“The Cost of Discipleship”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Luke 9: 51-62
June 30, 2019
“No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” – Luke 9:62i
Remember last week’s sermon? It’s title was a little irreverent: “Asking Jesus to leave.” Well, Jesus isn’t helping His cause. After reading Luke 9:51-62, we are met with three different encounters with folks who either want to follow Jesus or who are called by Jesus. In none of them is there a warm feeling. And before these encounters there is Jesus trying to make an impression on the good folks in Samaria. That didn’t go so well. Jesus, like any good evangelist, had sent “messengers” ahead of His arrival. When they started to talk about Jesus and folks learned that “His face was set on Jerusalem,” the Samaritans wanted no part of Him. Indeed, so cold was the welcome Samaria gave to James and John that they wanted the authority to “call down fire from Heaven.”
By way of more additional background, Luke 9:51 starts a new section in Luke. He has started off for Jerusalem but it wont be until Luke 19:45 that Jesus actually enters the city. This is the longest section in all of Luke comprising 10 chapters. If my family vacation had started out this way, I think I would have preferred to stay home because don’t forget, the Disciples are clueless. They want to burn every man, woman, and child in Samaria. I can only imagine how many times Jesus slapped His forehead looked to heaven and said, “Oy vey. This is what You gave me to work with?” Not a very auspicious beginning.
But does anyone get it? Does anyone know what it means to follow Jesus? What is the cost of discipleship?
Let’s take a quick look at the three encounters with would-be followers.
- The first person seems eager enough. Indeed, he makes a rather bold promise. “I will follow you wherever you go.’ I doubt if the gentleman had any idea where Jesus was truly headed. Had he known about the betrayal, trial, flogging, spitting and jeering, I highly doubt he would have been so eager to sign up. And in fairness, Jesus tried to set him straight: “Foxes have holes,” says Jesus, “and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ How’s being homeless sound to you?
- The second encounter is one of Jesus’ choosing. We don’t know what Jesus saw in this stranger, but it is Jesus who calls: “Follow me.” Before we judge this man too severely for coming up with an excuse about having to bury his father, let’s unpack what is being said. “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” One of the commentators I read pointed out that this man would not have been part of the crowd if his father had just died. He is not asking for a temporary leave of absence. He is saying that family obligations demand that he care for his father until his father dies. We don’t know the condition of this man’s father. The text is silent. What we do know is there would have been sever social consequences for abandoning his parent in his time of need. And how does Jesus respond? None too kindly. “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” It seems obvious to me that the man didn’t think he could care for his father while proclaiming the Kingdom of God.
- All of which brings us to the third encounter. This person requests is that he have an opportunity to say farewell to his family. Most of us wouldn’t just jump up and go to Europe. If I tried that, there would be trouble at home. In short, it is a reasonable request. How does Jesus respond? He tells him that anyone who looks back after starting to plow is not fit for the kingdom of heaven!
So here is what I take away from all this. The first individual has no idea of what he is taking on. The next too have no sense of the urgency of the moment. So where do we fit in?
I like to think that most, if not all of us, have a sense of the cost of following Jesus. The central symbol of our faith is not a plush cushion but a cross. And when the day comes and I stand before the judgment seat of God will God not call for an accounting of the pain I saw in others and did not heal? Will God not ask why I rested in leisure while children were fleeing violence in their homeland?
I am reminded of a scene from Schindler’s List. It tells the story of a German industrialist who joined the Nazi party as a pragmatic plan to make a fortune from the war. He made millions and had conscripted Jewish workers whom he did not have to pay. In Krakow, Poland in 1939, he saw the S.S. round up and execute Jews. Something snapped, something grace filled. He resolved that this would not happen to the Jews who worked for him. He would spend all he had to bride S.S. offices to keep them out of the death camps. Talking with the foreman of his factory after Schindler had brought the workers safely through the German lines, Schindler held up his hand and there, on one of his fingers was a gold ring. “I could have saved more. I could have saved at least one more.” He had spent all that he had. Schindler would be taken by the Russians and never heard from again. This man who risked everything brought over 1,200 Jews to safety.
There are so many places in this world where brokenness has not been challenged by the Church of Christ, indeed, there are places where Christ’s church has brought pain to the innocent. We would do well to remember these words of George McCloud, founder of the Iona Community in Scotland:
I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to spell his title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek; at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse and soldiers gamble…Because that is where he died and that is what he died about and that is where the Church should be and what the Church ought to be about.
The grace Jesus gives is not a cheap one. It is meant to save not only ourselves but the world. So Jesus calls: “Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23)
Long ago Jesus set His eyes on Jerusalem and began His journey to the cross. A region would reject Him. One would-be follower would underestimate the cost of discipleship. Two others would fail to sense the urgency of the moment. And I? I find myself torn between the urgency of the moment and the obligations of being a father, a husband, a citizen of the world. So today I pray that though I only follow in part, may it prove enough to save my soul. Let us pray…
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. 54When 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?’* 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then* 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.’ 58And 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.’ 59To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 60But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ 61Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ 62Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’