When it comes to writing a sermon, I don’t know which is more difficult: Trying to figure out from the biblical text a message from Jesus for us today, or trying to figure out how to relay that message without being forced to leave town.
And in the case of our gospel lesson this morning, how to relay the message from Jesus without sounding like a complete jerk.
Jesus’ face is set toward Jerusalem. He is on a mission following a selfless, self-expending, sacrificial way of love and grace. And in following this narrow and difficult way, he seems to be rather exasperated by the lack of support and understanding around him. So much so, that I almost titled this sermon: “Grumpy Jesus.”
Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem doesn’t to get off on the right foot, as he receives word that there no hospitality awaiting him in the village of the Samaritans. No room for him in the inn, or this time, even in a stable. This is not surprising considering the Samaritans and Jews mutual animosity; yet knowing Jesus’ love that has no borders, Jesus is obviously frustrated here. But perhaps he is more frustrated by his disciples’ response.
James and John, bless their hearts, ask Jesus if he wants them to reenact a scene from 2 Kings by asking God to rain down fire from heaven and wipe out the entire Samaritan village!
Really? Have they been listening to anything that Jesus, the “Peace-Be-with-You-Love-Your-Enemies” Rabbi, has been teaching them?
Rick Morley, an Episcopal Priest from New Jersey, says that this is like “one of those moments at Thanksgiving when your crazy uncle says something so ridiculously inappropriate that everyone just turns and stares with their mouths agape.”
After James and John’s outrageous question, he imagines Jesus doing one of these (face palm).
Of course, Love-Incarnate, the Prince of Peace, immediately rebukes them and their idiocy!
Then, we have a series of three encounters of would-be disciples. Interestingly enough, especially in light of what the disciples just said, the three encounters may remind us of the three passed by a man in the ditch in what we call the parable of the Good Samaritan in which Jesus lifts up a Samaritan as an example for all of us.
The first would-be disciple comes, and without Jesus asking him, presents himself as the perfect candidate: “I will follow you wherever you go!”
Now, what is not to like about that! I know I am never turning anyone away who comes forward during the hymn of commitment saying, “I want to follow Jesus wherever he goes!” I am signing that person up immediatly! No more questions need to be asked!
Yet, Jesus, perhaps still exasperated because he had no place to spend the night in that Samaritan village, and by his disciples’ failure to get anything he has been teaching, says: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” “Okaaaay, Jesus. I will check back with you when you have had your coffee!”
Jesus then encounters another and invites him to follow him. He agrees to follow, but then asks permission to go and bury his father first. A very reasonable, loving, even faithful request. It was his part of fulfilling God’s law to “honor your father and mother.”
Then, if you thought the “Foxes have holes and birds of nests” comment was snarky, Jesus: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.”
Now, he is really sounding grumpy.
C’mon Jesus. I know you are upset that you have no where to lay your head. I know no one in that Samaritan village welcomed you into their home. I know your disciples are idiots. They are incredibly irritating, to say the least. I know that when it comes to embracing your way of love and grace, they don’t have a clue. But the poor man just wants to bury his father! What can be wrong with that? Isn’t honoring our parents part of discipleship? Isn’t taking some time to grieve over the loss of a loved one something God would want us to do?
Then, Jesus encounters the third would-be follower, who like the first one, also volunteers without being asked. But first he wants to go and say good-bye to his family, perhaps to let his children know why Daddy wouldn’t be home for a while. Again, sounds like a reasonable request. Even Elijah allowed Elisha to say good-bye to his parents when Elijah chose Elisha to be his disciple while he was plowing his field (1 Kings 19:19-21).
But grumpy Jesus is not having it. Echoing the calling of Elisha, he says, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”
Look Jesus. I know you are upset. I know you’re tired. I remember that just last week you were trying to sleep on that boat only to be awakened by a storm. And as soon as you stepped out on the land you were confronted by a man possessed by demons. Then, although you were exhausted, you healed him only to be unappreciated and run out of town! Jesus, I know you have no where to lay your head. I know you are frustrated. I know the disciples that you have been training to be compassionate, loving, forgiving and peaceful want to rain down fire and take out an entire village. I know you have your face set on Jerusalem and all the suffering that is to come. But come on, Jesus, take it easy. Let this man say good-bye to his family. And for God’s sake, let this one bury his father!
This is what I feel like saying. But this is Jesus. This is the eternal Word made flesh. This is the Son of God. Thus, my faith tells me that there has to be something more going on here—something more than a little fatigue, frustration and fear.
His face is set toward Jerusalem. This infers that he knows the that his time on earth is very short. And he knows that if he is going to usher in the Kingdom of God before he dies, as master preacher Karoline Lewis has said: “there is not a moment to lose.”[i]
The same is true for us. The reality is, our time here is also very short. And if we want to make a difference for the Kingdom of God while we are here, there is no time to waste.
But maybe this appearance of grumpiness is not about Jesus at all. For what we know about Jesus, he was always teaching by word and by example to deny self and to lose self. So, perhaps Jesus is not thinking about his own circumstance at all.
Perhaps he had in mind other circumstances and people who needed to know and to experience the love of God. Not next week, not tomorrow, not even later that afternoon, but at that very moment. Perhaps Jesus knew that, not for him, but for others, for many, there was not a moment to lose. Every second counted, every minute mattered.
So, this appearance of grumpiness is actually a holy urgency, a sacred stress if you will, fueled by a divine love with a height, a depth, a width and a breadth that we can only begin to understand. Perhaps Jesus knew that for God’s kingdom to come to those who need it the most, there is not a moment to lose.
Jesus knew that for those who need God’s love, for those who need compassion, healing, forgiveness, and restoration, there is no time to waste.
There is not a moment to lose –
For those who are poor, for those who hunger, for those who weep, for those who are hated, insulted, excluded and rejected (Luke 6:20-22).
There is not a moment to lose –
For those Samaritans who believe they have lost favor with God (Luke 10:25-29);
For a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years (Luke 13:10-17);
For a man who had been suffering with dropsy. Jesus healed him on the Sabbath in the presence of the Pharisees (he didn’t wait until the next day when it was lawful), proving, there is not a moment to lose (Luke 14:1-4).
There is not a moment to lose –
For the rich man who thought he was blessed because he was rich. For the poor man who thought he was cursed because he was poor (Luke 16:19-31);
For the ten lepers who approached Jesus in a region between Galilee and Samaria (Luke 17:11-19);
For the blind beggar sitting beside the roadside near Jericho (Luke 18:35-43).
There is not a moment to lose –
For a man named Zacchaeus who defrauded the poor;
For all of the poor people he defrauded (Luke 19:1-10);
Jesus is frustrated, because there is not a moment to lose –
For an entire world that feels rejected, cursed and lost;
For children of asylum-seekers separated from their parents;
For asylum-seekers drowning in rivers and thirsting in deserts;
For children confined in for-profit, inhumane detention centers.
Jesus is exasperated, because there is not a moment to lose –
For LGBT teens who are contemplating suicide;
For all children who suffer from neglect and abuse;
For girls who are raped and then denied healthcare;
For boys who are taught that it is okay to objectify girls;
For the person with a disability who feels like the whole world, even God, is against them.
Jesus is stressed, because there is not a moment to lose –
For the one dying in a nursing home all alone;
For those who have to make the choice every week to either buy their medication or to buy groceries;
For those unjustly locked away in our prisons because of their economic status or skin color;
For nations on the brink of war.
Jesus is grumpy, because there is not a moment to lose –
To respond to climate change that threatens God’s good earth;
To end the destructive pollution of the planet with plastics and carbon.
And Jesus has his palm planted on his face today, because many of his disciples still don’t have a clue. Some still want God to rain down fire and brimstone on those who believe and live differently. And many would-be-followers still have no sense of urgency to be witnesses of love, peace and justice.
In a sermon, Raquel Lettsome, an AME preacher from New York points out:
We tend to wait for God’s action [or somebody else’s action] rather than getting our [own] feet wet.
Are you at the Red Sea, waiting for God to do something? Or are you at the Jordan River, willing to get your feet wet so as to enter into the promised land?
Are you waiting for someone else to speak justice? To call for righteousness? Or will you embrace the moment and proclaim the promise of God’s favor?
Are you waiting for others to stand up for those our world rejects and reviles? Or will you seize the moment and say God’s love is for all?
Whatever we do, may we know that every moment counts. Every minute matters. There is no time to waste.
Let us pray.
Create in us a new heart of compassion, a new sense of urgency, as Christ has called us to be servants of love and grace in this very moment. Enable us to truly be your disciples, O Christ. AMEN.
Invitation to the Table
The needs of our world are so great, that Jesus needs all of us. That is why all are welcomed to be served and to serve from this table sharing the love and grace of God with all.
Commissioning and Benediction
Go ahead and get grumpy.
Sense some sacred stress.
Because there is a suffering world out there that needs the Jesus that you follow,
the Jesus that is in you and the Jesus who wants to speak and work through you.
And there is not a moment to lose.