Are You A Fan or A Follower
The passage starts simply enough. There it is. Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. He's heading that way. The cross isn't tomorrow but he knows it's out there. He knows it's coming. In the meantime, Jesus is preparing his disciples, equipping them to carry on, to take the Gospel out into the world after he dies. He's set his face. The Greek word there is [foreign] to fix firm, be steadfast, resolved, with strength. To place in concrete and stick to it, to stand by your convictions. He set his face toward Jerusalem it's with the [foreign] that Jesus sets out on his travels and he goes to Samaritan territory, but they reject him. They don't want to follow some fellow who's on his way to die. I mean, why bother? It's not the first time Jesus has been rejected, and it won't be the last, but he keeps going on with [foreign]. He's face set firmly toward Jerusalem. There's a lesson there. Christ is going on firmly with resolve, showing and instructing his disciples to do the same. He wants them to learn to [foreign]. It's hard to hear. This is tough stuff. Jesus is clear here. If you want to follow him, there will be a price, there will be some conditions. There's probably a long string attached, and it's probably called absolute loyalty. Notice what happens. Jesus is going along the road, the first man comes up to him and says, "Jesus, Jesus, I'll follow you wherever you go. People thought Jesus was popular, looks pretty easy. I'll give it a try, Jesus, I'll go with you wherever you go." Jesus replies, "Foxes have holes, birds of the year have nests, but the son of Man has no place to lay his head." In other words, "My path takes me all over the country, I've got no place to call home, not even a place to lay my head." This is no easy path. I'm not talking the clearinghouse sweepstakes here. This road leads to service, to humility, even the death on the cross. If you want to follow, that's the path. Jesus meets a second man and says, "Follow me." The man thinks, "Hey, Jesus chose me. This is great. Hey, Jesus, wait just a second. Let me go bury my father." I mean, after all, I mean, it's understandable. The highest duty of a Jewish son, to give proper respect and burial to his dad. But Jesus responds, "Leave the dead to bury the dead." [laughter] [inaudible], "This is my high duty and Jesus is telling me that he's more important than that? Jesus isn't going to wait for me. I mean, Jesus has to be the most important part of my life, absolute loyalty. No bargains, no negotiations, loyalty." It's hard to hear. God waits for no one and for nothing. You cannot serve two masters. Absolute loyalty, Jesus is being very clear here and very hard. If something else matters, fine. Just know God doesn't take second place. Jesus meets a third man, invites him along the way. I think this is the most important one of the three. The man says, "Let me first go say goodbye to my family. Let me say farewell to my home folks. Let me kiss my parents goodbye." Jesus says, "You can't plow straight while you're looking over your shoulder. If you can't quit looking at the past, you're not fit for the kingdom of God." Some folks always look back. Christ is starting in front, not behind us. The past is the past, but the future lies before us. Jesus says, "Do you trust God enough to fulfill his promise to us?" I mean, this is a tough gospel reading today, isn't it? I mean, let me warn you now. Sometimes the scripture pinches. It's very clear that Jesus doesn't have much use for fair weather followers. This is radical stuff. Jesus says, "Follow me." And there's only two acceptable answers, yes or no. There's no excuses, no quid pro quos, no qualifiers, no conditions, no fine print. Will you follow me, yes or no? I mean, look at what he expects these people to give up. He's expecting them to give up the best this world has to offer, a home, a family, a job, friends. Some people think Christ only calls people to give up nail biting, bad hair or caffeine. Of course he delivers those things, but here he's inviting people to leave behind the best. Think about Saint Anthony. He sat in church and he heard the story of the rich young man. He walked out of the church that day, he set up a trust fund for his sister, left everything else to go enter the monastery in the desert. I mean, this is radical stuff. "Whatever is important in life now, give it up," Jesus says. Whatever you're doing, drop it. Where you are, give it up and follow me. But I think the basic point is this, God doesn't accept second place to anything or to anyone. And I got to be honest with you today. I'm not quite sure what to tell you to do with this gospel. I struggle with it, but I know there are people who get this far better than I. I read a piece in the New York Times a while back about a man, a Christian in China named Samuel Lam. He was the pastor of a house church. They had nowhere else to meet. 72 years old, 21 of those 72 years pastor Lam spent in prison for his faith, 15 of those years for trying to copy the New Testament. While he was in prison, his wife died, 11 months later his mom died. By our standards, he has nothing, no TV, no celebrity, no stadium filled with adoring crowds, but an odd thing has happened. The authorities don't arrest him anymore. They discovered that every time they arrested pastor Lam, the church grew. He had two quotes in that piece in the New York Times and it really stuck with me. The first one was, "Prosecution was good for us." The second was, "We must have a mind to suffer. If so, you can stand it. Without it, you'll be broken." The writer of the column ended by saying, "Pastor Lam is small in stature but he may be the largest man I've ever known." I mean, it's one thing to be excited about Jesus. It's an entirely different thing to follow him. There's no doubt about it. Be careful with those words. I'll follow you wherever you go, Jesus. So I want to close this gospel reflection today with a prayer from a hero of mine, someone who has taught me an enormous amount, even though I've never met him, the venerable Francis, savior [inaudible], a man in prison for 13 years by the Vietnamese government, "[inaudible] Jesus on my knees. Turning towards you, being for you, in front of the tabernacle I understand. I could not choose any other road, any happier road, even if by appearances another road seemed more glorious. For you, eternal friend, the only friend of my life would not be present there." That's from the venerable Francis Savior [inaudible], in prison for 13 years by the Vietnamese government. God bless him.