In these Sundays after Trinity, having realised that the challenge we face as churches is to live and love as a community of love, emulating God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we then need to ask ourselves - what does that sort of community look like? I believe that this morning’s Gospel give us another very clear picture.
This is a Gospel not to be read from a lectern, heard standing in a pew or preached about from a pulpit. We meet Jesus on the move. As he travels from place to place we clearly and succinctly what it means to be a disciple - that that commitment will always involve some shake up of our conventional, comfortable and static ways of living.
This morning’s Gospel opens the traveling ministry of Jesus, and Luke presents for us here several glimpses of a very mobile Jesus, but not just wandering from place to place, but with a specific, well-communicated destination in mind.
Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem. The emphasis on direction is also an expression of Jesus’ resolve to head there. Every disciple, even for us today, is called to follow Jesus on this same journey of discipleship, listening and learning from him on the way. It is no accident that Jesus’ destination is mentioned - the place where Jesus would finally suffer and die - the very mention of Jerusalem should remind us that there is a close link between following Jesus and rejection. Jesus appears to be warning that the road of loyalty to God will involve suffering, shame, and multiple bumps of rejection.
Are we aware that we follow a rejected leader? Whichever way we read the statistics, there are somewhere around 60 million people who reject us as a Church and our leader each week. It was no different for Jesus himself, and his detour to the Samaritan village I believe was not an attempt to win over some of Judaism’s closest siblings, but to remind disciples in every age that following him will be a strenuous exercise. With our pursuit of comfortable middle class values, if we remove the rosy tinted, new Labour, sunset at the end of the movie spin that the Resurrection can place on this sort of Gospel, are we need to ask ourselves whether we really are prepared to be so thoroughly associated with one that continues to fly in the face of what Christianity is really about - being nice - and who continues to really challenge what we might consider to be decent or polite?
Following Jesus seems incredibly attractive, when we understand what it is he offers the world, but that’s especially the case when we do it on our terms. ‘I’d like a relationship with God the creator and eternal life, but...’ We all still have that ‘but’, but not even burying the dead, saying farewell to family, are not good excuses to taking up the offer to follow when it is presented. Jesus says forget social etiquette, forget comfortable living - are you coming with me or not?
This Gospel really challenges our 21st century world and our own lifestyles. We are largely stable citizens, hopelessly fixed in a safe environment of a comfortable home and a regular income. We are in no way adequately prepared for the discipleship, the mission that Jesus calls us to and every moment of every day we are challenged to contradict all that Christ calls us to as his disciples. All of us, if we are honest find comfort and security from our homes, cars, jobs, foreign holidays, our friendships or family. In following our rejected leader are we prepared to consider rejecting those things that are not necessary for our journey with him? When following Jesus becomes a priority for us, all other things fall by the wayside, and I still haven’t got it right, I cannot speak for you...
So what sort of a community is the Church called to be? We are to be mobile, ready to move to be where Jesus calls us to be with him. The Church Universal has answered that call as follows her Lord in some of the most difficult and challenging places in our world - she has turned away from the world’s values and norms and is alive in places where she will be persecuted because of her Lord, is thriving in the face of poverty, and prophetically challenges the cultures that claim that they do not need the message she bears.
But what of us locally - are we mobile enough to be disciples everywhere in our community? Can we reject the security of our liturgy, our buildings in favour of following Christ into new patterns of worship, or the pubs or Tescos? Are we able to reject our securities and go and speak of Christ out there, where he is? Are we prepared to go with Christ to the places where we will also be rejected, amongst those who do not want to hear what we have to offer? Or are we only really concerned with what our neighbours, or the family or our friends will think of us?
Whether recruited to follow Jesus or simply following him out of one’s own accord, disciples are those who bring their undivided attention to their own journey with Jesus. They are unencumbered people, concerned only with what lies ahead and not behind. They are people on a mission, God’s mission. Like the plough operator concentrating on guiding the plough blade ever so straight, the faithful follower of Jesus is the one whose eyes are fixed exclusively on the Kingdom of God, the one willing to be rattled free from secure surroundings, the one open to rising from the suddenly strangely comfortable pew, and rejoin a journey that we agreed to take part in here