The Fox, the Furrow, and the Funeral
RUMC June 26, 2016
Several days ago, I went into the Military Recruiting Office in Manchester just to see what they were offering the new recruits. I picked up some brochures and from what I could see there are great incentives to join: a signing bonus, education assistance, the repayment of college loans, guaranteed salary, paid vacations, retirement benefits, free medical and dental and guaranteed home loans. But with all these great programs, there is something that is never mentioned. It is almost like the elephant in the room. There must be the willingness for the person who signs the dotted line, to risk their life and even die for their country.
It is similar to Christian discipleship. If we are to truly enter into the Kingdom of God, we need to count the cost and make a total dedication, not a halfhearted commitment.
My scripture text is Luke 9:51-62. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And 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.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
In our scripture, Jesus had three conversations with those who wanted to follow him. To the first person he said, “Count the Cost.” To the second, the message was “Leave it Behind,” and to the third he said, “Don’t Look Back.”
Count the Cost
(v57) As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” It seems the first person had a desire to follow Jesus. I think deep down, he wanted to be part of the adventure of seeing the Kingdom of God unfold in people’s lives, to enjoy the special position of being seen as a disciple. It is as though he had seen the military travel posters and said, I’ll sign up.
But notice Jesus’ response. Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. It was as if Jesus stripped away the romance and excitement of ministry right before his eyes and showed there was a cost to following the Lord: to leave everything behind.
Jesus also said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it.”
Counting the cost of discipleship doesn’t mean “don’t go;” Marty Koonce counted the cost and found it acceptable. Marty was married, the father of four boys, and a successful manager at Walmart. Marty was considered to be on the fast track of success when he felt God’s tug to do more with his life: that is to take God’s good news to people of Togo, Africa. Marty asked, “How do you give up a six figure income and move your family across the world to live in a third world country?” He counted the cost, quit his job, and became a missionary for a number of years, and he considers it well worth it.
We may not all be called to be a missionary nor called into full-time ministry, but we can as disciples of the Lord do his will in Connecticut. Again, there is a cost.
Leave it Behind
V59 He said to another man follow me. But the man replied, Lord first let me go and bury my father. Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God. In this passage of scripture, some would say that Jesus’ response was harsh. However if the man’s father had just died, the son would not have been there. He would have been at home because it was Jewish tradition to bury a person on the same day they died.
What we believe probably happened was this. It was the custom on the first anniversary of the death of a parent that the son would go into the tomb, gather up the bones, and put them in a special repository. That was done to make extra space in the tomb.
In this instance, the son requested up to a year’s delay before he was to follow Christ. Here, Jesus does not accept second place, but demands immediate allegiance.
When Julius Caesar was the leader of Rome, he landed his army on the shores of Britain. He then took a bold step to ensure the success of his military campaign. Caesar ordered his men to march to the edge of the Cliffs of Dover, and he commanded them to look down on the water below. To their amazement, they saw every ship in which they had crossed the English Channel engulfed in flames. Caesar had deliberately cut off any possibility of retreat. Since his soldiers were unable to return to the continent, their only real option was to advance forward. So they committed themselves and followed their leader. They went forward and conquered Britain.
When Jesus said follow me, we are called to figuratively burn our ships in the harbor, not to go back to our old way of life. To set ourselves free from any worldly entanglement and loyalties that might come between us and our Lord
Don’t Look Back
(v61) Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” On the surface, the third man’s request seemed reasonable, but his farewell was probably a long series of good bye parties given by his friends. Not just a simple handshake, hug or a kiss goodbye.
Christ does not call us to dishonor our parents or shirk our responsibility to our family. But if we are pressed into a choice between the two, our Lord must come first. 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” In this situation, the one who ploughs the field must look straight ahead and devote their full attention. In Christian discipleship, once we make a decision for the Lord, we are not to look back at our old way of life, but to move forward.
At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, the men’s 26 mile marathon had been over for at least one hour. All the runners except one had completed the race: John Steven Aquari of Tanzania. Long after the previous runner, John Steven Aquari was the last marathoner to enter the stadium; his leg was bandaged and bloody. Aquari had taken a bad fall early on in the marathon, and all he could do was limp the rest of the way. When he entered the stadium for the final lap, only a small crowd was left, but they stood and applauded. When he crossed the finish line, a reporter asked, “Why didn’t you quit? Why didn’t you give up?” Aquari said, “My country did not send me 7000 miles to start this race. My country sent me to finish.”
And so it is with our Christian faith. We are to finish the race and not look back.
Let me close. Jesus had conversations with three individuals and we can extend those words to us. To the first, and also to us, he said, “Count the cost.” To the second, and to us, he said, “Leave it behind.” To the third, and to us, he said, “Don’t look back.” Following Christ has a cost; it is a total dedication, not a halfhearted commitment. We need to accept the cross along with the crown and allow nothing to distract us from following him.