The Third Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture Reading: Luke 9:51-62
A Samaritan Village Refuses to Receive Jesus
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”[a] 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then[b] they went on to another village.
Would-Be Followers of Jesus
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.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus[c] said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
- Luke 9:54 Other ancient authorities add as Elijah did
- Luke 9:56 Other ancient authorities read rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what spirit you are of, 56 for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.” Then
- Luke 9:60 Gk he
Luke 9:51-62 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Sermon: “Face Palm”
The website “The Top Tens” asked people to list the worst things to run out of. Coming in at an undisputed number one was a true necessity—toilet paper.
Proctor and Gamble feels our pain. Behold, the Charmin Forever Roll, equal to about twenty-four regular rolls of toilet paper.
Procter & Gamble has created special freestanding and adhesive wall holders for this super-sized monster. A starter kit of three rolls and a stand costs thirty dollars. A single roll is ten dollars. Delivery is free, and you score an extra 20 percent off if you sign up for regular deliveries.
Forrest Gump said that life is like a box of chocolates. I say life is more like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes. No matter how big the roll, we eventually get to the last sheet.
Today’s verses find Jesus heading for that last sheet, “turning his face toward Jerusalem,” as Luke puts it.
Ordinarily, Jews on their way to Jerusalem took the long way around, refusing to set foot in Samaritan territory. The Samaritans were happy to return the favor, taking the long way around Jerusalem.
Jesus had no time for detours. More than that, he had a point to make. He couldn’t head for Jerusalem and the salvation of all people and still buy into the bigotry and the hate of the world. He and the disciples walked straight through Samaria, where those living in one village, still very much into bigotry and hate, turned Jesus away.
James and John thought a little payback was in order. “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
Let’s rephrase that. “Hey, Jesus, do you want us to burn some people alive for you?”
Really? How could they have misunderstood Jesus so completely? Sometimes we get things wrong, and often in a big way.
Watch as Laurel and Hardy, who inherited a gorilla named Ethel from a failed circus, get into another fine mess, this time with their landlord, whose wife has the same name.
Laurel and Hardy
James and John had the wrong Ethel. They thought they were sticking up for Jesus. Instead, Jesus said, they were doing exactly what they shouldn’t do.
Jesus came to break the cycle of violence by dying and forgiving, not killing and seeking revenge. That meant looking forward in hope, not backward in hate. It also meant reordering one’s life and priorities.
That became clear enough. Leaving the un-singed Samaritans behind, three people came up to Jesus as he walked down the road. I’d like to focus on last member of this little road trip trio. “I’ll follow you, Lord,” he said, “but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”
Jesus’ answer sounds a bit harsh. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” Jesus said.
Despite what many kids may think about their parents or teachers, no one has eyes in the back of her or his head. God made us to look forward, not back. Still, the temptation is strong, scripture says.
We know the story of the Exodus, when Moses led the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery as God set death and destruction on their Egyptian masters. After the celebrating was done, what was one of the first things that the Israelites did? They complained—first about water, then about food, then about meat.
“If only we died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots and ate our fill of bread; for you’ve brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
That whole generation of freed slaves, who complained about their present while painting a rosy picture of the past, had to die off in the desert before their children could reach the Promised Land.
Genesis tells the story of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and his wife. They, along with their two daughters, were led out of Sodom and Gomorrah before God destroyed the cities for their arrogance, self-indulgence, lack of concern for the poor, and abuse of strangers.
There was just one condition, the angel said. “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back!”
Maybe Lot’s wife was worried about her daughters, and wanted to make sure they were coming. Maybe she was curious about what was going on behind her. Maybe she was a little homesick, and wanted one last glance. At any rate, we know what happened.
The message is clear enough. We have to put what’s now becoming our past behind us, especially if it includes harm, hurt, or pain, and focus instead on moving forward. If we don’t, it’s easy to slip back into old patterns, old addictions, and old friendships with people who drag us down.
In these verses Jesus offers us what he’d come to realize, that our work will be hard, that the Kingdom will come from this work, and that, if we keep our hand on the plow, with Gods’ help we can do it.
It doesn’t sound like fun. So, like the folks who met Jesus on the road, we all have our own perfectly reasonable, common sense excuses to put off the claims of discipleship.
An interdenominational study of fifty different churches in sixteen states, ranging in size from thirty-two in attendance each week to over 5000, asked people where they are when they don’t make it to church on a Sunday.
Here, in alphabetical order, is what they said. Athletic events come in first, followed by commitment, or a lack thereof. Exhaustion is number three, followed by holidays. Number five is illness, especially among senior adults. Also on the list are children’s activities, travel, as well as vacations, timeshares, and second homes. Filling things out at number ten is work. About one in three Americans regularly work on Sundays.
The original twelve had no excuses. They set aside their nets and their livelihoods, their homes and their families, and followed Jesus. That doesn’t mean, though, that they always “got it,” any more than we always will.
Jesus’ disciples kept right on dancing with the wrong Ethel. They quarreled over who was the greatest, rebuked someone driving out demons in Jesus’ name and, as we saw today, wanted to turn people they didn’t like into crispy critters.
If they had trouble, so will we. It’s hard to follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem, and it’s easy to get discouraged on the journey.
An old proverb says, “When you’re at your wits ’end, remember that God lives there.” It’s a good thing God does. Our “whatevers” and “whenevers” soon fade. We can’t resist looking back to see how straight a furrow we cut.
We shouldn’t rush into the discipleship with easy promises like, “I’ll follow you wherever you go.” We know better. So does Jesus.
Instead, we should consider the cost, give Jesus the highest priority in our lives, and move ahead. We’ll stumble and fall along the way. There will be many the backward glance. We’ll often have to pray for both guidance and grace.
Still, we need to keep moving. After all, the roll will run out, the last sheet will come, and opportunities to serve will one day cease.