6th Sunday After Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ,
Man's best friend. My best friend this past Thursday was Roscoe P Coltrain, but he wasn’t very helpful. Story of doing landscaping at daughter Michelle and Brandon’s house, with a big sloppy dog named Roscoe, English Mastiff, already 80 pounds or so as a puppy, probably will grow to over 200 pounds or so. He followed me around wherever I went, it was as if he was my disciple, he loves to play and we did all kinds of that, but when it came time to pull weeds, he stepped on the weeds, when it came time to put mulch around the hostas, he laid down on the hostas, oh he was my best friend and he was a follower, but not particularly helpful.
In our text for today, Jesus is setting his face towards Jerusalem, where he would be suffering at the hands of men, where he would be dying as a way of paying the price for the sins of a rebellious world, where he would be rising up again in glorious fashion. Luke 9:51 is the turning point of Luke’s Gospel. And as Jesus begins his march towards death in Jerusalem, Luke is very careful to note Jesus’ audience in every instance. To each group, Jesus speaks quite different sorts of words. To the crowd, he issues warnings and calls for conversion. To those who convert and want to follow him, he gives positive instructions on discipleship. To those who resist his prophetic call, he tells parables of rejection. Throughout the journey, Luke has Jesus turn from one group to the other, from crowd to disciples to Pharisees. In today’s sermon, we focus on his instructions to those who would follow him, those who would make the journey from birth to death, more specifically to those of us who would take the journey beginning in Baptism all the way to the resurrection of the dead and life eternal.
Our sermon theme is “Following Well.” In his book “I’ve Got Your Back: Biblical Principles for Leading and Following Well,” James Galvin uses a word new to many of us, “followership.” He describes three types of followership – 1)following God, 2)following government authority, and 3)following human authorities. In terms of following God, he explains the parable of the minas, the parable where three servants received a mina, one servant invested it and earned ten more, one servant invested it and earned five more, one servant was afraid of his master, hid the mina and returned it, he uses that parable to talk about five levels of followership, five different kinds of disciples.
(Wholehearted) disciples are those who follow well, they help other followers, they help the leaders lead, there is a sense of openness with their pastors and church leadership.
(Growing) disciples are those who are following well, they help other followers, they support their pastors and church leaders, there is a sense of teamwork with their leaders.
(Nominal) disciples are doing the minimum required, there is mere compliance, are like sheep following their shepherd.
( Distracted) disciples are those who are not fulfilling their responsibilities in the church, they are falling behind, they are slacking, they keep their pastors and church leaders at a distance.
(Wayward) disciples in the church are those who are undercutting or resisting their pastors and leaders, making things worse, they have a sense of antagonism with leadership – perhaps with good reason, I might add!
In today’s sermon, we would hold the mirror up to ourselves and ask how we’re doing. Am I following Jesus Christ with all of my heart and soul and mind? Am I following in a growing and supportive kind of a way? Am I following in an ok kind of a way? Am I following at a distance? Or am I in the process of straying far away? Four truths we would lean again about what it means to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, to follow Jesus Christ. Four truths about what it means to follow our Good Shepherd who in fact follows us around with goodness and mercy in all the chapters of our lives. Four truths about what it means to spend our days thanking and praising, serving and obeying. Four truths about what it means to spend our days supporting the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Following Well means (suffering) at the hands of people for doing the right thing. All kinds of suffering in our lives is caused by us doing that which is wrong, but today Jesus would teach us that the more closely we follow Him, the more likely we are to have to endure what He had to endure. If Jesus had to be rejected by religious authorities in his day, why would we think we could serve him with smooth sailing? If Jesus had to be misunderstood and mischaracterized, why would we think that others would always be giving us the benefit of the doubt? If Jesus had to be slapped around and tortured and humiliated and crucified until he was dead, why would we think that we would be appreciated and rewarded and honored as we follow?
Dear friends in Christ, as Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem and braced himself for hell on earth that was coming his way, understand that He was in reality setting his face on you, that all of his suffering under Pontius Pilate was for you, that every bit of rejection thrown his way was that you could be accepted by your Father in heaven.
Secondly, following Jesus well means (dying) on a daily basis. By nature, we would rather focus on living the abundant Christian life with all kinds of peace and joy than dying to sin and drowning the old adam in a regular kind of a way. (Story of neighbor almost 4 years of age Gus, who is really well mannered and has terrific parents who are doing a great job teaching and molding him. A couple of days ago, I asked Gus a theological kind of a question. I said, “Gus, are you so well mannered because your parents taught you so well, or are you well mannered by nature?” He looked me in the eyes and said, “by nature!”
By nature, we would like to give attention to forming good habits instead of exposing and weeding out our bad ones. By nature, we would prefer to set goals and reach them instead of starting out each day admitting that we are poor and miserable sinners, that we have sinned in serious and hurtful ways, and that we are messed up sinners in need of a Savior. By nature, we would like to solve problems instead of realizing that we are the problem.
Dear friends in Christ, as Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem, he was taking a turn towards death by crucifixion. Learn again today the simple lesson that his death was all about your being able to live. That in every one of your days, before the new life in Jesus can rise up inside of you and rule, there must be death. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. Say it with me, “But if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Third, following Jesus well means (rising up again) on a daily basis. This is the Good News that deserves to be celebrated, that deserves to be proclaimed, that deserves to be supported in every one of our days. That Jesus Christ rose up again on the third day, and because he rose up again, our sins are forgiven. Because he rose up again, we can trust that he is who he said he was. Because he rose up again, we can have confidence that every word of Holy Scripture is true and absolutely reliable. Because he rose up again, caskets and funeral homes and cemeteries will not have the final word around here.
Dear friends in Christ, the final word in every one of our sermons, in every one of our Bible classes, in every one of our Confirmation Classes, in every one of our Sunday School and Lutheran School days, the final word in every one of our meetings, in every one of our conversations, in every one of our conflicts, the final word needs to be that Jesus Christ rose up again on the third day, he ascended into heaven on the 40th day, he sent his Spirit on the 50th day, he is ruling all of heaven and earth with authority for the benefit of his church, the final word needs to be that Jesus Christ is coming back again soon, the final word needs to be that the time for Gospel outreach is today and not tomorrow and certainly not some day in the distant future.
Fourth and finally, following Jesus well means not looking back. (Story of working the soil in my dad’s half section in Ransom County, North Dakota. One field was no less than 80 acres, dad told me in no uncertain terms, when digging or disking or ploughing the first time through, set my eyes on that one tree in the distance, set my eyes on that one fence post, and do not look back).
Dear friends in Christ, when Jesus set his eyes on a little hill outside of Jerusalem, he was setting his eyes on you. He did not look back and wonder if there was another way. He did not look back and make sure his own mom and brothers and sisters were going to be ok. He knew that his real brothers and sisters and mother and father were those who would believe in him, those who would have the sign of the cross placed on their foreheads and hearts, his real family would be those who would consider it pure joy to suffer various trials for his sake, his real family would be those who would keep putting one foot in front of the other, those who would seek him and his righteousness first of all and trust that all of these other things in life would fall into place in due time. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, to follow Jesus well is never again to wallow around in the guilt and the grime and the gore of the sins of days gone by. To follow well is to learn from past mistakes, yes, but to root around in them no! It is to rejoice every day that faults and failure of the past have been forgiven, to trust that the bridges of the future may be crossed by God’s grace when we get there, leaving us just with today to live by repentance and a growing faith.
Man's best Friend. The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where people love their dogs, yes, but they are more and more learning what it means to love their God with all of their hearts and souls and minds. More and more they are learning what it means that Jesus Christ has always been their best friend, that He is their best friend today, and what it means to spend their days loving their neighbors as much as they love themselves.
The kingdom of God is like a man who on his best days serves his Lord with all of his heart and soul. Many days he is learning and growing, some days he is just going through the motions, still other days he is as distracted as he can be, and more often than he cares to admit, he is just plain full of himself. The good news is that on every one of his days, he has a best friend who sticks closer to him than a brother. This best friend has already gone on before him, he is walking alongside of him, and the best news of all is that as often as he as often as he falls and once in a while falls down hard, his best friend is there to pick him back up and whisper into his ear, “you can do this. You can do all things that I am asking you to do, with my strength.” In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
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