Yes, Lord, But First…
We remember this week some familiar words, “When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These words were penned primarily by Thomas Jefferson, who went to the Continental Congress eager to return home and work on Virginia’s Constitution. Somehow, he got appointed to a 5 person committee to draft a declaration of independence, and that committee assigned him the responsibility of creating a first draft.
As I read Jesus’ words this week, I kept coming back to the thought, “What if Jefferson had said no? What if he had gone home?”
This week, I hope we will all take some time to remember that every freedom we have is because of a sacrifice someone else made. Freedom requires sacrifice. Ensuring that all are afforded the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness requires sacrifice.
Rev. Dr. Tony Sundermeier serves as Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian in Atlanta. He tells about a family road trip that took them through Winchester, Virginia. They spent the night and then decided to visit a little log cabin that from the fall of 1775 until Christmas of 1776 housed the military offices of George Washington. Having spent plenty of time in the car, they walked from the hotel to the museum. He recalls, “There were no signs marking an entrance or hours and no one was there to meet us. We simply walked in through an open door. After about five minutes exploring the exhibits, we heard an indignant and aggressive voice directed our way, ‘What do you think you are doing?’ We turned and standing there was a woman with a nametag indicating that she worked for the museum. ‘We are visiting the museum,’ I said. ‘Well, I can see that. But are you going to pay for your visit?’ I responded, ‘I didn’t know there was a cost. The door we came through had no sign saying there was a fee.’ She said, ‘Maybe so but the front door has a sign and had you come through that door you would have seen that you had to purchase tickets.’ After trying to explain–to no avail–the efficacy and practically of having signs on all the doors that are open, we purchased tickets and enjoyed the rest of the museum.”
This passage from Luke has inspired sermons titled everything from “Blessed are the Fanatics” to “Cranky Jesus.” Jesus’ words sound harsh. They demand sacrifice. They go ahead and post the cost on all the doors.
“Jesus, Jesus!” the man shouts as he catches up to Jesus along the road, “I will follow you wherever you go!”
“You do realize,” responds Jesus, “that I am homeless.” Following me means giving up the comforts of the familiar, the stable life, …your pillow.
Another man had joined them on the road and they had been talking, “Follow me,” Jesus invites him.
“I have family responsibilities,” he responds, “let me finish those out. When my father dies and I have buried him, I will be free to answer your call. Until then, I feel obligated to meet the expectations of my family, well Jesus, you know, of proper society.”
Burying your parents was an obligation of every son. No one was exempt. Remember contact with dead bodies was considered to make you unclean. So, it was a solemn responsibility to bury your parents even though it made you ritually unclean. Even priests serving in the temple were required to go and bury their parents.
Jesus responds with a play on words. “Leave the dead to bury the dead. Leave those who are spiritually dead to bury the physically dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Go proclaim life!”
If the would-be disciple doesn’t go now, when he is passionate about the kingdom and filled with hope, he never will. And Jesus knows it.
A third man pledges his allegiance. “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” And Jesus answers in metaphor, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Once you are focused on the row, you know that to look back is to lose your nice straight row. If your attention is not on the work in front of you, you are going to get off track.
Jesus’ message in these exchanges is clear. I’ve read lots of commentators who have tried to smooth them over. They point out that the time is short for Jesus, he has set his face toward Jerusalem, he is under pressure. But, I think one of my favorite Mark Twain quotes is applicable here, “It’s not the things I don’t understand in the Bible that worry me, it’s the things I understand perfectly clear that worry me.”
Jesus says, if you want to follow me, realize that it’s not always comfortable. If you want to follow me, don’t set a date in the future when you’ll start. If you want to follow me, let’s go – don’t look back.
I was reminded this week of the term the “butterfly effect.” The term “butterfly effect” was coined by meteorologist Edward Lorenz, who discovered in the 1960’s that tiny, butterfly—scale changes to the starting point of his computer weather models resulted in anything from sunny skies to violent storms. A simplified explanation is that according to chaos theory, something as tiny as a butterfly fluttering its wings in New Mexico can cause a hurricane in China.
So often, I think when we have the opportunity to follow Jesus, we respond, “Yes, Lord, but first…” because we think our contribution is no greater than that of a butterfly. We don’t imagine that our words will have impact like those of Thomas Jefferson and the Continental Congress.
On his tombstone, he placed 3 accomplishments: Author of the Declaration of Independence [and] of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia.” I would imagine that each of us could name at least one or two other things that we know about Jefferson. None of them may have been the action with the most impact on the world, or perhaps one of them was.
None of us knows what action or word we might take or say that will have the impact of a butterfly flutter causing a hurricane. But we can be sure that each of our actions has the potential. So, will you follow Jesus? It may not be comfortable. The invitation is for today. And the way is forward.