Reading: Luke 9:51-62
Grace to you and peace in Jesus Christ, who calls us to follow him. Amen.
Sometimes I wish that the Bible would be a lot easier to read. Sometimes I wish that every time I picked up the Bible, I would get warm, fuzzy feelings.
But instead, the Bible is often a really hard book to read. More often than not, the Bible makes me uncomfortable. More often than not, I have more questions than when I started.
And maybe that’s a good thing. Because if the Bible was just a collection of feel-good stories, we wouldn’t need it at all. Chicken Soup for the Soul would be all we need. But the fact is that the Bible is NOT Chicken Soup for the Soul, and that means that more often than not, we are called to wrestle with what the Spirit is saying to us in the words of Scripture.
This is one of those passages that I’ve often wrestled with. Here are three good people who want to follow Jesus! But they have some very reasonable requests. Will I be able to get enough sleep? Will I have time to care for my family? Will I have time to say goodbye to those I love? These are reasonable requests aren’t they? But Jesus seems to shut them all down.
This passage has often made me wonder: Is discipleship too difficult for me? Am I really following Jesus? Does following Jesus mean that I need to deny my needs? Does Jesus call me to say “no” to those I love?
I think about people who I consider to be models of discipleship. Martin Luther King Jr, who was willing to be sent to jail, who was willing to risk his own life, for the freedom and equality of Black Americans. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was willing to stand up against the Nazis, even though it meant sacrificing his own life in a concentration camp. Mother Teresa, who left her family and all of her possessions to serve the poor in Calcutta. Is this what it means to be a disciple – to be willing to risk everything for the sake of Jesus Christ?
Perhaps when we hear these words of Jesus today, we have to keep in mind what it meant to follow the human Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth, on his earthly mission. Because when Jesus of Nazareth called his disciples, it was a matter of urgency. Jesus didn’t have time to say: “Why don’t you sign up for my discipleship course in September? You can take the summer to think about it and get back to me.” Jesus had a mission. His timeline was tight. His call to discipleship was urgent. “Come follow me” meant “drop everything, and come follow me.”
Jesus didn’t have time for people who wanted to dictate their own terms. He couldn’t be distracted by those who weren’t willing to go all-in. Jesus had “set his face to Jerusalem.” He was going there to preach the good news. He was going, knowing that it would lead to his crucifixion. He was on a mission to defeat death. To be Jesus disciple meant to leave everything behind and follow him.
And yet, we have many different examples of discipleship in the Gospels. Just last week, we heard about the man possessed by demons. When Jesus freed him, he asked to follow Jesus. But instead, Jesus says, “Go home, and tell everyone how much God has done for you.”
So there isn’t just one way to follow Jesus. And sometimes following Jesus looks different in one season of our journey than it does in another season.
So there are times when following Jesus means that, like the Son of Man, you will have “no place to rest your head.” And then there are other times, when following Jesus means learning how to practice self-care, and rest, and Sabbath.
There are times when following Jesus means that you will be called to leave behind family obligations, because Jesus’ call on your life is more urgent, more pressing than anything else. And then there are other times, when following Jesus means staying home, and caring for your family, or caring for a loved one.
There are times when following Jesus means setting out on a journey, and not looking back. And there are times when following Jesus means returning to our roots.
So if following Jesus sometimes looks like one thing, and sometimes looks like another, how do we know that we’re actually following Jesus?
For me, no matter what a season of discipleship looks like, discipleship is always about learning. Specifically, there are a few things that we will always be learning when we follow Jesus:
Learning to love ourselves as God loves us – as beautiful and beloved children of God.
Learning to love others as beautiful and beloved children of God.
Learning to love God, our Creator, Christ, and Spirit of Life, with our whole heart, soul, and strength.
And learning what it means to be baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
However Jesus calls you to follow him – whether that’s going on a journey, or staying home; whether it’s leaving everything behind, or blooming where you’re planted – I believe that Jesus will always be teaching you something about these fundamental things. Loving yourself, loving others, loving God, and what it means to be baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection. Perhaps these things seem simple, or perhaps you’ll find that after a lifetime of following Jesus, there will always be more to learn.
So whatever following Jesus looks like for you right now, may you know and experience his presence with you daily, the presence of the One in whom you were baptized, the One in whom you belong, the One who loves you, and will never let you go.