Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 26, 2016

2016.06.26 “Keep Calm and Keep Plowing” – Luke 9: 51 – 62

Central United Methodist Church
Keep Calm and Keep Plowing
Pastor David L. Haley
Luke 9: 51 – 62
June 26th, 2016

handtotheplow

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

 

The late Fred Craddock, who died last year at the age of 86, was not only a professor of preaching, but a master preacher and story-teller. He once told the following story:

“In a lot of the mountain churches, when I was moving among them, there was on Wednesday prayer meeting time . . . Bible study and prayer meeting – very little Bible study and sometimes not much praying, but a lot of talking and visiting. It was a good time. There were testimonies: people give testimony of Christian experience. Some of the churches, in order to join, you had to give a testimony of some experience of God, or an experience of beating the devil, or something like that to be admitted to membership.

I remember one night at one of those churches, a man in the community, a small farmer, gave an unusual testimony. Essentially, this is what he said:

“I was plowing yesterday. And when I got to the end of the row, there was Jesus Christ sittin’ on a fence . . . At least I think it was Jesus Christ. It coulda been God. They tell me they look pretty much alike.

I thought he was getting ready for a joke. He was very serious. And one of the people in the congregation said, “Well, what did he look like?” This fella said:

“Well, he looked just like his picture.”

But did he say anything?

“No, he didn’t say anything. But I could tell by the expression on his face he wanted me to quit and go in the house and rest. And that’s what I did.” (Fred Craddock, as recounted at Winged for the Heart, 2002, Milk and Honey, April 2006)

Contrary to this story, this is not the advice Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel, in which he tells us to “Keep Calm and Keep Plowing.” But before we get to that, let’s pick up the story.

Luke 9:51 – which is where we are today – 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.” (NRSV) Eugene Peterson puts it this way:  “When it came close to the time for his Ascension, Jesus gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem.” Why would he need courage and resolve? Because he knows he likely to be killed. As the 18th century English lexicographer, Samuel Johnson, once put it: “When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it focuses the mind wonderfully.”

From this moment on, you get the impression that there will be no pausing, no relaxing, no tolerated interruptions, that the path has been chosen, the die cast, and every step will be toward the cross. And yet, within these chapters Jesus will visit friends, be a frequent guest in homes, and do much of his teaching at dinner tables. The best way from Point A to Point B is not always the fastest way.

At this point, nobody else gets what’s happening, least of all Jesus’ disciples, so almost immediately we run into trouble. Jesus gives them a task: go ahead into a Samaritan village and make preparations. In the village, however, instead of hospitality, they encounter hostility. Did they think this was going to be easy? Do we?

And how they respond? James and John ask, “Master, do you want us to call a bolt of lightning down out of the sky and incinerate them?” (Like they could!) Don’t you love what Jesus says? “OF COURSE NOT!” says Jesus, shaking his head. I think it’s safe to say they have not gotten it yet, not gotten what the way of Jesus and therefore the way of God in the world is about.

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, there is 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.”

Sometimes, we modern disciples of Jesus still don’t get it either, do we? Like them, as we watch the deterioration of the world around us (international alliances (Brexit), government, education, church – especially church), it is easy to feel like Jesus’ disciples, and want to get angry and vengeful and even retaliatory, which seems to be the mindset of many people these days, even some so-called Christians. As Jesus’ disciples then and now discover when they encounter not the cultural Jesus but the real Jesus, this is not Jesus’ way, who comes not to destroy lives but to save them. Perhaps Jesus would tell us what my Dad used to tell me, “While others may act that way, we do not.

As we continue our journey, next come three quick encounters with “would be” disciples.  In his responses to them, it may seem that Jesus is in a cranky mood. Given his disciples, this may be understandable. However, I think what it really demonstrates is Jesus’ own sense of urgency and single-mindedness that explains what he says to these potential disciples. Even so – let’s face it – Jesus’ words are still challenging.

“On the road someone asks if he can go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said. Sounds promising to me, but Jesus’ response is 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.” Once again it reminds us that following Jesus is not a “place” we arrive it, but a lifelong journey, along the “way.” We can only wonder what Jesus might say to us, when we show up with all our “stuff?”

With the second “would be” 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 Kingdom of God is greater than the sacred obligation to bury one’s parent? Whatever happened to “Honor thy father and mother?” Let’s face it, given the love and respect we feel for our parents, most of us would be the man turned away. But maybe we don’t know the whole story.

The third “would be” disciple professes commitment, but combines 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, as Eugene Peterson translates it, putting it into a modern idiom: “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.” In other words, “Keep Calm and Keep Plowing.”

Why should we? Because, truth be told, we are often more like Jesus’ disciples, both his actual disciples and “would be” disciples, than not.

  • Sometimes we want to use our faith to call down fire from heaven,  on those who disagree with us, or ignore us.
  • Sometimes we have accommodated the dominant culture of consumption, believing that “the one who dies with the most toys wins,” rather than learning to live – as William Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas once put it – as “resident aliens” in the world.
  • Sometimes our loyalties are divided rather than single-minded, confusing our loyalties to God and country and tribe and self.
  • Sometimes in our lives that which is important is derailed by that which is merely urgent. And so – even today – Jesus’ words still prod and challenge us.

But Jesus’ words are unambiguous. To follow Jesus places demands on would-be followers. The way he invites us to walk involves uncertainty and discomfort, choices about priorities, and sometimes, a 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. In other words, “Keep calm and keep plowing.” No fire from heaven. No looking back. Walk Jesus’ way. Seize the day!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: