Archive for the ‘1 Kings 19:9-21’ Category

“Don’t Look Back!”

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Fifth Sunday in Pentecost, June 27, 2010
Rev. Brian Henderson—Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA
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Luke9I want to tell you a story about a man named Dave.  He works in one of those major high rise banks downtown.  Each day he walks the long twisting corridors, and uses the elevator to visit all 45 floors as he daily delivers and picks up mail.  “No big deal” we think, “it’s just a job!”  Well you would think that it’s only a job unless you stopped him and asked him, “What’s up?  How are you?”  Immediately you would hear his answer: “God is good and Jesus saves!”  This isn’t just a slogan for Dave; it’s his way of life!  Everyone that God puts in his path hears a word about God’s love through Jesus Christ.  If you watch him closely, you will hear him quoting scripture to himself as he pushes his mail cart along.  Some people rudely tell him to keep his Jesus talk to himself.  And after he passes by, some will even say pretty mean things about Dave.  Dave knows that this happens, but still he goes on with a smile in his heart, because he knows that he is really working for Jesus!  If you got to know Dave, you would find out that he even learned to speak Spanish so he could witness to his Latino neighbors.  While the rest of us fight to get on top of our world and make big money, Dave quietly lives out the mind and heart of Jesus through daily contact with others; whether he visits file clerks, corporate executives, or Spanish speaking neighbors, Dave loves to tell them about Jesus Christ.  Most of us would see him as one of the least of the community, but Jesus most likely places him amongst the greatest!

This morning let’s consider both God’s Word and His desired effect that His Word would have on us!  Our Old Testament reading asks us to consider the call of Elisha who left his family farm and followed God’s call with no regrets.  Our Epistle reading reminds us that we are living in the spirit and not according to the flesh.  We have been freed from the slavery of the Law and our fear of sin, death, and the devil.  And in our gospel reading, Jesus Himself tells us that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God!”  In all three of these readings we are invited to do the same thing… we are invited to pick up our cross and follow Jesus!

In our gospel reading we discover that James and John are angry at some people in a Samaritan village because they rejected Jesus.  They wanted to call down fire upon that place and destroy it, but Jesus reminds them that He must go to Jerusalem.  Why?  Why is Jesus’ face set towards Jerusalem?  So that he could fulfill His mission, which is also His calling and His vocation.  Jesus must go to Jerusalem so that He could carry His cross and suffer and die for the world; even for the people in this little village that rejected Him and deserved punishment; even for you!

Just after this we read starting in verse 57, “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.””  What a strange thing to say.  What was Jesus trying to tell this man?  I believe that Jesus was telling him that he was too ready.  It was the same thing he saw in Peter, when Peter said, “Even if all the others leave you, I will never leave you.”  And to this Jesus warned Peter, “Before the rooster crows, you will have denied me three times.”  And he did!  Why?  For the same error this man was making; he failed to count the cost of what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus.  I have a friend who was a US Marine recruiter.  He said that his job was to talk people out of becoming a Marine.  He said that many times people are enamored by the uniform and the excitement of serving, and they failed to see both the demand and the dangers that this high calling brings.  So he would tell them many truthful stories with just one purpose to force them to see the cost of becoming a United States Marine.

Jesus neither accepted nor rejected this young man’s request to become a disciple; He simply informed him of the truth.  This man needed to see what his offer would involve, not in some idealistic world, but in a sober and sane sense of reality.  Jesus wasn’t merely asking the young man to exchange his easy life for a hard one, instead He was using His homelessness as a way to illustrate the path that every true believer must walk.  Each Christian must choose to live by faith and not by sight.  We must realize that by following Jesus we are choosing a spiritual reality instead of a physical one.  By following Jesus each disciple is asked to live a life with eternal purposes instead of temporary physical ones. 

Next in verse 59, Jesus initiates the conversation.  He says to another young man “Follow me.”   But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”  And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead.  But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  What strange words these are, and we may even be thinking, “That was a cruel thing to say!”  But Jesus knows the man’s heart and He knows our hearts because He created them.  This man hesitated in following Jesus.  He had parents who were still living and he depended on them.  He would follow after they died; after he buried them.  He would commit to an uncertain future but not the present moment. 

Jesus’ answer probably shocked that man just as it shocks us.  “You aren’t responsible for the dead, but for the living.  People with no commitment to me—people who are dead spiritually—can bury those who die physically.  Leave the burying to them and follow me.  Commitment to me must take precedence over all of your other commitments, traditions, politics, and even your family!”

Finally, in verses 61 and 62 we read: “Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say farewell to those at home.  Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  In all three of these conversations, God is asking each of us to truthfully ask ourselves how we would answer Jesus.  No, He is asking each of us this morning, “How DO you answer me?  I have heard your profession of faith.  I have invited to you to follow me.  What is your response?  Have you counted the cost of being a true disciple?  Are you willing to forsake all other concerns to follow me?  Are you willing to not look back on what you use to have, should have had, or could have without me?” 

This morning dear friends God is telling us not to look back.  He is asking each of us to pick up the Words of St. Paul and say, “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto the things which are before (me), I press on toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 3:13-14]  What is that high calling?  It is the cross of Jesus Christ.  It is the sacrifice of self so that you can be one in Jesus Christ and one with your brothers and sisters who make up the universal church.

Friends, Christ is asking each of us to not just be committed to him but to live out the freedom that He gave us through His suffering, death, and resurrection.  This is the freedom that He gave to each of us in our blessed baptism.  But He also warns us not to take this freedom for granted.  Do not use your freedom to serve the desires of your flesh in this life.  Instead, remember that your high calling is to walk with Jesus in the spirit and to love your neighbor as yourself.  To remember that we must put our neighbor’s need of eternal life and happiness above our own needs.  God warns us that if we are not living out this spiritual reality, the result will be that we will bite and devour one another and eventually consume one another. [Ga. 5:15]  What is the only way to prevent this sinful behavior and protect the gift of salvation that we’ve been given?  To walk by the spirit!  To pick up our cross and follow Jesus!

In God’s Word we are ensured that by faith in Jesus Christ we do enjoy the full favor and approval of God.  God is not against us but for us. [Rom 8:17]  But on the other hand, God has determined that our high dignity of being a Christian is that we should not become entangled in this life, but instead we should receive the same humility and character that the earthly life of Jesus portrayed. [1 Peter 4:1]  And this humble life that we are called to live, which conforms us to the image of Christ is called the cross of Christians.  The things that we Christians suffer because we are living live out our faith in Christ in a sinful world is our cross!  If you follow Christ and confess the Gospel which is Him crucified, you will be stumbling block and an offense to this sinful world; you will receive the same treatment the world gave to Jesus.  But by your faith in Christ and His daily assurance that your sins are forgiven, you will no longer look at your suffering as a punishment but as the assurance of God that He loves you and is with you in your suffering. 

Friends, God is ever present with you through His Word assuring you not to fear the wrong judgment and ill treatment of this sinful world and the devil.  Because you hold fast to His Word in faith, put your hope in the Son of God, comfort yourself with His death and resurrection, fear God and desire to live according to His will, and sincerely desire to share your hope with others that God puts in your path, you can have confidence that nothing could ever separate you from God’s love which is yours through Christ Jesus!  But because our sinful flesh hungers and lusts for things that are by nature against God’s Word, will and order; and because our sinful flesh refuses to submit to suffering, and bearing crosses, God invites each of us into confession to admit that without His aid we are powerless to help ourselves.  He asks us daily to live out our baptisms by renouncing everything that interferes with our relationship with Jesus Christ and the building of His kingdom within our hearts and within this world, even at the expense of our own peace and tranquility, honor, possessions, affection of family members… even at the expense of our own lives!  Bearing our cross means that we must forsake all things that separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus! 

Dear friends, you can do this because Jesus did it for you!  You can do it because He is working within you to do this very thing.  Stay in His Word… trust in His Word… and hunger for His Word.  Speak to Him in prayer and ask for His strength and protection… and believe that what He has said is a certainty.  He will never leave nor forsake you.  Believe and don’t look back!  May God give each of us the strength to do this very thing; I pray that you will believe this, and I ask this in Jesus name… AMEN!