Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

“No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

When I first felt the calling to be a Priest, back in Christchurch, I was in discussion with the Director of Ordinands. He advised me to talk to one of the priests in the diocese.

Fr Adrian invited me to his church that Sunday, and to have lunch with his family. 
As we ate lunch and discussed all sorts of things, he told of his call to the priesthood. 
Fr Adrian had been a potato farmer in Wales. 
One morning he was on his tractor, ploughing for planting.
He was in the middle of line, and he looked back to see if it was straight.
At that moment, this line from scripture came to him with great force:

“No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

At that moment he knew that he could no longer ignore the call that God was making on his life.
For him, he knew he had to give his life as completely as he could, and for him that meant becoming a Priest.

The call God has on all or lives is much the same. 
For Fr Adrian it meant becoming a Priest, but for others it will be some other role.  
But the call is the same. 
It is how we respond to the call that matters, not what the particular call is.

“No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

A man who says to Jesus

“I will follow you wherever you go.” 

Jesus answers
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;
but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 

A life following Jesus means a life of wandering, with no guarantee of a house or place to sleep.  Following Jesus does not mean material security or comfort.
It sometimes means we won’t know where we are, what we are supposed to do,
or even where we are going. 
Sometimes we won’t know who we are.
It means letting go of the things that keep us safe, letting go of the things that can sometimes hinder our listening to God’s call.

Jesus asks another to follow him.

The man replies:
“Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 

Another says,
“I will follow you, Lord;
but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 

Both these two responses to following Jesus seem reasonable enough.
The desire to stay and bury ones relative in particular seems very reasonable.

But here the call of discipleship is shown in its strongest terms.
This is a common way of expressing things in Jewish culture, things are taken to extremes.
In choices, both options are taken to their polar opposites. 
If you love something, you hate the other. It is a literary device used to show difference.
In this case, the choice to proclaim the Kingdom of God is the extreme on the good end. And because it is such an important and wonderful thing, anything else in comparison becomes an extreme on the not so good extreme.

In the first example, following Jesus takes precedence over even fulfilling the duty of a son to bury his own father.  

Let the dead bury their own dead is a strong statement in reply to such a request.
It expresses the importance of following Jesus.
It is more important than anything else.
To proclaim the Kingdom of God takes precedence over everything else in our lives.
Sacrifice  security, duty, affection.
It is a call so urgent that all other loyalties give way to it.

In the next example, the man wishes to say goodbye to his friends.
Again, quite reasonable.
However, if we think more, it also means the man is hanging on to his past.
He is in between.  He is neither here nor there.  
He is as it states in the letter to Laodecia in the Book of Revelation, “lukewarm.”
He is neither  following or staying.  
He is nowhere.

What both these examples tell us is that the most difficult choices are not between good and evil. Those kind of choices are pretty easy to make.
The more difficult choices are between good and the best.
In those choices, we are asked to think about what is really the most important thing.
What is the best choice, rather than a good choice.
In terms of our faith life and our church life, Jesus is always the best choice.
It sounds a bit obvious, but it is very easy for us to focus on secondary things rather than the centre that is Christ. 

If Christ is at the centre of everything we do, we have chosen the best option.

 “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

All of you here today know a bit about this.
As a parish you have been through many issues that could have so easily led you to take your hand off the plough.
There must have been times when it seemed as if there was nothing else to do, but look back rather than keep on going.
I commend you for staying firm, ploughing away, keeping the proclamation of the Kingdom of God alive in this parish.
You have had choices to make, and you always chosen the best option, you chose to remain disciples, when it at times it would have been easier to give up and choose a good option rather than the best.

And here we are, a whole field ahead of us. Together, we can plough the field, sowing seeds, and harvesting the work that has been done. We don’t need to look back, we can only look forward, or hearts and minds focused on the Kingdom of God, with Christ at the centre of everything we do.

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