The Rev. Stephen Norris preached this sermon for St. Andrew’s on June 30, 2013

Setting our faces toward mission
Luke 9:51-62

No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God…. Wow!! Excuse my fidgeting please, but I’m getting really warm under the collar. Maybe you feel your pulse rising and your palms getting sweaty as you meditate on these words we just heard. What else is there to do after hearing such a sermon?

I mean-who hasn’t looked back? Maybe some have even left the plow. There are so many things in this world that are appealing–so many things in this world that demand our best efforts, things that demand all of our time and energy. And most of these things are good things too, like caring for children, tending to community life, paying the bills, paying taxes, washing clothes, and working (OK, not all good things are pleasurable!). Who has the sort of lifestyle where one can lay aside all responsibilities and appointments and follow Jesus all of the time, without tending to earthly responsibilities, without looking back? Wouldn’t this be…heavenly? One who forsakes all temporal responsibilities for the sake of discipleship might be considered too heavenly minded for being any good on Earth. Not to mention, such a person might lose her children to the courts. Or one who forsakes his marriage could end up divorced from a lonely spouse.

Surely Jesus doesn’t want any of this to happen. For he of all people knew that being human and having human responsibilities wasn’t for the weak. Remember, he was a human. He was fully human and walked in our shoes. Jesus lived a life subject to the human authority of his parents. When he was found alone, teaching in the temple at twelve years old, he was gently reminded that children don’t leave their parents without first obtaining permission. This is what living a human life as a twelve year old is about. There are certain rules and structures that one must tend to. Being a twelve year old was his station in life at the time. Being twelve carried with it certain expectations and behaviors. He knew this, he lived this, yet, we hear this morning that Jesus wants us to take off all these hats and put on another.

But is that really what Jesus wants from us? Are we sure that he wants us to forsake all of our many responsibilities and never look back? Does he really want us to leave them all right now, and never think twice about them in the future? Just what does Jesus mean by his sharp words? Maybe we are so used to compartmentalizing things in our culture that we are hearing him say something he really isn’t saying. Maybe we are so used to having things this way or that way, one way or the other, that we hear Jesus saying get off of your train and get onto mine. But, is following Jesus really an either/or kind of mission? Luke tells us that Jesus’ face was set toward Jerusalem while he was passing through this Samaritan village. His face was set toward the cross-his ultimate mission. But at the same time he constantly used his ordinary human circumstances (the places where he found himself) to spread the good news. He embraced both at the same time!

What if-in order to hear Jesus’ words this morning-we need to stop thinking with a perspective that is so compartmentalized, so either/or. We think we can follow Jesus only with the time that we have that is free. But, if this is true, if my day is 90% filled, then I can only follow Jesus with the remaining 10% of my time. Maybe this is a faulty idea and we need to get rid of it. It’s as if Jesus is saying to us, “hey, you can’t compartmentalize following me, you can’t do it only when you have the time, when you get your schedule cleared off. Following me is a way of life!! This means that we follow constantly. We follow Jesus when we do the laundry and when we punch the clock. We follow Jesus when we feed our children and even when we pay taxes.

This is the kind of perspective that Jesus had. He never let human structures and responsibilities prevent him from his mission, which was to bring healing and salvation to a world in need of restoration. In fact, God used Jesus’ humanity to mediate the mission, thus catching up all of our ordinary human situations and structures into God’s ultimate work of redemption. “Yes, Jesus, I will be your follower wherever I find myself and in whatever I do.”

What would it be like if we set our face towards this mission-if we make a total commitment to glorify God in all places where we find ourselves? I think the Benedictines have it right. Do all the ordinary things that we do extraordinarily well, because we are doing them unto God-therefore making all of life a prayer.

What would happen in Douglas or in Valdosta or wherever we are, if in the parks and stores and City Hall we loved our neighbors as ourselves? What change would we effect if we lived each day, each minute towards this mission? What impact would we make if we glorified God by faithfully engaging in the ordinary and mundane experiences of our lives without looking back?

You see, when all of our ordinary and mundane experiences of life (the laundry, the grocery store) are offered up to glorify God, he turns them into acts of worship and prayer. When we set our face towards the mission of seeing God glorified in everything, we, and others who witness our acts of love and service, see in a way that we never have seen before. We realize that in all that we do, there is a greater conversation taking place. It is a conversation of worship and prayer that God uses to usher all things into his kingdom!! God will use our lives lived and guided by His Spirit to accomplish His mission in the world! My brothers and sisters, it is for this kind of freedom that Christ has set us free. Christ has set free to be his agents of love, to proclaim the kingdom of God everywhere we find ourselves and in everything we do! AMEN!