Sermon for HIGH MASS – Trinity 5 Sunday 26 June 2016
Sermon preached by Fr Julian Browning
Luke 9.62 No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
Tough talk from Jesus. But I often look back, my faith is fragile, unpredictable in its consequences, touch and go. There are setbacks as well as triumphs. This doesn’t really matter. God reaches us as easily through our failures as through our successes. However, what Jesus says is discouraging for any disciple, it’s so hard line, isn’t it? No one who looks back…..is fit for the Kingdom of God.
Let’s start somewhere else. We are fit for the Kingdom of God, we are made for the Kingdom, you have yearned all your life for the Kingdom of God wherever or whatever it might be, and that’s what keeps us coming here. Jesus shows the way to that Kingdom, and these three proverbs can help show us a spiritual path that anyone can take. We do not take his stories literally; if we do, we rob them of their power to inspire us. We work at them, puzzle them out. Let’s look briefly at Jesus’s three proverbs.
What He says is beautiful, isn’t it, just the image alone, in this well known proverb: Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Jesus does not sleep. In the Kingdom of God, which is also the kingdom of this world with real foxes and birds of the air, Christians know Jesus’s wakefulness, his alertness, in all we do we are watchful, with Him. When we do sleep, we believe He watches over us, our life is in His hands. In this world, God is close to us.
Secondly there’s the poor fellow who says to Jesus, Please let me bury my father …. and the reply is, let the dead bury the dead. How mean can you get? The one thing a Jew had to do was to see to his parents’ burial. But the call of the Kingdom is absolute. We need these shock tactics, or we retreat back into the world of compromise and me first. Nothing else matters, nothing comes close to our life with God. And there’s something else coming down to us from this ancient wisdom. Jesus offers life; Christianity is about living a life with God. No other life is worth living, so Jesus brings us a proverb which warns about spiritual death in life, like a physical death. Let the dead bury the dead.
This is a warning for the church, any church. This church is about life and death, and finding the true path of life, eternal life. But there is often a wide gap between the discipleship we proclaim so loudly here, and what we know to be true about ourselves. That is death in life, a life that is split in two. Maybe we come here to close that gap. For our learning, our homework, our knowledge of Christianity, and our wonderful externals of worship are not faith, nor is our public piety in any way self-sacrifice. Anyone can see that. We come here to decide what really matters for us, what is the path of life.
Thirdly there’s the disciple who wants to say goodbye to the folks at home. Sounds reasonable enough. That meant more back then than now, because in Biblical days home and family was all there was. Jesus says, no one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. We are to start where we are, not where we might have been. This is about the excuses we make all the time, really good excuses, out of habit, to avoid taking the next step on the spiritual path. So the field is left unploughed, and the harvest never comes.
There is always a next step. There is a next step for you. You will find it. We don’t have to be clever about this. We just lay aside our usual reactions, our prejudices, our excuses, and set out each day for the Kingdom of God. God will help us to write our life stories. We become open to the truth about ourselves, rather than a pretence of any kind. Jesus’s words in today’s Gospel need not make us feel guilty about our failure as disciples. His words are the keys to the Kingdom of God, they take us there, they draw us into a world where life is not limited by what we know, by our opinions, but is eternal. The Church is, or should be, where we go when we want to be free and when we want to set others free. When Jesus said ‘Let the dead bury the dead’, he did not stop there. He went on to say, “as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Our faith might be fragile and unpredictable and touch and go, but it is infinitely precious, and the way we live our faith is the way we proclaim the Kingdom. This is living a Christian life, where the inside and outside of a life are in harmony, and we live with the consequences of the life we have chosen. It takes courage to live well, it really does. That sounds a big next step, but it’s on the right path, or as today’s Psalm says:
Thou shalt shew me the path of life.