Luke 9:57-62; Luke 5:27-32
We are continuing our sermon series based on the book, Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman and we are looking at the overall aspects of being a follower of Jesus Christ. This ties into our willingness to give our whole selves to the ministry of being disciples – no conditions, no restrictions, no exceptions. We are either fans or followers of Jesus.
Our focal scripture is once again Luke 9:23 – “If anyone would follow me, you must first deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” The first part of today’s scripture from later in this chapter has us encountering 3 people who at first are willing to follow Jesus, but then decide Jesus is asking too much. Perhaps as we evaluate these three cases we can determine if this is true.
The first man states, “I will follow you wherever you go.” It’s that word ‘wherever’ that ends up becoming a barrier for this man. Jesus replies to him that he himself is actually homeless. He doesn’t reside in the finest rooms available. He is not a welcomed guest at the palace – he has no home. This tells us that Jesus’ expectations of being a follower may cause us to go into the unknown. Jesus is challenging this man to give up his secure existence and take a risk, which ultimately this man is not willing to do. We, like this man, are more likely to prefer broad statements of agreement, rather then to get down to specifics on what is needed to love God and love our neighbor. Sometimes we might be holding out for a safe management position when Jesus is calling us to be boat builders.
We need to get specific about what it means to follow Jesus ‘wherever’ because the next question might be, ‘How about there?’ How about in our homes? How about at our work? What if Jesus wants us to share our faith with our co-workers? What if Jesus wants us to serve at the Lighthouse Shelter? What if Jesus calls us to serve on a mission trip? Michelle pointed out a bumper sticker that seems to sum this up. “If Jesus is your co-pilot, maybe you need to switch seats.” Maybe we do. Maybe we need to relinquish our insistence on control and focus on the blessings of serving the one who came to serve. When Jesus asks, “How about there?” do we see this as a suggestion? Are we a fan or are we a follower of Jesus Christ?
The next part of our scripture introduces us to someone else whom Jesus called to follow. He immediately puts a condition on this and says, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” That sounds like a legitimate request – a very correct prioritization. Jesus’ response seems extremely harsh, “Let the dead bury the dead.” Wow, really? One thing we must point out here is, that in all likelihood, this man’s father was alive and in good health. What this man was saying was that now was not a good time. This man is stating he would follow Jesus after his parents are gone. There are several reasons why this man might want to put Jesus off. Maybe his parents would not approve of his life choice. Maybe he was slated to follow in his father’s footsteps into the family business. Maybe this man was waiting for his inheritance. He doesn’t say ‘no’ to Jesus, he says, ‘not yet.’
Maybe we feel a bit of this as well. Is it possible we are staying lukewarm with every intention of following Jesus someday? Maybe we are so busy we just can’t do any more so we put Jesus on a back burner for when life settles down. We keep telling Jesus ‘tomorrow’ all the while knowing tomorrow may never come.
Because this man put conditions on following Jesus we never hear from him again. We don’t even know his name. But consider the response of the other disciples Jesus called. Jesus interrupted people at their places of work. The sons of Zebedee James and John were just back from fishing and there was work to be done. They were working with their father as sons often did. Yet Jesus called them to follow and they dropped everything and immediately responded to the call. Andrew met Jesus and quickly goes and gets his brother Peter saying, “we have found the Messiah.” When Jesus called Phillip, he was immediately intrigued and invites Nathaniel to “come and see.” There is no hesitation with these men. There are no conditions placed or exceptions made. Jesus simple says “Follow me” and they immediately do just that. Do we have this kind of faith? Are we willing to go all in and follow Jesus now and with everything we have? Are we fans or are we followers of Jesus Christ?
There is one more person called by Jesus in our Luke 9 scripture. This person wants to return to his home and say goodbye to everyone – his friends, family. This also seems reasonable yet Jesus extends what again appears to be a seriously harsh response – “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” I think about our New Year’s resolutions. Mine is always to lose weight and get healthy. So, what do I do all through the holidays? I go against this plan!!! It comes down to priorities – do I want instant gratification or do I want to be healthier?
Jesus is questioning this man’s priorities. If he is to truly seek first the kingdom of God there would be no hesitation. Similar to the last man who wanted to follow but not yet, this man cannot seem to put Jesus first. Other commitments take first priority – family, career, etc. It is not that the other disciples didn’t care about these things, it’s that following Jesus was more important, more compelling. I believe the disciples who did follow Jesus were able to experience the full joy of following him because they had their priorities in order. Loving our families is a good thing, yet all too often family activities take on a life of themselves and we allow them to dictate every aspect of our lives. Jesus gave his all for us. Are we able to give our all to him?
The praise team has chosen to sing “I Surrender All” as our offertory today. Do we mean that? Are we willing to choose Jesus over our next new car? Are we willing to choose Jesus over our fantasy football league? Are we willing to choose Jesus over the next rung on our career ladder? I have been with folks at the end of their lives, and never have I heard anyone regret not spending enough time at work. Does following Jesus mean we ignore our families? I don’t think so. I do think we are able to love our families more fully and meaningfully as we come to appreciate our blessings as followers. Mark and I visited my family for a reunion in September. The entire weekend was filled with activities but it was made very clear that nothing occurred on Sunday morning because that was when the church services were going on. The priorities were clear – family is important, but being a follower takes precedence.
Perhaps we feel as if following Jesus means giving up too much because Jesus wants to be more than just a spot on the calendar. Maybe we are afraid the cost is too high – we feel our priorities are just fine. Perhaps we feel if we go all in there will be nothing left of us – no more fun, no more ‘me’ time, no more indulgence. We would rather cling to our burdens and stresses with pride than trust the one who gave his all for us. Consider the story of Levi’s calling by Jesus. Levi, otherwise known as Matthew, was a tax collector. He wanted so much to gain wealth that he literally gouged the poor while being in league with the evil Roman government. He was despised by his fellow Hebrews, but that did not matter. He took on the scummiest job of all, and was apparently very successful at harming others while helping himself.
Suddenly he encounters Jesus the Messiah. He comes face to face with the Son of God who extends the same invitation that he did to all the others, “Follow me.” Levi didn’t choose to get his affairs in order first. He didn’t choose to go home and clear it with his family. He didn’t question where he would be going. Levi simply closed up shop and followed Jesus. We are told he opened his home and invited his friends to ‘come and see.’ The Pharisees were quick to criticize but the message of welcome was clear, and the blessings of being a follower of Jesus far exceeded anything else in Levi’s life.
Do we dare to be like Levi? Do we dare take the leap of faith that means giving our all to Jesus as the song says? Do we adhere to Jesus’ invitation: “If any want to become my followers let them deny themselves, take up their cross daily and follow me.” Are you a fan or are you a follower of Jesus Christ? Amen.