Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 27, 2010

2010.06.27 “Seize the Day” Luke 9: 51 – 62

Central United Methodist Church

 “Seize the Day”

June 27th, 2010

Luke 9: 51 – 62

Pastor David L. Haley

      “When it came close to the time for his Ascension, Jesus gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem. He sent messengers on ahead. They came to a Samaritan village to make arrangements for his hospitality. But when the Samaritans learned that his destination was Jerusalem, they refused hospitality. When the disciples James and John learned of it, they said, “Master, do you want us to call a bolt of lightning down out of the sky and incinerate them?”

      Jesus turned on them: “Of course not!” And they traveled on to another village.

      On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.

    Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

      Jesus said to another, “Follow me.”

      He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”

      Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”

     Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”

      Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow.  Seize the day.” – Luke 9: 61 – 62, The Message

       Are you ready to walk? Not just in the Fourth of July parade, but with Jesus in Christian discipleship? If we don’t get started, we will get left behind.  

      It’s been awhile since I’ve been on a trek, and frankly, I miss it.  It’s a little slow at first, but as your body adapts, you pick up the pace. There are sights to be seen, people to be met, and interesting conversations and experiences along the way.

      The distance we will walk is not that far; it’s about 70 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem. But it’s not the miles that are important; it’s the spiritual journey that’s going to prove most important, as we walk with Jesus along the way.

      The trek begins in this week’s Gospel, at Luke 9:51, which begins a section in Luke’s Gospel known as Luke’s travel narrative.  It begins with these words: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (New Revised Standard Version)

      Perhaps Jesus’ mindset was that described by the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, some 500 years before:

      “The Master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.  He knows he is going to die and he has nothing left to hold on to: no illusions in his mind, no resistances in his body.  He doesn’t think about his actions, they flow from the core of his being.  He holds nothing back from life; therefore he is ready for death.”  (Tao te Ching, translated by Stephen Mitchell, p. 50)

         In his determination, Jesus may bring to mind other great leaders of modern times, who used walking to great purpose. There was Mahatma Gandhi, who used long marches to bring about political change in India. From Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., learned important lessons about “striding toward freedom.” And doesn’t Jesus’ urgency remind you of Dr. King’s “fierce urgency of now,” as expressed in his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which he published in his 1964 book, Why We Can’t Wait.

      Jesus can’t wait. He’s a man on a mission, on the way to Jerusalem, where he will fulfill God’s plan for God’s people.   

      Nobody else gets it, least of all his disciples, so almost immediately we run into trouble. Jesus gives certain disciples a task: go ahead into a Samaritan village and make preparations.  In the village, however, instead of cooperation, they encounter rejection.  Did we think this was going to be easy?

      Don’t you love how Jesus’ disciples respond? “Master, do you want us to call a bolt of lightning down out of the sky and incinerate them?” “OF COURSE NOT!” says Jesus, shaking his head. These are not the guys you want to put in charge of the neighborhood canvas.  

      It’s probably just as well Luke doesn’t tell us what else Jesus said. In fact, others couldn’t resist filling in the blank. In some translations, you’ll note a textual variant here, almost certainly added later, in which Jesus adds, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of man came not to destroy lives but to save them.” 

      The truth is, sometimes, we modern disciples of Jesus still don’t get it right.  Does it bother you, as it bothers me, that some popular versions of Christianity spend more time blasting what they are against, rather than what – as Christians – they are for?  I hate to tell you this, if you became a Christian hoping to call down fire from heaven on your enemies, you got the wrong religion.

      As we walk, next come three encounters with “wannabe” disciples.  In his responses to them, it may seem that Jesus is in a cranky mood. (Given Jesus’ disciples, this might be understandable.) I think it is Jesus’ own sense of urgency and single-mindedness that explains his words to these potential disciples – which, let’s face it – are still challenging.

        The first seems determined enough, but Jesus confronts him with the insecurity and homelessness that goes with being a follower of Jesus:

“On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.  Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”  

We know it best as it reads in the New Revised Standard Version: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The kind of homelessness Jesus is talking about here is not only physical but social. One is no longer related only to a family of origin, but to a community of believers, the Church.  It should also remind us that Christian discipleship is never so much a “place” we arrive it, as it is a lifelong journey, a “way.” 

        With the second “wannabe” disciple, Jesus takes the initiative and says, “Follow me.” And the would-be disciple says, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”

      To which Jesus responds: “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”  Or as we best know it, “Let the dead bury the dead.”

Are you serious, Jesus?  Are you saying serving the Reign of God is greater than the sacred obligation to bury one’s parent? Whatever happened to “Honor thy father and mother?”

The third “wannabe” disciple professes commitment, but couples it with a delaying tactic: “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”

      To which Jesus says: “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow.  Seize the day.”

      What Jesus actually says is, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” This agricultural metaphor, which would have made sense to the farmers of Jesus’ day, and maybe also to our grandparents, at least those who were farmers, may not mean so much to us. So Peterson translates the metaphor, in terms we understand.  Procrastination, we know.  Backward looks, we know.  Putting things off, we know.   Seize the day!

        How to understand?  Remember, Jesus is a “true believer,” a revolutionary, not part-time revolutionaries like we are.  I heard a quote this week by E. B. White: “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” (E. B. White (American writer, 1899 – 1985). 

And, we should also note the metaphorical nature of these words:  “Foxes have holes . . . Let the dead bury the dead . . . No one putting their hand to plow looks back.”  This may give us a clue about how they were meant to be interpreted: metaphorically. 

        And, in a standard deflection, we may be tempted to apply Jesus’ words not so much to US as to of course all those other, nominal, would-be disciples, who are our friends. You know, the kinds of people for whom churches have “No Excuse Sundays.”  Where:

Cots will be placed in the foyer for those who say,

“Sunday is my only day to sleep.”

We will have steel helmets for those who say,

“the roof will cave in if I ever come to church.”

Blankets will be furnished for those who think the church

is too cold and fans for those who think the church is too hot.

We will have hearing aids for those who think the preacher speaks

too softly and cotton for those who think he preaches too loudly.

Scorecards will be available for those who wish

to list the hypocrites present.

One section will be devoted to trees and grass

for those who like to see God in nature.

         Finally, the sanctuary will be decorated with both Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies for those who have never seen the inside

of the church without them.

      Truth be told, there is no getting around it:  it is our lives that are like these “wannabe” disciples whom Jesus turned away. For we must confess, too often we have accommodated the culture rather than separated from them, too often our loyalties are divided rather than single-minded, and too often, that which is important is derailed by the “tyranny of the urgent.”  And so Jesus’ words still prod and challenge but us.

      But his words are unambiguous. To follow Jesus places clear demands on would-be followers.  The way in which he invites us to walk involves uncertain mission, choices about priorities, and sometimes, even a clean break with the past. Neither good excuses nor plausible distractions absolve us, nor should they deter us, from what Jesus asks of us: faithful, persistent, dogged, discipleship. There’s no getting around it: the Christian equivalent of “the dog ate my homework” just won’t cut it.

      “Seize the Day” is the phrase used by translator Eugene Peterson to end of today’s Gospel. The phrase, from the Latin “carpe diem,” was coined by the ancient Roman philosopher Horace.  It was made popular by a 1956 book of the same name by Chicago author Saul Bellow, and even more popular by the 1989 movie, “Dead Poets Society.” 

      In that movie, Robin Williams stars as John Keating, an English teacher in a prep school, who uses the words of dead poets to inspire his students to live extraordinary lives. In one scene, Keating and his students stand before the War Memorial to young men, just like them, killed in war.  Keating says:

      “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you.  Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable?  Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils.  But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you.  Go on, lean in.  Listen, you hear it? — Carpe — hear it? — Carpe, carpe diem, seize the day boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

      Jesus calls us – if not to make our lives extraordinary – at the very least to make them count.  No excuses.  Seize the day.

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