The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, 27 June 2004
Why Is Jesus So Easy? So Rough?
Have you ever felt like those disciples who wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy a village that had rejected Jesus? I have felt that way, but let the Lord Jesus do his thing.
The church of which I was the pastor had gone through a lengthy search for property for another satellite church. Some pieces of land were rejected as being too small; others to far removed from more concentrated housing development; still others had environmental issues.
Finally, a piece in a rather controversial subdivision was found to be satisfactory. A contract was made with the subdivision. Then a vote was held that changed some of the factors. The man in charge of selling the church the property had a meeting with the church members and told them, after more than a year of working with him, that he would not sell the church the property. No reason for ot selling, just that he would not do it.
Was I angry! Issues of justice and fairness have always been an issue with me anyway. Nothing could be done. Oh, I expect we could have sued the man, but, well, Christians don't do that very regularly, and on top of that, it would have required monies the church did not have.
I wasn't really ready to call down fire from heaven. But I knew two things: God is fair and just in all matters and God is in charge. To this day that parcel of land the church wanted has not been sold to anybody (it's 8 years later now) and God led us to a piece of land that is better. The man who refused to sell has gone through a divorce and been in trouble with the law over his finances to this day.
One December the church office was broken into and pictures on my office walls, together with other office equipment was stolen. One picture was a wood block print over 100 years old; another a pencil sketch by a well-known Texas artist; and a third an artistic rendering of the theme: two loaves of bread and five fish, by a Japanese pastor in a "han," a stamp done in stone. After the anger and loss I felt, I simply prayed that the thieves would have a miserable Christmas. They did. They got to reside in city jail over the Christmas holidays.
Christians have been known to plot against people who reject our Lord. There have been terrible Crusades during the Dark Ages of the church. Even today, in Africa there are Christians who are in armed conflict against those who have murdered their fellow Christians. No fire from heaven. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay," says the Lord.
As Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem, as he steels himself to face the opposition and trials that would come to him at Jerusalem, he simply goes to those who would receive him. At this time he does not get hung up on those who would argue about the place of Jerusalem in God's plan for people.
Jesus is easy on those who reject him. His will is that finally even those who are obstinate, working contrary to his loving kindness might by the power of God's Holy and Good Spirit come to the light and see how much God in Jesus has done for them and continues to do for them.
How often should God have called down fire on us! For our wickedness! Look at the NT Lesson for today and see how where you stand in regard to those acts of the sinful nature, how often you were there, perhaps even are there: sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, envy, drunkenness, orgies. Should you not feel at least a little crisp around the edges from the burning wrath of God? Is God our Savior too easy on us?
No, Jesus knows the weakness of human nature, being fully human himself. He does not flay the sheep because they go astray. He goes after precisely your kind of person to bring them back to the arms of his loving sheepfold, the church.
Think for a moment how his Spirit has led you and, through his continual working in your life through the Good News and the Blessed Sacrament, has caused you to have the fruit of the Spirit in your life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Jesus is easy on us, beyond easy, giving us changes that we never dreamed we would have in our lives and in our relationship with others.
But then we see our Jesus saying to a man who will follow him wherever he goes: "Follow me and expect poverty!" Or something close to that. At least getting wealthy is not part of being a Christian. Too many times we equate all the financial and material blessings we have as a sign that God is really, really giving us the high sign of approval. Wrong! Rather, to those whom much is given, much is expected! Much is expected, says our Lord Jesus. We praise God, if we have lots that we have much opportunity to love others who have need. Is Jesus too rough when he says we may well end up like he did, not a place to call his own (because he owned it all)?
I believe you have all sung, well, whatever you do with the hymn: "Take they our life, goods, fame, child and wife--let these all be gone, our victory has been won. The Kingdom ours remaineth." You always will have Jesus, his forgiveness, his presence, his love, his assurance that you'll make it home, regardless of what happens in the world that surrounds you, at one moment or another.
Jesus gives you the invitation: "follow me." There is no obligation that can stand in that way. For this person, burying his father was a solemn, ethical, moral obligation, but Jesus says: "Go and proclaim that God is here in the person of Jesus!"
Jesus puts is pretty clearly in other places: Love father or mother more than me, no place in my world. Love son or daughter more than me, no place in my world. Is Jesus too rough when he says that? Have you used family as an excuse for not following your Jesus?
A person wants to say good bye to his family and then follow Jesus. Jesus answer is rough, don't you think? In effect he says,"You can always find excuses for not following me! A person who starts to work a field has to work it, not look back, not continue to find reasons for doing something else."
I grew upon in a farming community. There were a number of farmers who were always a day late and a dollar short, as the expression goes. They could never get the hay cut in time. By the time it was harvested, most of the leaves had fallen off. While others were plowing, these men always had to go to town for something they were missing. While others worked late into the day, these farmers stopped long before the sun was down. Needless to say, a good number of these farmers did not stay in farming for long.
Is Jesus too rough on us when he wants this kind of commitment? Do you remember when Jesus said: "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all the other things (you need) will be given to you." Put Jesus first and foremost, above all else, above family, above your work, above your finances, above politics, above your needs, above all other priorities in your life.
Our nature, our culture, our communities in which we live, and the devil himself wants us to love Jesus a little, love family some, love enjoying life a little, love sports, love our bodies, love our pleasures, love our hopes and dreams, and in the process forget about Jesus and what he did as he set his mind, steeled himself to face what was going to take place in Jerusalem.
Jesus is too rough, yes! If you think, Jesus is too demanding, wants to much. But what good will it do, if you gain the whole world of your needs and desires and lose the God given Spirit of life, hope, peace and heaven?
Oh, Jesus, keep me on the narrow way. You alone can do it. When I want to go some other way, keep me, at whatever cost, keep me with you and constantly fit me for service, for work with you in your wonderful world. Amen.
Walter W. Harms, retired pastor