of those in the party. A while later another person says to Jesus, I will follow you but first let me say good bye to my family and friends. Finally someone has grasped what it means to fully serve the Kingdom of God. Jesus says to that one that “those who put a hand to the plow and look back are not fit for the kingdom of God.” There is an awkward silence yet again. What has gotten into Jesus?
Trans: Are you trying to anticipate where I might be going with this? Are you getting a bit antsy wondering what is he going to say? If you are that is a natural reaction. This text speaks to us in our current situation. Now the congregation has to wrestle with the question, are we willing to follow Jesus wherever he may lead us and whatever that might mean for us?
Jesus is calling to you, the congregation, to join him on his journey to Jerusalem. It is a journey from the comforts of home through a hostile territory, into a place where the old life will end and new life begins. How are you going to answer?
Will you answer we will follow but while you may not have a home, we do and we like it. We are glad to work out of it and invite people into it. We are not going to leave it for a rough arduous journey at this point in our life. We are willing to venture into territory that we know or is close but that is it. Maybe you will say that we need to take care of who we have. That is honorable and loving, but is it enough? More importantly, is it what Jesus desires of us? Is it what we are called to do as a church? Or is our task to get out and bear witness to the kingdom of God that is here now?
Will you fall victim to the temptation of trying to move forward by looking backwards, fondly remembering what was, and hoping to bring it back again? Will you give into that temptation and lose sight of what God is doing now and wants to accomplish now? Now we are going to add fear to the mix. When our fears are added in, we have difficulty seeing new possibilities. We become unable to move. We fall into the trap of trying preserve what we have and diminishing our trust in God’s faithful provision to answer the call God has for us now. To deal with our fears we turn to our text from Isaiah. 2 In the text from Isaiah we have one of the most comforting declarations in all of scripture. The second part of our text is one that can frighten us. Isaiah makes these declarations in a time in Israel’s life when God is preparing her to return home after her exile in Babylon.
To prepare them to return home, some changes are going to have to be in Israel’s life, her understanding of her relationship with God, and the people’s relationship with each other. In this passage, God declared to the exiles his deep, deep love for his wayward children who are in exile far from home. As God speaks through the prophet, God makes one of the most comforting declarations in all of scripture; “Thus says the Lord, the one who created you o Jacob, then one who formed you O Israel. Do not fear I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine!”
The Lord who called the worlds into being, who brought the people out of slavery in Egypt, who gave them their land know there name and love them. This is the Lord of the Universe, who loves us enough to hold us accountable for our behavior and knows our names, declares that we are his. If that does not inspire hope and allay fears, I do not know what will. God also declares that God will walk with us through fires and flood, I am with you. I am with you! Ponder that for a moment.
The Lord of Heaven and Earth, who knows each of our names, has said he is with us. Right here in Raleigh. Right here in our midst at this moment, in a congregation that is wondering about her future. Right here, waiting to be in conversation with us, about what God’s call is and how God will provide for that call to be answered. I hope we will be able to hear Gods voice calling Milner Memorial, Milner Memorial, and you respond like the young Samuel, speak Lord for your servant is listening.
It took a couple of times for young Samuel to grasp what was going on. When he listened, Samuel heard God say what God was going to do next and what his part would be. Samuel did what God called him to do, even though it was difficult for him.
Are you as a congregation ready to listen for God’s call to you? You are probably thinking yes we are. That is what we have done in times like this. We have listened and secured another pastor and kept on doing what we have done before. What if when God calls Milner Memorial, Milner Memorial and says “Do not remember the former things or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing, now it springs forth. Do you not perceive it?” What kind of concern or fear will that bring?
That declaration by the God who knows us by name, to forget the past because I am doing a new thing, brings fear into our hearts. What could God possibly be doing? What could God want us to do that is nothing like what we have been doing? This is our challenge. We want so much to believe that if we just do the same things better, we will find renewal. Sadly it does not work that way anymore.
We no longer live in a culture that is supportive of church attendance. We no longer live in a time of where all we have to do is to say what time we are open and expect that people will come. We can no longer expect that we have a common vocabulary that includes such basics as Psalm 23, Psalm 100, John 3:16, and the Lord’s Prayer. We have lost the common knowledge that Christmas is not about Santa Claus and overindulging in gift giving. Our culture thinks Easter is about new clothes, decorated eggs and candy rather than the resurrection of Jesus. We can moan about that all we want, but it won’t change anything, or we can trust the God, who knows our very names, and ask what is this new thing you are doing, and how will we participate in it.
It won’t be easy. You might be like a couple of the folks that said to Jesus, I want to follow you but. We will be tempted to say yes we want to participate in your new thing, but we want to participate in our old comfortable ways. That is when Jesus might say to us that “if we put our hand to the plow and we look back we are not fit for the kingdom of God.” We can’t move forward while looking backward.
What is this new thing that God is doing? What is this new call that God has for Milner Memorial? What will it look like? Who will be involved? What will be the results? Right now neither I nor you can say. With diligent prayer, study, and listening for the voice of Holy Spirit you will come to discern what God has next for you. You may want to answer Gods call and embark on a new adventure in ministry or you might say that is for someone else to do and our work is done. I do believe that you will know.