Distracted or Devoted Discipleship?

Jun 26, 2022

Sermon 6-26-2022
Third Sunday of Pentecost
Luke 9:51-62
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Distracted or Devoted Discipleship?
     If you have an airplane ticket to an exotic location, or have reserved a beach home, or paid the expensive fee to attend a much-anticipated sporting event or concert, then it probably would take something significant to keep you from going. In 2020 when people had to cancel their vacations and weddings due to the pandemic, it took a life-threatening virus to make that happen.
     Covid-19 got in the way of a great deal for two years, and its impact is still being felt (as I experienced earlier this week.) But even Covid-19 was not a distraction to being a disciple of Jesus, or at least it should not have been. Faith communities worked diligently to create new ways of proclaiming the Good News in word and deed, and many individuals, although not all, found new ways to live out their faith.
     The message of today’s Gospel was quite relevant then, and still is. That message is: do not let anything get in the way of following Jesus; avoid all distractions. Now that the major pandemic challenge is behind us (we hope), we still face more ordinary distractions to discipleship, and those distractions can be quite challenging.
     In Luke 9:51, Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem has begun. From this Sunday, the third Sunday of Pentecost, until the late October, we will be on that journey with him as we read the Gospel lessons. It’s four months and nearly 10 chapters of Jesus being on his way to do God’s will; he has set his face toward the Holy City and faces betrayal, arrest, suffering, death, but also resurrection and ascension. That, my friends, is that; Jesus is resolute. But what about his followers, or potential disciples?
     First there are the Samaritans; Jews would normally take the long way around Samaria in order to avoid their long-term enemies in that region, but not Jesus. He plans to go there and sends messengers to prepare the way; why? The answer is simple; Jesus wanted them to hear his message too. Sadly, though, they rejected him, and while James and John wanted to take revenge for the Samaritan’s lack of welcome with a lightening bolt or two – a response grounded in centuries of hate – Jesus rebuked his own followers and moved on.
     Remember, he is resolute, will not be distracted. Now we get to the part of the account that is perturbing. Jesus responds sternly to three people who want to follow him. Commentator Scott Hoezee asks, “Why would Jesus scare off one man by promising him a homeless existence. (“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”) Why would Jesus seem so brusque toward a man whom he himself called at the same moment the man was sunk deep in grief over a dead father? (“To another Jesus said, ‘Follow me’, but he said, ‘First let me go and bury my father’.  Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’”)  Why would Jesus refuse so much as a familial farewell for the final fellow? (“Another said, ‘I will follow you Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my house’. Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’”) It all seems rather over the top.” (1)
     The requests of these potential disciples sound reasonable to me, but Jesus’ responses are harsh. That’s because Jesus is looking for a high level of commitment from his followers. What is being described in these three examples is distracted discipleship, and it points out the difficulty of devoted discipleship.
     Here is the “big picture”, the broader meaning. The first person seems ready and willing to follow, but is he really? Jesus responds that the going will never stop, there will be times of discomfort and insecurity and his followers will never feel truly at home in any culture or place, since discipleship is often counter-cultural.
     The second person is expressing a desire to follow, but only after he gets things squared away, makes sure a stage of his life is complete. He will come, but at a time when it fits his schedule. The third potential disciple wants to have a foot in both worlds, and Jesus’ message is that if you are going to follow him and constantly be looking back at all you’ve left behind, you’ll fail.  
     It may be difficult for us to grasp that this passage isn’t necessarily saying that being comfortable is wrong, or that taking care of one’s father, especially in death, is a waste of time, or that family relationships are to be shunned. The message is, to quote a sermon from Hope Church, is to consider what takes priority in our lives and that, “Jesus isn’t looking for half-hearted, hemming and hawing, foot-dragging, hands off kinds of disciples.” (2)
     Now that’s disconcerting; no doubt true, but still disconcerting. I’ll be blunt; the singular allegiance being described in this Gospel reading is difficult, especially in a world where there is so much to distract us. Consider, for example, the ability in this technological age to do so much in so little time - to gather information, communicate, be entertained. All that, a much more about our life-styles, makes following Jesus with singular rather than half-hearted devotion is a true challenge.
     Yet, we are called to a singular allegiance, not the distracted variety. And, it happens. Methodist Bishop William Willimon writes that while he was Dean of the Chapel at Duke University for many years, he received any number of complaints from parents but many of those complaints boiled down to just one complaint. His phone would ring and the parent on the other end of the line would say, “What did you all do over there at Duke? Our daughter went to school to become a research scientist but now she says she is going to become a medical missionary to Haiti. You ruined her life. Why did you do that?” (3)
     Pastor Hoezee asks, “Well, why indeed?”, and then goes on to say, “whether we are called to leave behind kith and kin, we are call to a radical commitment to the gospel. And if in our lives that should mean turning down a promotion, saying hard things to our children, denying our families the dream vacations taken by others or any number of other sacrifices both great and small in service to the power and the beauty of the Gospel…well we ought not be surprised.” (4)
     We do not want to be among those who think that being a follower of Jesus, a disciple, makes only a small dent in our lives and in the world. So, we pray: “Lord, save us from distraction; may nothing get in the way of our following you.”. AMEN
  1. Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 26, 2016, Luke 9:51-62, by Scott Hoezee, www.cepreaching.org
  2. Drop Everything for Jesus: Luke 9:51-62, July 7, 2019, www.,manhattenhope.com
  3. Same as #1
  4. Same as #1