Pastor Jim Kniseley preached this sermon at Resurrection on June 30, 2013, the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost. The Gospel Lesson is Luke 9:51-62.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Our gospel lesson marks a turning point in Luke’s account of the ministry of Jesus. Prior to chapter 9 he has been teaching and healing in the area of Galilee. Now he begins his slow trek toward Jerusalem and the Cross. I think Luke’s words are well-chosen: he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
Luke is telling us that Jesus is on a mission from God and he will not be distracted in that mission. His mission is to journey to Jerusalem and sacrifice himself on the Cross for the sake of the world. And on that journey to Jerusalem he will be calling all of his followers throughout the ages to also become a part of that mission and go with him to Jerusalem.
I’m calling this sermon today Discipleship 101 so that you and I will not miss the point of today’s scripture lessons. I pray that we will not forget that the call of Jesus is to discipleship, not just church membership.
In the first days of Jesus’ new course, he encounters some “would-be” followers. A “would-be” follower is someone who has excuses why it is not convenient to whole-heartedly become a disciple of Jesus. Jesus encounters 2 people who say “I really want to follow you” and then they give some really legitimate-sounding reasons for not doing so right away. I have to bury my father and I have to say good-bye to my family. I will always remember the story of Steve Beckham in California, who served as an intern pastor with me. He had a very successful career in the field of advertising. His wife was a nurse and he had two children, one being a successful child actor in the television program “Mr. Belvedere.” Financially this family was well-off. And then the call to full-time pastoral ministry came to him from God while he was leading a youth camp at California Lutheran University in July. The call was so compelling that he did something almost unheard of in Lutheran Circles. He put his career on hold, enrolled in seminary and started classes in September.
When you become a disciple of Jesus, not just a church member, there is no road map. Jerusalem is out there, but how you get there is different for each traveler. Disciples don’t take the super highway, but instead take back-alley pathways and some appalling byways of sacrifice and service.
I’m thinking of some members of Resurrection right now. Those who cleaned bathrooms for 3 years as their volunteer service to help pay the bills around here…Those who go to the homeless shelter and the 5th Saturday ministry and prepare meals and interact with the folks who come for a meal…Those who welcome all people here, not regarding economic circumstance or sexual orientation or skin color, and as a result have received insults from others who think we should not be so welcoming…Those in law enforcement and in the military who put their lives on the line in order to protect us both here and overseas…
Have you ever been part of a congregation that lived its faith instead of just talking about its faith? The Bishop who ordained me put it this way: “We Christians are not called to be successful. We are called to be faithful.” Too often in the church, it seems to me, the idea is to be successful in the eyes of the world and not care about what the Lord Jesus wants us to be and do.
The roadways for disciples should have some signs along the way that say things like: Travelers Beware: This Road is Filled with Robbers and Dangers.
The Robbers are those who steal us away from our true mission. Some do so by stealing our joy or holding us hostage to their way demands and ways of thinking. The dangers are that we will want to take an easy road or a wrong road or that we will be tempted to stop our journey all together.
Today’s second lesson from Galatians is really helpful for disciples of Jesus. We may not know exactly our route, but we do know how we can act wherever we are on the road and where we can get our bearings. Paul is writing about fruits of the Spirit: ..the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
And Paul says these important words: Let us live by the Spirit and be guided by the Spirit.
Writer Leonard Sweet gives us some insight on how a disciple travels along the road and tries to follow Jesus as best as she or he can. He writes, You can’t drive forward without a rear view mirror, but the front window faces forward, not backwards. What does he mean? We church members are so tempted to look at our past good times and successes and try to repeat them, or we want to wallow in sorrow when we have to face challenges. What we are called to do is to move into the future, as uncertain as that can be, and remember some lessons from scripture and from our past experiences.
The people of Israel, out in the desert, faced with heat and fatigue and lack of food and water, looked back to their slavery in Egypt and thought it seemed better in comparison. Then God spoke through Moses and said in essence, “Quit your belly aching, get going, move forward, I want you to head toward the land I have promised. I will be your guide.”
This day we as a congregation and we as individuals are called to discipleship. We are called to follow Jesus and move ahead toward Jerusalem. We may not know the path, but we know the destination. We also know the gifts of the Spirit are given to us daily for the journey.
You know what? That’s all we need.