Sunday, March 13, 2016

Encountering Jesus... Listening to Jesus on the rocky road of discipleship (Luke 9:43-62)

I went down to Tauranga a couple of weeks ago to pick up my son James. While we were down there I decided it would be god to go and catch up with a family that has connections to our church that had just moved down there. I knew the address but didn’t know where it was or how to get there. Know when that happens I usually go and look at a map, even if it is on my tablet these days and not an actual paper map. But James who was driving simply pulled out his smart phone typed in the address and the voice on his phone gave us instructions of how to get there. ‘In 800 m turn right, turn right, in 2.4km take the third xit on the round about. Turn left in 200m your destination is on the right…’ I know my way round Tauranga I thought I knew the quickest way to the mount, which is where they lived, So I gave Jams my own directions… but I had lived in Tauranga before they had put in the new motorway and the phone kept giving James directions to get back to what it saw as the best way to go… which we did and we got there.  It seemed he best way to get o our destination was to listen to the voice and do what it said. Which is a good metaphor for the journey of following Jesus… This is my son, my chosen one, listen to him.   

In New Zealand we seem to take travel for granted. In fact when I shared with a fellow minister that I’d never been outside of New Zealand, he was shocked, he said “it made me a strange Kiwi.” Ironically as a people who identify ourselves with a flightless bird we have an international reputation of being world travellers. OE is a rite of passage, most families are now international families, we are at home in our globalised village and market place, weather we agree with it or not. 

Even travel within our own country is a lot easier than it used to be. In fact last time I flew to Wellington, it took more time to get from home to the airport than it did to fly from Auckland to Wellington. 

Most of the Jews in galilee in Jesus day would live their lives without travelling beyond the region they were born in. Except for one journey they would make a pilgrimage to the festivals in Jerusalem, a walk of four of five days. In the passage we had read today, the whole of Luke’s gospel shifts as   Up until now the focus has been on Jesus ministry in Galilee, and has revolved around Jesus miracles. Now the central part of the gospel story is on this journey, and the focus is on Jesus teaching and parables.  Another focus in this middle section is what it means to be a disciple, to follow Jesus. We are used to using metaphors of travel and journey and pilgrimage to speak of our faith… even our vision statement here at St Peter’s talks of inspiring others to join us on the journey. Following Jesus is a journey, it is walking through this life with Jesus, listening to him and being totally about the purposes of God. 
Jesus in 9:51 sets his face to make that journey to Jerusalem, and starts the journey that will lead to the cross and the empty tomb.

The passage we have today is a series of scenes around the starting of this journey. And the journey seems to start out as a bit of rocky road because in each of these scenes Jesus has to rebuke his disciples, the voice in the cloud had told us to listen to Jesus and listen to him actually means having some of their attitudes and thinking and action challenged and changed. 

The first scene deals with which direction are we going to travel in?
There is a move in our culture that when we do move we want to go in an upward direction and to the right… bigger, better, more, success, higher living standards, self-actualization, up market, up size, up-scale. But Jesus journey and the path of discipleship flips that thinking on its head.
 The passage started in the midst of the amazed crowd, remember the close disciples had glimpsed Jesus glory on the mountain top and Jesus had just healed a demonised boy, you get the sense there could be a popular movement erupt here, Jesus for King, But Jesus asks his disciples to, “listen carefully to him,. He will be delivered into the hands of man.” He will be betrayed, suffer and die. The crowd in the gospel is fickle, it is amazed here but by the time we get to Jerusalem it is easy coxed to cry crucify him crucify him.  You can’t judge discipleship by numbers and the crowd, but as Jesus does, his willingness, his dogged determination to do what God has called him to do.  I spent a lot of my adult life working with young people and there was always this tension between seeing following Jesus in terms of the big wonderful events, the high mountain top experiences and the day to day faithfully following often in very hard circumstances…even when that road was the lonely way of the cross.

We are in good company if we wrestle with this because the disciples themselves didn’t get it either. There focus became on who was the greatest amongst them. They became success and status obsessed. In Matthew’s account we hear that James and John’s mother wanted to make sure her boys got the top jobs when Jesus came into his kingdom… and again we can get caught up with following Jesus being about getting ahead and being successful and Jesus flips that on its head. 

He places a small child in their midst. In Jesus day children didn’t have any status of their own and he says, “whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me… For it is least amongst you all who is the greatest.” The journey of following Jesus is more about the one who are going down and to the left, how we treat and welcome that person is the extent to which Jesus is in our midst.  To see the least as the greatest is to see all people as equally important to God and all of us raised up to God. It calls us to follow Jesus who came not to be served but to serve. It’s the way the kingdom of God evaluates our society not in what people have but in how we treat and care for those who have not. It’s not about personal advancement, but the advance of the kingdom. 

Then the question arises who are we going to travel with? The disciples could have got the idea that they are the elite. In Jewish society a rabbi wouldn’t pick a rabble to follow him but rather the best of the best. John tells Jesus that he seen someone who wasn’t one of them cast out a demon in Jesus name and had stopped him from doing it. He expected Jesus praise for that. But Jesus again rebukes him and says ‘ for whoever is not against you is for you’… whoever is fighting against evil in the world in Jesus name is to be considered a friend. 

 There is a sense in churches that ministry is reserved for those in leadership, or the ministers or pastors. Yes we are all along for the ride, but we’ll all that ministry stuff is for this elect group. But actually following Jesus is about being willing to take up doing what Jesus is doing. Form this point on in the gospel Jesus disciples are actively involved in the ministry of Jesus. We see the twelve still with Jesus but that also messengers are sent out to the villages in Samaria to prepare the way. When we will come back to the gospel story after Pentecost we will be coming back to Jesus sending out a group of seventy two. This journey is one of proclaiming in word and deed Jesus and making places ready to receive him. 

Then as we see Jesus trip takes him into Samaria we see the issue of how do we deal with opposition to our journey? Jesus takes the more direct route to Jerusalem through Samaria. The reaction is totally different than in galilee, people don’t welcome Jesus. The Samaritans were a group of mixed race , who while keeping the Jewish faith didn’t want anything to do with the temple worship in Jerusalem, and as Jesus was heading to Jerusalem that included him.  James and John asked why Jesus didn’t just call down fire from heaven, and nuke them all.  
Maybe seeing Jesus on the mountain with Elijah they thought that was what Elijah had done so why not Jesus. But Jesus again rebukes them, and they move on to another place. When Jesus had sent out the twelve he had given them teaching on how to handle places where they were not welcome and here Jesus does what he had taught them. It is easy for disciples of Jesus to think in terms of judgement and we see that tendency in a lot of the hate language that come from places like greenboro Baptist and their hate speech against gays and homosexuals. But Jesus reminds his disciples and us that his mission is one of grace and open offer of salvation and reconciliation with God. Even when it is met with “no thanks.” We can get caught up with personal vindication and wanting to be right and proved right rather than the gracious offer and demonstration of God’s love.
Finally, we see that as the journey starts there is a question of on whose terms are we going to travel with Jesus? Our own or his?

Jesus encounters three people who seem to be good prospects for followers. The first is keen to follow. In Jewish society to be picked as a disciple of a rabbi was a big deal you followed them around but you’d also find a home with them in the place they would set up their school. But Jesus lets this man know that he is not like that rather he does not have such a place. He is an itinerant prophet in fact we know that this journey will end in the cross. The journey of discipleship is one of being continually willing to be where Jesus is. As humans we like to settle down and find a place. But journeys end is with Christ in eternity. …Following Jesus is anything but being able to settle into our comfort zones. 

The second man who Jesus asks to follow him asks to be able to be let go to bury his father. now I’ve been involved in some long funerals, but in Jewish culture this could have meant can I wait till my father dies and then I’ll come or it could refer to the yearlong mourning process, between placing  the body in a tomb and then a second burial where the persons bones are put to a permanent resting place.  It’s a significant delay that is mind. While burying ones father was seen of paramount importance in the Jewish culture of Jesus day, Jesus concern is for those who ae still alive who need to hear about the Kingdom of God… there is a urgency about the mission we are on. If we have found life and forgiveness and purpose and meaning in Jesus isn’t that something that people need to know about?   

The last person asks simply to go back and say good bye to their family, even Elijah allowed Elisha to do that in the Old Testament. Jesus cuts to the quick for this with a farming metaphor of not turning back once you’ve put your hand to the plough. If a person did this it would mean that the line they were ploughing would most definitely go crooked and off path. The person was torn between their family and their following Jesus.

Perhaps for many of us we don’t get that tension… During the week I heard the testimony of Nabeeli Qureshi a Muslim doctor who after years of looking at the Christian faith with a Christian friend became a Christian. For him the biggest hurdle for accepting what he had come to believe about Jesus was that he knew that to become a Christian meant that he would hurt and probably lose his family. He was from a family that had several generations of Muslim missionaries and preachers in it. He wept for several days, he looked for God to speak to him through the scripture and was lead to Matthew chapter 10 where Jesus says if we acknowledge him know he will acknowledge us before his father and goes on to talk of coming not so we could have cosy living, but in a way that sets father against son and finally that we will find life if we willing give up our lives for Christ. He felt God speaking to him directly in that and became a Christian. It was hard telling his parents his father seemed at a total loss and he said even know after nine years the joy seems to have gone out of his mother’s eyes. He has found purpose and life in sharing his faith with people. 
I tell you these scenes from the start of Jesus journey to Jerusalem really challenge me. They put what it means to be a disciple on the line right… The road of following Jesus is not an easy one. It is rocky it’s not a domesticated highway it’s a wild road. Walking it calls us to listen to Jesus as we come to roadblocks that might cause us to stop or turn to the side. It’s an all or nothing journey. It’s a call to service and to be totally about the purposes of God. It does lead to the cross, but it is the road that leads to life. It is the road that sees the Kingdom of God come into our lives and our world as we walk it. Jesus has set his face to walk the road; he has walked before us, and will walk with us.  Are you ready to walk this road, to follow him.

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