Sixth Sunday of Pentecost (Year A)
June 30, 2013
57 On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.
58 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”
–Luke 9:57-58 (The Message)
I’ve always had issues with this passage, for the simple reason that it didn’t make sense. Why was Jesus telling that one guy who wanted to follow him that he wouldn’t have a place to stay? Why was he so unconcerned about the man that had to bury his father? Why was Jesus, as Lutheran pastor Russell Rathburn notes, such a jerk?
The translation found in the Message bible helps clear things up. Jesus was trying to get people to understand their priorities in life. To the man that said he would follow Jesus wherever he went, Jesus warns him that he might lead the man to some places that were not comfortable. To the man that needed to bury his father, Jesus says he must choose life over death. To the one that wants to say goodbye to his friends and family, says that one that looks back isn’t fit for God’s kingdom.
The temptation in modern American society is to make our faith one of many priorities. We want our faith to be predictable if we want faith at all. We want a faith where we are in charge.
But here’s the thing: if we are following Jesus, we aren’t in charge. We are following Jesus, and that might take us to some strange places, places we would never dream of going. And maybe that’s why this passage bothers me; it lays bare my desire to be in control, to choose my faith.
In 2011 UCC Minister Lillian Daniel caused a bit of stir when she wrote an article for the Huffington Post called “Spiritual But Not Religious? Please Stop Boring Me.” The essay skewers those who tend to see themselves as “spiritual” but don’t feel they need to be connected to a church, let alone committed to anything or anyone. She has critcized what she believes to be a made up faith that is more in line with American consumerism than it is with the Church. In a longer version of the essay that appeared in the Christian Century, she says the following:
“…in the church we are stuck with one another, therefore we don’t get the space to come up with our own God. Because when you are stuck with one another, the last thing you would do is invent a God based on humanity. In the church, humanity is way too close at hand to look good. It’s as close as the guy singing out of tune next to you in your pew, as close as the woman who doesn’t have access to a shower and didn’t bathe before worship, as close as the baby screaming and as close as the mother who doesn’t seem to realize that the baby is driving everyone crazy. It’s as close as that same mother who crawled out an inch from her postpartum depression to get herself to church today and wonders if there is a place for her there. It’s as close as the woman sitting next to her, who grieves that she will never give birth to a child and eyes that baby with envy. It’s as close as the preacher who didn’t prepare enough and as close as the listener who is so thirsty for a word that she leans forward for absolutely anything.
It’s as close as that teenager who walked to church alone, seeking something more than gratitude, and finds a complicated worship service in which everyone seems to know when to stand and when to sing except for him—but even so, he gets caught up in the beauty of something bigger than his own invention.
Suddenly it hits that teenager: I don’t need to invent God, because God has already invented me. I don’t need to make all this up for myself. There’s a community of folks who over thousands of years have followed a man who was not lucky—who was, in the scheme of things, decidedly unlucky. But he was willing to die alongside other unlucky ones, and he was raised from the dead to show there is much more to life than you could possibly come up with.”
Jesus Walks. Jesus walks to places we would never consider and that can make us quite uncomfortable. That will make us quite uncomfortable. Jesus had a hard road to walk, but in the end it was so worth it. Our walks with Jesus and encountering the lost and lonely will also make a difference in that we will all see God in places we never would have expected.
Jesus Walks. Will you follow?
Go and be church.
Here is what other scholars and pastors have to say about this week’s passage:
Janet Hunt: No Turning Back
Rick Morley: Facepalm
Ann Howard: Home Free
Ragan Sutterfield: Stay Close
Dennis Sanders is the Associate Pastor at First Christian Church in Minneapolis.