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.” (NRSV)
|Plowing the Fields by Phil. Creative commons image on flickr|
Looking back, I don’t think the people who’ve known me since childhood are surprised that I’m a pastor. What does surprise people—and me most of all—is that I am not a pastor in the strict, Lutheran denomination in which I was raised.
When I was being confirmed, I remember the pastor saying that he would not confirm “any long-haired boys.”
For a long time, I believed that my church’s brand of Lutheranism was the only true faith.
It was only about a year or so before I entered seminary that I began questioning the beliefs I had long held as true—at about the same time when some ELCA pastors—and the people of my grandmother’s ELCA congregation—began encouraging me to think not just about a vocation in ministry in the ELCA.
When someone from my old church asked me why I’d gone ELCA, there was only one answer I could give: “because that’s where God wants me.”
But I can honestly say that my journey into the ELCA and pastoral ministry was anything but the path of least resistance…
Everything I thought I knew about God, the Bible, faith, and ministry was shattered to pieces in the summer of 2008, when I began an eleven-week unpaid internship as a hospital chaplain. I didn’t have a clue how someone as shy and inexperienced as me could make people feel better in the worst day of their life.
In time, I learned that there was nothing I could say or do to make people feel better. All I could do was show up, listen, pray, and stay. And that was enough. I learned that Jesus could take me, with all my weaknesses and fears, and do something good for those people. At the same time, I had never felt as close to Jesus as I did when I sat beside those hospital beds and in those dull, loathsome waiting rooms.
I’m glad I was made to work there those eleven weeks—because if I had the choice, I wouldn’t have gone through with it. And I wouldn’t be the same person I am today.
There’s always reasons not to follow Jesus—even good ones.
Today, Jesus encounters a man, and invites him to follow him. The man makes a very reasonable request: to go home and bury his father. Jesus replies that “let the dead bury their own dead.” Later, he says “no one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back is fit for God’s Kingdom.”
Now I’m only speculating—but I highly doubt Jesus was indifferent to the man’s loss. I believe his loss mattered to Jesus a lot. But what this man does is something we Christians do all the time: we put Jesus off. When Jesus upsets our plans, we reject him. When we can’t feel comfortable, secure, and in control, we don’t follow. When all we have is disappointment, brokenness, and failure, we give up.
This is how you fall into a spiritual rut.
But—the problem with ruts is that the more you travel through them, the deeper they get—until you can’t go any further and you’re stuck.
Jesus doesn’t call you to follow him through the same old rut. But he does show up if you’re in one… He comes in your most awful days, amid disappointments, brokenness, and failure, when everything feels chaotic and out of control… He says “follow me;” and not to spare you from the troubles of life, but to show you the power of his love from within them. The same Jesus who brings life out of death can bring about radical transformation on your very worst days.
When comfort, knowledge, control, and security all crumble away—there is grace. This same Jesus can work wonders in you simply by your willingness to show up and be present.
Looking ahead to my future as your pastor, I’m praying to witness that same amazing grace with you, knowing that we will face even more difficult challenges and painful changes—but they will not upset Jesus’ mission in this community. We could go on with the same old, same old…
Or, we can pay attention to what Jesus is up to: this week, three churches came together to give our children a week of hope and celebration at VBS. But it grieves me—and it grieves the Spirit—that we’ve all retreated back to our own churches…
Seeing all the terrible things happening and all the people hurting, it’s time to ask Jesus, “what can we do?” Will you and I take chances, risk failure, endure disappointment, and move forward towards what Jesus wants rather than what we want? Can you and I let go of the things that are not as important to Jesus as they are to us?
Sooner or later, we all get stuck in a rut. We find ourselves stripped bare of everything that brought happiness, security, and purpose to our lives. All we’ll really have is our brokenness, our chaos, and our Jesus. And that is always enough. The cross proves this as truth.
More often than not, we will follow Jesus down the path of most resistance. But the way of the cross is the way of most grace. So we move forward with the promise of that grace going before us, with no looking back.