There is a certain, deeply felt joy in returning to Heavenly Rest and to get the chance to preach in the church that sponsored me for ordination; I am so grateful for this sacred space and the congregation of people that fill it each week to say their prayers and receive God’s Holy Communion. You all taught me so much about what it means to follow Jesus, and as a guest preacher, I am privileged to already know and love you and to be known and to be loved by you; I have seen how this congregation answers God’s call to follow Christ and to help bring about the kingdom of God.
In our gospel passage today, we see a shift in Luke’s narrative; we hear the shift from foretelling of Jesus’ death to the long journey to Jerusalem, where this death will ultimately take place. After the messengers Jesus sent ahead relayed back that the Samaritan village wouldn’t host them because Jesus had set his face to go to Jerusalem, Jesus had to rebuke James and John who immediately wanted to take a vengeful response. Then they headed to another village, and on their way, Jesus has three exchanges with three different folks about what it means to follow him.
The first says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go,” to which Jesus replies, “Yeah, but, you know I don’t have a home, right? Not like the foxes and birds.” To the second, Jesus says, “Follow me,” to which he responds, “Yes, Lord, but first I must care for my father who died.” And Jesus responds in a confusing and iconic way, “let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” The third person comes to Jesus, expresses an intent to follow him to Jerusalem, but first she needs to take care of some things at home. Jesus isn’t it keen on this delay in discipleship, either.
And although this passage isn’t unfamiliar to me, as I was praying through it this week, I found myself stuck. To be a disciple of Jesus takes work and effort, of course, but what we see these would-be followers ask of Jesus aren’t outrageous requests. They ask to bury their family and to arrange things back home so that when they return all will be in order, so why does Jesus respond in the way he does? After all, Jesus deeply loves and cares for the people in his life. Jesus did not say, “let the dead bury their own,” to Mary and Martha as they grieved their brother Lazarus, no, Jesus wept. Jesus isn’t cold hearted and devoid of feeling for grief and unaware of how life works. But I think what we see here is that Jesus is conveying that to follow him, especially to follow him to Jerusalem, where the cross waits in looming, will not be easy and there will always be other things pulling us from the work of discipleship; there will always be things keeping us from answering God’s call to follow Christ and to help bring about the kingdom of God.
Following Christ may be a long, slow journey, but, as we see here in our gospel lesson it requires urgent discipleship; Discipleship demands that we get to work, and this work will most certainly cost something of us. We’re in the transition into Ordinary Time in the liturgical year, we begin the long slow slog through the green season. And outside of weddings, baptisms, and funerals, it could appear nothing exceptional will take place—except this is when everything exceptional happens. This is the season in which we begin to do the small work that cultivates great fruits. It’s during this ordinary season that we figure out what it means to follow Christ in the boring times, as well as the sensational ones as well; it’s during this time that we choose to follow Christ and we work to help bring about the kingdom of God.
And this, my sisters and brothers, is definitely a choice; every morning that we wake and put our feet on the floor, we have to make the choice to follow Christ that day. Every day we go out we interact with the people we love and the people we don’t yet know, we choose to follow Christ. And occasionally, our following Christ may seem easy, but it is when our faith calls us to go and proclaim the kingdom of God in light of all the ways in which this world fails to live up to God’s desire for God’s people that we are faced with the more difficult task of what this might mean.
Because the kingdom of God does not to have people seeking asylum drown while holding their toddler so they don’t float away or crying out for their children in detention centers, the kingdom of God does not have the racial and economic injustice traps folks in a revolving door of mass incarceration, and the kingdom of God does not allow our unhoused neighbors to be labeled as merely homeless and to never truly be seen because it is inconvenient and makes us feel uncomfortable. No, the kingdom of God is a place of refuge and rest; the kingdom of God-the kingdom of God we pray for every time we pray the Lord’s prayer, is a place where there is freedom and connection, where there is, to quote Saint Paul, no longer slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Greek. The kingdom of God is the place where each of us are seen and known and loved deeply.
So when we hear Jesus’ words to let the dead bury their own, it isn’t to dismiss the reality and weight of grief, but to relay the urgency with which the disciples of Christ must follow God’s calling to help bring about the kingdom of God in this world. It won’t be easy, this is for sure, but Jesus warns those who want to follow him that the way ahead, the way of the cross, is a long journey that is costly, but worth it. Because all of this, all of the beauty of this sacred space or the love that we share matters very little if we don’t get to work.
So, as you go out today and you continue to make the choice to follow Christ, pray; pray for guidance and direction, pray for strength and courage to accompany you on the way. And as you pray, remember that prayer without action falls short. And if you can’t pray, sit quietly with God, which is its own form of prayer; if you are in a dry season of your faith, here me when I say that is okay. It is okay to struggle with prayer, but my sisters and brothers, never stop trying. Because it’s not that prayer changes the events that happen, but that prayer changes us to make the changes to help bring about the kingdom of God, to help bring God’s peace.
And as you leave these four walls and go out into the world to continue to follow Christ, get to work. Share the good news and proclaim the kingdom of God, and remember that it is truly good news for all. It is about freedom and connection; the good news of God in Christ is about the genuine hope of the resurrection in light of a world that crucified our Lord. The good news of God in Christ is that even in light of a cruel death, there is hope to be proclaimed.
To follow Christ, the invitation of today’s gospel lesson, is surely not without cost, but as we respond to God’s call to urgent discipleship, we get the privilege of helping to bring about the kingdom of God; we get the privilege of showing God’s love to those who so deeply need to see and feel it. So, should we let the dead bury their own? Yes, but only because we take up the task to follow the Christ who told us to love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor (our immigrant, our incarcerated, our homeless) neighbor as ourself. So, go–go and answer God’s call to proclaim the good news of God in Christ and the unrelenting hope of the resurrection.
A sermon delivered to the people of the Church of the Heavenly Rest in Abilene, TX on June 30, 2019 for Proper 8C on Luke 9:51-62.