It is funny how we say one thing sometimes and we mean another. People will say they are there for you. They say they will do anything for you. What they really mean is they like the idea but don’t want a want a call at 2 AM. When I was in college, we called this “Writing checks when you don’t have anything in the bank.” It looks good, but there is nothing there.
People in business say they will do anything to succeed. Sometimes that really means “anything but work.”
You might be able to think of some good examples here. The church is full of them. People have good intentions. Follow through is weak sometimes.
In our Gospel lesson today, a man said to Jesus, “I want to follow you wherever you go, Lord.” Now you would think this would be the kind of enthusiasm that Jesus would like. It is not as if the man is saying he wants to follow Jesus as long as the roads are good or the expense account allows for a sit down lunch. How could Jesus find fault with this man?
Jesus seemed a little cold in his response. He replied, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
I don’t know how you feel about Jesus’ response, but this seemed like a bucket of cold water. I mean the guy did not do anything wrong. He offered to follow Jesus anywhere. It would seem as if this is what Jesus is looking for, and Jesus has a less than enthusiastic response.
Here is the problem. Jesus is having a 1 Samuel 16:7 moment here. This verse tells us “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” To all appearances, this man is a sincere follower. Jesus knows differently. I think that Jesus squelched this potential disciple’s offer because he saw the hidden truth of the man’s heart. The man was saying, “anywhere,” but he didn’t mean it. He didn’t even know what he was offering. He didn’t know where Jesus was going.
So where was Jesus going? Our Gospel lesson begins, “When the days were near that (Jesus) should be taken up, he…set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He was going to Jerusalem to die. He knew this and had told a few people, but he knew that not many people would stick with him when it came time to go to the cross. He knew this wannabe disciple would not make it.
Earlier in this chapter Jesus had told his disciples, “The Son of Man will be delivered up into the hands of men,” but the disciples didn’t understand. They were following a young prophet. This was an exciting young man with a future. They were already fighting for special honors in this young man’s kingdom. They are worried about who would sit at his right hand and at his left. They all want a corner office. There is a different sort of future ahead, and even Peter, James and John have not a clue really.
The man who offered to follow Jesus didn’t have a clue either. In this way, he is maybe like the other disciples. He wanted to follow Jesus to glory! He was willing to follow Jesus to power! He was not at all interested in becoming a martyr.
Jesus knew that the man didn’t want anything to do with a cross, so Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” This seems a little harsh, but I think Jesus was letting the guy down softly. The man is making promises he won’t keep. Jesus knows it. Jesus tells him it will be harder than he knows.
Jesus calls us to hard discipleship. He issues difficult challenges, but he always acts in love. Jesus loved this man who didn’t really have it in his heart to pay the price of discipleship. Jesus looked at this guy and thought, “Let’s wait until after the crucifixion and things have settled down a little. Once you know what you are offering, maybe you will get a different answer.
Who else does Jesus let off easily? In this passage, the Samaritans reject Jesus because his face was set toward Jerusalem. James and John wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans, and Jesus rebukes them. Jesus loves the Samaritans even though they reject him. He has plans for them that involve salvation. They are just not ready.
Later, just before he ascended back into heaven, Jesus would tell his disciples to go to Judea––and Samaria––and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). He wasn’t giving up on the Samaritans. He was just waiting for the fullness of time.
Jesus does that with us, too. He calls us. He waits for us. He loves us. We offer to follow him anywhere when we don’t mean it. He gives us some opportunities for growth and then we may be more ready or understand what it is we are asking.
When that time comes, and when we’re finally ready to follow Jesus anywhere, it isn’t likely to be easy. Jesus calls few people to comfortable discipleship. He never calls anyone to aimless discipleship. He calls us for a purpose. He calls us to make a difference.
Some years ago, a story came out of Holland. It’s the story of a sixteen-year-old boy named Hans. Hans lived in a village by the sea. The men in the village were commercial fishermen.
For those of you who don’t know, professional fishing is dangerous. The son of a friend of mine at the Academies died while commercial fishing in Alaska. It is one of the world’s most dangerous occupations. There are lots of widows in fishing villages. Hans’ mother was one of them. Hans’ father had died ten years earlier in a storm at sea. Now she was worried about her older son, Paul, who had gone out three weeks earlier. They hadn’t heard a word from Paul. The mother was nearly sick with worry for Paul.
As is common in such places, the village had a volunteer rescue squad. Every able-bodied man was a member. Boys grew up waiting for the day that they could join. Hans had only recently joined.
Then one night a terrible storm capsized a boat at sea. One of the men, listening on his short-wave radio, heard the S.O.S. and sounded the alarm. Hans put on his boots and his slicker and headed for the door. His mother grabbed his arm and pled with him. “Please don’t go,” she cried. “You are all I have left!” Hans replied, “Mother, I have to go. I have to do my duty.” He kissed his mother and disappeared into the night.
Hours passed. It was the most terrible night of the mother’s life as she waited, hoped, prayed. Finally, the villagers spotted the little rescue boat struggling through the surf toward the shore.
Someone called, “Did you find anyone?” Hans yelled back, “Yes, we did. Call my mother! Tell her that it was Paul!”
When we offer to follow Jesus we say, “I’ll follow you anywhere.” Jesus says, “Know what you are offering.” We want to follow him into glorious and exciting places, and he may send us out into the darkness. We want to follow him into calm and peaceful places, but he may call us into the storm.
When Jesus sends us out into the darkness and the storm, he does it with purpose. What does God have waiting for us?
Like Hans, we go out to save someone. We go out to help someone who needs us. That person is our brother or sister.
I have said these words in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Sermon preached by Fr. Tom at St. Thomas Episcopal – Plymouth
June 26, 2016; Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 8
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20