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A Homily based on Luke 9:51-62
by Rev. Thomas Hall

Life is filled with choices-we make them all the time. Every day, every week, every hour. To hit the snooze button or just roll out of bed. Should I wear the blue suit or the tan dress? Return the phone calls from yesterday or answer my emails today? Some choices are just that easy. For me, a simple choice is choosing between a bowl of sherbet or scrapple for dessert. I’ve never been a scrapple fan - not sure what part of the pig it comes from. So sherbet is my knee jerk response.

But, some choices are more important and require more thought. Should you spend much needed time with the family for three days at the shore this week or slave over sermon preparation and forgo the outing? (NOTE: says "go with the family and leave the sermon prep to us this week!")

We all make big and little decisions with consequences. But then there are the really huge decisions that we must make. These decisions have life-long impact on us: whether to marry; what career or college to pursue; where to live; whether to have children. But there is no decision more important that we will ever make in life or that will have more of a life-long consequence than to consider whether to follow when Jesus calls.

Maybe some think that this falls into the sherbet / scrapple category. "Follow Jesus?" we ask. "That’s a no brainer. Of course I’ll choose Jesus!" But if you think for a moment that answering the call to follow Jesus is an easy choice, meet the three would-be followers who face the same choice . . .

On the road someone asked if he could go along. "I’ll go with you, wherever," he said.

Jesus was curt: "Are you read to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know."

Jesus said to another, "Follow me."

He said, "Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral."

Jesus refused. "First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!"

Then another said, "I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home."

Jesus said, "No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day."

No wonder biblical theologians call this section "the hard sayings" of Jesus. The words do sound hard all right. "Foxes have holes, and birds o the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head . . . Leave the dead to bury their own dead; . . . No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Hard sayings for sure.

In truth, he is not being severe, but honest. To understand his honesty, we need to understand the setting, the culture and the sayings of first century Palestine. Our gospel lesson takes us to another country and another time. Learning the social customs and mores of Jesus’ day will serve us well. I think you will find that the choices Jesus put to the would-be followers are difficult, not easy, decisions.

The first person volunteers to join up with Jesus. Like others of his day, he has an idea of the Messiah as an aspiring prince-waiting-to-be-king, not a crucified redeemer. Though he doesn’t understand Jesus’ version of Messiah, Jesus doesn’t reject him outright. Instead, Jesus shows him what is in store if he is going to follow. "Everyone in Israel has a home," Jesus says, "except people like me. I am dependent upon others for hospitality; can you live with that?" he asks.

Maybe the choice to follow Jesus is not such an easy choice after all. Remember, that the easy choices are between the clearly less-than-good and the good: sherbet or scrapple; VW Beetle or footmobile; Swarthmore College or an enterprising career at the diner. All things considered those choices may lead you to driving to Swarthmore College in a bug eating scrapple.

But is that what this passage is about - deciding between the good and the not so good? Is Jesus asking us to choose between being a happy, well-adjusted, successful wholesome Christian over against a depressed, socially maladjusted, unemployed person recently released on probation after doing ten years in the slammer for assault and battery? If that’s what the choice is all about then what struggle would any of us have? What a no-brainer!

This passage seems more like making a choice between the best and second best, between excellent and very good - that’s a difficult choice. That’s when faith is challenged. Jesus doesn’t hide what choosing him as lord and savior is about. He doesn’t want us to follow him with rose-colored glasses. Following Christ may cause us to enter the very places that he walks, may cause us to stand in opposition to the very powers that claimed his life. May cause us to say good-bye to Tradition and what others think takes us along a high-level service and commitment with low-level pay backs.

Dixie, my wife, was recently leading a high school class in a discussion about how God is creator and sovereign of the earth. The discussion then moved to Christ as savior and lord of our lives. Then Dixie walked over to the flipchart and wrote in big letters this question, "What does it mean to say ‘Jesus is Lord of my life?" Several good responses followed. She knew that at least one student was beginning understand the ramifications of Jesus as Lord when Anna interrupted and said, "But I don’t want anyone to be in charge of my life - I want to be completely in charge of my own life." Anna was honest with her feelings-and honest about the risk involved in coming under the tutelage of Another.

What does it look like to choose the best, to choose to follow Jesus with conviction? In 1977 Oscar Romero was the bishop of El Salvador. At the time sharecroppers had no rights and rich landowners and the military kept each other in business. And priests who stood with the sharecroppers and fought back were considered "subversive."

It wasn’t long before this quiet priest became archbishop Romero. At his installation he said, "I come from a world of books. Much can be learned from their pages. Yet, I have much to learn . . . we in the church must keep to the center, and seek justice."

Oscar Romero soon found himself in a quagmire of trouble. On one hand were the sharecroppers and subversive priests who promoted violence against their enemies, but on the other hand were the landowners, military, and President-elect. Then it happened. A close priest friend of his was murdered. Then a landowner was kidnapped.

The turning point came when Oscar Romero went to the village where the president-elect had closed the church that the murdered priest had served. The militia had taken over the church and turned it into a barracks. Romero told the soldier in charge that he was there to take the Eucharist. Hearing that, the soldier turned and opened fire on the cross, the altar, and the Eucharist bread. His men forced Romero to leave the church. He left.

But then he came back. He got out, put on his alb and stole and then resolutely set his face for the church. Two other priests joined him. Then village people marched with them. Even as they faced armed soldiers, Romero and the people walked into the church. Archbishop Romero cried out, "I have come to retake possession of the church and to strengthen those who the enemies have trampled down. Jesus is crucified for you."

This quiet priest had made a choice to follow Jesus. He never realized where following him would lead. The more he saw people’s pain, suffering, their hunger for liberty, the more he followed Jesus. But don’t priests know Jesus de facto? The Romero who was a bookworm knew about Jesus Christ. The Romero who took back the church in the face of armed guards knew personally the Christ who was crucified in the people themselves.

In the end, following Jesus led to Romero’s assassination. That wasn’t his script. He never yearned to be a martyr. But he did make a decision way back in his seminary days -he chose between the good and the best. The best cost him his life.

No, we’re not Jesus Christ and we’re not Oscar Romero. We just do our 9-5 jobs and go home for supper most days. We will not end our lives by assassination for a cause celebre. But what Romero’s life and Luke’s story about following Jesus is saying is this: the decision to follow Jesus is not an easy choice. It may mean going against the culture we know and perhaps even the plans that our family has already made for our life. It is a choice between the good and the best. But yes when Jesus calls us to follow him will be the best possible choice we could ever make, for it will free us to carry out our mission in life, free us to love our family without needing to have the universe revolve around it, and free us to leave a legacy that will lead others to their mission in life.

We do not know how the three would-be followers on the road decided. We do know about one archbishop in El Salvador. Oscar Romero was an ordinary, rather non-political, quiet Christian, just like many of us. Given a choice between very good and the best, he decided to follow Jesus. And that has made all the difference.

Jesus calls us to follow. He paints a clear picture of discipleship. But the choice is up to us. How will we decide? How will you decide? Amen.