Sermon preached by Rob Barber (Reader)
on Sunday 30th June 2019 (Second Sunday after Trinity)
1 Kings 19.15–16,19–end; Psalm 16; Galatians 5.1,13–25; Luke 9.51–end
One of the very enjoyable jobs I do in my ministry as a Reader is helping out at the vocations fairs around the diocese. These are events that are set up for people to visit if they feel they may have a calling to ministry, and stalls are set up for all the various ministries, whether that be ordained ministry to be a priest or deacon, or one of the many lay ministries such as Reader, SPA, Church Army or a member of a religious community. I find it both exciting and rather humbling to speak to people at the start of their journeys as they try to discern God’s call and what he wants from them.
God’s call doesn’t just apply to those considering an official or authorised ministry though. Each and every one of us has been called by God to follow him. How we encounter that call is going to vary and I doubt two people would ever describe the same experience, because each of us has our own unique relationship with God. As the late Cardinal Basil Hume once said, “Because we are made in the image of God, every man, woman and child knows something of God that nobody else does.”
Of course, when we hear that call, it’s very easy to try and ignore it or to come up with some excuse why we won’t follow that call.
This morning’s gospel reading tells us of three people called directly by Jesus.
The first was the man who came to Jesus full of enthusiasm but who hadn’t really considered the cost of following him. Jesus’ reply to him was: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
That might seem like an innocent enough response, but in those days, the terms “fox” and “birds of the air” were considered insults. Herod had been referred to as a fox and “birds of the air” was often a term used to describe Gentiles referring to their unclean status. What Jesus was saying was “All those people you don’t like have places to live, but Israel’s true Messiah has nowhere. Is that what you want? Are you prepared to pay that kind of price?”
Not only did the Son of Man have nowhere to lay his head, but the city that should have embraced him, instead, killed him on a cross.
The second man had different issues, saying “Lord, first let me go and bury my father” in response to Jesus’ call to follow him. Jesus’ response appears rather harsh. Saying “Let the dead bury their own dead” could seem a rather hurtful and insensitive thing to say to someone in mourning for a close relative, but it’s unlikely that the man’s father had just died. First of all, such a burial would have happened very quickly after death and secondly, in such an event the man would have been at home with his family in mourning. The most likely meaning was that he was saying “My father is old. Let me wait until after he’s died and then I’ll follow you”. The problem here is the “and then”. It’s all too easy to procrastinate, and I admit I am one of the worst offenders when it comes to that, but God calls us now! If we put things off, once that obstacle has gone, we find another excuse and keep putting things further and further back. The call is urgent – inconvenient even, but like the first man who wasn’t prepared to pay the price, we have to accept that following Christ isn’t always easy. Far too many of us who only want to follow Jesus when it suits us.
The third one we see seems reasonable enough though – “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home”, but in the culture of the day, this is probably more accurately translated as “Let me go and get my parents’ permission”. In other words, he felt he was under a higher authority than Jesus, but the call of Jesus has greater authority over all others.
These were all simple excuses, yet they stopped those people from responding to the call of Christ, not being able to let go of the past, not counting the cost, wanting to wait for a more convenient time, not putting Christ first.
Have times changed that much? Are we any different from the three people we met in the gospel reading?
Later on, we will sing a hymn that asks us those same questions:
“Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?”
“Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?”
Think carefully on those questions. God calls each of us by name. How do we respond to that call? As we ponder those questions, let us hope that the response we give is what we sing in the last verse of that hymn:
Lord, your summons echoes true
when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow
in you and you in me.