Sermons from St Faith's   

No Looking Back!

Revd Denise McDougall, Sunday, 26th June, 2016

I can’t pretend that today’s Gospel reading (Luke 9:51-62) is one which leaves me feeling comfortable or secure despite the fact that I completed my training for ordination many years ago and I have had had a fair amount of experience in most areas of ministry. Yes, I most definitely affirm my allegiance to Christ and like to think I proclaim the Gospel message from the pulpit and by my way of life but sadly, despite that I don’t believe I even come close to meeting the expectations that Christ has of his true followers.

Yet, I am on a spiritual journey as we all are and none of us will ever be perfect, but as we walk that journey with Christ always alongside us, we must never give up our efforts to become more like the people Christ expects us to be.
Today’s gospel is the beginning of Jesus’ long journey to Jerusalem, when he resolutely turned his face towards his destiny. Jesus travelled this harsh and brutal road to the cross, in loving obedience to his heavenly Father, this was what God required him to do …. It was a call of obedience and Jesus obeyed by giving up his life in order to save mankind. Luke wanted to remind us that this was an Exodus journey, a new Exodus journey, the road to the real Promised Land and the road by which God himself returns to his people. 

Jesus, as he walked, possibly preoccupied with thoughts of what lay ahead, was interrupted by the 2 most head-strong disciples, James and John, who were very angry that the Samaritans they had encountered were hostile and would not receive them as they passed through their villages. Hostility had smouldered between Jews and Samaritans for centuries, the Samaritans had intermarried foreigners and many of the Jews were xenophobic, they hated any foreigners. So it was a risky business cutting through the villages of Samaria to get to the temple at Jerusalem. All James and John can think of in their anger is that they were in the same situation as Elijah in the OT and they wanted to call down fire from heaven to burn up the opposition. They wanted revenge as so many people today do if faced with accusation, confrontation or hostility. My Mum often used the saying that 2 wrongs never made a right! Seeking revenge for your pain or hurt is never the right answer. Of course there was no way that Jesus was going to call down fires of vengeance and destruction and he calmly turned to the disciples and rebuked them.

In the story Jesus drew from his own previous experiences and told the disciples that carrying out the will of God would not necessarily mean a welcome or hospitality from those they met. He also instructed them to remain calm and keep their dignity when faced with rejection or resentment.

Ok, so far so good, in the main I can generally cope with or at least manage rejection and I like to offer hospitality but the next part of the reading for me is far more challenging; how can we as ordinary people follow Jesus in the way he wants? How can we become missionary disciples and lead true Christian lives and progress on our journeys towards the Kingdom of God in truth and sincerity?

 We have heard about people in the crowd who hoped to become disciples but Jesus makes it clear that it isn’t an easy path, it’s not a bed of roses and although he didn’t discourage them he did caution them. To one enthusiastic follower he stressed that he didn’t enjoy home comforts or have his own bed to sleep in each night. Doing God’s work does not mean entitlement to a stress free, well-appointed life-style.

Another would-be follower who wanted to bury his father before joining Jesus, was told to let the dead bury the dead. This must have seemed particularly harsh, especially as the obligation to bury one’s father was regarded by many Jews of the time as the most holy and binding duty of a son. Yes, Christ’s work is with the living but nevertheless it’s hard to take on board that burying your loved one should be considered secondary to a call to announce God’s Kingdom. Vocation is a call for us to act here and now but it is never going to be easy. It takes courage, perseverance and faith and we give thanks and ask for God’s blessing today on all those being ordained deacon at the Cathedral. They responded to their calling without a myriad of excuses and by saying yes to God.

Let’s face there are any number of excuses out there for people are frightened, apathetic or just not committed enough to follow Jesus. I’m sure we are all aware of times when we have chosen to do something we feel is more important or exciting and spiritual matters get put to one side. Perhaps it seems as if there is always something else more pressing but there’s certainly no use waiting until we’re free of ties before we commit because that is never going to happen, and we must accept that God does have high expectations of us.  Expectations that for most of us we can only keep on aiming for every day of our lives. We are not saints and I don’t suppose we ever will be.

St. Teresa of Avila travelled for many years committed to doing God’s work, the journeys were uncomfortable and the roads unsafe and the story goes that one day when she was exhausted her carriage broke and she fell into mud, it is claimed that even she felt the pressure of her challenges and is reported to have shouted angrily to God, saying, ‘no wonder you have so few friends, when you treat them so badly.’

Then Jesus spoke about ploughing which for us, particularly in this part of the country, we know little about. However it is clear to understand that the furrows in front can’t be kept straight if the person ploughing is looking backwards. ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

If we spend too much time thinking about the past or looking back, then we are not concentrating enough on the present and therefore not able to make plans for building a better future. Words which also resonate on a political level, particularly this week. Whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking Country. Jesus stresses the need for single minded concentration on mission. We can’t afford to look back, the vote to remain or exit the European Union has been taken and however happy or sad we are with the outcome we must be committed to our Country’s future and look forward with hope and optimism. And isn’t that hope central to our Christian beliefs?

So the big question we must ask ourselves this morning comes with renewed force and one I hope we never tire of revisiting as each of our spiritual journeys continue. Where is Jesus asking us to travel? Are we all too willing to follow and do what he expects of us but only on our terms and in our own time? We must endeavour to keep our hearts and minds firmly focussed on the future remembering that Christian commitment is not just a Sunday affair and must cover all aspects of our lives. Half-hearted loyalty is not enough and Christian pilgrims are a future people who rely on the fruit of the Spirit to energise and sustain us as we keep travelling towards the Kingdom of God and without looking back.

God spoke to the people through Moses and said, ‘Tell the people to go forward.’ Jesus calls us to move forward in love, trust and faith with him and each other.


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