In our gospel reading, Jesus rolls into town. He says and does amazing things. Then Jesus says to the townspeople, “Follow me.”
Now, we know what they should do. They should follow him. They should embark on the grand adventure of Christian discipleship.
But in fact most people refused Jesus’ invitation and probably never seriously considered it. Instead, they just went on with their lives. I am not inclined to judge them. My guess is, we all know the power of inertia. Certainly I do. I am very attached to my routine. But following Jesus on his grand adventure requires us to be open to the unpredictable movement of the Spirit, which blows where it will.
At least one person who did consider Jesus’ call wanted more information. I get that, too. I would definitely want to know more about what life with Jesus would be like before committing myself. Taking a leap into the unknown is scary. But following Jesus on his grand adventure requires us to take risks.
Jesus gives the man a little more information. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” That must have been a little discouraging! But Jesus requires us to take up the cross. Following Jesus on his grand adventure means accepting the possibility of real suffering and deprivation.
Doing something new, even though it is scary, even though it might cost us, is part of the grand adventure of following Jesus, and that seems like challenge enough.
But the last two people in our gospel story illustrate yet another challenge in the adventure of Christian discipleship.
One person wants to bury his father, and then follow Jesus. The other wants to say goodbye to his family before he follows Jesus. What these two potential followers want to do is obviously good and right. I am biased since I hear this passage as the father of two sons who are about at the stage where they will leave home. For the record, I expect them to say goodbye before they go! And, when the time comes, I want them to bury me!!
What these potential disciples want to do is good. And, of course, following Jesus is good. The drama of this episode comes from Jesus making these people choose between two good things, between two competing moral imperatives.
Now, people sometimes consciously choose evil over good. In our Galatians reading, Paul calls that doing the works of the flesh, and he lists a few: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.”
So, for example, we know that we should not gossip, which almost always leads to anger, quarrels, dissensions, and factions. But when we have a particularly juicy tidbit, it is tempting to share it. We know that gossip is sin. We know that Jesus commands us not to gossip. When we are tempted to gossip, we have to choose between good and evil.
The choice in our gospel reading is much trickier. The choice in our gospel reading is not between good and evil. It is between two goods.
Ironically, the obligation to choose between competing goods is a product of Christian freedom, which is part of what makes life with Jesus such a grand adventure in the first place. Paul says, “For freedom, Christ has set us free.” That freedom is a great gift, but not an easy one.
Life would be simpler if we had a law to tell us what to do in every situation. We might not always do it. But at least we would always know what we should do. As it is, we often do not know. Should we bury our father even if it means we fail to follow Jesus? Or should we follow Jesus and leave our father unburied?
We all experience dilemmas like that. Here is a trivial example from my life. On Thursday afternoon I had a little time. Should I spend it with Carrie, which would be fun? Should I spend it writing this sermon, which I had to do at some point? Or should I take a nap, since I was tired? I had to choose between competing goods. In this case, my choice was not hard. I napped.
Our government faces its own version of the same dilemma. Should we spend a little more money doing the good things that government does—things like updating our infrastructure or defending our interests abroad or whatever? Or should we reduce the deficit a little bit? Or should we reduce taxes a little bit? All of those would be good. But since we cannot do them all, we have to choose between competing goods.
(It is helpful to remember that. Our politics can be ugly. But the fact is, virtually nobody in our government is intentionally choosing evil over good. Our differences come from prioritizing different goods. If we could remember that, our political culture might be less toxic.)
The same is true closer to home. We call it stewardship. Here at Saint David’s, the vestry and I constantly have to decide on budget priorities. How much should we spend on the picnic, or on the stained glass windows, or on the children’s program, or on outreach to people in need, or on whatever else we might want to do? We all have to decide how we will use the gifts of our time and our talents. And, virtually always, that means choosing between different good options. That is the gift and the burden of Christian freedom. That is part of the adventure of Christian discipleship.
Thankfully, Paul gives us a little guidance on how to make those choices.
“The whole law,” Paul tells us, “is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” Our calling is to act in love, no matter what choices we make.
I think for example about the decisions Carrie and I have to make in parenting. I wish I always knew the answer. I wish Carrie and I always agreed. Unfortunately, as our boys will happily tell you, I do not always get it right! But in moments of doubt, I take comfort in what Paul says. Love fulfills the law. If we choose in love, even our mistakes will come out alright in the end.
Paul gives us a second tip as well. “Live by the Spirit.” Then Paul lists some of the fruits of living by the Spirit. First is “love.” Then “joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
If we make our choices in love, if we act under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, then we will be patient and kind, generous and gentle. Then we will know joy and peace.
And, over time, with God’s help, we can get better at choosing well, even when the choice is difficult. We can get better at acting in love. We can get better at living by the Spirit. We can know more joy and peace.
That is the pay-off of the Christian adventure. As we face the challenges of following Christ, as we practice choosing based on love and the Holy Spirit, as we live and love more like Christ would have us do, we experience the peace and the joy that only Christ provides. That is the great Christian adventure, and it is worth any challenge.
In Christ’s name, amen.