Sermons from Rev Canon Dr Ian Davies

2016

Sunday 26th June

Luke 9: 51-62. Conversations on the way to Jerusalem – June 30, 2013

It was just 3 years ago yesterday - June 2013 that we were privileged to join Julie as she testified in a very public way where God had been leading her, by being ordained – it had been a long time coming, but we’re so blessed to see the outworking of something God had been doing in her life over the years – and (of course) this is the anniversary of her being priested.. And  were back up in Brecon yesterday seeing this year’s Ordinands making their promises (we’ll be praying for them later) – and another batch being deaconed this afternoon and there’s a legitimate question that’s timely to ask at this time of year – Petertide – and it’s this: where do you think you’re headed – because with everything going on, I’m sure you would’ve thought about it?

In our gospel reading this morning Luke tells us that Jesus set his face – “like a flint”(one version tells us) – to go up to Jerusalem – where he’s going to face torture and execution on a Roman cross; to pay the ultimate cost of getting us back into relationship with God and it seems as if nothing – nothing - is going to divert him from fulfilling what he came to do. But Luke recounts amazing things that happen on the way, as we’ve been thinking about over the last few weeks: detours Jesus makes, people he meets, things that happen. And here Luke introduces us to 3 people he met as he travelled that road to Jerusalem along with his disciples and it’s the way Jesus handles these “inquirers” that is fascinating (and this is probably Luke’s reason for recording the details of the conversations). Where most leaders with a cause are busy trying to recruit as many people as they possibly can – and it obviously worked for those who wanted us out of Europe, Jesus seems to spend a great deal of his time trying to actually DISSUADE people from following him (?)- or at least that’s what it looks like.

The advice given by an ageing cleric to his junior is interesting.  The old man said to him, “Son, always endeavour to keep your church as SMALL as you can!” That’s rather strange talk isn’t it?! And that was coming from a man who was the minister of quite a large, thriving congregation. But what he meant was this: preach the truth of the Gospel, and the demands of following Jesus, clearly (don’t soft-soap it!) – so that ONLY those who have properly counted the cost and are seriously ready to give their lives to Jesus will join themselves to you.

Sure we’d love it if as many people as possible came to church (our Diocesan Board of Finance certainly would) – and it would certainly ease the financial pressures – but getting a crowd just for the sake of it? I remember well when I was a University Course Tutor there was such a pressure to make sure degree courses were full – and there was always the pressure to admit students you had doubts about. But what we learn today – if we didn’t know it before - is that what God wants is to see people turning to Christ with their whole beings - becoming true, ‘sold-out’ disciples of Jesus – ‘full-on’ as they say these days.

So let’s have a quick look at how Jesus deals with those who expressed a desire to follow him; He’s not really discouraging them – but he certainly wants them to think it through first . . . to count the cost involved . . . so that once they do follow him they won’t turn back.

One thing you notice from Jesus’ first conversation is that:. THE FOLLOWER OF JESUS DOESN’T RELY ON EARTHLY SECURITY. ”I will follow you wherever you go” – and Jesus says to him – but the Son of Man doesn’t have anywhere to lay his head.

Jesus responds by saying that following him isn’t going to be any kind of easy road. He probably wouldn’t have any truck with these “high-flying” celebrity preachers who jet from town to town, staying in the best hotels and collect nice big offerings from the crowds that come to hear them by offering easy religion.

Jesus had left behind all that he had; exchanging royal wealth for poverty - a palace for a cattle shed –kingship for becoming a humble servant.

And have you ever thought what an incredible irony this is: that the King of glory - heir apparent to the throne of the Universe – doesn’t even have a place to call “home”?!...that he had to be ‘loaned’ accommodation by those who supported his ministry. He even had to borrow a coin (if you remember) to tell a story. He used someone else’s donkey to ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday He was even buried in a borrowed tomb! (- although he didn’t need it for very long!).

Now let’s be clear – we all need security (it’s part of our make-up) – but it’s where we look to find it that’s important? Jesus is making it clear that this isn’t about possessions, or money, or homes, or status – it’s about being secure in God’s faithfulness and love – it’s about fullness of life beyond all the ‘stuff’ we think we need: a solid basis for life that absolutely nothing can take away!

Then we read of a second person where it’s Jesus this time doing the calling. And we realize he’s saying that THE FOLLOWER OF JESUS NEEDS TO BE CAREFUL ABOUT THEIR EARTHLY CONNECTIONS
It’s an encounter that’s quite shocking if we really understand it. Jesus calls this man to be his disciple, but he begs leave to go and bury his father first. A reasonable request you would have thought?! (And in ancient Jewish culture the obligation to bury one’s father was regarded by many Jews as the most holy and binding duty a son could perform). But Jesus says “let the dead bury their own dead: I’ve called you to let people know something completely new is happening – the Kingdom’s here!” So even what the culture considers sacred is secondary to the call to follow Jesus and announce God’s Kingdom. In the context this would have been seen as outrageous. In other words, the claims of this Kingdom come before ANYTHING and ANYONE else? Doesn’t Jesus say elsewhere that, “those who love their father or mother, son or daughter is not worthy of me?” Of course it’s overstated, provocative language – but it makes the point. He’s not calling for us to dishonour parents or shirk family responsibilities (it’s one of the Commandments after all) – what he’s saying is that if we’re serious about all this, he comes first.

So the follower of Jesus is to have no ultimate earthly ties? Whoa! This is tough! – but Jesus is saying, whatever it is, “LEAVE IT BEHIND . . . follow me!” I’ve heard a lot of people – including myself (if I’m honest) say “I’ll follow Jesus later on - I’ve got other more important things to attend to right now: there’s my career, my education, my relationships. I’ve got to make enough money for my family first. Now wouldn’t God want me to be responsible like that?!” Well here’s the rub – we don’t get to negotiate the terms when God calls – believe me!!

So (are you getting this?) no earthly security; no earthly ties – (hardly gentile, undemanding Anglicanism as we know it!!) And then, we come to Jesus’ third conversation: NO EARTHLY DISTRACTIONS either!
Another said: I’ll follow you Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home

Now then come on Jesus – surely this is a reasonable request? But again, Jesus clearly spells out the cost “Listen you’ve already picked up the plough - if you put it down now because of your hankering after your family back home, you’re not fit for the Kingdom of God!” What’s he saying? Well basically, “DON’T LOOK BACK!” Many of us don’t know much about working the land today. We don’t get to appreciate what happens if we’re trying to plough a straight furrow and then looking back to see how we did. It’s actually quite a comical picture really, because even if we’ve done well so far – and look behind us in the hope that the furrow will be reasonably straight, the very act of looking back is going to make the next bit crooked (!). JOHN STOTT – the great Christian writer and leader n- & sadly no longer with us had some interesting comments on this last bit. He wrote this:

“The Christian landscape is strewn with the wreckage of derelict, half-built buildings - the ruins of those who began to build and were unable to finish. For thousands of people still ignore Christ’s warning and undertake to follow him without first pausing to reflect on the cost of doing so. The result is the great scandal of Christendom today, so-called ‘nominal Christianity’. In countries to which Christian civilization has spread, large numbers of people have covered themselves with a decent, but thin, veneer of Christianity. They have allowed themselves to become somewhat involved; enough to be respectable but not enough to be uncomfortable. Their religion is a great, soft cushion. It protects them from the hard unpleasantness of life, while changing its place and shape to suit their conveniences. No wonder the cynics speak of hypocrites in the church and dismiss religion as escapism.”

When I was doing some training of pastoral lay visitors a while ago I got talking to someone from a rural parish church who recounted the time when she was beginning to hear Jesus’ call to get fully committed as a Christian. In one particular church meeting where they were desperate for people to pitch in and help, a well-meaning and very faithful church goer quietly put her hand on hers and said –“Don’t get involved dear” – like this was wise advice. We’ve all heard it – “let the others get on with it; let someone else do it” – but hey Jesus needs you – here- to help…clean, read, welcome, be with the kids, make a cup of tea – or work to keep the Triffids from taking over the graveyard! As we saw during the Christmas experience, it’s fun doing mission together – and the more the merrier…

These set passages are usually difficult to preach on, because Jesus’ words are pretty strong, aren’t they?!

·         To the first person Jesus says: “COUNT THE COST”.

·         To the second: “LEAVE IT BEHIND”.

·         And to the third: “DON’T LOOK BACK”.

But today – in the context of welcoming and affirming the newly ordained as called of God to serve in his church – may we hear Jesus’ call to each one of us. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit in all we do

I will offer up my life – in spirit and truth