The Awful Truth About Commitment
Each Pentecost season the green paraments haunt me. They are bright green for a reason; they symbolize new growth. The Church season of Pentecost, the second-half of the Church Year, focuses on the growth of Christians. But where are the bright green sprouts in your life? Is that the bud of a new commitment to Bible study? Is that the flowering of more commitment to prayer? Is that a sprig of commitment to discipline your anger, greed, or lust? Let me tell you the awful truth about commitment.
Jesus requires absolute commitment. We have foxes and birds in the text, but Jesus requires pig commitment. The farm animals decided they wanted to show their commitment to the farmer who fed them, sheltered, and protected them. The cow and hen were all in; the pig hesitated. The cow and hen gave him "what for", but then the pig pointed out that their committing to breakfast the farmer didn't really take all of them while his commitment to breakfasting him did. Live cows give milk and live hens give eggs, but only dead pig gives bacon.
Surely, Jesus isn't that serious! O really? Look how he responds to the would-be follower who claims to be all in? "I will follow you wherever You should go!" Jesus pops that balloon right quick. He points out that following Him is committing to a life of privation and uncertainty. Jesus is hereby rejecting my kind of baseball fan. When the Astros, or for that matter the Rangers or the Tigers, are doing well, in competition for the pennant, I'm all in. As long as they're winning, I'm on the bandwagon. When the band stops playing, I hop off. In sports that sort of commitment irritates real fans, but the awful truth is that Jesus rejects not only that sort of commitment but that sort of person.
Jesus also rejects future followers. Jesus obviously never read any church growth literature, evangelism manuals, or went to "how to make disciples" training. Now, don't think Jesus went up to someone out of the blue and said, "You must follow me." Andrew and Peter were pointed to Him as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. They followed Him and then after being around Him, Jesus said, "You must follow Me." Matthew worked in Capernaum, the city Jesus moved to, and after some time being around Jesus, the call came, "You must follow Me." Paul was around Christians, knew where, how, who they worshipped. Then Jesus appears to Him on the road to Damascus and says, "I've chosen you."
So in our text, the man has been prepared for the Master's Call but when it came the man says, "Lord", see he knows who Jesus is, "first let me go and bury my father." Whether the commentators are right who say this was an expression meaning, "I can't leave till my father has passed away whenever that may be" or the father has just died and will be buried within the day, the point is the same. His father is before Jesus. And regardless of when specifically the man refers to, the spiritually dead have the task of burying their own. This is just awful. Two things that trump commitment to Jesus familial loyalty and death are torn up by Jesus. I'm getting a sense of how that pig felt.
Jesus rejects fair-weather followers, future followers, and fanatics. I use the last for alliteration; what Jesus is really rejecting is delirious followers. Delirious comes from delirium. Delirium comes from the Latin delirare which breaks down de (from) and lira (furrow). So, our English delirium is exactly what Jesus portrays here: leaving the furrow because you're plowing forward while looking backward. This makes you unfit not for service in the kingdom of God, as in insert has it, but unfit for God's kingdom.
What's here being portrayed is Lot's wife. Four of them were being led out of the coming destruction of Sodom; all of them were told not to look back. Lot's wife did and she got to remain there forever. Those in the Old Testament church who lusted after the fleshpots of Egypt rather than the land promised to them got to stay in the wilderness forever. Hebrews 11 explains the difference between those who remained in the faith and those who turned back. "Indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return." The awful truth is you can either be focused on the affairs of this life or that of the next. You can't be focused on both, and if you are focused on the latter rather than the former you're like Patsy Cline: Crazy.
Don't believe me? When Paul preaches the gospel the Roman governor Festus, "exclaimed in a loud voice, You are insane Paul" (Acts 26:24)!! Or maybe you didn't really hear those words you sang last Sunday? "Go, then earthly fame and treasure! Come, disaster, scorn, and pain" (TLH 423:3). That's not just awful; that's crazy. The hen and the cow they have a much more reasonable approach to commitment. Jesus can have some of them, the very best of them, but not all of them. Part of them belongs to another. They aren't so crazy as the pig who sings another Willie tune, "Take all of me; why not take all of me." But lacking that total commitment, you're unfit for God's kingdom.
There's awful truth about Christian commitment. There are 4 meanings to the word awful.' The 1st is the one I have been using "extremely disagreeable or objectionable." The 2nd is the informal meaning used as an intensifier: an awful lot of money. The 3rd meaning of awful is "inspiring awe", and the 4th is "deeply respectful or reverential" with a b' obsolete sense of "afraid or terrified" (merriam- webster.com/dictionary/awful). It's a combination of 3 and 4 I'm using when I say, "The awful truth is that Jesus is totally committed to us." We get no higher than cows and hens in terms of our commitment to Jesus but He goes hog-wild and it inspires reverential wonder and fear. You hear such in the third verse of "How Great Thou Art" a hymn based on poem by a Swedish Lutheran layman: "And when I think that God His Son not sparing,/ Sent Him to die - I scarce can take it in,/ That on the cross my burden gladly bearing,/ He bled and died to take away my sin" (LW 519).
Jesus willingly lived a life harder than animals, so we inhuman, bedeviled creatures could be claimed by the Father as human. He didn't fully use His divine powers or privileges as a Man, so that He could suffer, bleed, and die for our sins, and not only ours but the sins of the whole world, says St. John (1 Jn. 2:2). If Jesus had walked the earth in all His glory as the Creator, then all the birds would have converged on Jesus to build Him a nest each night and if was raining, all the foxes would've converged to dig a human-sized den for him. Then they would have piled on top of Jesus giving Him a warm fox-fur blanket. But Jesus didn't walk about in all His glory but in all our sins, shame, guilt, and sorrow. He went about worse off than animals, so God in His name could claim us as sons and daughters.
Jesus' commitment to sinners like us is awful, truly awe-inspiring. He put nothing before us. When He set His face to go to Jerusalem, He knew exactly what was waiting for Him there. Two things in life might remotely approach such absolute dedication. When soldiers are told to charge enemy fire and do it, when women sacrifice their bodies to bear children. But in both cases what is on the line are the things of this life, what Jesus put on the line was everlasting life. He willingly went to Jerusalem to face the wrath of God, and not even family came first. He knew what He was about to put His mother through and I'm quite sure Jesus loved His mom at least as much as you do yours. And by claiming our sins, by becoming sin itself, He knew He would be rejected by the holy Father. "Get out of My sight! Go to hell! Damn you" exclaimed the Father to the crucified Son and damned He was for us men and our salvation.
There was no turning back for Jesus. He was given opportunity to drop His commitment to you which meant dropping you into the rejection, judgment, and damning your sins rightly deserve. The Devil gave Him a chance in the wilderness. Peter gave Him a chance saying that the suffering, rejecting, and dying didn't have to happen. On Palm Sunday He was given a chance. He had made it. He was accepted for what He was the legitimate King of the Jews. But rather than turn out of the furrow that had to be plowed to save you from your sins, yourself, your fallenness, He had furrows plowed on His back. That's what Scripture says: "Many a time have they afflicted Me from My youth up; The plowers have plowed upon My back; they made long their furrows" (Ps. 129: 1,3). Again, "I have offered My back to those who beat Me" (Is. 50:6). Rather than turn His back on you for that sin that you know you're guilty of and that virtually everyone who knows you would turn away from you for, Jesus turned His back to the whip, the lash, the judgment of God.
Why? Not so there would be nothing between you and Him, you and heaven, you and the kingdom of God. O you could say that because sins do form a barrier between you and God as we heard from Scripture weeks ago. And yes, Jesus does break down that wall by living your life without sinning and going down, down, down into the ring of fire because He holds on to your sins. But the idea that Jesus makes it so there is nothing between us isn't awful. An emptiness doesn't inspire wonder maybe terror but not reverence. So I prefer to think that Jesus' redemption has made it not so there would be nothing between us but everything.
We don't walk alone on the boulevard of broken dreams as the song says. Jesus shares everything with us. Having committed to redeeming us, saving us, bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows, He's all in for the rest of our life. St. Paul said that: "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all--how will He not [This is the most emphatic Greek not' there is.] also, along with Him, graciously give us all things" (Ro. 8:32)? Or as some translations have it: "give us everything". No one can be more committed to you than God in Christ. That's awful to our sinful nature and awful to our redeemed one. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (20190721); Luke 9: 51-62