Would-Be Followers of JesusLuke 9:57-62 (NRSV)
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And 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.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
I wonder, do you often experience the presence of God in your life, or do you just go through the motions every day? Do you long for sacred connections, divine encounters, and holy moments? I know I do. But the truth is, life is filled with decisions and choices. We need to choose which road to travel, who to follow, and how to react in a multitude of situations.
Now most of us try to prioritize our lives and respond to responsibilities as we deem necessary. But how do we decide what is important in our lives and what warrants our attention? The truth is sometimes we need to take a step back from our busy lives and think about just that. What is important? How do I decide which road to choose? Or what is it I am supposed to be doing?
Now every week here in Oldtown, we take some time to listen for God’s still-speaking voice. But every once in a while, we need to take a little more time to listen for God’s call in our lives and look for the direction in which Jesus is leading us. Because the world can get very loud sometimes, and our own wants and desires and the wants and desires of society can drown out the call of God. That’s why, every once in a while, we need to be called back to center. We need to reassess where we are, where we are going, and who it is we are following because it is easy to get off track and to head off in the wrong direction without even knowing it.
And that doesn’t only happen to us as individuals–it also happens to businesses and companies, to nonprofit organizations and political parties, to universities, to community groups, and, yes, even to the church. Well, we have all been on a wild ride over the last year and a half, navigating the uncharted course of the pandemic. And I know that many of us can’t wait to get back to the comforts of our beloved sanctuary. And don’t worry folks, we’ll be there in just a few weeks. And what a day of celebration that will be! I have heard comments from many of you saying that you can’t wait to be back in the sanctuary to sit, take a deep breath, and relax in the comfort of our church home, surrounded by the people we love. And don’t get me wrong, I do too, and I’m looking forward to that moment when, as a church family, we cannot only celebrate together, but we can take time to renew ourselves and rejuvenate our faith so that we can continue the journey.
But the truth is Jesus never calls us to be comfortable. He constantly pushes us and challenges us to be the best that we can be, as we encourage others to be and do the same. Jesus once said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” That’s because Jesus didn’t settle down and make a comfortable home for himself. He spent his life and his ministry traveling around, always moving forward, teaching and preaching and encouraging others.
He often invited people to follow him, but when he did, he usually heard excuses. “To one he said, ‘Follow me.'” But the man responded, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.'”
Now, these may sound like worthy excuses: to bury your father, or to say goodbye to your family, but they are excuses just the same. The truth is we can always find a reason to not follow Jesus, to not come to church, to not love our neighbor, to not live lives of faith. Because as human beings, we usually like to take the easy route. We like the “nice Jesus” who tells us to lay down in green pastures and beside still waters to rest, the Jesus who doesn’t pressure us but who just lets us be “nice Christians” when we want to be.
But folks, sometimes Jesus calls us to do more and to face things that are not always easy. Friends, we need to start making some big decisions as a church family. We need to figure out who we are as a church, where we are going next, and what God is calling us to do as a congregation. Are we being called to worship, or to teach, or to do mission, or to witness? Are we being called to service, or to be good stewards of God’s creation, or to community involvement? Are we being called to fellowship, or fundraising, or event planning? My friends, the list of possibilities can go on forever! But a small handful of people can’t do them all. It will take everyone following their passions and sharing their light.
What I would like all of you to do over the next four to five weeks before we head back to our church building is to really listen for God’s call in your life. Where is God calling you? And what do you feel passionate about doing when we get back? Because, instead of simply maintaining what we have always done, we need to imagine a new way to balance ourselves. Instead of waiting for someday, when someone steps forward with a new idea, that day needs to be now, so that, as the people of Oldtown and as followers of Jesus, we might truly begin working to answer our call. Not someday, but today!
Friends, I don’t know what this new journey will look like, but I sense that there is something amazing coming. Because life is different today than it was a year and a half ago, and we need to find new ways to reach out to families and individuals so that everyone can get involved in the work of the church and in the worship of God. And I’m not talking about busywork; I’m talking about sacred connections, divine encounters, and holy moments spent and experienced as together we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Earlier, we heard Jesus’ reply to those who have made excuses. Do you remember? “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” And, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Friends, let us not look back and lean on what we have always done, but let us have the courage to step forward in our faith, to truly experience those sacred connections, divine encounters, and holy moments together!