Too Hot to Handle: Leaving Your Comfort Zone, Luke 9:51-62
First United Methodist Church, June 30, 2019
Pastor Toni Carmer
As I begin this morning’s message, I want to offer a disclaimer: It’s Jesus’ fault.
When I struggle through a difficult passage, as I work on an outline, as I try to figure out how to best write and preach a sermon on a particular text—what comes out in the end (if I’ve been prayerful and faithful), what I share with you on Sunday morning, well, it’s Jesus’ fault.
If we all go home on Sunday morning feeling like we’ve got things all wrapped up in a bow…when we’ve got all our questions answered and everything is hunky dory: well, that’s my fault. Because even though I love you, even though I’m thankful to be your pastor, even though you provide a home for Scott and I to live and you deposit a check into our bank account every two weeks, my job isn’t to make you happy or to make it easy on myself. My job, my task, is to show my love for you and my acceptance of my call to be your pastor, by challenging you to grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
So, keep this disclaimer in mind as we work through our scripture this morning. It’s Jesus’ fault.
The series of stories we read in this morning’s scripture teach us what it means to be a Christ follower.
As we begin, we’re told that Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem. He’s determined. He’s focused. He’s decided to turn his back on comfort, on self-glory. He chooses to do the hard thing. The faithful thing. He’s headed to Jerusalem where he’ll come face-to-face with his tradition, with the religious leaders of his own people, where he’ll confront the challenges and the controversy of the message he shares. He knows the price he’ll pay is his life.
So, Jesus is on the move. He understands his mission, he knows what’s ahead, even though no one else on earth does, or is really able to understand. It’s not like Jesus has kept it a secret, they just don’t get it. But, they DO understand there is work to be done: there are still stories to be told and lessons to be learned. As Jesus walks, as he heals, as he teaches and preaches, he’s preparing the way through his words and example for his disciples and all who follow him to continue to do the work and the ministry he began and they’ve done together.
As they move toward Jerusalem, he sends messengers ahead to prepare the way. When these messengers arrive in a small Samaritan village, we can see the influence Jesus is having on those who are following him. We already know that good Jewish and good Samaritan men and women avoid one another like the plague, but the Jewish messengers enter the Samaritan village to prepare the Samaritans for his arrival.
They’re an advance team. They want to put posters up, spread the word, find a great place for Jesus to talk with people where there’s water nearby, maybe some shade to protect them all from the hot sun, maybe see if there’s a sound system available. They want a good turnout for the sake of the kingdom.
But the Samaritan’s aren’t interested in a visit. Their auditorium is booked, or so they say. They hear the disciples say that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, but they believe that the place to worship God is on Mount Gerizim. Everybody in the room believes in God, they worship God, but there are some theological differences that divide them, and they’re not willing to listen beyond that. I think of Jennifer Burns-Lewis at the decommissioning service at the Presbyterian Church last Sunday: “You know it’s not like predestination is the only thing we Presbyterians talk about!” she said. A conversation together might have been a good thing. But it isn’t going to happen.
The messengers had tried something new, they’re ready to make concessions, in terms of stepping into Samaritan territory. They decide: “We can do this. We can do it for the sake of the Gospel.”
But they’re turned away. And being turned away from these folks who they’re not totally convinced they even like to begin with, makes them really mad.
This is one of those times when we understand why brothers James and John are sometimes called the Sons of Thunder. They’re so incensed by the rejection, they say to Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to consume them?” It’s not like this is something they’ve ever done before. As a matter of fact, about 15 verses before today’s scripture while James and John are up on the mountain when Jesus was transfigured, their fellow disciples try and fail to excise a demon from a boy with epilepsy. So supernatural acts like calling fire down from heaven isn’t exactly in their skill set. Still, the disciples didn’t originate the idea, either. The prophet Elijah had called fire down from heaven to consume two sets of officers and their 50 men in response to King Ahaziah’s inquiry of Baalzebub about whether or not he’d recover from his injuries from a recent fall rather than turning to God (2 Kings 1).
Jesus speaks sternly to the disciples: No, there will be no fire called down from heaven. Later, in chapter 10, he instructs them to brush the dust off their feet and move on when a community fails to offer them hospitality. There’s no arm twisting, no retaliation or use of violence to enforce the faith of Christ. That’s not what Jesus has in mind. Trust God to sort things out in the end.
What do the disciples learn from this? What does this interaction teach us as Christ-followers today?
At least a couple of things. First, we’re reminded that Jesus’ mission to forgive and heal and offer God’s love extends to all people. Even people we’re not comfortable with. Jim Jones is a retired UM pastor who is president of the Heritage Board that I’m a part of, and a few weeks ago he said to me, I always think of Jesus extending his hands in welcome and NOT holding them out to prevent folks from coming close. I like that image a lot, because that’s how I see Jesus, too.
Secondly, although the disciples had been right there with Jesus when he preached, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you,” they seem to have forgotten that he didn’t say a thing about roasting those who won’t give you the time of day. But I guess they weren’t thinking about the Samaritans when he said that. But he was talking about them, too? Okay.
Don’t get into a tussle. The way of Jesus is a way of peace. The way of Jesus means offering forgiveness, being a peacemaker, even when that’s not how your tongue or your heart really wants to respond. Move on. You’ve got work to do down the road.
I read an interview with a couple who had just lost their daughter in the 9/11 attacks on World Trade Center. The interviewer awkwardly asked something about their going to their faith community that next Sunday to find peace. The mother said no, she wasn’t ready to do that because their church says to love your enemies, to pray for those who mistreat you. She wasn’t ready for that. To hear that yet.
We can understand that.
It makes perfect sense.
And that’s one of those things that God calls us to do. It’s his fault that we sometimes need to be reminded.
Jesus and his disciples are rejected by the Samaritans and so they move on. They encounter three potential recruits on the road. That would be a good thing, I would think.
The first comes to Jesus and says what sounds like the right thing: “I will follow you wherever you may go.” That’s what Peter and James and John and Levi did (5:11, 28). Jesus doesn’t refuse him, but warns him about the nature of the journey: there is no home at the end of the day, and the life of an itinerant preacher/disciple/a Christ follower isn’t easy. Wild animals have safe places where they can return every night, but not the Son of Man. For him, it will be one village after another, taking what is offered until he gets to Jerusalem, where there will be for him, a cross and a grave.
Is this the life you want?
Are you sure you’re ready to follow me, Jesus asks?
Before there was some restructuring of the greater church, I was on what was called the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. We had meetings a couple of times a year in different places around the US, and I met some great men and women in the church from different places around the world who do things very differently than we do.
I remember being with some folks from our southern states who told me that the parsonages they provide for their pastors are completely furnished and decorated, so when a new pastor moves into their church, all they have to do is bring their clothes, hang ‘em up in the closet and fill up the drawers, then head out into the kitchen to make supper with the pots and pans and plates that are right there waiting for you.
I said really? Your pastors don’t have any of their own stuff?
Of course not, they said. You give it all up to proclaim the Gospel. That’s what the Bible says.
Ok. It does. I’ll blame Jesus for that one. And honestly, I’ve got too much stuff, I agree, but I’m glad to live in Indiana.
A second person basically receives an engraved invitation from Jesus: “Follow me!” The man asks that he first be allowed to bury his father, which is a very reasonable request, don’t you think? It’s suspected that the man isn’t speaking of his father who has recently died, but who will die someday, and as a good son, he wants to fulfill his role of caring for his father until the time of his death. Then he’ll be free to follow. There is a commandment, we remember, “Honor your father and your mother,” and this was a deeply felt obligation in that day, even as it is today.
Put that alongside the time Jesus said this: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters…cannot be my disciples” (14:26). Later, Peter will say to Jesus, “Look, we’ve left everything we own to follow you” (18:2). And yet, hearing him say, “Let the dead bury the dead” is still a shocking, even offensive way of deciding to follow Jesus.
Jesus wants us to know that following him is a very big deal. It impacts every atom of who we are. Every relationship. Every responsibility.
The final volunteer is ready to go with Jesus he says, but first he needs to say goodbye to everyone. He apparently also needs to go through the process of eliminating his legal obligations. Jesus doesn’t have an argument with that, but points out that if he is serious about joining up, he would have already settled his affairs. Trying to plow while looking backwards is the image of someone who’s having a hard time making a decision. Go home and decide if you’re in or out. In the meantime, Jesus is moving. Forward. To Jerusalem.
I guess the whole thing—this text—is a disclaimer, of sorts. Jesus is offering truth in advertising about what it means/what it costs to be his disciple. He’s telling us that following him is about putting Jesus first, above everything else. I’m not trying to smooth over his demands, so that we can have them all tied up in a bow in just a couple of minutes here, but I don’t think Jesus is calling us to reject our responsibilities to our families and our work and the tasks we’re called to do in the midst of our lives, but to see those needs in the light of our faith and through the lens of our commitment to Christ.
Jesus claims priority over the very best that we have. Jesus claims priority over the very best of human relationships, not simply telling us to choose him over the devil, but telling us to choose him over those things that cause us to feel secure, and those people whom we most love.
That doesn’t mean leaving children unattended, and running off to do the Lord’s work in another land or place. But it does mean choosing activities and behaving in ways that makes it clear that we’re Christian, and because of that, our lifestyle will be different than the lifestyle of a non-Christian. There will be times when we need to make a stand against injustice. Because that’s what Jesus calls us to do. We’re called to be good stewards, and to make choices that honor God and care for creation. In our work and in our personal interactions, we’re to be honest, to have integrity, to make decisions that value people over profits. Because that’s who we are. That’s what Jesus calls us to do.
Our task is to keep Jesus at the center of everything we do, remembering his presence, remembering that he’s always walking alongside us.
Jesus tells us that the time is here. It’s now.