The Message, March 6, 2022, "Unpacking for the Journey"

The Message, March 6, 2022, "Unpacking for the Journey"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
March 08, 2022

 

“Unpacking for the Journey”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Luke 9:51-62

            Let me ask … when you go away for a weekend, how much luggage do you pack?

            Of course, it all depends upon where you are going and what you are doing. If you are going skiing, you will tend to pack much more than if you are going to the beach. It also depends upon the season.

            Before Renee and I moved to Maine we used to come to Maine for the “weekend.” And as you well know, the wonderful state of Maine can experience three seasons in the course of a single day! So, we had to pack for winter in the morning, summer in the afternoon, and then BUGS in the evening.

            Then I had to put the golf clubs in the back … just in case.
            And a fan.
            And let us not forget the dogs … two, three, four or five of them! Dogs, dog food, dog beds, dog towels.
            Oops … better throw in a raincoat … because you never know.

             By the time we got ready to leave for the WEEKEND, the full-size SUV was completely full! When we planned to spend a week or more, we had to put the luggage carrier on the roof.

            I have mentioned the wilderness canoe trips down the Allagash River that I have led in the past. Packing for a two-week canoe trip is tricky. One has to plan for a variety of weather situations, bring plenty of dry clothing, but also only bring what you can carry in a canoe. Plus, every canoe had to carry group gear in addition to their personal gear. Therefore, we always gave the youth travelers very specific packing lists.

            They could bring one duffel bag and one day bag. That is it. Everything should be packed in sealable plastic bags and then all of those bags packed in trash bags inside the duffel bags. They also packed a dry bag for the ride home.

            Of course, over time, some of the youth realized that a hockey gear bag counted as a duffel bag. Have you ever seen a hockey bag? It is the size of a Volkswagon Beetle!

            The other extreme was the year that one youth, Rick, showed up for departure with one small bag. I assumed that it was his return home dry bag, but he informed me that it was his duffel bag for the trip.

            “Rick, you have all the clothes that you are taking on a two-week canoe trip in that one small bag?”

            “Yup!”

            Needless to say, Rick traveled a LOT lighter than the rest of us that year. It also meant that he spent every evening by the campfire drying his ONE pair of long pants with a stick over the fire. He spent a lot of time being cold and wet. And at the end of the trip, he put on his clean dry clothes and threw the rest away! He had no stinky laundry to do when he got home.

            What we discover in this morning’s passage is that Jesus gives us a packing list as we prepare for our Lenten journey. It may not be quite as extreme as my friend Rick, but it is clear that he does not want us to be stumbling and struggling up the road the road to Jerusalem carrying or dragging a hockey bag full of wet, stinky clothing.

            You may recall that when Jesus sent the disciples out into the community to begin their ministry, he told them to take nothing for the journey. He told them to rely upon the hospitality of those who live in the towns and villages, and if someone reused them hospitality, they should shake the dust off of their robes and move on.

            In our passage this morning, Jesus gave them, and gives us, a more detailed look at what it means to follow him.

            Earlier in this chapter, Jesus foretold the suffering and death that awaited him. This morning we reach the point at which Jesus begins his final journey to Jerusalem. “He set his face for Jerusalem.”

            Surprisingly or curiously for some, he began his journey passing through Samaria. We know that there was a centuries old conflict between the Jewish people and the Samaritans. The Samaritans had occupied the land while the Hebrew people were in exile in Babylon. The Samaritans intermarried with the non-Jewish population and were therefore rejected as half-breeds or hybrids. They were defiled and were unwelcome when the “true” Jewish people returned home.

            However, knowing Jesus as we do, his decision to begin his journey with a sojourn in Samaria is not surprising at all. At the end of his ministry, he will call upon the disciples to bring the Gospel to Judah, then Samaria, and then to the ends of the earth. So Jesus extended an act of friendship and fellowship by beginning his journey there.

            It was NOT surprising that the Samaritans rejected him and refused to offer him hospitality. He was traveling to a place where they were not welcome. He should just be on his way!

            What WAS surprising was the reaction of James and John to their rejection of Jesus. They wanted to rain down divine fire upon them. Apparently, they believed that they could invoke Elijah, or perhaps Thor, the God of Thunder, and destroy their villages. Incinerate them with hellfire because they would not welcome their Lord Jesus.

            Instead, Jesus offered yet another lesson in what it means to be a disciple. Obviously, the Samaritans were not yet ready to welcome Jesus. But rather than rain down holy fire, they would offer grace and love. THAT is the message of Jesus.

            Disciples of Jesus Christ offer grace and love rather than condemnation and destruction.

            All too often, we are quick to condemn those who do not agree with us. We condemn those who choose a different path or believe differently than we do. Jesus calls us to see them through eyes of love. After all, how can we possibly hope to build relationships if we seek to condemn those who we perceive to be different. Treating someone as “other” creates a distance when connection and community are the desired outcome.

            As they shook the dust off of their robes and moved on, Jesus and the disciples encountered three would-be followers.

            The first was eager to follow. We can imagine him running up to Jesus saying, “Hey Jesus! I will follow you wherever you go!”

            To which Jesus seems to reply: “Do you really know what you are saying?”

            Jesus had told his disciples that they must be willing to ‘take up their crosses daily.’ He had told them that following will be difficult.

            The first disciples gave up their lives, dropped their nets and followed Jesus. Would this would-be follower be willing to do the same?

            The disciples travel without anything relying upon the kindness and hospitality of strangers. Was he willing to do that as well? “Will you really give up your home, and whatever comforts that you enjoy to follow?”

            Jesus invited the next two would-be disciples to follow. Perhaps they were walking along the road with them. Perhaps they encountered them along the way. We do not know how they came to be in Jesus’ Presence, but he extended them the invitation.
“Follow me.”

            Whereas the first would-be was very eager to follow Jesus, the second two would-be’s seemed to be a bit reluctant.

            “Follow me.”
            “Sure, Jesus, that would be great. But … first let me bury my father.”

            “Follow me.”
            “Okay, Jesus, sounds good … but first … let me go say ‘goodbye’ to my family.”

             The first would-be seems to make a reasonable request. It was an obligation of a son to attend to the burial and funeral rites for a father. Of course, we do not actually know if the man’s father had died. The phrase that he offered Jesus could also have meant, ‘I have familial responsibilities right now. I will follow you when I am able.’ And in the context of that day and time, that often referred to a time after his father had passed away. Commentators do not agree which was the case for this would-be disciple. But they do agree that it does not matter.

            Jesus’ reply to the man sounds harsh to our ears, “Let the dead bury the dead.” And to be sure, it is a very pointed statement. “Let those who are spiritually dead bury those who are physically dead.” In other words, “If you desire to be spiritually alive … follow me. Now.”

            Jesus’ response to the second would-be disciple followed the same theme. “Follow me … now … without delay.”

            It is the case in my family, and may be the same with yours, that saying ‘goodbye’ at the end of a family gathering can take time. We call it the “Goodbye Tour,” in my family. When it seems as though we are inching closer to departure, the tour takes a turn … and an hour later we leave!

            In both cases, Jesus is saying to follow now, without delay. It sounds like a radical requirement on Jesus’ part. But we know that Jesus is all about the radical and revolutionary. Jesus is asking for priority over the BEST, rather than the worst, of human relationships. Jesus is not saying “Choose me over the devil.” That is easy. Anyone and everyone … well … most everyone … would make that choice. Instead, Jesus is saying, “Choose me over your family.” Chose Jesus above and before all of that good stuff that fills our lives and our calendars.

            Again and again, Jesus calls his followers, his disciples to choose the more difficult path. “Pick up your cross” “Love your enemies.” “Give without expecting anything in return.” For even those who do believe will choose the easy path. Jesus calls us to do more, to do extra.

            So then, what do we need to unpack in order to begin our journey with Jesus? What do we need to let drop?

            Let go of judgement and condemnation. His is the way of love and grace.

            Let go of the things that push toward the center of our devotion and push Jesus to the fringes. Let go of those things that makes us inclined to say, “I would follow you, Jesus … BUT … first let me do one ... or two … or a few … things. I will be right with you after that. I promise.”

            These is no such thing as a so-so, part-time disciple. Jesus calls us to full-time, full-life commitment.

             Let go of those things that hold us back. Let go of that longing look back over our shoulder and our desire to return to the way things used to be. For Christians, the call is forward, not backward. One cannot plow a straight furrow if they are looking back.

            Jesus Christ is calling us, inviting us to journey with him. He is calling us to follow. The questions that we must ask ourselves are:

            Are we able?
            Are we willing?

            Amen.


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