First Reading: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
15Then the Lord said to [Elijah,] “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
19So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. 20He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” 21He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
Psalm: Psalm 16
1Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;
I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.”
2All my delight is in the godly that are in the land,
upon those who are noble among the people.
3But those who run after other gods
shall have their troubles multiplied.
4I will not pour out drink offerings to such gods,
never take their names upon my lips.
5O Lord, you are my portion and my cup;
it is you who uphold my lot.
6My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;
indeed, I have a rich inheritance.
7I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
my heart teaches me night after night.
8I have set the Lord always before me;
because God is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
9My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
my body also shall rest in hope.
10For you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor let your holy one see the pit.
11You will show me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Second Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
1For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
13For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
16Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, 21envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
51When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54When 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?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56Then they went on to another village.
57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And 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.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
A common gesture that is popular today is to point two fingers at someone’s eyes, back to our eyes, and back to theirs. Turn to your neighbor and make the motion. What are you communicating in this gesture do you think?
Let us pray. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Last week we started to dig in to our journey of Pentecost. We faced the reality that while we have mountaintop experiences like Pentecost when the Triune God seems so real and powerfully working in our lives even beyond our expectations, the truth is that evil also is working in our world. Last week we visited the healing of the demoniac who ran to Jesus. But we also saw the demons who only bargained with Jesus about their demise and the towns people that flat out refused to engage with Jesus. The journey of faith and transformation into our better selves, the person God created us to be, is just that, a journey and we make choices. Last week we saw the choices being made about submitting to the authority of Jesus and trusting him for our future. Today we look from a different perspective. We see the challenges of faith to our priorities. We are challenged to FOCUS.
Our text from Luke occurs as Jesus is heading to Jerusalem and his crucifixion. Jesus passed from Galilee in northern Israel through Samaria to get to Jerusalem. He was not received well in Samaria and the disciples were furious. They wanted to call down fire from heaven. Jesus looked at them and said “FOCUS!” Today we would use the gesture of pointing our two fingers at another’s eyes and then wave them back to ours and then back to theirs. The implied message is “Focus!”, “Are we on the same page?”, or “Are we agreed on this?”
Where to lay my head?
Back on the road, Jesus is met by three people that present three challenges to following Jesus. The first person wants to follow Jesus anywhere. Today’s movies would have Jesus pointing his two fingers at the man’s eyes and saying, “Focus.” To follow Jesus is to be homeless. His followers have no den like a fox and no nest like a bird. Are we up for that kind of homelessness?
St. Augustine in his book Confessions is famously quoted for writing, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” To enter the Pentecost journey is to shift our focus from place to person. As a person who has spent her life moving, much like military people, I often say, “My home is where my suitcase is!” The question, “Where are you from?” is very difficult because I automatically search my memory banks to evaluate which of the many places I’ve lived, I most identify with. Now people ask me, “Does you house feel like home yet?”
Jesus says that foxes have holes, places to hide, and birds have nests, places above danger. Both my parents died when we were in Kenya. The next furlough I had a big argument with my husband, probably about a small issue, stomped out, got in the car and suddenly realized I now had no where to go. I sat in my car in the library lot crying. Home is a place where we are known, where we are loved hopefully, and where there are people who hold your story, who know you. I know that is not true for all people because many carry scars of abuse, abandonment, and rejection. Jesus is saying that “home” is no longer something we strive to find or create here on earth because like the reception in Samaria, the journey of faith often puts us at odds with the world and the values of the world. Family is no longer biological and even in churches people are forgiven sinners and hurt each other. “Home” becomes a spiritual definition and not a social definition.
Similarly birds can fly away. In the movie “Forest Gump”, one of the scenes that always comes to mind is when young Forest runs to Jenny’s house and Jenny is evading her father who is abusing her. They run into the cornfield and she has him kneel and pray with her, “Lord make me a bird so I can fly away.” Birds can fly away from trouble but Christians are often known for facing into problems. Bethany Gardens is of course the obvious example. We do not fly away from the problems whether that is the war in Ukraine where relief is pouring in or whether it is the hunger in our own neighborhood. Hospitals, social services, orphanages, schools and learning institutions all have sprung up from not flying away. It is true the efforts are marred with human problems but the truth is that to be a follower of Jesus is to face the dramas of evil and to have restless hearts til our hearts rest in God.
So where do you rest your head today? When worry, fears, bad memories plague you, where do you focus? Jesus says, “Focus.” (do the finger motion). We are called to look Jesus eye to eye and agree with him. We do that through Scripture, through music, through prayer, through fellowship and perhaps through a walk. We are called to look at Jesus eye to eye wherever we go. Is there an area you need to gaze into his eyes today?
“first let me go and bury my father”
Our first person is challenged to redefine “home.” Our second person is challenged to redefine “priorities.” Jesus calls this person to follow and the person replies, “first let me….” Ooops, the response shows priority issues. Jesus points his fingers at this person and again says, “FOCUS.” We know that Jesus is not arguing about the burial of the person’s father for other places in Scripture tell us to care for our families. Jesus reprimands religious leaders who got around helping parents by saying something was promised to God. He also says that he who does not care for parents is worse than a heathen. Jesus must not be opposed to family but to that word “first.” How often do we prioritize our obedience to God and beg, first let me… fill in the blank?
We share our money or resources after we pay our bills. That of course is easy to point to with so many voices begging us to share our resources for the worthy cause they are supporting. Starving, emaciated people’s faces cover letters and magazine. So we make decisions on how to share our blessings with these many causes that call to us. Are we giving to assuage guilt and earn credit with God or friends? Jesus wants us to put him first. For others, the challenge is getting to church if they are not too tired from Friday and Saturday activities. Our world is over run with activities and noise. Sunday morning is an opportunity for family and self. Jesus challenges us to make God our “first” choice, however that looks.
Jesus response is enlightening, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Perhaps the question is not if we give money or time, but more a question of who we associate with. Who we associate with says something about our priorities. Dead people don’t bury dead people but that idiom challenges the man’s request to let him first bury his father. We might throw back our idiom, “Birds of a feather flock together,” to challenge someone about loyalties and priorities. The important point is that in whatever we do and with whomever we associate, we be living out our focus on the kingdom of God. I don’t think Jesus is wanting us to feel guilty about watching a movie with family, going fishing, or socializing. He wants us to do things that build community, build our souls, and enjoy the creation he made for us but the challenge is to not loose focus on what is our first love, God. So perhaps we ask ourselves with this follower, Is what I am doing drawing me closer to God or drawing me away from God? That’s something to think about.
“But let me first say farewell to those at my home”
Jesus challenges the first person to realize the faith journey brings a restlessness and a focus that feels like not having a den or a nest, a place to rest our head. He challenges the second person about his priorities and what is first. Are the tasks that come “first” in our life drawing us into relationship with God or distracting us. The third challenge is similar. The person requests to bid farewell to family, but notice that the person starts with “but.” This person’s request is more conditional than a matter of priorities. It reminds me of our demons last week who when ordered to leave the man but they bargain with Jesus, yes, but..send us into the pigs.
The “buts” in life are the fears and doubts that slow down our journey. I want to be a Christian but…God might ask me to be a missionary and I’m afraid of snakes, but God might ask me to be single and not follow the cultural norms of dating, but God might ask me to give up partying on Saturday and so the excuses go. I can hear that little voice whispering in my ear about the potential hazards and prices I might pay for living life God’s way.
Can you envision Jesus taking his fingers and pointing them at this person’s eyes, FOCUS, and listen.
- “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)”
- Again we read “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)”
God goes before us to guide us, behind us to protect us and beside us to partner with us. Those are serious promises.
Jesus ends, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Unlike modern evangelists who tell us, “Try Jesus, you’ll like him,” Jesus points his finger at our eyes and calls us to focus on him. The faith journey is not easy and he does not deceive us. We will have to do battle with evil in all its guises. We will have to make choices.
- We will have no place to rest our head except in him. “28 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)”
- We will have to examine our priorities. “seek first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)”
- We will be tempted to fear and doubt the consequences of our choice. But God is faithful to travel with us.
May we not be guilty of loosing focus this week as we journey with our Savior.
Let the people of God say, “AMEN!”