Foxes and Birds

October 28       Foxes and Birds         Luke 9:57-62
This passage is a hard one to swallow, isn’t it?  Let’s set the stage a little bit.
Just before the passage we’re looking at this morning, there’s this kind of cryptic story about Jesus ‘resolutely’ setting out for Jerusalem, as the time came near for him to be taken up to heaven.
This is Luke’s way of foreshadowing that there’s going to be a showdown in Jerusalem, and the readers better buckle up for the rest of the ride.  🙂
So Jesus sets off, and he sends messengers ahead of him to kind of pave the way through Samaria.  You know how celebrities, or sometimes politicians, will send people ahead of them to get things ready…that’s what Jesus is doing.  They’re supposed to go find a place to stay and make arrangements for food and that kind of thing.
So these messengers go into a Samaritan village to get things ready, but the people there were not welcoming.
And we’re not left guessing as to “why”.
It says, they did not welcome them, because they were heading for Jerusalem.
We might think that sounds kind of strange.
What’s it matter that they were going to Jerusalem?  That’s where the climax of the story is going to come, right?  What is it about Jerusalem that’s drawing Jesus, and what is it about Jerusalem that makes these people close their doors against him?
Well, Jerusalem was the capital of Judah, in the south.
And Samaria was the capital of…Samaria…in the North.
Jerusalem was the capital of the Southern kingdom.
Samaria was  the capital of the Northern Kingdom.
Remember last week how I talked about Solomon being the best king that kingship can produce, and how at the end of his reign, the kingdom was divided?
It was divided into the northern and the southern kingdoms.
Whenever groups of people are divided from each other…there is resentment, and tension, and strife.  And if left to go unchecked, it can develop into generational resentment and tension and strife.
And as the years and the generations pass along, you start to forget that you were all originally part of the same family.
That kind of tension was at work between Samaria in the North, and Judah in the South.
You can see it in the lack of hospitality, and you can see it in the way James and John want to call down fire from heaven to destroy the village.
Jesus rebukes them for it.
The point I’m trying to make is, they were traveling through Samaria…a place they didn’t want to be, and a place that didn’t want them to be there.
So we’re left with the impression that today’s passage also takes place somewhere in Samaria.
And the reason that’s important to start with is because when you follow Jesus, you’re going to be uncomfortable.  He’s going to take you through places you’d rather not go, with people you don’t like.
And along the way, he’s going to keep attracting, calling, and repelling would-be disciples.
Think about that the next time you’re tempted to judge someone who isn’t like you, or the next time you gather with your like-minded small group, or your like-minded sunday school class.
Think about that the next time you’re tempted to stay home from church because “so and so” might be there, or you don’t like the crackpot who’s preaching!
It’s easy not to listen to someone because we don’t agree with them.  It’s easy to call down fire from heaven, if not literally, at least in our soul as we silently sit as judge, jury, and executioner over the cases that come before us.
Do we have the commitment we need, to confront each other in love, rather than calling down our passive-aggressive fire from heaven?
That’s part one of this story.  Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem, and he’s going through Samaria on his way.
And as they were walking along, a man came up to Jesus, and said “I will follow you wherever you go.”
And this kind of statement is hard for me to take real seriously anymore.
We sing this kind of thing all the time…Step by Step you lead me, and I will follow you all of my days.  I will give you all my worship, I will give you all my praise, you alone I long to worship, you alone are worthy of my praise.
They’re good songs, don’t get me wrong.
But do we really mean that when we sing it?
“I will follow you wherever you go” says the Samaritan.
“I will follow you wherever you go” says the Mennonite.
And I like how Jesus responds.
When you follow Jesus, you get very few straight answers.  Usually, we’re looking for a “Yes” or a “No”.  But Jesus never makes it that simple.
Instead, he says “Foxes have holes, and Birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
Jesus wasn’t very pastoral.
It’s almost like he didn’t care about gaining followers.
If we follow Jesus’ example here in this passage, I’m guessing church would be a lot smaller.
Not bigger.
People would be turned away.
Not gathered in.
And maybe that would be alright.
Foxes have holes.
Birds have nests.
But the savior of the world was a homeless man.
Did you ever wonder why Jesus chose these particular words?
At this time, Judah and Samaria…both the northern and the southern kingdoms of Israel…both had been ‘conquered’ by Rome.
Rome was the superpower of the day, and back before Jesus came on the scene, they had started occupying the whole region.
So even though there was bad blood between Samaria and Judah, they had a shared experience in their distrust of Rome, as well as the puppet kings that Rome set up to keep tabs on the region.
The puppet kings were like foxes…Luke 13 says as much, where Jesus calls Herod a fox, because he would manipulate information to make himself look good.  He did whatever he could to survive.  He was someone who couldn’t be trusted, except to look out for his own self-interest..
Foxes couldn’t be trusted…but at least they had a home.  And the people who kept them in power…they also had homes.   Play nice with the foxes, and you’re guaranteed at least some security.
And Rome itself…The superpower of their day…they had a symbol that they would put on their standards, or their shields, or maybe some banners and things like that.
You know how our national symbol is the bald eagle?
Rome’s symbol was…the eagle.
(I’m not making this up!)
Foxes and birds have homes.
Palaces actually.
But the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
If you want to follow Jesus, like this first guy did, Jesus is going to expect more from you than just kissing your family goodbye.
He’s saying “if you want to follow me, say goodbye to the security that you might otherwise find in that fox Herod, say goodbye to the safety offered by that Roman Eagle, or that American Dream.”
*Because if and when you join this company, you play by different rules.*
You’re going to lose your sense of “home”, because the foxes and the birds have gotten under your skin, and in your blood.
You’re going to lose everything if and when you choose to go where I’m going.
And if you truly understand the full weight of that commitment, the cost of leaving behind the entire system you’ve come to believe in and call “home”, then you’ll be far less apt to say something as audacious as “I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus then calls to another man, saying “follow me.”
And the man replies “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
And Jesus says to this guy, rather harshly, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
I remember hearing this passage as a kid, and I always imagined there was a funeral happening like right then.  I imagined the casket like 50 yards away, just in the background of the scene.
I understood this guy’s request as wanting just to go ‘finish up’ what had already been started, that his father had died and needed to be buried.
And when you read this like that, Jesus seems like he’s in an awful hurry, doesn’t he?
But I read something this week that suggested that just maybe his dad hadn’t died yet.
That just maybe the nature of his request had more to do with wanting to leave his town with his good reputation and his untarnished family name intact.
Because in that culture, your biological family was your security as you grew older.
And one of the most honorable, respectable things that a son could do was make sure his father died with dignity and respect, surrounded by loved ones, and given a proper burial.
It shed new light on this passage.
This is the guy who wanted to follow Jesus, but also wanted to be well thought of in his community.
This is the guy, who wants to leave his village on good terms, so that if the whole Jesus-thing doesn’t work out, he would have something to fall back on.
Jesus says “no”.  The life I’m inviting you into will not wait.  It’s so much bigger…life with Jesus is so much bigger…than your reputation and your family name.
It’s like two completely different things.
They’re so different, in fact, that It’s like one way is death, and one way is life.
One is concerned with foxes and birds and making sure everything is prim and proper and socially respectable…
The other involves crossing boundaries, making disreputable friends, and entering the kingdom of God.
Let the dead bury their own dead.  You, go and proclaim the Kingdom!
Anytime you hear the voice of God speaking to you, and your response is “I will…but first…” the chances are, it’s not going to happen.  (no matter what it is).
Act when your heart is stirred.
There’s a moment of decision for nearly everything.
Don’t let the moment get away.
Have you ever thought about writing a letter, a note of encouragement, or a sympathy card…or making a phone call to an old friend…you feel the stirring within you, you know you should do it, but then you think “I’ll do that…but first I’ll take care of…this…”.
I’ll do it tomorrow.
It’s generally not going to happen, is it?
When you’re called to act, Act now.
Do not put off until tomorrow what you can do today, and don’t worry about the consequences, or your reputation as you do it.
Still another guy comes up to Jesus and says “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family.”
Again, we have the “but first”.
And Jesus replies to him, saying “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
I don’t know that much about farming, but I know that even hoeing a straight line in my garden takes a focus on what’s in front, not what’s behind.
God isn’t interested in slip-shod work.
He’s not interested in leftovers, bad attitudes, or less than %100.
If we’re talking fields, he wants straight lines.
He wants his people looking forward, not back.
We are not a people of the past…and neither are we a people of the future….we are a people of the present tense.
Be here now.  Act now, while the stirring is fresh.  Work in the present with an eye on the future…and don’t let the past interfere with what you’re doing right now.
Work in the present, with your eye on the future.
There’s no denying the past, for it has made us into the people we are today.
But following Jesus is done in the moment.  Not in the past, not in the future, but right now.
Don’t let this moment pass away.
Would you pray with me?  …

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