(Sung) Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown,
will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
This is the first verse of the hymn we will sing together in just a few moments. It’s a beautiful song with a lovely tune, but listen to those words and consider the meaning at the heart of this song. Pay attention to them as you sing them. They reflect both the invitation of Jesus to be his disciples to follow him, to commit to a life shaped and guided by Jesus Christ himself, and the need for each of us to respond to this invitation:
“Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?”
“Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?”
The kind of discipleship that Jesus calls for takes courage, and it takes faith that God will lead us and guide our way, showing us what it is that God has in mind for us as individuals, at members of a community of faith, as citizens of the world, and as human beings created and sustained by the love of God.
We don’t know where such following will lead. It does take trust to follow. It also takes trust in God’s plan to keep following when the results you want or expect are not the results you necessarily see and experience.
Each week, we gather to worship and praise God. That is the primary focus and objective of our worship service. We come to be stirred up and to be challenged in our discipleship. Jesus gathers us around the table in the meal we share. Here, we are forgiven for our failures to follow as Jesus commands, and we are nourished and strengthened in the meal as we are sent out into the world to try again. We are called to share the love of God with our neighbor, and we are emboldened to go out in courage, knowing not where our path of discipleship will lead us.
“Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known?”
Listening to the Word of God and hearing the proclamation of the gospel are part of our preparation for going out. We love, because we have experienced God’s love and we share the story because we want others to know and experience the same kind of love, mercy, and grace that is uniquely from God. The gospel of Luke today reveals some key things that disciples need to know as they follow Jesus by going out into the world. So let’s look a little more closely at this gospel text.
We are told here that Jesus has “set his face” toward Jerusalem. That turn of phrase – “to set one’s face” means to move with firm determination; to move with purpose and resolve; to proceed with confidence and courage.
You and I know why Jesus has set his face toward Jerusalem. We know, although the disciples do not know, what will happen when Jesus arrives in there. We know the rejection he will face there. We know where this journey toward Jerusalem will take him, and how it will end.
But as we read these words, Jesus is just starting out, embarking on this journey, a journey that begins in chapter 9 but doesn’t actually end with Jesus reaching the city of Jerusalem until the end of chapter 19. As a result, my friends, we will be reading about this journey and learning more and more about what following Jesus means, for the next 19 weeks.
The path Jesus follows between this beginning place and his destination of Jerusalem is not a direct flight. It is like getting on a plane from Baltimore, Maryland for your destination of Chicago, Illinois, and having your plane take you there via Birmingham Alabama, Wichita Kansas, and Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, with stops along the way, before you finally make it to Chicago. Some of your stops are planned. Some are detours and emergency stops along the way. But you continue to persist, knowing that Chicago is really where you want to be.
I suppose the fact that Jesus’ trip was so circuitous should comfort us, because our own journey of discipleship seems just as convoluted sometimes. Our individual stories often take unexpected twists and turns, and so does the story of our mission as the church of Christ. There are surprises along the way, and disappointments, and successes and failures, and sweet times of years past, and challenges as we vision for the future. Twists and turns require us to be strong and enduring, faithful and joyful. They also require us to listen carefully to the message Jesus brings.
Jesus wants to prepare us well for the work of being his disciples.
All along the way on his journey, Jesus teaches his disciples what it means to do mission and ministry for God, and what they need to know about following Jesus even when he is no longer with them.
Because of course, just as Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, and knows what he will encounter there, Jesus also knows intimately well the kinds of challenges his disciples will face – both now and in the future.
And so, there is a lot of movement in these verses. Just look at the words we see most often repeated –
Jesus set his face to journey to Jerusalem (vs.51)
-and journeying they enter into a Samaritan village (vs. 52)
-because his face was journeying into Jerusalem (vs. 53)
-and they journeyed into another village (vs. 56)
-and as they journeyed on the way, a certain person said to him… (vs. 57)
Then there are these –
“They were going along the road…” (vs. 57)
“I will follow wherever you go.” (vs. 57)
“Let me go first to bury my father.” (vs. 59)
“go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (vs. 60)
It seems that discipleship happens in constant movement –that is, continued movement is required of disciples – Jesus discourages and admonishes those who want to look back for the purpose of staying with one foot planted in the past. It is hard – no, it is impossible to be a disciple if there is no movement.
An important aspect of discipleship is being willing to go where God sends, where Jesus calls us to go. One of the great challenges of the church today is that for so many years, because the culture around us supported church membership and church participation, it seemed discipleship meant no more than coming to church, being friendly toward those who visited, opening our purses to the needs that were brought to us, supporting ministry near and far through the work we did inside our walls. At least, that is often the way we worked, and how our lives as church played out. But Jesus doesn’t call us and say, “Stay put,” or “Play it safe”.
We live in an age in which those things we came to expect are no longer true. In the church of the past, we became complacent. We knew that the church would always be here, and that it would be here for us. We expected that the pews would always be filled by those who found their way to and through our doors. Then we would do what we do best by welcoming those who came.
But Jesus prepares his disciples for mission and ministry that takes place outside the walls of any building - even in a hostile world. And what does Jesus tell his disciples to do? Go!
First, Jesus sends his disciples out. He sends them into places and territories where they are strangers, no longer members among a close-knit group. They enter a village of Samaritans, and we remember that the Samaritans are considered “other” – Jews are not supposed to mix with Samaritans, and vice versa. Yet Jesus sends them to this place where the preparations they seek to make ready for Jesus are not welcome – where they are not welcome. Where Jesus is not welcome. Just like many places today.
Their first instinct is to crush those who don’t want to receive Jesus. The rejection stings. Who wants to endure more of that? And who wants to be sent out, only to face defeat and failure – and hostility? But Jesus has a different response. They are instructed to depend on the hospitality of those they visit, to wipe the dust from their feet if they are not accepted, and to wish whomever they encounter and interact with, peace.
As we reach outside our walls, we learn from this story that the good news in Jesus Christ will not always be welcome. Go anyway. We may not feel “ready”. Go anyway. We will not know what the outcome will be. Go anyway. And preach the gospel; the sometimes unwelcome, challenging word of a loving, inclusive Lord God who expects much from his disciples.
Jesus tells those who are procrastinating, let go of the past and all that holds you back from truly following him. “Lord, first let me go bury my father.” And Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Discipleship at its heart calls us to follow Jesus, to go where we don’t know the ending, to deny our tendency to cling to the past, to forget what the church was like 20 years ago, or 30 years ago, or even 7 years ago - and to look toward the future, while serving God in the present.
We confess that this is a hard thing for us to do. We don’t like this challenging “new” world. We want the direct flight, the non-stop journey to our destination. We don’t like all these detours and delays.
What kinds of things hold us back from discipleship – from following Jesus?
Most often, fear – fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of success – for if we go among strangers, or if we welcome outsiders in, we will be changed. We fear the unknown.
Frankly, if discipleship means letting go of all these things, “none of us will make the cut to follow Jesus. Our desire for soft pillows and comfortable beds, for fulfilling family and social obligations, [even] our patriotism will frequently have higher priorities than following Jesus – especially following Jesus all the way to Jerusalem and the cross.” (Brian Stoffregen)
Yet, our ever-loving Jesus is calling us to let go of all those things. As Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem, he is calling us to follow him, and promises the gift of his Spirit will constantly be with us, making discipleship possible.
In a moment we will sing, “Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?”
What will our answer be? By the power of the Holy Spirit, let it be ‘yes.’
Please pray with me:
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.*
* From Morning Prayer, Evangelical Lutheran Worship,2006.