6 Pentecost Proper C8
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 9:51-62 Sermon
June 30, 2013
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
(Note: this is "hymn sing Sunday;" the hymns were selected by the members)
360 "O For A Thousand Tongues To Sing"
WOV 690 "Shall We Gather At The River"
WOV 699 "Blessed Assurance"
416 "O That The Lord Would Guide My Ways"
252 "We All Believe In One True God"
457 "What A Friend We Have In Jesus"
262 "A Mighty Fortress" & 283 "God's Word Is Our Great Heritage"
WOV 783 "Seek Ye First The Kingdom Of God"
LSB 837 "Lift High The Cross, The Love Of Christ Proclaim"
FOLLOWING THE LEADER
TEXT (vs. 57-58): 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 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.”
There’s a little children’s song you might have heard over the years. The main stanza goes like this: “We're following the leader, the leader, the leader, we're following the leader wherever he may go. We won't be home till morning, till morning, till morning, we won't be home till morning, because he told us so.”
This is part of a song from Peter Pan; but mostly we identify this song with the children’s game, “Follow the Leader.” The rules are fairly simple: a group of three or more children assemble; and I might add that adult supervision is always a good idea. Anyway, one child is picked as the leader, and the other children have to do exactly what the leader does. The leader has a broad choice of things he or she can do: run, skip, go around in circles, dance, sing, roll on the floor, climb over stuff, and so forth. The leader can be very inventive.
When a child fails to do what the leader does, then that child is eliminated from the game; and again, a supervising adult works well here. This continues until there is just one child left behind the leader; and this remaining child is the winner, and then becomes the new leader for another game. Like I said, it’s pretty basic stuff and fairly easy to comprehend for most children. I think that most of us know that children can be expert copycats!
As I studied our Gospel reading for today, that little children’s song “We’re following the leader” kept going through my mind. It seems rather simplistic to compare what Jesus is telling us in our Gospel lesson for today with a basic children’s game, but there are some good parallels that we can make.
If we imagine that there is a rather sizeable group of children, let’s say at a birthday party, everybody plays the game with the hope of being the winner. They all believe that they will be able to successfully mimic everything the leader does. But we know that won’t be the case, because as the leader’s stunts become more difficult and complex, the children will be systematically eliminated. And when that happens, the child’s plans for winning have drastically changed. Nobody begins playing the game with the goal of losing, but nobody can win the game if they fail to follow the leader. That’s the way things work.
Our Gospel lesson for today begins with a fairly blunt lesson. Jesus and his disciples are rather forcefully rejected by a village in the country of Samaria. To appreciate this, we have to realize that there is an ongoing battle between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Jews regarded the Samaritans as sub-human beings who polluted the earth by their very existence. And the Samaritans didn’t have a whole lot of use for the Jews either, so it was one of those hate/hate relationships from both ends.
One of the difficulties was geographical in nature. To get from Galilee to Jerusalem, a person either had to pass through Samaria, or make a large detour to the east to get around it. Most of the hard-nosed Jews would avoid Samaria at all costs, which didn’t hurt the feelings of the Samaritans at all. However, Jesus was different. He and his entourage went right through Samaria on his way to Jerusalem. This included stopping at one of the Samaritan villages along the way.
And then trouble started. The Samaritans knew that these men were Jews headed for Jerusalem, and they treated them very badly. We might think of it as something like an old man yelling at a bunch of kids for cutting across his lawn. Certainly it was much more serious than that, but it made about as much sense.
The disciples were furious about it. Here they wanted to make preparations for Jesus’ visit, and they got no cooperation at all. Because of this, they wanted to call upon God to destroy this village in true Sodom and Gomorrah fashion. The disciples felt that a little revenge was in order at this point.
But that’s not what Jesus had in mind at all. Verse 55 of our Gospel simply says, “But he turned and rebuked them.” We don’t know what Jesus said to them, but it was definitely not a gentle reprimand. And more importantly this would serve as a good teaching moment, especially considering the dialogue that follows this.
Three men come into the picture in the remaining verses of our Gospel lesson. And if we consider the opening illustration I used, it was almost like they were coming to Jesus and asking, “Hey Jesus, can we play follow the leader with you?” Of course the request wasn’t as shallow as playing a children’s game, but it still would have had much the same results. These three men had absolutely no clue what it meant to follow Jesus; even though they talked a good game, they would never be able to follow through with their good intentions.
The first man to approach Jesus is, surprisingly enough, a scribe. That’s what Matthew tells us in his Gospel account. The man must have had a slightly different mindset than the run-of-the-mill Jew to be in Samaria in the first place. He told Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
This first man must have almost had a vision of glory he was following. Here was Jesus, and he was going to Jerusalem. He would be hob-knobbing with high church people in this religious center. This would be a glorious position to have, to be standing next to Jesus while all this is going on. It would be a great opportunity! But Jesus brings him back to reality when he says, “Hey guy, do you realize that I am homeless? Are you ready to curl up under a bridge with me and call that ‘home?’ Even the animals have better accommodations than I do!” And that pretty much finishes the association with this Scribe. That’s strike one.
Jesus handles the second man in our story differently than the other two. We don’t know who this person is, but this time Jesus actually approaches and asks him to “follow me.” And what’s this guy’s excuse? He wants to go and bury his father first. It sounds like a reasonable request at the outset, right?
Most likely however, this guy wasn’t even dead yet. If he were, the man wouldn’t have been out there talking to Jesus in the first place. He would be tending to the various arrangements. What this guy was probably telling Jesus, was that he needed to go and be with his father; and after he died at some unforeseen time in the future, then he would have the time to follow Jesus. That’s strike two.
Finally the third person approaches Jesus, wanting to follow him. This guy’s request seems to be the simplest. He just wants to go and say good-bye to his family. But what he actually means, is that his heart wasn’t in following Jesus, but it was wrapped up in the sentiment of his earthly ties. He had conflicting priorities in his life, which didn’t include giving Jesus a place in his life.
The two things we need to note here is where Jesus was going and what was lying ahead of him, and where the hearts of the three men were. When Jesus spoke to these three men, he knew exactly what was going on with them. This is an example of divine omniscience. If they were playing “follow the leader,” they couldn’t last even a few minutes. They had lost already.
Jesus was going to Jerusalem, where he would be arrested, illegally tried, beaten, sentenced to death, and then crucified. This was a situation that none of them would be able to endure with him. In fact, only one of the Apostles was at the cross with him, and that was John. It proved to be even too much for the others. This was a “follow the leader” game that nobody could withstand.
In Luke chapter 12, verse 34, Jesus speaks some words that get right to the crux of the matter. He says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” And that’s what we see happening with the three men in our Gospel lesson today. That applies to us as well. Where is your heart today? Where is your treasure?
I ask you those questions, because they’re not easy ones for me to answer either. I know my heart has been fixed on things that don’t really matter. I know that I’ve treasured the wrong things. I know that I have failed miserably every time I’ve tried to play “follow the leader” with Jesus. We’ve all been there, and we have to admit it.
When Jesus says “follow me,” we automatically get the picture of Jesus being out in front, and we are just sort of following along behind him. There he is, going lickety-cut, and there we are, stumbling to try to keep up. And we just keep getting more and more frustrated as we keep on trying. If that’s the case, why bother even trying to follow him?
I want you to think of Jesus’ words “follow me” in a different sense. Instead of thinking that Jesus is saying “I want you to follow behind me,” think of him saying to us: “I want you to follow beside me.”
When we follow beside Jesus, it is a position of faith. We see Jesus as a friend who really cares about us and nurtures us along the way. When we follow beside Jesus, it’s like the old Sunday School song says, “I am weak, but he is strong.”
When the disciples experienced the rejection of the people in the Samaritan village, it was a strong dose of reality. There will be those difficult and trying times, and life won’t always be easy. We need to think of Jesus with his arm around our shoulder helping us along the way and supporting us with his divine unchangeable love, even when the going gets tough. That’s the place our Saviour wants us to be, right at his side following along with him.
His love for us is what led Jesus to the cross to die for our sins. His love for us is shown in the faith he gives us to accept this gift. His love for us is shown in how he sustains us and gives us the everlasting hope of heaven. His love for us is what tells us, “be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven.”
If this were a Billy Graham crusade, he would be telling us something like “come forward and give your life to Jesus.” But just because people come forward at a crusade doesn’t mean that a person will be able to successfully play the “follow the leader” game with Jesus.
It’s better to remember that Jesus gave his life for YOU, and that God has given you the faith to accept this as a free gift. We can be assured that if we follow along beside Jesus in faith, then we will continually receive every blessing he has for us. And we can find comfort in the words Jesus tells us in Matthew chapter 11, verses 28-30: “28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”