13 Sunday C - Call and Radicality - Homilies

Lk 9:51-62
Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration 

Coming together week after week we can forget that we have each made a decision to follow Jesus and to make the growth of his kingdom our goal in life. But we get distracted, we lose focus, we get tired, and we even get lost from time to time. Now as we gather around the Lord at his table we ask the Lord to refocus us on what is truly important and to give us the food to sustain us on our pilgrimage of life.
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Gospel Notes

This gospel is made up of several elements. The first element is the story of the Samaritan villagers who show hostility to this group of Galileans passing through their territory on the way to worship in Jerusalem. The very fact of passing through that area was tantamount to saying that the only place for ‘[true] Jews’ (because the Samaritans also claimed the name ‘Jew’) to worship is in the temple in Jerusalem, and implicitly to assert that their cult in their temple was a false one. Jesus, by rebuking the disciples who want to call in an air strike, shows himself to be living by his own command to love one’s enemies.
The second element is the sayings on the nature and cost of discipleship. Here Lk 9:59-59 is paralleled in Mt 8:19-22, but the Lukan text is made much sharper by the addition of verses 60-62. What we have is three ‘words of wisdom’ — rules of thumb — for disciples. And, following a convention with such ‘words’ (our word ‘proverb’ does not really convey the idea), they are models of hyperbole: a point so exaggerated as to be bizarre, but precisely because of this they are memorable and lodge themselves in the imagination of the hearers. We might express it with a tag like: ‘Discipleship is demanding.’

However, many people have become so accustomed to hearing utterances of Jesus as if they were first uttered yesterday, that becoming attuned to the teaching methods of his distant world is almost impossible for them, and in recent centuries this has often led to literalist interpretations (e.g. in the rules of enclosed nuns on attending family celebrations) that miss the point that Jesus was making: the demands of discipleship are there day in and day out — not just in these extreme situations.
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Michel de Verteuil
General Textual Comments 

Today’s gospel reading is divided into sections, and the general theme of commitment is running thorough them all. In verses 51 to 56, Jesus is presented as a model of commitment; in 57 to 62, he gives three teachings which concretize in dramatic form the implications of a commitment.
In your meditation, feel free to draw on any experience of commitment which is deep and leads to spiritual growth.

In verses 51 to 56, St Luke shows us Jesus reaching a new level of clarity in his life. The result as shown in this incident is a combination of resoluteness and compassion; your meditation will reveal to you how true to life this is. The attitude of the two disciples is meant to contrast with that of Jesus; ask yourself, what made the difference between them?

In verses 57 and 58, the man on the road is asking Jesus to point out a definite place where he can lead him.

Jesus’ response to the two people is verses 59 to 62 will seem harsh at first reading. Let your meditation remind you of great people who have touched your life and have made those kinds of demands on people; in that way you will understand what these responses tell us about the teaching of Jesus.

You might like to remain simply with the metaphor in verse 62 of laying one’s hand on the plough and not turning back.

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Homily Notes 

1. This gospel (or, at least, the last four verses of today’s gospel) not only sounds harsh — leave the dead to bury the dead — but to go against both a basic instinct to sympathise and help those who mourn, and against what Christians have preached as a ‘corporal work of mercy’: to bury the dead. But the place to start is not with this saying of Jesus but with some basic characteristics of human behaviour to which this is a saving antidote and a nugget of holy wisdom.

2. The first instinct is the ‘get it for me now’ instinct: we want results instantly and without waiting. We become then fixated on the immediate, today, quick wins, and visible results. This is not a new characteristic that has been produced by the speed of modern living for it is at the heart of many philosophies that we can be so intoxicated by what see directly before us or feel or taste, that we loose sight of the more important realities. 

Gregory the Great in his Pastoral Rule noted this phenomenon when he said that one type of fool was the person who going on a long journey down a road was so distracted by the dogs barking at him from each gate that he forgot the destination and only noticed the various dogs. It is this instinct that the advertising industry taps into with glossy images and promises of instant satisfaction: you don’t have to wait; it will happen today, heaven is an instant (and a little cash) away.

The other instinct seems the opposite of the first: procrastinate, wait till we have a bit more time or energy, put things on the long finger. This only seems the opposite instinct; in fact, it really is the same problem: important big things can wait, while I concentrate on little and palpably gratifying quick wins. Fixing the gutters of the house is neither cheap nor that satisfying for no one will tell you how much they like the repair, it is hassle and expensive and disruptive: all that stuff needs to be moved, the tradesmen found, the cash saved up, and then you have to be around to answer questions and make decisions and … Well, they have lasted this long, they can last a bit longer, or at least till after the holidays or the big birthday or the winter or till next year! This is characteristic of us humans as much as thinking that instant coffee is really coffee simply because it is quicker and easier to make! How often do we hear that a disaster has crept up on people as they left it too late to do something. There is a deep-rooted laziness in us that finds tackling the bigger, less obvious issues so difficult as to overwhelm us. So we avoid them and concentrate on immediate things of the senses as a substitute for real action.

3. This laziness has been given various names down the centuries in various religions. For western Christianity the most famous name was given to it by Augustine, ‘concupiscence,’ and he saw it as a direct result of the sin of Adam and Eve that had established itself in our genes, as it were. But while it is probably best to steer clear of the whole edifice of the theology of Original Sin in relation to this, and certainly in a little Sunday homily, there is still the fact — known to both governments and advertisers — that we have this laziness within our make-up, irrespective of what name we give it or how we explain its origins.

4. This laziness reaches its greatest depth when it comes to the things of the spirit: the decision to take discipleship seriously, to begin building the kingdom of God, to live as witnesses to the presence of God. This is made all the more difficult as to desire the kingdom of God necessitates that we start building the society of God with those we live with, work with, and interact with. But the change and action needed seems too big, so let’s put it off till a little later, next year perhaps, or when life has settled down a bit. That moment, by the way, when life settles down a bit (and when we can make a more considered decision) is identical with the moment when the earth finally settles in our grave.

5. Today’s sayings by Jesus: ‘Leave the dead to bury the dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God’ and ‘No one, having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God’ alert us to this fact of our nature. The kingdom must begin now, and it is difficult, and it is a shock to the system. And, when we look around we can see just how many of us stand and pray ‘thy kingdom come’ yet at the same time putting our part in that coming off until ‘sometime in the future’.

6. However, once we listen to the proddings of the Spirit in our hearts, that we should begin this work of building the kingdom, then the Spirit helps and gives us strength to set out on the new road of discipleship. It is this help we receive to take our part in the reconciliation of the world to the Father through Jesus that we often refer to as ‘grace’. God invites us to follow and then helps us respond to the invitation: but it is easier to say this than to make this an urgency in our lives. The plough is before us, the challenge is to take hold of it and use it to carve out a new furrow that plays its part in the renewal of the creation.
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John Littleton
Gospel Reflection 

In Luke’s Gospel we read about a man who, meeting Jesus on the road, said to him: ‘I will follow you wherever you go’ (Luke 9:57). What a vote of confidence in Jesus. What a commitment the man was making. It was nothing less than total. Then Jesus explained that such a commitment could not be given lightly. Commitment to following him would necessitate single-mindedness and dedication. It would require much more than merely following him. It would demand a personal conviction and faithfulness to his teaching. And last but not least, it would be life-long.

Did we ever make a total and life-long commitment to Jesus? In effect, did we say to him: ‘I will follow you wherever you go?’ The short answer, whether we realise it or not, is ‘Yes’. The hope, of course, is that are acutely aware of it every day.

Most of us will not have said to Jesus explicitly: ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Nonetheless, we gave that commitment on several occasions. One such time was the commitment made on behalf of each one of us by our parents and god-parents when we were baptised. Similarly, we ourselves renewed that commitment when we celebrated the sacrament of confirmation. Those of us who are married committed ourselves completely to the person and teaching of Jesus again when we committed ourselves to our spouses ‘for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, all the days of our lives’.

The commitment we make at baptism, confirmation and marriage — which, if we are faithful, is total and life-long — parallels the irrevocable commitment that God has made to us, especially in sending his Son into the world. Jesus’ commitment to us was so complete that he suffered and died on the cross to save us from the consequences of our sins. Regrettably, we break our commitment to Jesus every time we sin.

We renew that commitment every day as we speak and behave in accordance with the teaching of Christ and his Church. We also do so whenever we receive Christ’s forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation.

In his teaching, Jesus was very clear about the kind of commitment he expects. He said: ‘Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:62). Strong words indeed.

So the commitments that we initially embrace enthusiastically and with determination need to be continued as we have begun them. This applies particularly to our Christian faith.

At the heart of Christ’s teaching is the invitation to make a commitment to him. ‘Follow me’ (Luke 5:27):
Jesus says this to us every day of our lives. Do we follow Christ at all times, even when colleagues and friends confront us with ideas and lifestyles that contradict his teaching? Furthermore, do we follow Christ in our daily relationships by challenging the cultural changes that have become accepted in our society despite the fact that they flout his great commandments to love God and to love our neighbour? Our baptismal commitment requires us to renounce the Devil and his temptations.

Jesus asks us to make a total commitment to him. This may seem strange in an age when many people no longer have any sense of what it means to make a permanent commitment. Nevertheless, true Christian discipleship is based on a total and permanent commitment. A good principle for Christian living is to continue the commitment to Jesus that we made in baptism, resolving to follow him wherever he goes.
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Homily from Father James Gilhooley

Pope John XXIII told us, "You may be the only Bible that someone may ever read."

Dag Hammarskjold, the late Secretary General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize laureate,  wrote but one book.  And even then it was not published until after his death in an airplane crash in Africa in 1961. But what a volume it is! It will be read and prayed over up to a day after the Parousia. It is titled Markings. In it, Secretary Hammarskjold wrote, "The longest journey is the journey inwards of him who has chosen his destiny."

 As the Gospel of Luke opens, an unknown writer points out that the Christ is about to begin His own "longest journey." It is a trip by foot, but also it is a "journey inwards" as he moves without hesitation to complete the destiny marked out for Him by the Father. 
 But our mystery writer wants us to realize that St Luke has the Teacher constantly on journeys. Mary, while bearing Him in her womb, journeyed to spend time with her cousin Elizabeth. Mary and Joseph of course journeyed to the city of Bethlehem for His birth. Subsequently they journeyed with the Infant to Jerusalem to present Him in the Temple to the Father. Then faithfully they journeyed with the Boy to the capital city to celebrate the solemn Passover. 
 But all these trips, outlined by the skillful and clever Luke, are comparatively speaking but sidebar journeys. Luke has been preparing us all this time for THE GREAT JOURNEY which begins in today's Gospel. That momentous journey, beginning here in chapter 9, will close out in chapter 19. There we will read of His arrival in Jerusalem ready to begin the processions of Palms. With that entry, Luke wants us to reflect that the Master is preparing Himself for His death, resurrection, and ascension. 
 For obvious reasons, scholars call Luke's long account of THE GREAT JOURNEY the Journey Narrative. It occupies a third of the Lucan Gospel and is found in his Gospel alone.
 Luke lets us see that the Teacher is about to commence THE GREAT JOURNEY in the first line of today's Gospel. "Now as the time drew near for Him to be taken up to heaven, He resolutely took the road for Jerusalem..." 
 My unknown author assures us that the GREAT JOURNEY is a type for the journey that each Christian and Catholic must take.  All of us should be walking resolutely on the road that will take us to the heavenly Jerusalem. Obviously we will need instructions for such an important march. And happily we will find them in the ten chapters of the Journey Narrative. They make up a textbook of pilgrim instructions. They are a how-to manual of Christian discipleship. They tell us how we shall walk with the Nazarene on this none too easy and slippery road.
 In the Lucan manual, the words retreat or defeat will never be mentioned. At all costs, we must keep advancing. And, if we stumble and fall, we must like our Master pick ourselves up and move forward once again. 
 The type of disciples that Jesus the Christ is looking for is illustrated in a story told by a preacher. The Church was undergoing persecution in a certain country. The Catholics of one village gathered together for the Eucharist in their church. Suddenly their door loudly burst open. Standing before them was a soldier menacingly brandishing a machine gun. He shouted, "If you do not really believe in your Christ, get out immediately to save your lives." A number of people slinked out one by one. The soldier kicked the door after them. Then he said to those remaining, "I too believe in Jesus. We are better off without those people." 
 None of those terrified people who remained in that church had looked back. They had no intention of retreating. Rather, they wanted to move forward at all costs into the Kingdom. None of them believed in good weather discipleship. Each was in for the long haul. And, as they were, so must we be in our own GREAT JOURNEY. 
 Do not be one of those many who, as the preacher says, talk cream and live skim milk.
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The Cost of Discipleship (ACP) 

A renewal of personal loyalty to Jesus and to his teaching seems to be the obvious theme today. One might begin by talking about decisions or choices. Few really important decisions are made without some regrets or hankerings after the alternatives which had to be foregone, particularly if the choice made leads to difficulties or hardship. Some decisions are made once for all (e.g. to eat this cake) ; others have to be reaffirmed constantly (e.g. to love one’s spouse.) Our decision to follow Jesus is never without such hankerings after the alternatives, and it must be constantly reaffirmed. Seldom do we really slaughter our oxen like Elisha; seldom do we co-operate fully with the Holy Spirit so as to be free from slavery to our weak humanity.

The following points seem to be suggested by the readings:

(1) Renouncing old ways, i.e. sin and the hankering for it. Seeking conversion, turning back to God and beginning again. Stress the use of the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass for this purpose.

(2) Personal commitment to Jesus, to put him first. Rediscovering his values so as to seek in them our real happiness and fulfilment. If we  consider that all the fun and enjoyment is on the side of the impure, all the advantages on the side of the dishonest, we have not begun to see Jesus’ values as the best ones. Following Jesus requires a decision, easy to make but hard to persevere with, to pay attention to him for ten minutes each day in prayer.

(3) Witnessing to Jesus, proclaiming the Kingdom with our lives. Paul knows that the most practical way we can do this is by loving our neighbour. This requires a serious attempt to live in harmony with those about us. There are plenty of would-be Christians who have not imbibed the spirit of their leader, like James and John in today’s gospel. They want God to “sort out” those who oppose them, and believe they have “cornered” God for their side.

(4) Persevering with Jesus;. keeping the hands to the plough, looking ahead and not back. By ourselves we will not be able to do it. We must not neglect the Spirit who has been given to us by the risen Christ. As Paul says, we must be “led by the Spirit,” guided by him. Perhaps it is because he is so conscious of the gift of the Spirit that Luke can make such demands on the disciples throughout his gospel.

The Challenge of Vocation

In the Gospel we have the advice given separately by Jesus to three individuals who wanted to follow him on his religious wanderings. Far from pressuring them to join his group, he even seemed to discourage them. The first was advised to count the cost before joining, as Christ had no fixed abode. His words to the second seem quite harsh. “Let the [spiritually] dead bury their dead,” the man heard. Perhaps his father was not yet dead, and the eldest son would not leave the family home until after his father’s death. The lesson is that if we are faced with a radical option and do not take it at once, it is less likely that we will do so later. His reply to the third was also uncompromising: “No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is the right kind of person for the kingdom of God.” The fragile wooden ploughs of that time were in danger of breaking if they struck any of the stones that littered the fields. Therefore the ploughman had to keep his eyes on the ground ahead at all times. The commitment to his task by the disciple of Christ should be total at all times as well.

All through our lives, God is also calling us, whether we respond or not, even as he called Abraham from his homeland, Peter from his nets, Matthew from his tax office, Elisha from his farm. But, how many of us answer the call? Referring to the Jews, Jesus said, “Many are called but few are chosen (Mt 22:14). The almighty God, speaking through Moses to the Israelites, seemed almost to rejoice and take delight in the small numbers who were following his call. “It is you that the Lord your God has chosen to be his own people out of all the peoples on the earth. If the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, it was not because you outnumbered other peoples; you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deut 7:6f).

This was again echoed by Christ before his disciples, “Fear not little flock, for it has pleased the Father to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32). But the sad thing, not only in the Old Testament, but throughout the history of Christianity, is that God’s generosity has been often met by a lack of gratitude, faith, holiness, truth and fidelity. It is a great mystery why one person follows the call of God and lets it give direction to his/her life, and another does not. We do not know why this happens, but we cannot blame God for it. “As I live, says the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked should turn from their evil ways and live” (Ezek 33:11). “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). This reassures us that there is no lack of love on God’s part for each and every person that ever lived. It is in the manner of their response to God’s love that people are found wantig Nor can there be room for complacency, taking our salvation for granted. Even so great a saint as the apostle St Paul said, “I treat my body hard, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means, having preached to others, I myself should become a castaway” (1 Cor 9:16). We should always bear in mind that we are children of God, called to live in the light of Christ, and not dwell in the darkness. 

Invitation to Share his Adventure

We may wonder whether Jesus was trying to attract or to discourage followers. He was so forthright in specifying his requirements. His words and actions offer criteria for assessing the quality of our response. How do we measure up? The question is relevant because we are baptised.

On his own initiative Jesus has called us. His ‘Follow me’ should be regarded as a frequently recurring refrain. It is not just an unrepeated invitation. The call is renewed day by day. He calls us into a personal relationship with himself. We are invited to share in his life and in his interests. Discipleship and mission go hand in hand. Precisely because it is his mission it has to be carried out in his way. James and John were zealous but they wanted to do things their way. Jesus rebuked them. A fire and brimstone approach even towards opponents, was unacceptable to him. He had come as a saviour not as the leader of a punishment squad. ‘The anger of man docs not work the righteousness of God’ (Jam 1:20). We can be forgetful. Sometimes followers of Christ appear to be more like followers of the ‘sons of thunder’. We need the guidance of the Spint to help us to clarify and to refine our understanding of discipleship.

Disciples do not have to sleep rough, but they should break free from all forms of false security. The apostles abandoned the security of an established lifestyle in order to be with Jesus. In his day Elisha set aside his security as a well-off farmer to become a servant to Elijah the prophet. ‘I will follow you, sir, but first let me… ‘.Have the words a familiar ring about them? How often that response could be our own? ‘I will follow you but on my own terms.’ ‘I will follow you, if the cost is not too high.’ We can hardly criticise those would-be followers. But Jesus conveys a sense of urgency. There is no time to haggle over terms and conditions. Our consent must be unconditional. We have to say a Mary-like ‘Yes’. If we do that we can experience the joy of the Spirit which St Paul calls a “pledge,” a first instalment of heavenly joy.

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Scripture Prayer 

Lord, we think today of those who have just learnt
that they are suffering from an incurable disease.
Now they know that the time has drawn near when they are to be taken to heaven,
may they resolutely take the road for Jerusalem.

“Make us know the shortness of our life, that we may gain wisdom of heart.”     Psalm 90
Lord, we often find that when we have resolutely taken some road
- standing up against discrimination in our community,
- deciding to forgive a long-standing hurt,
- dedicating ourselves to the service of the poor,
we quickly become intolerant of those who disagree with us.
But if we keep in mind that the time is always drawing near
for us to be taken up to heaven, it makes us more compassionate,
so that when we send messengers ahead of us
and people will not receive them because of where we are making for,
we do not call down fire from heaven to burn them up,
but merely go off to another village.

“In our inner journey there always remains something more to be given up, some new depth of God to be sounded, some deeper understanding of ourselves and the world.”      Cyprian Smith osb
Lord, how true it is that when we are searching for union with you,
we can never remain still,
foxes may have holes and birds of the air nests,
but there is no place where we can lay our heads.

For Christians, every place is a homeland and every homeland is a foreign land.”  2nd Century writer
Lord, never let us, as a Church, deceive our members
that we can lead them somewhere where they can be permanently safe:
- a political or economic system that we won’t need to question;
- a philosophy which will answer all our questions;
- a way of understanding the message of Jesus which gives the whole truth of his message.
Teach us to say frankly, as Jesus did,
that foxes have holes where they can lie down and rest,
birds of the air have their nests which they can call home,
but for us it is a constant search for where you want us to be.

“Once I committed myself to the Way, the word ‘courage’ lost its meaning,  since nothing could be taken from me.”       Dag Hammarskjold
Lord, how sweet and gentle is the moment of commitment.
No one has to tell us, we just know we are there.
Old fears have been laid to rest so completely
that we don’t have to worry about burying them,
past attachments have faded away
so that we don’t want to spend any time saying good-bye to them,
our hands are laid on the plough and to look back would be false to ourselves.

Lord, our societies are still torn by ideological conflicts that are leading nowhere:
- capitalism or communism, aligned or non-aligned, first, second or third world.
Send us leaders who will be straightforward like Jesus,
showing our people that if we spend time laying these problems to rest,
we will be like dead people burying the dead,
whereas our duty is to go out and spread the news
that a new civilization is being born and we can be part of it. 

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ILLUSTRATIONS:

Stories from Fr. Tony’s Collection:

1.     Commitment of Mormon missionaries:  

Many of us have seen Mormon missionaries riding their bicycles, wearing dark pants, white shirts and ties. Let me tell you more about their life-style. They do not see their families during the two years of their mission service. They are allowed to call home only on Christmas and Mother's Day. Their work day begins at 6:30 AM with an hour of Bible study and prayer. Then they work until 9:30 PM. They have about an hour to do laundry and study scripture before lights out. This is their schedule six days per week. No TV or movies or dates for two years. We have seen young men with multi-million dollar pro basketball contracts put all that on hold until they fulfill their mission obligation. Although I have some serious and fundamental theological differences with the Mormons, I can't deny the commitment of their young missionaries. Perhaps that commitment is a key reason why their numbers are growing so rapidly in the United States. Today’s readings are about God’s call and the commitment expected from us to answer that call.
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2.     The Cost of Discipleship:  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran theologian, wrote a series of reflections on the Sermon on the Mount entitled The Cost of Discipleship, in which he maintained that discipleship requires us to make a fundamental decision to follow Jesus and to accept the consequences of that decision. His own religious convictions led him to stand up to the tyranny of Nazi Germany and to participate in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler. The plot was uncovered, Bonhoeffer was apprehended, and the ultimate “cost” of discipleship was exacted of him. He was hanged by the Nazis on April 9, 1945. While discipleship might force some people to decide between life and death, few of us will be asked to pay that ultimate price. But today’s gospel challenges us to live in a certain way imitating the prophetic vocation of Jesus (Dianne Bergant C. S. A.).
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3.     On Christian tolerance:  

The best commentary on the first part of today’s gospel is a story about Abraham Lincoln, who was the finest and most spiritual of all the American presidents. During the Civil War, Lincoln was often criticized for not being severe enough on the soldiers of the South. On one occasion after a battle, a general from the North asked him, “Why didn’t you destroy the enemy when you had the chance? President Lincoln answered with words adapted from the today’s gospel passage: “Do I not destroy my enemy by making him my friend?” That is exactly what Jesus tells us in today’s gospel: destroy our enemies by making them our friends. No doubt the feelings of anger and resentment run deep in many hearts today, and we wouldn’t mind if people who hurt us deeply were punished or suffered from bad luck. Jesus, however, says: “That is not my Spirit”-- let me heal your heart.
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4.     The commitment of a star maker:  

Bill Haber, a famous movie producer, was one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. For thirty years, his life consisted of making and breaking the careers of movie stars, and he did his job well. In 1995, when his two partners at Creative Artists Agency left him in order to run their own studios, Bill started a nonprofit organization called Save the Children, where he now supervises forty thousand employees in forty-one countries. He left behind the glitz and glamour of Hollywood for the day-in day-out realities of starving kids. Why would he make such a move? Simple, he says. "You only live once, and I felt God calling me to work with children." He realized that wealth and power aren’t everything, and when confronted with the chance to make a lasting difference in people’s lives, he simply said, "I couldn’t afford to let the opportunity pass." Amazingly, Bill Haber says that nobody in Hollywood ever thought he was crazy for doing what he did. In fact, several have said to him, "I wish I could do that." The truth is that anyone at any time can do what Bill Haber did. In today’s gospel Jesus gives us an invitation to abandon the building of our own individual kingdoms, and to join with him in building his eternal kingdom, right here and right now, with total commitment.
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5.     "The Lord guides me."

Catherine Swift in her biography of Eric Liddell describes the faith-commitment of England’s fastest runner of 1924 and the gold medalist of 400-meter dash at the Paris Olympics. On April 6, 1923, in a small town hall in Armadale, Scotland, Eric Liddell spoke for the first time of his faith in Christ and of the strength he felt within himself from the sure knowledge of God's love and support. News of Liddell's talk was reported in every newspaper in Scotland the next morning. When asked how he knew where the finish line was located, he replied in his deliberate Scottish brogue, "The Lord guides me." As word of his faith in Christ spread through England, many wondered if he would display the same zeal on the track. Liddell silenced all skeptics in the AAA Championships in London in July 1923, by winning the 220-yard dash and the 100-yard dash. His time in the 100 stood as England's best for thirty-five years. But he stunned his British sports fans by refusing to participate in the Paris Olympic heats for the 100 meters as the officials fixed it on a Sunday. He considered Sunday to be sacred, a day set apart for the Lord; and he would honor his convictions at the expense of fame. He was replaced by his teammate. But three days later, he finished third in the 200-meter sprint, taking an unexpected bronze medal and his substitute won the Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters. Eric volunteered to run the 400 meters and surprised the world by winning an Olympic gold medal for England. Liddell ran to victory, five meters ahead of the silver medalist. "The Flying Scotsman" had a gold medal and a world record, 47.6 seconds. Most of all, Eric Liddell had kept his commitment to his convictions of faith. After a few years Eric surprised the world once again by becoming an ordained missionary in China where he served as a zealous missionary for 13 years. Shortly after his forty-third birthday in January 1945 he died of a brain tumor. Eric Liddell ran, spoke, and lived with great faithfulness and solid commitment to Christ as demanded by Jesus in today’s gospel. The movie, Chariots of Fire, chronicled his faith, influencing yet another generation for Jesus Christ.

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6.     Committed to the spouse or to the Super Bowl?

A young man was very excited because he just won a ticket to the Super Bowl. His excitement lessened as he realized his seat was in the back of the stadium. As he searched the rows ahead of him for a better seat, he saw an empty one right next to the field. He approached the man sitting next to the empty seat and asked if it was taken. The man replied, "No." Amazed the young man asked, "How could someone pass up a seat like this?" The older gentleman responded, "That's my wife's seat. We've been to every Super Bowl together since the day we were married but she has passed away." "Oh, how sad," the man said. "I'm sorry to hear that, but couldn't you find a friend or relative to come with you?" "No," the man said, "They're all at the funeral."

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7.     A Family Vacation:

Once upon a time a mommy and a daddy were preparing to take their two children for two weeks vacation in the country. They had, as do most mommies and daddies these days, a sports utility vehicle (SUV). They figured that they would travel light. For two weeks you don’t have to bring the whole house, do you?  

 Since the SUV was big, it was easy to pile things into it. First of all, they packed clothes. Because you can never tell what you might have to do or where you might have to go at the Lake or what the weather will be like, they didn’t really pack any more things then they would need for, let us say, a trip to Paris. Moreover they wanted their kids to look their best. So they packed comprehensive wardrobes for them too. You can never tell what might happen on a vacation, can you? 

 Then there was the matter of toys and similar stuff. The weather might be bad so they had to pack enough toys to keep the kids happy if they were imprisoned in a cottage for two weeks. But the weather might be good, so they had to pack enough toys that the kids wouldn’t be bored on the beach.  Then each of the kids had their favorite toys without which they could not survive. Did I forget the family dog?

 Eventually the SUV was fully loaded and there was room for everyone except the mommy and the daddy. So they rearranged things. There hardly was room to breathe in SUV. When they got to the lake, they had to unpack all their stuff. When their vacation was over (as alas vacations tend to be) they repacked everything to drive home. Then when they arrived home they had to unpack everything. No one was talking to one another for three days. (A. Greeley)
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8.     The kind of player you can’t coach 

A tall, gangly, self-conscious seventh-grader was on her junior high girls’ track team.  A meet scheduled for one Saturday had to be postponed to the following Saturday — when the girl’s church had planned a community service project that she had signed up for.  She went to her track coach and told him about the conflict.  He told her, “Your teammates are counting on you and you can’t let them down.  I expect you to be here for the meet.”

She went home in tears.  The next day she talked to him again; he responded, “You are either here for the meet or you turn in your uniform.”
After a sleepless, tearful night, she made her decision.
The next day she went to the coach’s office, handed him her uniform and walked away.

Her parents and the parents of her teammates were surprised and even shocked: their own teenage daughter was actually choosing God and church over her track team, even though that was the way they raised her.

The girl said simply, “This is about God.” 

(From “Expect a call” by Kyle Childress, The Christian Century, January 9, 2007.)

This seventh-grader responds to the responsibility of discipleship with the clear, unhesitating, unambiguous and total commitment that Jesus asks of anyone who would be his disciple.  There can be no “but first . . . “, no “in a minute”, no “on second thought.”  Jesus’ Gospel is not a collection of pious words we commit to memory but a perspective and attitude by which we live our lives.  We cannot be disciples by being mere spectators of God’s presence; possessing a baptismal certificate alone does not mark us as disciples of the Risen One.  Authentic discipleship calls us to become involved in the hard work and courage of making the reign of God a reality — regardless of the cost, regardless of the difficulty, regardless of the sacrifice. (Courtesy: Connections)
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9.     John Calvin 

In 1536 Reformer William Farel recruited John Calvin to come to Geneva, Switzerland to pastor St. Peter's Church. Calvin, a sickly man all his life, was on his way to Strasbourg to be a quiet scholar, but he relented under this need, this request, to become a pastor. 

Two years later, the city fathers publicly banished Calvin from Geneva. Actually, Calvin felt relieved. The moral chaos of the city was terrible. He went to Strasbourg. Three years later in 1541, the same city fathers who had tried to humiliate him begged Calvin to return and help restore order. 

He didn't want to go this second time, either, "yet," he wrote, "because I know that I am not my own master, I offer my heart as a true sacrifice to the Lord."

This became the motto of Calvin's life. His emblem would include a hand holding out a heart to God with the inscription, prompte et sincere ("promptly and sincerely"). Promptly and sincerely Calvin answered a call to very difficult task.

Jesus had moved from obscurity to prominence in a matter of months. News of his miraculous healing had spread throughout the region. Crowds flocked to benefit from his powerful presence. His disciples followed him with enthusiasm. The long-awaited kingdom was at hand.

But his fortunes soon began to change. Opposition developed. The crowds got smaller. The zeal of the disciples began to wane. Caesar's reign became more self-evident than God's dawning reign. It was to this background, Luke tells us, that Jesus resolutely "set his face to go to Jerusalem." Why should he spoil success by going to the capital? His strength was in the countryside. But there was no changing his mind. To announce God's reign, he would have to go to the center of earthly power. What caused Jesus to journey to Jerusalem? 

1. First, He Knew Who He Was.
2. Second, He Knew Where He Was Going.
3. Third, Jesus Knew Who Walked with Him. 
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10.  Road trip!  

It's more than a bad coming-of-age movie comedy (2000). For late teens and twenty-somethings, it is a coming of age rite of passage, even an initiatory pilgrimage into adulthood. Whether it is a short trip from a small town to a big city for the weekend, a coast-to-coast marathon to see the USA in a small over-packed car, or a backpacking Euro-rail adventure, a road trip is a first step in finding our own unique life path. Even for adults and the aged, there is nothing like a road trip to get us out of our familiar, comfortable ruts, and give us a new perspective on the world.  

Yet road trips don't come with guarantees of safety and success. Road trips come with potholes and pitfalls, genuine dangers, and encounters with the unknown and unpredictable. Sometimes Road Trips can end up as Road Kill. In March of 2013, a Seattle man named Richard Swanson, trying to dribble a soccer ball 10,000 miles (16,000km) to Brazil in time for the 2014 World Cup and raise money for a football charity, died after being hit by a pickup truck on the Oregon coast. Just this past week (16 June 2013), a 16 year old boy from Victoria was killed while participating in the Ride to Conquer Cancer marathon. The fatal accident happened in Arlington, Wash., just north of Seattle, when the kid was riding with his mother and uncle in the cancer fundraiser. He attempted to pass a group of cyclists and spilled onto the road and was run over by an oncoming car. "On the road" adventures are not safe. They can end up as "road kill" stories. 

In this week's gospel text Jesus starts off on the ultimate road trip - his journey to Jerusalem and to the cross. The world views this journey as the epitome of a "bad trip" - a trip that ended in Jesus' betrayal, rejection, torture, and death. In other words, here was a "road trip" than ended up as "road kill." But Jesus' disciples - whether in the first century or the twenty-first century - view this Jerusalem road trip as something quite different: the start of a great Missio Dei story - the triumph of Christ's mission in the world, the journey that transformed the life paths of all subsequent generations who have followed Jesus. 
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11.   A New Kingdom Coming 

John Wycliffe had a vision of a Bible in the common English tongue. But dogmatists anchored to the past killed him for it. John Huss dreamed a dream of a responsible Christian life guided by the scriptures. Traditionalists burned him at the stake. Martin Luther was awakened to a new reality of God's grace -- an awakening not shared by contemporaries profiting from the status quo. Consequently, he was hunted for years for revealing an exciting and preferable future. A kingdom was coming and the powers of the past could not prevail against it. 

Maurice A. Fetty, The Divine Advocacy
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12.  A Whole New Set of Values 

Barbara Brown Taylor once said that if a man in the church loses his job, the pastor may well call this person to offer sympathy and prayer. But suppose that a pastor one day got wind of the fact that a certain member of his congregation had gotten a big promotion at work along with significantly more pay. And suppose the pastor then called this person and said, "Charlie, I've heard your news and so was wondering if it would be OK if I came by sometime to pray with you about this. I'm concerned about the temptations this new venture may throw your way as well as what it may do to your ability to serve here at church. So I'd like to pray for God's strength for you in the face of this new success."

Probably we'd be taken aback. But as Brown Taylor notes, that is only because we do cordon off parts of our lives from the total claims Jesus makes on us. We act as though we are our own after all and so why would the church have anything to say to us so long as life is chugging along smoothly? If we ask that, however, we reveal that we, too, quietly resist the same self-denying sacrifice that seems so offensive to some outside the church. It looks as though the only way you will ever see this self-denial as a source of comfort is if you die and are reborn. You need to kill off ordinary ways of defining value and bring to life a whole new set of values. The place to start is by admitting that without God, you are lost in sin's wilderness and unable to find your own way out. Once you know that, you are wide open to the call of the one who hopefully says, "Follow me."

Scott Hoezee, Comments and Observations
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13.  Don't Look Back 

Frankly, none of us are going to make the cut to follow Jesus. Our desires for soft pillows and comfortable beds, for fulfilling family and social obligations, will frequently have higher priorities than following Jesus -- especially following Jesus all the way to the cross. We might be willing to give up some evils in our lives to follow Jesus, but to give up all these good things -- to put them as a lower priority than Jesus? That is radical discipleship, but Paul writes about doing this in Phil 3:4-11. He considers all his past, good, religious deeds as "rubbish".

Perhaps the image of putting one's hand to the plow and not looking back (or driving forward in a car while not looking out the back window) refers to looking back both at all the very good things in our lives (and in a congregation's life), like family and friends, comforts and satisfactions, "successful" programs; but also all the sins in our lives, which have been forgiven by Christ. We can neither wallow in our past sins nor boast of our past successes if we are to be fit for the kingdom of God.

Brian Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes
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14.  Jesus Wants Followers 

Jesus doesn't want fans. He wants followers. Jesus wants people who will do more than simply sit in a pew and clap and cheer. He wants people who will take up a cross daily, the cross of service and love.

Some of you may know the story of Rich Stearns. When Rich Stearns was a young man and new Christian, he got engaged. His fiancée like many young brides wanted to register for china at the local department store. But he said to her, ''As long as there are children starving in the world, we will not own china, crystal, or silver."

What a wonderful statement of discipleship. His answer reminds me of that first man in our lesson who said, "I will follow you wherever you go."

However, as Rich entered the corporate world and started climbing the ladder, he found he had a really good head for business. Twenty years later he was the CEO of Lennox--ironically, the top producer of luxury tableware--fine china--in the country.

One day Rich received a phone call from an organization called World Vision, asking if he would consider getting involved with them. So Rich went to Rakai, Uganda, an area considered ground zero for the AIDS pandemic. In that village he sat in a thatched hut with a thirteen-year-old boy with the same first name as his--Richard. A pile of stones outside the door of the hut marked where they had buried Richard's father, who had died of AIDS. Another pile of stones marked where they buried his mother, who also died of AIDS. That kind of thing happens every day in Africa.

Rich talked for a while with young Richard--now the head of the household trying to raise his two younger brothers--and asked him at one point, "Do you have a Bible?"

Yes, the boy said, and he went into the other room and brought back the one book in their house.   "Are you able to read it?" Rich asked, and at that the boy's face lit up. "I love to read the gospel of John because it says Jesus loves children," the boy said.

And suddenly Rich Stearns knew what he had to do. He needed to follow Jesus full-time. He left his job and his house and his title. Today he's working for God.

Rich Stearns is the kind of man Christ is looking for. Christ is not looking for people who'll get excited for a few moments on Sunday morning and then forget all about their good intentions. He's not looking for people who are suffering from the "But-first" syndrome and who are continually making excuses about why now is not a good time for them to make a commitment. Jesus is looking for followers--people who will wake up each day with a determination to live as Christ would have them live. Can he count on you? 

John Rich Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009). Cited in John Ortberg, The Me I Want To Be (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).
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15.  Discipleship Occurs Only In Community 

Very few people are expert in anything all by themselves. They need a supporting community. Do you know a good musician who was not trained, nurtured and sustained by the music community? Show me an athlete who achieves excellence all alone, apart from the athletic community. Very few wise men become so without the accumulated wisdom of the centuries as expressed in colleges and universities and libraries. Medical people are more like ensembles and symphonies than soloists. What business tycoon does it all on his own without dedicated experts in finance, engineering, personnel, and marketing? Excellence requires participation in, and support of, a community of like-minded people. 

Likewise in the church -- a forerunner of the new kingdom. Very few achieve Christian maturity all by themselves. Seldom is the Bible studied diligently without the aid of scholars and teachers. Rarely are people led to generosity by their own impulses.

Maurice A. Fetty, The Divine Advocacy
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16.  Hide and Seek

Do you remember playing "Hide & Seek" when you were a child? You would close your eyes and count to a hundred if you were "it" while all the other kids would run and hide. And then when you reached a hundred, you would yell, "Ready or not, here I come!"

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem whether they were ready or not. For thousands of years, the Jewish people had been counting the passing days thinking they were ready for his coming, and then when he came they ran to hide and never really came out to welcome him.  

Rosemary Brown, Hide and Seek
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17.  On Training Disciples 

It is better to train ten people than to do the work of ten people. But it is harder.

Moody
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18.  Moving On  

Some people are not able to enjoy the present or prepare for tomorrow because they are still living in the past. Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe has put it like this: "Do not say, "˜Why were the former days better than these?' You do not move ahead by constantly looking in a rear view mirror. The past is a rudder to guide you, not an anchor to drag you down. We must learn from the past but not live in the past." Or as Thomas Holdcroft once put it, "The past is a guide post, not a hitching post."

King Duncan, Collected Sermons
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19.  Consider Paul's Commitment to the Kingdom 

Five times I have received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned. Three times I have been shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been adrift at sea; on frequent journeys; in danger from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brethren; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And apart from other things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches (2 Corinthians 11:24-28).

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