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Sermon: Jump In

June 27, 2010

Luke 9:51-62

Jimmy walked in the front door, and his father gave him a big hug and set out his afternoon snack.

“So, Jimmy, how was your first day of summer camp?”

“It was okay.  I had fun.”

“How was swimming?”

“I didn’t like it?”

Didn’t like it?  Jimmy had been looking forward to swimming at the pool at summer day camp ever since his parents signed him up in March.  Dad was confused and assumed something had gone wrong.

“What happened?  Did the older boys hog the pool?  Was the water too cold?  Did the chlorine hurt your eyes?”

“No…that’s not it.”

“Tell me.”

“We got to the pool and I changed into my brand new suit in the locker room.  I grabbed my towel and found a great spot on the deck.  I spread my towel out and then remembered I forgot my sunscreen.

“I came back from the locker room with my sunscreen and put it all over just like Mom showed me.  But I left my goggles.  So I went back for my goggles and they weren’t fitting right, so one of the counselors helped me to put ‘em on.

“After all the trouble with the goggles I was hot, so I went over to get a drink at the drinking fountain.  Then, I was about ready to jump in the pool when I realized that I had forgotten my nose clips.  So I had to go back in the locker room again.

I got back to the edge of the pool and couldn’t decide whether I wanted to go in the deep end right away or go into the shallow end and work my way out.  I walked around the pool until I found just the right spot.  I took a deep breath, got ready to jump in and…the counselor blew the whistle to tell us swimming time was finished.

“I didn’t like swimming time at all.”

Have you ever lived your life like that?

*     *     *     *     *

The first verse of our scripture reading today defines Jesus’ ministry from this moment in the text until almost the very end of Luke’s gospel.  Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  He bowed his neck.  He was bound and determined.  A team of wild horses couldn’t pull him away from his firm and resolute path to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, of course, was not simply a destination.  Jesus wasn’t vacationing or going to a business meeting.  He was not in town for a family reunion.  Jesus’ destiny was in Jerusalem, and his destiny included serious opposition to his work, punishment and death.  It is the kind of journey for which you must be mentally prepared ahead of time.  Jesus felt he was ready.  It was time to set his face toward Jerusalem.

Looking back, it probably wasn’t the best time to begin following Jesus.  The first would-be disciple came to Jesus and said, “I’ll follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus said, “Foxes have lairs, and birds have nests, but if you follow me, you won’t even have that.  The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  The text does not tell us whether or not that person followed Jesus or not.

Jesus called a second man.  “Follow me.”

The man was willing, but he one or two things to take care of before he went on the journey.  “Let me just go bury my father, first.”

“No.  Let the dead bury their own.  You go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”  The text does not tell us whether he followed Jesus or not.

A third man agreed to follow Jesus, but first wanted to say good bye to his family.

“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  The text does not tell us whether or not that man followed Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem.

Jesus is a hard master.  He did not say, “If you want to follow me, don’t plan on staying in any five-star hotels.”  He said, “We don’t even get a Motel 6.  Just snuggle up in a nice cardboard box.”

Jesus didn’t say, “You can’t wait around until your dead father’s will gets through probate.”  He said, “If you want to follow me, you can’t even go to the funeral.”

Jesus didn’t say, “You can’t make arrangements for the family members you will leave behind.”  He said, “You can’t say good bye.”

As Fred Craddock wrote, “Jesus never said to choose him over the devil but to choose him over the family” (Interpretation: Luke [Louisville: John Knox, 1990], 144.)  If you are an employee at Focus on the Family, this cannot be one of your favorite scriptures.  Jesus says here that if you are focusing on the family, you are missing the kingdom.  Hard words.

Jesus had set his face toward Jerusalem.  Jesus says “follow me,” but you cannot go back for your goggles or your sunscreen or your nose clips.  Jump in.  Don’t even bother to change into your swimsuit.

It is hard—especially in our modern world—to set your face in one direction and keep moving forward without looking back, without going back, without distraction.  It must have been difficult even in the First Century.  I don’t want to tell you that following Jesus resolutely into the kingdom is easy.  There is very little that is easy about discipleship.  But Jesus tells us that life in the kingdom is of such surpassing value that the only worthwhile course is to live moving forward, step by step.  For Jesus it is clearly worth the effort and the sacrifice.  Otherwise, he would have left Jerusalem before he came to the cross.

I know that there are some of you sitting out there this morning that have heard that nagging call from God.  Some people hear it at four in the morning when the neighbor’s dog wakes them up and they can’t get back to sleep.  I know some people hear it when they are driving in the car with the radio off.  Some people hear it in the shower.  The voice of Jesus says “follow me.”

I know someone who heard the call from God that said, “Feed my people who are hungry.”  He heard it so frequently and so often that he finally jumped in.  Stephen went downtown to a mission on Skid Row and helped feed those who were hungry.  He also discovered that he couldn’t do it.  He couldn’t do it.  The people scared him.  Even some of the other workers scared him.  He was afraid just driving into that part of downtown.

If that had been me, I could easily have said, “Okay God, I tried it.  I just can’t do this.  I’m not equipped for this.”  I would have felt satisfied that I tried.  Even though I had failed, I could say that I tried.  I could have turned around and gone to sit in the locker room.  But not my friend Stephen.  He looked for another place to help feed God’s hungry people that would match better his gifts and God-given talents.  That place didn’t work out, either.  Finally, with that insistent call of “follow me” in his ear, he found a place that was a great match with his talents.  He fed the people.  He shared the grace and the love of God with them.  Stephen kept living forward—not looking back, not going back—until before he knew it, he was living in the kingdom of God.

I’d like to live in the kingdom of God.  I’d like to follow Jesus firmly and resolutely, setting my face forward on the journey.  And I’d like to do that sooner rather than later.  I believe that the life of discipleship is worth it, that it comes the closest to what true life and true living ought to be, and why not get to real living sooner rather than wasting more years?  But it’s hard.

It means making a decision.  It means putting all the various parts of life in their proper order with the proper priorities.  It means learning to ignore the distractions, and there are many.  But ultimately, it just means jumping in, and that is scary.  This end of the pool is deep.  The water looks cold.  Some of the people who are already in the pool don’t seem pleasant.  Jump anyway.  Jesus is already in there waiting for you.

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