Reflection by Bill Rule

Luke 9:51-62
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him;
53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"
55 But he turned and rebuked them.

["Cool it guys." You can just hear him saying. "This is not big deal. We can CHANGE our plans!"]

56 Then they went on to another village.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."
58 And 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."
59 To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father."
60 But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."
61 Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home."
62 Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Well...that's harsh!
• Let the dead bury the dead?
• Follow me and be prepared to be homeless?
• Look back and you're a lost soul?

Of course, on one level we understand he is saying that to follow him, you have to lay yourself out. Total commitment or nothing. Don't expect to be comfortable.

We hear that, but I think we don't really believe it. We don't really believe that Christ requires extreme self-denial from everyone. Not here in America.

Well, at another level, maybe there is some truth there. Maybe we can take comfort in the fact that not everyone gets the same assignment. In the Luke passage, all those people got different answers.

• But they were all unexpected answers.

And they were even different answers from other such cases elsewhere in the Bible.

• When Elija called Elisha to follow him, Elisha asked permission to first go and bid goodbye to his family. Elija didn't tell him not to look back. He said sure, go do what you gotta do.

• Paul (or Saul, I should say), on the other hand, was fully committed to what he thought his righteous calling was... when God struck him blind on the road to Damascus. That was a surprise!

• Peter and John suddenly called away from responsible and productive livelihoods as fishermen to tramp around the countryside and live off of handouts. Well, at least they got the homeless assignment! But I bet they were at least a little surprised!

• Think of Job. Not comfortable.
• Think of Jonah. He got a surprise!
• Think of Abraham multiple times,
• And Moses... Oh, poor Moses... "Send anyone else but me, God, please!"

Over and over, different answers for different people and never what they expected or wanted or were comfortable with.

Samuel Lapsley went as one of the first two Presbyterian missionaries to the Congo... and was promptly struck dead from Malaria within the first year. That was a surprise!

William Sheppard, who went with him, gave years of exemplary service -- historic service, exposing the terrible abuses of the King Leopold regime in Congo -- and then was humiliatingly recalled because of an alleged affair with an African woman. That was a surprise!

One of my best friends in college was the grandson of Presbyterian missionaries in Japan.
• He was one of the most outgoing, happy, positive, thoughtful people I have known.
• He could kick a soccer ball farther and throw a frisbee straighter than most anyone else I knew.
• And like me, he was attempting to follow in a physician father's footsteps.

But in his junior year, he was accused of stealing a couple of bucks out of someone's room. Davidson had a very strict honor system. No one locked their doors. Exams routinely went un-proctored. Things like cheating or stealing could result in immediate expulsion.

I literally did not believe he could possibly have done what he was accused of, and offered to help him disprove what seemed to me must have been an obvious case of mistaken identity or misconstrued intent.
• But no, in answer to my questions, he said he HAD done it.
• No, he hadn't just borrowed the money.
• No, he hadn't mistaken it for his own money lying there on the dresser.
• No, he saw it there, wanted to go buy a snack and just took it. Thought no one would notice. But he was seen doing it.

The honor court met and he was gone the next day. I was deeply shaken. What a waste! How could something so trivial be allowed to so completely change the life of such a good guy, on his way to doing good things for people?

But I also knew something of the changes that God can make in what we think are his plans for our lives.
• I was pre-med...until I met chemistry...and chemistry won that battle!

• So I switched to a pre-ministerial curriculum... until I met Greek... that was worse than chemistry! I don't even know how the Greeks can learn Greek!

• So what did that leave... but... politics!

You may laugh, but those were the heady days of the Kennedy and early Johnson years when we all thought that government could actually do good things for people. That political and government service could actually be honorable. It seems funny now, looking back on it!

So what's the point here?
• We, like all those other people who wanted to follow Jesus and serve God in various ways, so often find that God has other plans for us.
• We pattern ourselves after people we see as good and successful -- parents, friends, movie stars, historical heroes -- and then find out that wasn't God's way for us after all.

And not just us as individuals. The church, too, thinks it is going in one direction and suddenly finds it is being led (or sometimes shoved!) in another.
• That has certainly happened repeatedly down through the ages. You can't even count the number of times the church has met its moments on its road to Damascus.
• Maybe the new minister here won't be a Randy clone after all! What then?

Hah! You thought I would have an answer! Well, guess what, being asked by Ethel to stand up here and utter a few weighty words doesn't necessarily convey wisdom! You know, you feel like you should offer some useful new insights, and then you discover that you are only repeating all the things that we all already knew.

In fact, none of us can say for another what the right way for them is in God's plan. Because the answer for each of us is different.

One thing is for sure, this is not a one-size-fits-all religion.

As the reading from Luke shows, each of us has his or her own path (dare I say even our own beliefs) and God will probably have some surprises for us along the way.

But I think one byword must be persistence in seeking...
• Sometimes, perhaps often, even continuing after we think we have found it.
• Life-long learning...and life-long seeking...
• But always keeping in mind that line, I think it was from Sound of Music, "When God slams a door, he opens a window somewhere."
• And if its raining when you go out that window, you can close it behind you because the next person will have a different window and maybe you will help them get some sunshine!

Think about. Change is inevitable. Think about it and hope that you might be surprised!