Are you really sure you want to follow the Way of Jesus? | Jeff Nowers | June 30, 2019
On this beautiful Sunday morning, on Canada Day weekend, I’m wondering why you’ve decided to be here at St. Aidan’s. Why did you come here today? I’m here because I was scheduled to preach and preside—and there are other reasons. Why are you here? I ask the question because we’ve just heard a reading from St. Luke’s Gospel that could make us second-guess whether we really want to be committed to the church and following the Way of Jesus.
When the American TV game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? debuted almost exactly 20 years ago, host Regis Philbin gained increased popularity for always asking contestants, “Is that your final answer?” Lots of money was riding on every multiple choice trivia question posed to the contestants, and Regis wanted to make sure they were convinced of their answers.
I think today’s Gospel puts that same question to us: Is that your final answer? In other words, Are you sure? Are you really serious about desiring to follow the Way of Jesus? It’s the very same question that the three would-be disciples in today’s Gospel must face. I think Luke presents these three anonymous figures as mini case studies of different types of people who would like to be disciples of Jesus. We get indications that all three may not have done their due diligence in thinking through what it means to follow Jesus. And so to each one, Jesus responds with some arresting words. Is that your final answer? Are you really sure? Because if you want to be my disciple, Jesus says, the way will not be easy.
The first case is the naïve disciple. This is the enthusiastic person who is totally enamored with Jesus, at least on the surface, but perhaps hasn’t considered with any seriousness what following Jesus entails. This person declares to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” It’s a bold, unqualified statement. But Jesus responds: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” In other words, following Jesus means giving up one’s quest for security—the security of having a house to return to with a door that locks; or, even beyond that, the assurance that you’ll always have friends and family to welcome you into their homes. Those things, says Jesus, are not certainties we can invariably depend on. Why? Because the Christian way is a path that renders our comforts unstable and insecure—and that might include even where we live and sleep. How did the would-be disciple respond to what Jesus had to say? We’re not told, but we’re left wondering: did he stay true to his commitment to follow Jesus, or did he walk away dissuaded by Jesus’ response?
The second case study is the distracted follower of Jesus. Unlike the first person who approached Jesus directly, this person is called by Jesus and seems receptive to Jesus’ invitation—but not without conditions. He wants first to take care of his father’s funeral arrangements. Jesus’ response seems almost dismissive: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” At the very least, Jesus is urging this would-be follower to remember that being a disciple means being called to a specific mission: to proclaim the kingdom of God. That proclamation, by word and deed, requires sacrifice on our part. It’s not enough, according to Jesus, to fit it into our already busy schedules where we have free time. No, Jesus’ words are a reminder that to be a Christian means that embodying the Good News must be our ultimate concern at all times, even when other circumstances close to home vie for our attention and commitment.
The third case study in today’s Gospel is that of the indecisive Jesus-follower. This person approaches Jesus and declares his intention to join him—but not right away. He wants first to go back to his family and say goodbye. He understands that being a disciple of Jesus will be all-absorbing and a life of sacrifice. But he’s torn because he loves his family. Perhaps he wanted their blessing. Or perhaps he wanted to convince them that he was doing the right thing. In any case, Jesus responds with these famous words: “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” In other words, the call to be a disciple of Jesus is urgent. If our response is “Yes, we will follow,” then there’s no time for excuses and delaying. We must get on with embodying the Good News, even if our closest family members might think we’re a bit crazy.
I don’t think I’m off base to assume that many of you, like me, find that today’s Gospel of these three mini case studies hits close to home. I must admit that, like the first person, I’m sometimes naïve about what it takes to live as a Christian with integrity. I’m distracted, like the second person, by a lot of things going on, things that get in the way of devoting myself entirely to embodying the Good News. And like the third person, I’m indecisive at times; I have my doubts, and sometimes I’m very frustrated with the church, its structure and organization, and its decision making.
We can go a step further and consider how these three case studies relate collectively to all of us as a congregation in the present. We at St. Aidan’s are on the brink of a major building renovation project. It’s no longer a theoretical possibility; we’ve now sold property to finance the renovation, so it’s going to happen. We’ve given our final answer, and it’s been years in the making. This congregation has prayed and discerned that selling some of our property to fund a building retrofit will enable us to embody the Good News more effectively here in the Beach, especially in the coming generations. But the next couple of years will be challenging. We’re going to be displaced, as we gather in our former parish hall on Sunday mornings—“nowhere to lay our head,” as it were. We won’t have much income generated from our building because it will be shut down.
Are we ready? What can we learn from the first case study about naïveté? We can’t afford to coast along now, only to be shocked a year from now. From the second case study: what are the distractions that might be compromising our preparation for change? And then from the third case study: do we have doubts about the whole project? I think that’s to be expected. But will we persevere together through the upheaval?
These three mini case studies challenge us as individuals and as a congregation. At a time when significant change is on the horizon, Jesus’ no-nonsense call to discipleship is juxtaposed today with the first reading we heard—St. Paul’s call not “to bite and devour one another,” but rather to live by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we can keep those virtues in the foreground, then we’ll be in a good place to journey together as a body through any of the disruptions that are coming.