Luke 9: 51-62
Today’s gospel reading, maybe more so than anything else, seems to be about expectations. Expectations that people have for their lives, expectations that people have for Jesus, and expectations that Jesus has for those who seek to follow him. And just as our expectations in life aren’t always met in the ways that we would like, and often draw us away from Christ instead of closer to him, today’s gospel text shows us that this reality is nothing new in the larger scheme of human history.
As our gospel opens up, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, looking towards his fate on the cross. Luke writes that Jesus sends messengers ahead of him on his journey in order to make ready for his arrival at places of respite along the way, but as they enter into a village of Samaritans, their request to prepare for Jesus is refused, knowing that Jesus is simply passing through.
While the text doesn’t go into many details about the disciple’s interactions in Samaria, it’s clear through their refusal to welcome Jesus into their community, that Jesus’ plan to go to Jerusalem doesn’t line up with the Samaritans expectations of him. And so, with the Samaritans rejection, Jesus and his disciples continue on the road. As they travel, they meet three possible recruits who provide Jesus with an opportunity to share his expectations about what being a disciple is truly about… putting Jesus above everything else in life, no matter how difficult that may be.
To the first possible recruit, Jesus responds that should the man really want to be a disciple, he must first give up his home. To the second and to the third, in response to their requests to delay their active commitment to discipleship, Jesus makes it clear, his expectations must come first. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” You either fully commit, in the here and now, or you don’t.
Like those in today’s Gospel text, we all have our own expectations and our own plans for life. And too, like those met by Jesus and his disciples on their journey to Jerusalem, following their pit stop in Samaria, while we confess our faith in Jesus, our attempts to follow him, are often influenced by our own plans and our own expectations, often placing those of God’s on the back burner
So the big question for us today is, do we expect God to shape his plan around ours like those in our reading from Luke or do we allow God to be our guide? Does the faith we claim to have and that brings us here week after week, affect the way we live once we walk out the church doors? Does the grace of God and gift of eternal life made true in Jesus Christ trump our plans and our expectations, or do we instead, shape our faith to fit around our plans and expectations?
As I’ve mentioned briefly before in one of my sermons, from a few weeks back, St. James is in the midst of a strategic planning process. Thanks to the work of our Strategic Planning Taskforce, and the approval of our Congregational Council, we will be extending an invitation to an outside consultant in the near future in order to shed some light on where God may be leading us in the future, and to give us some advice on how to get there.
This past Tuesday evening, as our Strategic Planning Taskforce met, we began to look at some of the possible questions the consultant group may ask us as a congregation. Questions like:
How many hours do you spend a month volunteering services to the community and world that are supported by your church?
If you have a job for which you are compensated to what extent do you experience you work simply as a way to make a living, and to what extent do you experience your work as an opportunity for Christian service?
And as I reflected on these questions, it became clear, that many of them come back to the question of today’s Gospel text around Jesus’ expectations of discipleship. Do we shape our faith around our own plans for our lives, instead of God’s? Do we expect God to live up to our expectations, or instead do we seek to live up to God’s expectations of us? Do we live up to the faith that we claim to have here in church throughout our daily lives, allowing Christ to be our guide, or do we succumb to the pressures of a world increasingly indifferent to the Good News of Jesus Christ?
If you were here last week in worship, you heard pastor Mike preach a pretty powerful sermon lifting up a number of examples in which life neglected to live up to human expectations. Examples not from some far away country or big city, but from right within our own community. The heroin overdose deaths of a father and his 21-year-old daughter, just three weeks apart. The murder/suicide deaths of a father and his 9-year-old daughter. The death of young woman to cancer in the early years of her marriage.
The reality is, these are only a few examples of how life rarely lives up to our expectations. And while these are certainly extreme examples, we all, each and every one of us, can think of times in our own lives, where life hasn’t gone according to plan. The loss of a job, relationships that come to an end, children who stray… With this we know we can’t control the way our lives will unfold. What we can control, however, is what we put first in our lives.
Today’s Gospel is a passage meant to remind us that we are called not simply to fit Jesus into our lives, but rather to build our lives on Jesus. In the Greek, the original language of the text, Luke uses the word “proton” for “first”. As one of our synod pastors writes in his Greek blog for the week, “a proton is the building block of the periodic table – of chemistry. It is the foundation upon which every atom exists… without a proton, an atom, by definition, ceases to exists.” With this, Jesus makes it clear, that following him must come first… the foundation on which we live.
As with those in our Gospel, Christ calls us to be faithful and to follow him in all times and before all things. Through Luke’s writings we see that Christ demands that his mission comes before our plans not to assume control of our lives, but to be a part of them… as the foundation of who we are, and all that we do.
This is the good news that our gospel reading for today teaches us… That we are given a firm foundation in Jesus Christ. Through his walking among us, his death on the cross, and his resurrection and accession into heaven, we are given a place to stand when things don’t go according to plan. When life doesn’t meet our expectations, we have the assurance that God is with us, lifting us up on solid ground, as the foundation to all that we are. With this we are given hope in times of hopelessness, courage in times of unknown and uncertainty, and strength to face the days ahead… all through the promise of forgiveness and eternal life wrapped in the endless love of our Christ our Lord. What a gift that is. Thanks be to God. Amen.