Which Way to Go? – June 30, 2019

Scriptures: Psalm 16 and Luke 9: 51-62

by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens

As we conclude the month of June and enter into month of July – and this week of patriotic expression and songs of love for our country – I got to thinking about this critical point in our history: We are starting a new election cycle in which our many presidential candidates will cast a vision for our country; we are facing a crisis at our borders and question what to do to help solve this problem;  Our denomination is at the brink of schism, pitting Methodist against Methodist. Our world is crying out for healing. 

Along with all of this, we each have our own individual decisions to make about our own lives: choices to consider, options to weigh, pros and cons to list and to worry about. 

Which path do we choose? Which Way do we go? Which decision will be the best for us, for our families, for our church, for our nation, for our world?

In our scripture lesson today, we hear Jesus say “Follow me.” – a common phrase Jesus used in his recruiting method – “follow me.”  But it is a task that few take up. Why? Because it is not easy! It is not for the faint-hearted, because there are risks and consequences and challenges too numerous to mention. Following Jesus is not easy. But it is the only way to honor the Jesus who is our leader. 

Author Richard Rohr notes that Jesus did not say, “Worship me.” Never. Not once. Rohr said, “We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of “belonging and believing” instead of a religion of transformation.” (1)

“He says follow me.  But instead of following Jesus, we spent most of our energy worshipping Jesus, but then arguing about the form of worship, when He never said “worship me” to begin with.  He said “follow me”.  That is an entirely different agenda.  Rohr also said, “Worship of Jesus is rather harmless and risk free; actually following Jesus changes everything”. (2)

So I’d like to turn in our scripture to hear the message of Jesus, from Luke 9: 51-62. Our text begins with a statement:

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 

(What is in Jerusalem? The cross! This is at the end of his journey and he is heading right into his death.)

And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

So why do the Samaritans reject him?

Well, the fact that a Samaritan village should refuse to receive Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem was not unusual. In fact, later in the first century, a serious incident that led to the removal of Herod Antipas from office began with a massacre of Jewish pilgrims in Samaria. 

Although rejection between Jews and Samaritans is to be expected, the reason given in this text is “because his face was set towards Jerusalem” (v. 53). Jesus won’t stay with them. He will not become their personal “miracle man” or hometown hero. Jesus has another purpose, another path to follow. (3)

Confession: I like being liked. Many of us like being liked — being accepted. Pleasing others so that we are accepted by them can be a powerful drug, a prime motivator in decision-making. Which path will please others or not cause me to be rejected by others? That is not Jesus’ way of decision-making. He had his face set toward Jerusalem… and this would make others unhappy. Continuing with our scripture.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ 

(What does this mean?) It may be a reminder… that there are consequences to following Jesus, that it is a perilous journey, we may face times of homelessness and rejection, so before you declare your willingness to follow, perhaps you should consider the consequences.

To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 

“Wait here while I take care of my business. Then, I will follow.”

Let’s imagine this scene for a moment and put ourselves in this man’s sandals. You are on the road, perhaps curious about this teacher you’ve heard was performing miracles and whom others’ declared was the Savior, and he looks at you as he passes and says “Follow me.” And you want to! But your father has just died… there is so much to do to prepare for the burial and the memorial service and the celebrations of life…. “Follow me, “ says Jesus. What would we do? 

I don’t think it is a stretch to think that we’d have the same response: “Look, Jesus, I will follow you. Just let me get my affairs in order and make the arrangements, then I will meet up with you.” 

The message here from Jesus is not, “Choose between me and your family…” But this text indicates that neither family nor religious nor social nor business obligations can stand in the way of following Jesus.

Last month I went on a short vacation to Arcata in Northern California to watch my nephew Erick graduate from Humboldt State University. It was a great occasion and as we were packing up to leave our rental house, I realized I had not taken a walk to see the nearby creek. So I asked my family to wait while I walked down there to get a glimpse of the creek and take some photos.

“Do you want somebody to go with you?” “No, no,” I said. “I will just be a minute.” But my sister Karin had gone just hours before and insisted she come with me. And I am glad she did. The path (if you could call it that) was rough and there were times of steep climbing or big drops and the only way I made it down to see the creek safely was but following Karin and stepping where she stepped, in her footprints. 

So, which path do we choose? Choose the path in which you are able to step in the footsteps of Jesus. 

You may be asking “Which job do I choose? What do I do with my life?” Choose the career and the profession that serves the people of God, the children of God and treats them all with dignity and respect and love. As Jesus said in Mark 10:45: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

You may be asking “Which candidate do I choose?” Choose the one that steps in the footsteps of humility, self-sacrifice and compassion. As Jesus said in Mark 8: 34-37: “‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their soul? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

You may be asking (as I am) “Which way do we go as a church?” Choose the way that follows the “Golden Rule” as Jesus explains in Matthew 22: 37-40: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 

You may be asking “Which direction do we choose for our country?” Choose the direction that leads us in the footsteps of Jesus, to welcome the stranger, to embrace those the world despises, to decry that all children – ALL CHILDREN – have the right to freedom and life and joy because they are precious creations of our God. As Jesus said in Matthew 19 verse 14:  ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.’ 

Let us not only worship Jesus, or out the words of Jesus, but let us follow in his footsteps, step by step embracing the love that Jesus has for us and for all his people, embracing the hope and compassion Jesus has for us and creating  – here in this place and time – a small bit of the Kingdom of God. Amen. 

  1. (Richard Rohr, found on https://abqecc.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/jesus-as-paradox-richard-rohr/ 
  2. Holly Steiner found on http://www.treeoflifepalmer.com/2018/08/01/followme/
  3. Brian Stoffregen found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/luke9x51.htm