This is an adapted version of the sermon I preached this morning. The gospel text was Luke 9:51-62.
There are a lot of proverbs out there. I don’t mean the biblical book of proverbs. I mean sayings, folk wisdom, the kinds of things we repeat to ourselves and to each other. You know, things like, “Nice guys finish last” or “a stitch in time saves nine.”
But one thing I’ve noticed is that sometimes these folk saying contradict each other. For instance: If you want to do something well, how many people should be involved?
Many hands make light work.
But, too many cooks spoil the broth.
Here’s another one: Should we take risks in life?
It’s better to be safe than sorry.
But, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
How about when someone we love is gone? How will that go?
Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
But out of sight, out of mind!
All right, now here’s the important one. The one that this sermon is really about. When is the right time to do something big in your life? You know, like get married or look for a new job, or sign up for Social Security, that kind of thing. We all face that question sometimes. When is the right time?
Look before you leap.
But, he who hesitates is lost.
I think this all shows how hard it is to make decisions, how we can’t just rely on simple proverbs to guide us in our lives. Luckily, Jesus gives us some help on this last one.
In today’s gospel, Jesus addresses the question of the right time to do something, but only in one specific instance. Jesus doesn’t tell us when to get married or look for another job, but he does make pretty clear exactly when is the right time to follow him. When is the right time to drop what you’re doing, and follow in the path that Jesus is leading. Sounds like a pretty big decision, a pretty big commitment! Well, the time do to that is – right now.
Right now. Take a look at your clock right now. That’s the right time. It’s now – right now.
In today’s gospel, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. This is the beginning of a long section of Luke’s gospel sometimes called “the travel narrative,” because the way Luke tells his story, for about ten chapters, Jesus is on a journey, straight to Jerusalem, straight to the cross, straight to salvation and wholeness for all creation. For Jesus, this is the right time to follow God’s lead. Jesus is on the way.
And here, at the beginning of the travel narrative, Jesus calls some people to go with him on the way. He says to one, “Follow me.” But that one says, “First let me bury my father.” Now the way the Greek text is worded, it could mean that this person’s father just died, and he’s saying, “Let me attend to the funeral and then I’ll join you.” Or it could equally mean, “I’m going to stay here as long as my father is alive, but when he dies, then I’ll join you, Jesus.” Perhaps this person wanted to wait until he didn’t have other commitments, wait until it was more convenient.
How often do we wait to do things until after a particular season, or a particular event? We say things like:
- Oh, we’ll worry about that after the wedding.
- Or, I’ll do such and such when Christmas is over.
- Or, just wait until I pay off that loan.
- Or, when the kids are grown, then we’ll focus on this or that.
- During the season of Lent, many pastors, myself included, create lists of things that we’ll get to “after Easter.”
Now for some things in our lives, this just makes sense. For some things, it’s very wise to organize our lives in a way that we can focus on the right priority at the right time.
But following Jesus is different. Following Jesus isn’t just one of many things vying for attention. When Jesus calls us to follow, there is only one right time to respond. Right now. And Jesus says as much in our gospel reading, in a rather brusque way, as he says to the person: “Let the dead bury their own dead.”
And then another person says to Jesus, “I will follow you, but first let me say farewell to those at my house.” But Jesus says to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Really? There’s not even time to say goodbye? Nope. Following Jesus is something that is demanded of us right now. Of course, it will also be demanded of us in an hour, and tomorrow morning, and next Tuesday evening. Whatever time it is, right now is the time to follow Jesus, because Jesus is always calling us. And that’s not quite as crazy as it sounds. Following Jesus doesn’t necessarily mean a major change in your activities. It doesn’t necessarily mean leaving everything behind and traveling to another country, or selling all your possessions.
Now, following Jesus can mean those things. Jesus does call some of us to do those things sometimes.
But not usually. Most of the time, following Jesus isn’t a major change in our activities, but a major change in our thoughts and attitudes. Most of the time, following Jesus is about shifting our thinking about how we act in our everyday lives.
Following Jesus is about living our everyday lives right now, doing so in a way that we trust that God is with us. Living our lives in a way that includes remembering that God loves us, and that God also loves all the people we encounter, and in fact all of creation. Living our lives in a way that seeks and serves Christ in other people. And most of the time, the biggest thing that involves is paying attention. Paying attention to who we are, and who our neighbor is. Paying attention to where God is stirring in our own lives, and in the lives of those we encounter, and in the world around us.
And when is the right time to pay attention like that? Right now. The right time is always right now. Right now is the time to follow Jesus by paying attention.
Because right now is the time that God is with you. Right now is the time God is telling you, “I love you. Follow me.” And if do miss this chance, like we all do sometimes, don’t worry. Because there’s another right now coming in just a moment. And you’ll have another chance then.
Right now. Pay attention and follow. Live in the way.
Image by frankspandl from Pixabay