Gal 5:1,13-25; Luke 9:51-62
2nd Sunday after Trinity 8am
St Barbara’s 30.06.19
Rev Tulo Raistrick
We often liken life to a journey.
In our reading from Luke’s gospel, Jesus sets out on a journey, a journey that is both physical and spiritual. We are told: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Jesus needed to be resolute, determined, because the journey he was undertaking was going to be a difficult one. He knew that this journey would lead to his death. And as he undertakes this journey he wants those who will follow him, both on the road, and in terms of discipleship, to know the demands of doing so.
The first thing he wants them to know is that following him is a journey of love not judgment. In one of the villages they pass through on their journey they are not welcomed. James and John, two of Jesus’ followers, in their anger at such rejection want to call down fire from heaven and have the village destroyed. This is pretty extreme, but sadly it is not too far removed from our own world. We see the anger and vitriol here in our own country over something like Brexit – not just milk shakes being thrown, but death threats made and even the murder of an MP. Maybe we see it in ourselves – road rage, fuming anger at bureaucracy, people failing to see things our way. Its very easy to want to seek revenge and retribution, isn’t it, when we may feel slighted or wronged.
But Jesus simply rebukes such attitudes. They are no part of what it means to follow him. Paul, in his letter to the church in southern Turkey that we heard earlier, understood this. Quoting Jesus he says that the entire law, the whole way in which we are to live life, can be summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” And he adds, “If you keep on biting and devouring each another, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.”
To follow Christ means to follow the path of love. I wonder, do you feel wronged by anyone today? Will you harbour anger and resentment or will you look to forgive and love them this day?
The second thing Jesus wants his disciples to know is that following him is a journey of sacrifice not comfort. Later this morning we will be giving thanks and dedicating to God a young child. His parents have given him the middle name “Rafa”, named after Rafa Nadal, the tennis player. You don’t need to know much about Rafa Nadal to know that it is not just his natural talent that makes him a great player but his willingness to make sacrifices. During games he will endure incredible pain and exhaustion but will not give up, often wearing his opponents down by his sheer relentlessness. Off the court he makes even greater sacrifices: putting in hours of punishing fitness work, working for months in rehab to overcome his many injuries, eating a carefully regulated diet, giving up a normal social life to concentrate purely on his tennis. If the child’s parents had ambitions for him to follow in Rafa Nadal’s footsteps and become a great tennis player himself, they would expect that he would have to make similar sacrifices.
So, if we are wanting to follow in the footsteps of the greatest and holiest and most loving person this world has ever know, the person who shows us who God is, the person who is God, should we expect such a journey to be an easy one? To involve no sacrifice? The answer is clearly not. And on this journey to Jerusalem, Jesus points out to his followers the sacrifice involved.
For one thing, it means putting him before material comfort. Jesus tells them that even animals and birds have homes, but he, the Son of God, has nowhere to lay his head. He tells them not to wait until they are financially secure before they start following him (the implication of the man asking to bury his father is not that his father has died, but that once his father has died and he has received his inheritance, then he will be ready to follow Jesus). It is tempting to put many other things before faith, to say, once I have got such and such sorted, then I will start giving more time to follow Jesus. But Jesus’ words are clear: the time is now.
I wonder, what for each of us are things that hold us back from fully following Christ. Are we going to put Christ first? And are we going to do that now?
And the third thing that following Christ calls from us is to commit to a journey of total concentration, not half-hearted attention. Jesus lived in a rural community where farming was the main trade. Everyone would have known that to plough a straight furrow you needed to keep your hand firmly on the plough and to keep looking straight ahead. To look back was fatal. As soon as you did, the furrow would go awry. Total concentration was required.
Many years ago, before the advent of sat navs or even mobile phones, I was on a 400-mile car journey in South Africa. I had no map and no idea of my destination. I was just told to follow my colleague who was driving the car ahead. I knew if I failed to keep him in my sights at all times within a matter of minutes I would be totally lost. It was a journey of many hours that required total concentration (and just a little nerve – I’m sure my colleague fancied himself as a racing car driver!)
Following Christ requires that level of concentration from us. If we take our eyes off him we can find ourselves going down cul-de-sacs and all sorts of wrong places. Our focus needs to be on him.
What does that mean? It means asking “where is Christ in this situation?” At work, with a neighbour, in the home, asking where is Christ here? How is he present in the people I am with? It means intentionally looking for him, for his word tells us, He wants to be known.
And it means asking, “how can I be like Christ in this situation?” – keeping at the forefront of our minds at all times the fact that we are following Christ, in every situation, with every person, not just in church. How do we do that? Well Paul in his letter to that church in southern Turkey gives us a good answer: keep in step with the Spirit for the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. A sign that we are following Christ is that these fruit grow in our lives. That we are people who are full of love, joyfulness, peace. People who are patient and kind. People who are gentle and in control of our emotions, not flying off the handle at the first provocation. Are these fruit we recognise in ourselves? Are these fruit that others see in us?
For each one of us, following Christ is not easy. It is a challenging journey. To give up anger for love; to give up comfort for sacrifice; to give up distractions to focus on those things that really matter.
But when we do so, as the apostle Paul wrote, we experience true freedom, true joy, true life. May God help each one of us to follow him this day.