Last Sunday after worship and the closing session of my class, I was free of any obligations. We had the rest of the day free. We had reservations that evening at a hotel in Madison, WI, but there was plenty of day left before we had to check in. So we headed in the opposite direction, into downtown to visit the Art Institute of Chicago and to see what else we could find in that area.
As we set out, you might say, we had more of a rough outline of where were going than we had plans and itinerary. Stefeny and I seem to work best that way. We know roughly where we want to go and what we would like to do, but we often stumble into some wonderful discoveries, too. I am a bit of wanderer, I guess, and at the end, we discover the journey itself was just as much fun as what we experienced at our destination. But there’s a danger in that though. We still had to get where we were going. We couldn’t wander off too much or get lost.
Not everybody travels that way. Some people need to keep tight schedules and keep strict to do lists. They need to know where they are going and when they will get there. Travel is the time spent getting there. They usually accomplish much more than I do – see more, do more, get more done. I admire them for that. But there’s a danger in that too. Flying on the plane, I was amazed that people with window seats simply pulled the shades and watched TV. Here they were, 7 miles above the earth. They were passing time until they got to where they wanted to go. They missed an amazing trip.
How do you travel? Do you need a clear and definite destination and well-plotted itinerary of places to stops and sites to see? Like you would have as part of a tour? Or are you okay to set out without having it all figured out yet, just as excited about the transit as the destination?
One of the ways we talk about a life of faith in Jesus is by talking about a journey. We’re on a journey. We’re on the move. One of the ways we talk about where we stand in relationship to Jesus is we say, “We follow Jesus.” We’re on a journey, and we’re following Jesus. Now, the reason, I asked you to think about how you prefer to travel is that our preference – either for planned tours or wandering sojourns – is because they may help understand what we’re experiencing now as Jesus’ disciples, Jesus’ followers, especially when we hear Jesus calling us to follow him.
Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62
The first verse from our portion of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 9:51-62) is a literal turning point in Luke’s telling of Jesus’ story. Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem. Up to this point, Jesus has wandered a bit announcing the good news of the kingdom with healing, forgiveness and love. Wherever Jesus goes, God’s kingdom comes, it simply happens. Jesus is there and the forces that defy God are cast out, screaming. Every place he goes, Jesus breaks the powers that have God’s people and creation all tied up. Jesus has set people free, but in a wandering way. So, up to this point, his disciples follow Jesus by going wherever he goes and doing whatever he does, but that’s no place in particular. It’s not without purpose; Jesus is filled with God’s purpose. There’s just no destination, yet.
Now, when Jesus turns and sets his face to go to Jerusalem. Suddenly, he moves toward a definite destination. A cross is being prepared for him there. He will suffer there, and he will die. It’s God’s plan that he will go to Jerusalem, suffer, die and be buried and after three days rise again, and by doing so he will free us all from the power of sin, death and the devil, forever and for good. That’s where Jesus is headed. He has his face set to go that way. It’s God’s plan.
So, there are two very different types of journeying that happen when we follow Jesus. There is the wandering ministry that travels from village to village, healing the sick and heralding the coming of God’s kingdom; and there is the planned and determined journey to Jerusalem – to death and resurrection – according to God’s plan and written in the law and the prophets. In both cases, though, Jesus always journeys forward, into God’s future, into God’s kingdom that is coming, on the verge, out ahead of us; and in both cases, his disciples follow him, and they don’t look back.
Jesus says something about that in this reading, too.
First, Jesus tells the person who says that he will follow him anywhere that this journey has no destination we would recognize. All roads lead home, the disciple might well assume, but home isn’t any place we might imagine. Jesus has no place to lay his head – he was born and placed in a borrowed manger for a cradle, and he will die and be laid in a borrowed tomb, yet neither of these will hold him. So where is Jesus going that we should follow him there? That’s a trickier question than we might imagine because we follow Jesus into death and resurrection.
Next Jesus invites someone to follow him. The man replies by saying that he has to first bury his father. Jesus redirects him and sends him out away from the dead past and old ties into God’s future. Go announce the coming of God’s kingdom.
Finally, a person wants to follow Jesus, but first wants to day good-bye to his family. In both cases Jesus directs the would-be disciples away from the past and away from old family ties toward a new life God has coming in the future. He points them forward.
You plow a field – or mow the lawn – by fixing your eyes forward. If you turn to look where you’ve been you will make a mess of everything, besides, it’s pointless – the plow cuts into the earth and creates a furrow. No need to look back, it’s done. What’s out in front, your destination is what matters. Yet, at the same time, getting there is important too.
So here we have three ways to understand what it means to follow Jesus:
As followers of Jesus we’re often anxious about our destination, wondering where God is leading us, wondering if there’s a plan. Take heart. For all the uncertainty of today and all our fear and anxiety about what’s next for us, we can trust that God is with us. We have been claimed in baptism. We are journeying with Christ through death in hope of resurrection and eternal life in God’s kingdom. God has a plan.
At the same time, as followers of Jesus, we can’t overlook the fact that we are still on the journey and walk as yet by faith. We’re wandering in a good way, and who knows what surprise will come next. Every step of this journey, Christ is with us – leading us, guiding us, walking with us. This journey is our mission and ministry, proclaiming the good news in word and deed, wherever Christ leads.
But whether we focus on the promised future or take each day as it comes, to follow Christ is to step into God’s future and away from our past. That’s a gift. Grace. God gives us a future that frees us from living in the past, even our good and prosperous pasts. It’s all drowned in baptism, crucified with Christ. So, we’re free to live into God’s future. No matter what anyone else may say or do to us, we are free to live for God alone.
We are free, forgiven, released from all our sins and obligations. Free to travel, to journey, to follow Jesus in love, in adventure, according to the plan of God. So where will God lead you next, then, in Jesus name? Amen.
The latest news, sermons and commentary on our life in mission together.