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Following Jesus Isn’t Always Easy

June 25, 2022
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When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51) This is how the gospel reading for the Third Sunday after Pentecost begins. He set his fact to go to Jerusalem. What does it mean to set his face? The Greek word that is translated as set is estērisen. It means to be resolute, steadfast, or determined. Thus, Jesus was determined to go to Jerusalem despite what he knew was waiting for him there. He knew the road ahead was going to be difficult and filled with challenges for him and for his followers yet, nothing was going to get in the way of him getting there. When the Samaritan villagers rejected him by refusing to offer him hospitality, James and John (the sons of thunder) asked if they could call down fire from heaven to consume the village. Instead of the violent response they wanted, Jesus rebuked James and John before moving on to the next village. His ministry wasn’t about retribution or damning others in the name of religion, it was about loving God and your loving neighbor… every neighbor.

Loving others isn’t always easy. Jesus often calls us at inconvenient times to do challenging work. In today’s lectionary we hear examples of our human nature in three encounters. One person said I will follow you wherever you go. Jesus said to that individual that following him wasn’t going to be easy. The foxes and birds have homes and stability, yet I have nowhere to lay my head at night. Are you willing to give that stability up to follow me? The next individual he asked to follow him wasn’t ready to follow either. Lord, first let me go and bury my father. The third wanted to say goodbye to his family before he followed Jesus. I can almost hear them saying: I want to follow you but…

How many times have we put qualifications on our response when we are called to do something for Jesus? I remember the first time I was called to go into a jail in Las Vegas to counsel a former Marine who was accused of murder. The call came into the chapel requesting a Lutheran chaplain to bring the prisoner communion. One of my colleagues said jokingly that I was closer to being a Lutheran than he was. Would I tell the Marine’s lawyer that I would love to help but I’m not Lutheran? I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t be answering the call to follow Christ.

I heard the doors clang shut behind me as I entered the jail. I found myself locked into a small room with a table and two chairs in it. It was unnerving for me to say the least. At that point I could have looked back and wondered how I had gotten myself into this situation. I could have asked the guard to take me back to the entrance of the jail. However, in the words of Jesus, “I had put my hand to the plow,” and it was useless for me to look back. I was responding to the call “come follow me” by going into that jail and that small room where I would be face-to-face with an accused murderer. I wasresponding to the call of Jesus to come and follow him. 

There have been other opportunities to follow Jesus into uncomfortable situations during life and ministry. In each of those situations I was called to be present to an individual or group that needed spiritual care. Sometimes you just do what you are called to do. Yes, it isn’t always easy, but the thing is, I was never really alone. 

In a world that is so often divided and filled with fear, it can be easy to say “yes, but” to Jesus and walk away. A “yes, but” born out of frustration, hurt, fear, and anger is completely understandable. It isn’t easy to share a message of love, grace, peace, mercy, and hope when those around you are drawing up battle lines and saying hateful things. Despite those battle lines, we are still called to be Christ-followers and share the good news and shine Christ’s light in the darkness.

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