The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
St. Luke 9:51-62
The Way Is Prepared. Follow.
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8C, 30 June 2013
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
The summer is a season of invitations: Graduations, parties, outings for Memorial Day and Labor Day, Weddings. “You are cordially invited…” “The honor of your presence is requested...” “Hey, whatcha doin’ this weekend?” The invitations say the same thing: everything is prepared. Come.
About the Cover: What is the cost of following Christ? He doesn’t ask us literally to forsake our relationships and responsibilities in order to follow Him; these are good gifts from Him. But even gifts can become weights when we place more importance on them than on the Giver. To follow Christ, we give up the importance of ourselves. In return, we will receive “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). What a great exchange!
Our appointed Holy Gospel this Sixth Sunday after Pentecost has a message for you: The Way Is Prepared. Follow. When we ask the question, “Is this law or Gospel?” the commands at first lead us to say, “law.” But these are no ordinary commands. They are invitation, Gospel. “You are cordially invited…” Everything is prepared. Come. The Way Is Prepared. Follow.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"* But he turned and rebuked them.* And they went on to another village.
That’s a pretty intense paragraph. From the first verse of this text, there is continuity with what has gone on before. Earlier in the chapter Jesus told the disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Moses and Elijah spoke with or Lord about His departure, or literally exodus, on the mount of Transfiguration. These thoughts are carried forward in the phrase, “When the days drew near for Him to be taken up…”
From where will He be taken up? Jerusalem. After all, no prophet can die outside of Jerusalem. The people of this city always seemed to have a hand in persecuting God’s messengers. This time will be no different. Therefore, Jesus set His face to go to Jerusalem. Nothing could deter Him from the path to the cross, grave, Resurrection, and Ascension. He has a purpose. The forerunner, John the Baptizer, had made preparations for the coming of Christ. Now Jesus prepares the way of salvation for you.
At the beginning of the chapter, we hear an account similar to these “messengers” sent ahead of Jesus in verse 52. The twelve were given power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and Jesus sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. They were to proclaim the kingdom, to call all within earshot and word of mouth to repentance and faith. They were to announce the coming of the King.
The King was found by wise men while He lived as a small child in Bethlehem. The King would be enthroned on the cross. His coronation would be one of pain, suffering, blood, thorns, and death. But there would be more. He sits at the right hand of God and will come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead. His kingdom shall have no end.
But a suffering King is not attractive. The message of repentance is easy to rebuff and ignore. What did these Samarians do? We should rather ask what they didn’t do. The people did not receive Him because His face was set toward Jerusalem.
We have grown up knowing about the Good Samaritan. We are no longer surprised by the concept of a good Samaritan. A text like this one does surprise us. Our reaction should be the opposite in each case. Samaritans wanted nothing to do with the Jews. The Samaritans rejected everything we know as the Old Testament except for the first five books by Moses. There was animosity and outright hostility between Samaritans and Jews, especially when the topic of “temple” came up.
This is why the people of Samaria were upset that Jesus had set his face toward Jerusalem. The Temple of the Jews, the only temple of the Jews was in Jerusalem. Its very existence denied the validity of where the Samaritans worshiped.
Is it any different today? When the Church or a faithful pastor proclaims the unadulterated message of God’s Word, some hear, receive, believe, and obey it, but others resist with all their might. They are offended: “What do you mean that all religions don’t lead to the same God, Pastor?” “How can you small-minded Christians say that the God of Mohammed isn’t the Father of Jesus?” “You don’t really believe the John when He says that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father but through Him, do you?”
People today still reject Jesus’ Word and way. There is only one true faith on the planet. Christianity. There is only one true God, the Triune, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God in three persons and three persons in one God. And St. John is right and was inspired to correctly record the exclusive salvation claim of our Lord. The way is as narrow as the upright cross, but as wide as all who Jesus draws to Himself in His wide-open arms.
Yet, some see that way as too narrow: “What good can come from Nazareth?” “It can’t go through Jerusalem!” “It can’t involve pain, persecution, passion, or death, and by no means death on a cross!” “How could you seriously believe in a virgin birth or a physical resurrection from the dead!”
And we pause to think for a moment. Who in this discussion is really being narrow-minded? It is not the faithful who take the Lord at His Word. It’s those who reject the miraculous, the accurate historical records of the New Testament, the very testimony of the Son of God, the creator and Savior of the universe, as well has His apostles and evangelists who suffered death rather than recant from speaking the truth about Jesus.
These disciples were understandably angry when they were rejected, for when the people rejected them, they were really rejecting Jesus. As we will hear Jesus say next week, “He who hears you, hears Me.”
What did the disciples want to do? “Lord,” they asked, “do You want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Now wouldn’t that be something. That recalls the days of the Hebrew Scriptures when Elijah called down fire to consume the sacrifice in that contest with the priests of Baal. Some manuscripts even have this recorded in verse 54: “Lord,” they asked, “do You want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them as Elijah did?” Peter, James, and John were there on the mount with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
Jesus doesn’t like their sense of judgment—He knows judgment will come on the appropriate Day, but this is not it. Besides, their theology is muddled, too. The fire did not consume Elijah’s opponents, but only the altar and sacrifice. The blade was reserved for false prophets back then. Jesus rebukes them. And some manuscripts also record Him saying, "You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people's lives but to save them". It’s always nice to have Our Lord to straighten out faulty doctrine and practice. In His earthly ministry, Jesus came as Savior. That is why His face is set to go to Jerusalem. He cannot save anyone apart from a cross, apart from suffering and death. He goes to prepare a safe way for you, that you may walk in it. He comes to save you. The path is safe, Keep on the path! That last warning is a command, but it is one of Gospel protection, for your own good.
What then? And they went on to another village to people who might hear and not reject. In sending the messengers, Jesus used “apostle language.” Go. Apostles are sent ones, sent to make disciples. Here You will hear language of invitation: follow. You will also hear resistance, man-made conditions added, as well as plenty of excuses. Listen to Jesus’ interaction with three potential followers.
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."
This first volunteer has a severe infection: the theology of glory. This one ignores the cross, even with his big, brave talk.. He sounds much like St. Peter did on the night in which Jesus was betrayed: “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Big talk often leads to big disappointment. The Christian life is not a bed of roses, or if it is, they’re the really thorny roses. We hear nothing more of this first volunteer. Perhaps Jesus words sent him away in despair. We aren’t told his reaction, but perhaps his silence speaks rather loudly. "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."
To another he [Jesus] said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." And Jesus said to him, "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
This man is distracted, too. If this man’s father is actually dead—and his words are not just an excuse for delaying discipleship—if this man’s father is actually dead, what good would the son’s preaching of the kingdom do for him? None. Jesus calls upon this man to follow. The Way Is Prepared. Follow. Yet, he’s distracted. By what? Perhaps his inheritance. Couldn’t that be a reason why he’s not quite ready to follow Jesus. “Stuff” has his attention. Our Lord proclaims to this man the message he needs to hear, even if he doesn’t want to hear it: "Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Leave the spiritually dead to bury their own dead. Dead is dead. Now your father faces the judgment. His time to hear is over. You are to go and preach the kingdom of God so that the spiritually dead might live.
There are many distractions that tempt Christians and potential Christians. Lack of worldly security, potential persecution, and possessions are only a few. There’s one more.
Yet another said, "I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
Family is this volunteer’s distraction. Whom did he love more, His family, or His God and Lord? This man’s family had become an idol to him, a false god, a substitute priority, interfering with his keeping of the first commandment.
One who goes out to plow with the ancient farm implement pulled by an ox, donkey, or horse must look straight ahead, otherwise the furrow won’t be straight. A farmer today needs to look ahead, at his purpose, driving the tractor that pulls the planter; otherwise, the combine will have a difficult time harvesting anything. Distraction does not make for good, faithful, focused service.
Sunday morning is a time to practice putting these distractions behind you. This is a sanctuary, a place of protection from the outside. Here the Lord gathers you with other believers around His Word. Here He forgives you for your lack of discipleship, your reluctant following, your half-hearted service.
Jesus has not only prepared the way and called you to follow, but to mix this language with some of St. Paul’s, Jesus has already finished the race. He is more than an example. He is your Savior. And with your Savior, Jesus, serving as the Judge at the end of time, you need not fear Him. You are forgiven. Go and sin no more. Receive His Gifts. Remain steadfast, faithful, and true, serving Him by serving your neighbor. Our Pastor serves us by preaching, teaching, and visiting, rebuking, forgiving, and comforting, by proclaiming the whole counsel of God in law and Gospel, Word and Sacrament. We serve Him by caring for his and his family’s needs so that his service to us may not be distracted. And we pray for one another. We live together is peace, united in God’s doctrine and God’s practice, forgiven by Jesus Himself. Fear not. He sees His own righteousness in you, given to you as His gift.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Bon-hay-fur) gives us an appropriate way to conclude this morning’s sermon. His book The Cost of Discipleship puts Jesus’ invitation for you to follow him in its Christ-centered Baptismal context: (p. 99)
The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with His death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is no the terrible end to an otherwise godfearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.
When Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time—death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at His call. Jesus’ summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own can follow Christ. In fact, every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and His call are necessarily our death as well as our life.
The call to discipleship, the baptism in the name of Jesus Christ means both death and life. The call of Christ, His baptism, sets the Christian in the middle of the daily arena against sin and the devil. Every day he encounters new temptations, and every day he must suffer anew for Jesus Christ’s sake. The wounds and scars he receives in the fray are living tokens of this participation in the cross of his Lord.
But there is another kind of suffering and shame which the Christian is not spared. While it is true that only the sufferings of Christ are a means of atonement, yet since He has suffered for and borne the sins of the whole world and shares with His disciples the fruits of His passion, the Christian also has to undergo temptation, he too has to the sins of others; he too must bear their shame and be driven like a scapegoat from the gate of the city. But he would certainly break down under this burden, but for the support of Him who bore the sins of all.
The passion of Christ strengthens him to overcome the sins of others by forgiving them. He becomes the bearers of other men’s burdens—“Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). As Christ bears our burdens, so ought we to bear the burdens of our fellow-men. The law of Christ, which it is our duty to fulfil, is the bearing of the cross. My brother’s burden which I must bear is not only his outward lot, his natural characteristics and gifts, but quite literally his sin. And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share. Thus the call to follow Christ always means a call to share the work of forgiving men their sins. Forgiveness is the Christlike suffering which it is the Christians duty to bear. (End quote.)
You are forgiven, for the Son of Man came not to destroy people's lives but to save them. Hear the gracious, Gospel invitation of your Lord. “You are cordially invited…” The Way Is Prepared. Follow. What are you doing next weekend? Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.