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“Harsh Jesus, Focused Jesus, Grr Grr Grr”
Sermon, Year C, Proper 8, June 30, 2013
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: 2 Kings 2:1-14 and Luke 9:51-62

This is a harsh and serious Jesus here in this passage. Not the typical kind of forgiving, everything is going to be okay, sort of Jesus. These words that he says are harsh: no one is fit for the kingdom of God if they look behind them. And the Son of Man has no place to lay his head. That’s a very serious Jesus all of a sudden here. But fitting for the beginning of this Act II of Luke. He is now really on his journey. The first half of Luke’s Gospel Jesus was doing what we think of him as doing. He was teaching, doing miracles, healing, talking about the kingdom of God, giving parables about “The kingdom of God is like this...”, eating and hanging out with Pharisees and Scribes and prostitutes and sinners and common people. He has been transfigured. He has been fairly normal in many ways as a Rabbi or teacher, but with the benefit of being able to do miracles.

But then he has this moment of clarity. Something happens. I think the transfiguration was really the turning point here. It happens just before we get into this passage. He has a moment of clarity or inspiration. He realizes that it is time now to go do what he has been sent to do. His mind is focused on his mission. He has set his face to go to Jerusalem. This is the beginning of the end for Jesus. He knows that now everything is Very Serious. Everything matters a lot.

He has been talking about the Kingdom, talking about love, even showing it. But now there is an urgency about living it.

For the rest of our year, here and now until late fall this season we call Ordinary Time (though it is anything but ordinary), we will continue reading through Luke’s Gospel and it will all be from this Act II side of Luke. So for the rest of the summer and into fall, everything that Jesus says or does relates to him being on his journey to Jerusalem to be betrayed, crucified, resurrected, and ascend. All that we read from now through the rest of the year, Jesus has this in his mind. He is on his mission. So for the next few months, every time you hear a Gospel lesson think first “Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Hear that before you hear the lesson. It will inform how we hear these stories of Jesus. He is on his final mission.

So we get these harsh words. I find them to be pretty harsh. I would like to make an apology for them. To say, “Oh, they’re not as harsh as they sound. Not as harsh as they seem.” But that would not be a faithful way to read them. They are hard and serious words. If they don’t make you uncomfortable – they make me uncomfortable! – if they don’t make us uncomfortable, maybe we aren’t listening fully to what Jesus says. These are uncomfortable words. No, let the dead bury the dead. No, you can’t go back and say goodbye. If you put your hand to the plow and look back, you are not fit for the Kingdom.

They make me uncomfortable. Make me think of how many times I look back. Pine for easier times or other days. Or just wish that I didn’t have to keep going forward through time. Things could just stay as they are.

There is a call here from Jesus saying, “You have to give up everything to follow me.”

That’s all I ask. Just give up everything and follow me.

Progress can’t be made without a willingness to put one’s back to the past, or to the things that one holds dear. And unfortunately that can mean things like family or cultural obligations or these things we surround ourselves with. Whether they are physical things or ideas, thoughts about who we ought to be or what we ought to be doing. This stuff that can be roadblocks to following Jesus. That attachment to whatever it is that can block our forward progress, our path to faithfulness.

Jesus has been showing what the Kingdom of God looks like: love, compassion, caring for people, feeding thousands, taking care of the people around you. Here he tosses down the gauntlet of what being fit for the Kingdom looks like. You don’t look back. You are all in. Give it everything. Even the cultural and religious obligations are left behind.

In that Old Testament lesson, Elisha says to Elijah, “Let me go back and take care of my things first and say goodbye” and Elijah says ok to that. He lets him go back and take care of everything, and he spends the time to cook up his oxen and share the meat with all the people around him. But Jesus says, “No. You don’t get to go back and say goodbye. You don’t get to go back and do what you think your obligations are, or what you think your needs are.”

The Kingdom is already here. Jesus said that many times. The Kingdom is here. And so to be fit for the Kingdom, and here the word “fit” doesn’t mean like “worthy” or that you have proved yourself that this should be give to you, to be fit means that you have the skills or the talents or the wherewithal to live in the kingdom. To be fit for the kingdom, to be skilled, one needs to live in a kingdom way. Which is Jesus’ way. There was earlier in this passage from Luke, the disciples ask about this Samaritan town that doesn’t want Jesus to come. “Should we call down fire?” they ask, “and have the city consumed? Should we call for the destruction of this city?”

But remember when Jesus sent out the disciples, he told them that if a place doesn’t welcome you, just leave. Shake the dust off your sandals and leave. And here the disciples say, “Should we destroy it?”

And Jesus says, “No!” He rebukes them. No no no. “The way of violence is not the answer. My face is set to Jerusalem. That’s our path.”

Jesus is on the path to Jerusalem to show the power of submission, self-emptying, non-violence. Jesus is on the path to embrace the cross and to do so for the sake of the world.

And so Jesus offers these harsh words. “If you are going to follow me, follow me. But don’t do it halfway. You can’t be thinking about other stuff. I am on this very important determined path forward. I am not looking back.”

But I think Jesus’ words are also not directed entirely at us, or the harshness of these words is not fully directed toward us. It certainly is partly directed to us, in that included in what Jesus says here is the implied question, “Are you truly prepared to follow me? This is what it is going to look like to follow me. If you are going to be my disciple, are you willing to give things up?” Whether it is physical things, ideas, thoughts, habits, traditions, whatever, to follow Jesus. That question is in there. But we also know, from having read these stories many times, his disciples don’t do that very well. They are not, by any means, perfect. They’re not even close to doing this perfectly. And yet Jesus still stays with them. So this isn’t a “You have to do this perfectly or Jesus is going to cast you off” proposition. You still get to be with Jesus. So partly these words are directed at us.

But I think these are also more about him saying that these words are what God is like. This is who God is. They are more about God’s single-mindedness in loving us. No distractions. This focused, determined march to Jerusalem is God’s march forward for us. God came to us on Christmas to be love incarnate to show us how to live a life of love. Not to give rules, like on the mountain with Moses and the ten commandments and the other laws. Not so much to give us rules any more but to physically come to us as one of us, to live with us and show us what God is about. To show us what faithful looks like. Show us how to live in the Kingdom that’s already present. Not something that we are waiting for, or hoping to earn. It is something we already have. Something that is already here. And now that it is here, this is how we live.

And so Jesus’ is ready to fulfill his purpose. His face is set to go to Jerusalem.

Not so much a message to us of what we must do, though partly that, but a message to us of how absolutely focused God’s love is toward us. God in Jesus showing us how much God loves us by being on this path. And in showing us how much God loves and how much God is attached to us, asking us to follow and to fit ourselves into that mold and be equally attached to God and to Jesus. To be attached to our neighbors in love. Not attached to stuff we believe about God, but be attached to God, to Jesus, one another, the people of the world. And by doing so, to be fit for the kingdom. By doing so, then able to live in the Kingdom because that’s what living in the Kingdom looks like.


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