Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 1, 2007
St. John’s, Howard, SD
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
It’s hard to find good help” (Special thanks to Edit-O-Earl)
You can’t help but see a twinge of disappointment on Jesus face when he turns and “rebukes” the disciples that had returned from that Samaritan village. Once again they don’t seem to “get it.” He had rebuked them before, he was going to have to do it again, and well it wasn’t going to be the last time. But maybe it was especially disappointing at that very moment because he has “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus knew what lay ahead of them. His journey to Jerusalem was a journey to the cross. In that city he would give up his very life. There would be nothing that would turn him aside; his face was set like flint (Isaiah 50:7) to the task at hand. God’s power was to be revealed in the weakness of human flesh. God’s great love was to be shown in innocent suffering and death, and the pouring out of the Holy and precious blood for the sins of the world. The disciples were talking about calling down fire from heaven. They wanted a great display of God’s power, which would teach the people who rejected them a lesson. God’s power was going to be shown in a much different way. And then there were the three “wannabe” disciples saying they will follow Jesus. They don’t “get it” either. Really their promises are half hearted; they put anything and everything before their promise to follow. Jesus determination is set in clear contrast to the commitments of the disciples.
Now it is interesting that when we hear this story our first inclination is to find fault with Jesus. “Isn’t he just a little harsh?” When the first guy says “I’ll follow, but let me bury my father, first,” Jesus coldly answers, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” When another says, “I’ll follow, but first, I need to say good-bye to my family.” Jesus reply is, “No one who has put his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service.” Well, even if we don’t admit it openly, we feel it in our hearts. These requests seem pretty reasonable to us. We cringe at Jesus responses. Isn’t family important to Jesus? Do we have to give up everything to be a disciple?
To really understand what Jesus is saying to these guys we have to look at all that’s going on here. We need to remember that the text starts out with Jesus “setting his face toward Jerusalem.” Jesus is committed to his task and the journey that will take him there. These disciples have been told what it all means. Jesus will go to Jerusalem, be handed over to his enemies, be crucified dead, and rise again on the third day. They react the way they do because they think this plan of action is crazy. Who would want to go on a journey that they all knew would lead to death. Jesus is determined, the disciples want to follow him, but they offer excuses. They want to go with him… sort of. When we look at everything from that point of view, these excuse are more like, “I’d like to go with you but I’ve got to stay home and wash my hair.” After the disciples want to burn up the Samaritan village, and give excuses for not going with Jesus, You can almost hear him saying, “It’s hard to find good help these days.”
I wonder a little bit about these excuses. We don’t know what was in these men’s hearts, but Jesus did, because he knows all things. The first disciple says he’ll follow. But we get the impression that he isn’t really committed. “Foxes have holes and birds have nests, but not me. I have no place to call home. That’s what you are singing on for. No glorious living. No fame and fortune.” We don’t know how the man reacted. The next man says he’ll first need to bury his father. Was his father dead? If that was the case why wasn’t he off making arrangements already? Why wasn’t he caring for his mother? Maybe he was saying that he would become a faithful follower of Jesus after his father’s death? That could be years. Jesus ministry; Jesus plan was immediate; he was going to Jerusalem right now. There would be no delay. “Let the dead bury their own dead.” The third disciple gets right at the point. Especially with Jesus reply. “Let me say good-bye to my family.” Jesus makes clear what’s going on. “No one who plows looking back is worthy of plowing.” You have to remember in those days the plow was in front of the plowman. You had to watch the animal and the machine as you walked behind it. You won’t make a straight furrow if you’re not committed to the task at hand, if you keep looking back. There is a Latin word for a plowman who keeps looking back. The word is delirious. It means literally “out of the furrow.” A delirious man, one who isn’t paying attention to his work is like a plow out of the furrow. Being a follower of Jesus isn’t a matter of convenience it’s a mater of commitment. There are no part time disciples in the crowd that claims to be Jesus followers. Jesus calls for full time faithfulness. “It’s hard to find good help these days.”
“These days” we have the same view as those would-be disciples. All too often today, Jesus is a part time activity; Sunday mornings and once a quarter meetings. “I don’t have time.” “Everyone is so busy.” “Let the younger generation do it.” St. Paul’s words to the Galatians are words also spoken to us. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” (Galatians 5:13, ESV) Luther says it like this: “A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” It was Jesus journey to Jerusalem that set us free. Free from the worry about our own relationship with God. We don’t have to do good things to earn a place with God. Jesus has done them for us. We don’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.
“It’s hard to find good help these days.” I think it was always hard for Jesus to find good disciples. I’m sure I’m one of his most troublesome. The truth is we are all lousy disciples of Jesus. Even when we want to do good things we have to argue ourselves into it. And even when we do things for the right reasons our own sinful pride takes credit where none is due. For every good thing we’ve done there are twenty that we didn’t do. For every right thing we do there’s a bucket full of wrong. And there are lots of excuses. School, family, jobs, television, all keep us from being the disciples that Jesus would have us be. Now don’t think I’m just talking about church meetings. We could do all the meetings we want, and still not be “good help.” Our lives of service to others isn’t centered on our gathering in this building for meetings, it’s centered in the life that God has given us. And the new life he gives us through Jesus. Through his life, death and resurrection that is our new life in Baptism for the forgiveness of sins. It has everything to do with the family he’s placed us in. The job we go to every day. The friends we play with. The school we attend. It doesn’t take a church program to serve our neighbor. It doesn’t take a church program to defend life and speak against abortion, or to speak up about the hope that is within you, the hope of eternal life in Jesus. It’s a full time job. It’s a full time commitment. “It’s hard to find good help these days.” You aren’t going to do it perfectly. Just like you, I’ve missed opportunities; I’ve left unsaid what needed to be said. We’ve all used every excuse in the book, “Let me bury my father first…” “Let me get my life in order first…” “Let me get through school first…” “Let me settle into retirement…” “Let me raise my children…” “It’s hard to find good help these days.”
And yet we just sang a beautiful hymn: Take my life… take my hands… take my money… are we saying that we didn’t mean any of it? No of course not. We really didn’t mean every word. After all we are Jesus disciples. He has called us to be his. We know that Jesus walked that road to Jerusalem for us. We know it’s for us because of the promises he made to us in our Baptism. He reaches out with a pastor’s hand and pours water on our heads and says, “The trip to Jerusalem is for this one.” That’s the most important part of faith, clinging to the promises of God, knowing that Jesus did all these things “for me!” That’s the essence of a personal faith in Jesus.That’s what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus is the perfect model of loving service. Don’t think for a moment that he wasn’t in complete control of events. The Chief Priests and teachers of the law weren’t in charge. The Roman governor didn’t call the shots. Jesus wasn’t even the puppet of His Father. Jesus chose the path that he was on. He made his choice freely and without being forced. His choice was service through sacrifice. He really “took up the cross” of his own free will. And most important of all, he did it for you. He did it for your sins. He did it for your failures. He did it in spite of the excuses you make for not taking up a cross of your own. That’s exactly why he set his face to Jerusalem. That’s exactly why nothing was going to stop him from going. For Jesus, there are no excuses that will stand in his way of setting you free.
We heard also from Paul in the Second reading: For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1, ESV) The freedom that Paul is talking about, the freedom Jesus won for us, isn’t the kind of freedom we often think about, especially as we think about last weekend’s celebration of our Nation’s independence. It’s not a freedom to do whatever we want. That kind of freedom is self indulgent. Christ set us free from our need to earn our own salvation. We don’t have to work to make our place with God. We don’t have to do good works to earn anything. Jesus has earned it all for us. In fact, Jesus freed us from the slavery to sin, death and Satan, so that we could be his servants. Just like the Declaration of Independence didn’t mean that our forefathers were free from dependence. They were just dependent on each other instead of the King. “Take my life, O Lord, renew, Consecrate my heart to you;” Disciples of Jesus are dependent on him. We are dependent on Jesus. We are free to serve. Free to follow Jesus… full time, with our whole heart, soul and mind.
As Pastor Earl Feddersen wrote: “Paul has a message for us [today]. It is rather simple really: Christ has already set us free! Get out into the light of His day. As Jesus implied, the spiritually dead can bury their own dead, but you get out and proclaim the kingdom of God!” Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.