But First

Luke 9:51-62

[Watch sermon here.]             

Follow me.
Jesus beckons to the strangers on the road.

Someone responds,
“I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replies, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;
I have nowhere to lay my head.”

Another traveler says, “First let me go and bury my father.”

Jesus responds, “Let the dead bury their own dead;
but as for you, go and proclaim the kin-dom of God.”

Another traveler says, “I will follow you;
But first let me say goodbye to my family.”

Jesus replies,
“No one who puts a hand to the plow
and looks back is fit for the kin-dom of God.”

There is a single-mindedness to Jesus’ invitation.

Jesus challenges the people.
Jesus calls them to whole-heartedness.
To an undivided heart for God.

Jesus is not saying don’t take care of your family.
It is about the transformation of the family.
It is about the transformation of allegiances.
Where does our primary allegiance go?
Do we pledge allegiance first to our country?
Or do we pledge allegiance first to God?

The people along the road respond to Jesus by saying,

There is something they desire to do first.
Before they walk with Jesus. Before they join the journey.

Jesus is an astute reader of personality and psychological motivations.

Jesus can tell people are putting something above God or in place of God.

We can rationalize why we don’t put our Higher Power
as the foreground of our concerns.

Yes, we want to follow you Jesus.
Just not now. And not like this.

I want to follow Jesus but I have a limited amount of time.
I want to love my neighbors but they are annoying.
I want to be peaceful but he started it.
I want to be generous but I am worried about my retirement.
I want to follow Jesus but I don’t like connecting with people I don’t know.
I want to follow Jesus but I don’t like asking for help so I don’t want to any inner work.
I want to follow Jesus but it is kinda inconvenient.

These are all realities.
However, we have to be careful of the ways
that they begin to become the ultimate concerns of our lives.

Before we know it,
rather than allowing Jesus to be the way for us,
we become the way.
I will follow you Jesus, but I am going to do it my way.
It is such a subtle shift, but it is the whole game.
I haven’t de-centered myself.
I have not ceded any control.
I have not ceded any claims at all.
I want to follow Jesus but I want to have complete control of my life
and not do things I don’t want to do.
I don’t want to do the hard things right now.
Or do them this way.

If we are Jesus’ followers, then Jesus’ honesty begs the questions to us,
what version of Christianity are we selling?
Resurrection comes at a cost.

It saves lives but sometimes people would rather
avoid their life, numb their life, than save it.

Some brands of Christianity allow people to do precisely this. Avoid life.
The prosperity gospel is a false theology that has sprouted up
that says if you follow God, you will get rich.
You can have God’s way and your way!
However, in its celebration of material wealth,
the prosperity gospel neglects and refuses to confront
the interior poverty of each individual.
The prosperity gospel neglects the inner life of the individual
to whom Christ comes.
To whom Christ comes and says,
I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly,
more abundantly than you have perceived right now.
More abundantly than you have attained to this point.

You still have to confront your own emptiness. Your own inner poverty.
This is what Jesus came to look at. Our interior impoverishment.
Jesus came to see our inner life.

Take greed, for example.
Jesus calls us to perceive the greed within.

Jesus helps me to notice the way my greed spills out
as the Internet caters all its advertisements to me;
I find myself clicking on the links and buying the objects
without so much as a conscious thought.

Afterward, I wonder, how did that happen?
How did I buy those items?

Jesus helps me to notice the unconscious forces that motivate me,
so I can confront them;
so they can die and something else can rise.
Something more nourishing.
Something more life-giving.

This is what Jesus does!
Jesus confronts the inner forces that influence us.
Jesus confronts the ego.
Jesus confronts greed.
Jesus confronts our own strong preferences to have it our way.

It’s like Jesus is saying,
You gotta confront these things if you are going to follow me.
You can’t just walk beside me.
You have to go within.
If I am going to come out as your ultimate concern, your ultimate focus,
you have to realize what your current concerns have been.
You have to realize what your current concerns
have been every day of your life until you decided to follow me.

In order to displace these things,
you have to name them so that
I – God – can become your new ultimate concern.

This inner work has to happen for you to follow me.

Are you willing to allow God to reveal to you what you need to let go of
in order to latch onto God as your ultimate concern?

People don’t realize they already have an ultimate concern.
We have idols. We replace God all the time.

I replace God all the time.

Baptism does not wash away our proclivity to make other things idols.
That proclivity doesn’t go away.
You can still end up with idolatry after your baptism.
Your nation can become your idol.
Money can become your idol.
Cable news can become your idol.

When we prioritize God, we can start to wonder
what does right use of television, cable news, and social media look like?

This question then spreads out to the other parts of our lives.
What does right use of food look like?
What does right use of clothing look like?
What about right use of recreation or work look like?

How do we determine right use of the things around us?

Jesus invites us to walk with him
and to examine our unconscious preferences.

Why do we do the things we do?

Do they bring us closer to God? Do they push us farther from God?

Once we grasp the enormity of God’s claim over us,
we start to realize it is life altering.

We have our life. Like a plant, like a sprawling plant, we grow this way and that.
The way of Jesus is like a trellis for us.

God is trying to help us trellis our little vine on this new path;
and we have been growing in this other direction for a long time
so it might initially be a little awkward to be trellised.

How does Jesus affect the totality of your life?

My friend Anthony who is a Capuchin Franciscan friar,
has these things laid out for him.
His order has a rule, which is like a trellis
that directs how he grows.
The rule says, when obtaining items, go for the minimum necessary
rather than the maximum allowed.
Yes, you could have as many sweaters, or shirts, as you could afford,
but what is the minimum necessary that you need to get by?
Can you reuse you clothes more?

He lives a life of vowed poverty. Why?
As a member of a religious community,
my friend has renounced private ownership and has nothing of his own.
This empowers him to have uncoercive relationships with others.
The practice of nonattachment prepares him to be less attached
to non-material things like his will, power, and viewpoints.

Are we willing to renounce our own way
so we can take up the way of Jesus?

Are we prepared to be less attached to our things, attitudes, and viewpoints?


Follow me, Jesus beckons.



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