Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, July 1, 2013

Jesus, you are soooo unreasonable.

Sermon, June 30th, 2013

Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ, Amen.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And lean not on your own understanding
In all your ways acknowledge him.
And he will make… your path straight!”

That song is from a Vacation Bible School year, way back when I was young. I don’t remember exactly what the theme was for VBS that year, but I still remember this song. How many of you who’ve been to VBS as a kid still and find yourself occasionally humming a song or two?

Now, I’ve participated in quite a few Vacation Bible school curriculums over the years, and I’ve started to notice a pattern. No matter what the “theme” of the week is, be it rainforest, down on the farm, castles and kings, wild west, beach party, Babylon, or Everywhere Fun Fair, just about every single VBS talks about putting our trust in God. And over the course of a lifetime, hopefully a child will grow up having this message reinforced year after year, so that when life does hand them a tough situation, they may find themselves humming that maddeningly catchy VBS tune from their childhood.

Just last year at this time, we were concluding VBS 2012, singing songs with words like: “The storms of life will push and pull, but we are standing on the Rock that never rolls.” We had no idea that a few short months later we would be facing a real-life storm, the likes of which we had never seen before. We had no idea that some parts of our lives will never quite be the same again.

For a week, or more for some, our lives were on hold. Any plans we had made went out the window when Sandy rolled in. As we waited for the electricity to come back on, we realized that when it got cold outside, we were cold too. We realized that when the sun set at night, it would be dark inside as well as outside. We realized it was harder to get in contact with family and harder to stay connected to the outside world. We realized that without gas and working traffic lights, driving had become very tricky. For a week, we knew full well that we were not in control. And for most of us, that is a very scary feeling, one that we would do anything to avoid feeling every again.

But for some, that feeling of powerlessness could descend at any moment. Your world can change out of the blue, be it from sudden illness, pay cut or job loss, accident, or any other sudden change in plans.

Sometimes, it just takes one tragedy to reveal to us the truth: that we are not in control, no matter how much we think we are. No matter how many precautions we take or backup plans we make, we simply cannot plan for every contingency, and we will drive ourselves crazy with worry if we try. But we still cling so tightly to what little control over our lives that we do have that it’s hard to let go, even when it is Jesus who is asking us to.

Do you remember that face your mom or dad made growing up that told you it would be useless to argue with them? Their mind was made up, end of story, thank you very much. Jesus must have been wearing that kind of look when he decided it was time to get down to business and head for Jerusalem in order to complete the mission that God had given him.

Because of this, the Samaritans in a town on the way wanted nothing to do with Jesus. And so, his disciples, being wonderful examples of loving Christian behavior, turned the other cheek, right? Well, actually…Two of his followers, James and John, were so angry that their rabbi had been insulted that they were ready to wipe this sorry little town right off the map. And they probably weren’t too happy that Jesus wasn’t flattered at their show of devotion. They were probably disappointed that Jesus was actually pretty annoyed, and instead puts the kibosh in their plans for revenge.

No biggy, they’ll just find another town on the next exit along the Jerusalem highway. But along the way, a man recognizes Jesus and is so excited to meet him that he instantly promises to follow Jesus “wherever he goes.” And Jesus turns to him and says, “Yes, that’s the spirit! I like that show of eagerness – come on along with us!”, right? Not exactly… Instead, Jesus responds - not by saying, “poor me, I have no home,” but by revealing that this man may not have completely thought through the implications of such an important decision, and thus might not be ready for the reality of the life of a disciple.
Here, Jesus is saying to the man that following him is not a life of ease and comfort. Discipleship means living a life that the world is uncomfortable with, a life that means you will not find comfort in the ways of the world. If I were this man, I might have responded, “Wow, way to rain on my parade, Jesus.”

The second man they encounter actually gets a personal invitation to follow Jesus – how exciting! Does he drop everything at the chance to follow, like James and John and Peter, and the rest? No, he doesn’t. First he must do what any good and loyal son would do – honor his dead father’s memory. First he must honor his previous commitments, THEN he will be only too glad to follow Jesus.  Is that really too much to ask?

Is it also too much for the third man to ask for just a little down time before his career as a disciple begins, in order to explain himself to his family and say goodbye? Even though, his family may try to talk him out of going - because surely this is too drastic of a change in lifestyle to make, and yes the call DID come from Jesus, but surely this position doesn’t have good pay or adequate benefits, and how will they hear from him to make sure he’s safe and well-fed?

You are right if by now you are thinking that Jesus is being completely unreasonable. After all, we all have commitments to keep and obligations to fulfill. Doesn’t Jesus see that we have convinced ourselves that we are in control of our own lives, that we are the ones who make the plans and sets the schedules? And doesn’t Jesus see that we are ok with that, at least until the next life-shattering event threatens?

Of course Jesus knows that. And he also knows that when we make plans under the yokes of our own desires, the end results are often selfishness, divisions, addictions, suffering, indifference, hate, and fear. The tighter we grasp at control over our lives, the more out-of-control we actually are. Jesus knew all this, and still he submitted himself to humanity’s control. For that is why he had to go to Jerusalem in the first place – to show that there is another way to live.

There is life beyond fear, free from all the reasonable obligations and plans we’ve create for ourselves. Free from the fear that death and suffering are in control of our lives. Free from the burden of thinking that everything depends on us.

Jesus lived that by giving up control over his own life, to show us that our lives are in the hands of God. And Jesus shows us that there is another side, and that Jesus will see us safely there.

That’s what following Jesus means – trusting that he joins us in this adventure that we call life, trusting that we don’t have to have our lives together in order to follow him, trusting that something good is going to come out of all of this.

I’ll admit it – working with children, especially large groups of them, often contains an element of chaos. Sometimes it can be exasperating, but other times I have been pleasantly surprised at how much some kids absorb during one crazy week at VBS. One minute, they might be running around and yelling, and the next, they might be telling one kid not to be mean to another. This just one way God is using us to plow the fields for the Kingdom of God. This is just one way that God is using us to make disciples and change lives. And our lives are being changed in the process. AMEN.

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