If there is one thing that I have notice about Christians of all stripes of late, it is the struggle over keeping churches going. This was on my mind when I went to visit a parishioner recently. This person is very elderly. This person’s hearing and eyesight are nearly gone. Age limits mobility. Age limits time that can be spent somewhere and doing something. And yet there is a remarkable resilience in this person who made two things very clear as we visited: (1) Christ is her King and (2) she can pray because she knows her King is listening and will act. And then she began to sing a little chorus to me about following Jesus, leading a holy life, shunning the wrong and choosing the write and the Lord will make a way for her and me.
So this visit made me stop and think: what does it mean to be a follower of Christ, in this digital age? That’s because we live in a society that sees people increasingly isolated and insulated from each other because of where we live, how we live and most importantly what we live with. Canadians are increasingly living in large urban and suburban areas, in large homes. They seldom get to know their neighbours and spend time with them. People are avoiding community clubs, organizations and fraternal societies in favour of being in front of the television, the computer, on the phone or on a game system. The days of the kind of “community” that my great grandparents knew are virtually gone. Affluence allows us to pay somebody else to do the things we don’t like or want to do. We have become a society who will “like” something on Facebook, but will never really buy into that thing or be in a real, substantive relationship with that person. We live in world where we believe that we can do it all on our own, leaving both God and each other out of the equation.
The Gospel this week confronts that kind of thinking and that kind of living on different levels. There is nothing new about humans wanting their own way, wanting it how they want it and wanting it when they want it. It has been going on since the first people rejected God and began to sin. Oh, just in case you think that there is something new or improved about you, me and us over them, remember this: there is nothing “original” about your sin. One of the “in” thing these days is to claim something like, “Oh, I am not religious, I’m spiritual.” In fact I was reading an article recently that there is a new trend in North American Christianity where apparently it is cool to use profanity in one’s speech to prove that you are a rebel unfettered or otherwise restricted by the Church and its rules.
Well consider carefully then what is said in the Gospel. First of all, we are told that Jesus walks with a “flinty” face towards his goal – the city of Jerusalem and his date with the cross. He found his resolve to live and to walk as God wants him to walk. Going into the capital and facing what will happen is a choice. His choice. It was not fate or an accident that put him there. It was not a cruel joke nor was it a simple mistake. It was Jesus’ choice to go. He decided and then he walked; others went with him. Along the way there are various people and a certain community who see Jesus and they react to the fact that he is going to Jerusalem and apparently to his death. The community rejects Jesus because he favours going to Jerusalem rather than hanging out and agreeing with them. Jesus is in charge and is free to serve. He knows where he is going and knows what it is going to cost to get us there. A couple of his followers go to him and ask to be allowed to call down fire from heaven like Elijah did on the prophets of Baal to wipe out the village to teach them and the rest of the world whose right and whose wrong. Jesus resists this idea, telling them to keep quiet and keep going.
Then a man known to Jesus comes and makes a grand gesture by publicly announcing that will go wherever Jesus goes and do has he is told. A brave thought but there is a problem or two here. First, there is the issue of choice. Those who follow Jesus don’t just choose to follow him. They are chosen by the Master. He gets to decide and he calls. Thus we need to make sure that we are ready to answer that call and to know what we have to bring with us when we leave. We will travel far. We will travel light and we will travel fast. There is urgency in what we have to tell people. He is King and He is coming again. We need to let them know Jesus is King and that he is coming. Therefore we need to make the city ready. We need to straighten the road and prepare the streets. Then we need to go out and meet him as he comes to us and comes to this city. And as we work away at welcoming the King we need to act in his name and do some of the following:
· When you go leave. There is no reason to agree with Jesus and then do nothing he has asked of you.
· Walk with resolve. That’s what it means to have a flinty face. Count the costs both of what it will take for you to follow Jesus and what happens if you stay home.
· Talk with love and with urgency. What you have to share is important news. It has both eternal benefits and eternal consequences. We need to share with people about the life, the kingdom and our King.
· When you leave, leave alone what you leave behind. It is hard work to plow the field, scatter the seed, patiently watch and tend the field, and harvest the crop at the right time. Constantly looking back means the furrows are crooked which makes more work and causes pain and pressure for the farm. Learn to let go of the past so that the future is bright.
· GO even if it means that you miss your father’s blessing. There is now time like the present to go and share the kingdom with the city around you. Our heavenly Father who is the source of each and every blessing will provide what you need and you progress and walk your way to him.
Therefore, let us go in peace, to love and to serve the Lord, to build his city and drawn in his community and tell his people, he is King and he is coming home.