Going Deeper 7-1-19

A word of warning: This is going to be one of those “wake-up call” sermons.  Don’t worry… as always we will end up with grace. 
The second part of our Gospel reading from Luke 9 will serve as the basis for this morning’s message: As they were going along the road, someone said to him [Jesus], "I will follow you wherever you go."  And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."  To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."  But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."  Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home."  Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  Thus far our text.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.
Question: If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  Let’s just say that going to church would be considered insufficient evidence.  Someone once quipped, “Sitting in church doesn’t make you a true Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car.”  I don’t totally agree with that… because if you’re sitting in church as part of your seeking to connect more and more fully with God in order to be both reconciled with God and transformed by God’s Holy Spirit working through word, sacrament, and the fellowship of this family in Christ, that will indeed help you grow as a Christian, as a true disciple of Jesus.  If that is not true, then we are wasting our time here.
But for the sake of argument, let’s take going to church out of the equation, is there enough evidence in your life away from church to convince a jury of sceptics that you’re a Christian?  In other words, are the fruits of the Spirit listed by Paul in our Epistle reading a description of you and your life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness (also translated as “generosity”), faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?  And have you put to death all of the sins listed in the same reading: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these?
Let’s keep probing.  When you hear what Jesus said to the would-be followers in our text, how does it make you feel?  How about Jesus’ last reply to someone who simply wants to take a short time to go home and say goodbye to his loved ones: "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."  Ouch!  I am not a farmer, but it does make sense to me that if I am not focused on what is ahead of me and keep looking back over my shoulder when I am plowing, I am not going to be a very good farmer.  I’m not going to bear much fruit.
In the same way, if I keep being distracted away from my service in the Kingdom of God, I am not going to be a very good follower of Jesus.  And I will tell you this… there are a whole lot of powerful distractions in our lives which continue to draw us away from being fully devoted to God.  Doing Kingdom work—growing in loving service of God and others and seeking to draw others to God—takes a back seat to way too many things for far too many of us far too often.
Let’s assess where we are as Spirit-filled and Spirit-fueled children of God and followers of Jesus by using a couple of terms from each of Paul’s lists as a type of discipleship barometer.  From the negative list, these two sinful attributes: jealousy and envy.  From the fruits of the Spirit list, these two qualities: kindness and goodness/generosity. 
Once again I will quote one of my favorite quips from my all-time favorite Bible teacher, Harry Wendt, who describes the American dream as “buying things we don’t really need with money we don’t really have to impress people who don’t really care.”  In our culture we are inundated from early on that we should never be content.  In my lifetime I have been subjected to literally thousands of hours of advertisement on just the TV, with increasingly brilliant marketers seeking to make me jealous.  I have been taught to look with envy on those with bigger houses, nicer cars, more and better vacations.  
I’d be lying to say that this has not impacted me, or doesn’t continue to impact me.  Try as I might, I still far too often compare what I have with the few who have a lot more than with the vast majority who have far less.  Both my closet and my belly are bulging with excess, and still there is a voice urging me to be discontent, ungrateful, and often filled with jealousy and envy.
At the same time, I have been drawn to another Voice, one infinitely more loving and wise.  This Voice calls me to practice kindness and goodness.  This Voice makes me aware of how incredibly and undeservingly blessed I have been my whole life, and opens my eyes to the masses who have so much less than I have, and moves within me a spirit of generosity.
Wait a minute.  So which kind of disciple am I?  Am I the one who is far too often distracted, shallow, self-serving, prone to jealousy and envy?  Or am I the one who is moved by gratitude and love to practice kindness and generosity?  Which one am I?
You know the answer.  I am not one or the other.  I am both.  I continue to struggle not only with jealousy and envy, but far too often with far too many other things from the negative list.  I am often distracted and looking back over my shoulder, unfit for the Kingdom of God.  People (some more than others) can find enough dirt to cause a jury of sceptics to doubt whether I’m a true Christian.  But I am also a person who can be quite kind and generous, as well as loving, joyful, patient, and very gentle.  In other words, I’m both a saint and a sinner at the same time.
How about you?  How do you measure up against the kind of barometer of Christ-like qualities in contrast to the negative characteristics listed by Paul?  I’m hoping you recognize there’s a lot of room for growth, that you’re often too distracted, self-serving, and shallow, that your response to Jesus’ call to follow has often been far less than stellar.  I hope this is true for you because it means two things: you are prepared for grace and you recognize the potential for growth.
Where we are lacking, we come to Jesus with repentant hearts, not hiding nor defending nor minimizing how far we fall short of fully-devoted following.  We are led to see that we have much to be forgiven of.  And we are forgiven.  Completely.  Unequivocally. Graciously.
And now we are called to freedom, and moved by love and gratitude we are determined to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in no longer using our freedom to serve ourselves, but freely following Jesus, seeking to have His heart and mind and spirit continually growing within us.  We see that living according to the ways of sinful brokenness is destructive… destructive to us and to God’s children all around us.  But as the fruits of the Spirit are born more and more fully within our hearts and our lives, we experience a profound peace and purpose and cause for joy.  Together we connect with and follow more graciously our Lord and Savior and Friend-- Jesus. Amen