SERMON 6/30/19 Proper 8 Pentecost 3C St. Monica’s Episcopal Church
Plowing and Discipleship
“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Plowing fields in ancient times was a labor intensive, difficult, and cumbersome task. You had to manage stubborn animals who pulled the plow, you had to wrestle with the plow itself to keep it in the dirt, and you had to keep your eyes forward and watch carefully where you were going, or the rows would be crooked, too shallow, or ill-prepared and thus, the harvest would be compromised.
No wonder Jesus used the metaphor of plowing a field for harvest, to explain the cost of, requirements of, and demands of discipleship. Plowing requires a commitment to the task, and it requires one to keep their eyes forward; to keep focused on what is ahead. Now, I bet most of us have never used a plow before, so this metaphor may leave us scratching our heads a bit.
Maybe for us Jesus would say, “no one who sets out on a trip in their car, and uses only the rear view mirror, will ever see the Kingdom of God come to fruition.” If you would like to test this out, try driving home today after church using only your rear-view mirror. I bet looking backward driving down I-75 and ignoring what is truly ahead of you will result in some terrible consequences.
In other words, Jesus followers have to remain focused on what is important, which should change how we think about what it means to be a disciple. We have to look at Jesus, and do what he does. We have to look forward at the possibilities of God’s future, to let go of the “good ole days” and/or failures of the past. Jesus must influence and guide our decisions, our actions, and he must frame how we live each day, because when we choose the life of discipleship, life must be different from what we left behind.
The Challenges of Jesus’ Mission
In today’s gospel Jesus made a journey to Jerusalem on a mission, to share the Good News of God’s Kingdom. He was to preach and teach in the capital seat of his own people, where he would be confronted by the religious leaders, and challenged by the social norms of his day. Jesus’ mission was to change the world but through non-violence, abundant love, amazing healing, and reconciliation. His mission led him and his followers to their fate of difficulty, rejection and oppression and it eventually to Jesus’ own death.
Jesus’ followers today (the church) continues Jesus’ work today, the task of sharing with the world the good news of God’s reconciling love, and the Spirit’s radical call on our lives has the power really to change things around us. However, I wonder if we truly count the costs of being disciples of Jesus Christ.
To be “sent out” into the world as beacons of reconciling love, there is great risk involved. Because when we change our thinking, change our actions, and become co-conspirators in God’s mission, then we must commit to stand against those things that defeat love.
Discipleship should change how we make choices about everything: how we care for one another, how we love and care for the poor, how we treat the outcast, how we invest, how we care for the environment, and yes, it should change how we engage in politics. Following Jesus is risky because it requires that we choose; choose whether to serve as merely “wanna be” disciples or as partners in God’s mission of love.
As people of faith we must not only offer commentary about controversial topics going on in the world, we must act. Then we should question how our faith influences our ideals about social issues, about how we spend our time, and about what missions and activities in the church, align with the mission of Jesus Christ.. “How can I do that,” you may ask.
We really need to read scripture each day, so we might learn about and understand Jesus’ mission of love, and how he taught us to love. We need to know the story of his love in order to be informed, so we can follow Jesus in a world where everything else can be so confusing. The spiritual dilemma we have before us as Christians in the 21st century is, “What good is it to have faith in God, if that faith does not inform all of life and thus, transform our lives and then, help us to change the lives of others? Jesus needs us to put our hand to the plow, and be committed to his mission in the world. Being “wanna be” followers is not what Jesus is calling us to be.
Wanna Be’s or Mission Partners
In the Gospel story today, there were some “wanna be” disciples who came up to Jesus and proclaimed their loyalty and willingness to go on mission. The first said, “I will follow you wherever you go.” The second said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” The third said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Even those earliest disciples allowed the allures of life to deter them from following the way of Jesus.
Jesus said to the first “Wanna be,” “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” In other words the cost of discipleship may result in isolation and conflict with those closest to us. As a co-conspirator in God’s mission, we must stand for the principles of God’s Kingdom, which often results in being rejected or scorned by our friends. Taking a public stand, volunteering our time, becoming an advocate for the least lost and lonely, or showing up in the midst of tragedy and standing in solidarity with the oppressed all based on our faith in Jesus Christ, may give us no place to “lay our head.”
Jesus said to the second “Wanna be” who wanted to go and bury his father Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” In other words the cost of discipleship may result in decisions about other allegiances to even family, associations, or groups. The “wanna be” was really asking for an unspecified and lengthy deferment to his commitment. Devout Jews in those days had an obligation to bury their parents, and so we have to wonder was the deferment request, only an excuse to just go back home. Were his parents healthy and happy or were they actively dying, or were they already dead and he truly needed to fulfill his cultural obligation?
Jesus said to the third “Wanna be” disciple, Jesus responded, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Many of us have left a ministry, a job or a home, and as we closed the door on that chapter, we said to ourselves, I really don’t want to leave.” Maybe we walked out the door and waved goodbye to old friends, all the while wishing we could just stay where it is comfortable, entertaining, or the way “I want it to be.” “Looking backward” distracts us from the new life that lies ahead; a life of mission and service.
Regardless, with all three potential disciples something else got in the way of his decision to follow Jesus. Like them, many of us have put off following the way of Jesus because work, family, or something else seems to get in the way. Maybe we say, “ I want to follow the way of Jesus, but now is not the time; maybe later.”
You know that being a disciple of Jesus can be difficult, but it can be joyful at the same time. We think it is too hard, and sometimes we just decide to sit on the sidelines, because we think we have to do it all alone. The way of Jesus, this mission of love is possible because we are in it together with God and each other. God has been and is already working to bring about the Kingdom, and we are merely the helpers in God’s mission of reconciling love.
Be a Helper
Fred Rogers, that icon of children’s television once commented that when tragedy and injustice strikes, “Always look for the helpers, because if you look for the helpers, you will know there is hope.” God is already at work in us to do his mission today, even here in this part of the Kingdom. God is with those of us who serve food to folks in Immokathose as who distribute nutritious food to economically challenged families in Naples, and who provide diapers to Mom’s and Dad’s in our neighborhood. God will also be with us, when we begin tutoring and mentoring “at-risk” youth in our new ministry support program with New Horizons, which begins in August. There are so many opportunities here at St. Monica’s to go from “wanna be disciples,” to co-conspirators with God’s mission and so, we all can “Be a Helper!”
Jesus asks us to come alongside and love as he loves; all in the midst of the unimaginable evil that gets in the way of God’s love. But it is easy to sit on the sidelines and merely cheer on those who are in the middle of the work manning the plows. It is just as easy to look back at our past successes and say, “look what we have done.”
We need to look forward and join Jesus’ Helper Team! The Jesus’ helper team does not look back, but looks forward. The Jesus’ helper team makes the commitment to stick to the call and see it to the end. The Jesus’ helper team makes our lives stand as a witness to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, and faithfulness.
Scripture tells us that Jesus commands us, “Follow me.” If you consider the cost of discipleship and you are afraid to join the team, then you need to cast our fears aside. You need to look forward and stay focused. You need to put our hand to the plow and get to work, because all that Jesus is asking his disciples to do is so simple. Jesus asks us, “please come along my friends, follow me, and at least try to be my helpers.”