Luke 9:51-62 – The 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, June 30, 2013
“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go…’” (Luke 9:57)
In 2007, when I left the church I’d served for nearly nine years, I usually mentioned two reasons for waving “good-bye.”
First, I was spending less and less time with my wife.
Yes, we loved and supported each other. In a typical year, we took vacations, worked on home and yard projects and regularly shared about the day’s events. But an average week meant I was gone for three, four and even more nights in a row—gotta love church meetings! Funerals or weddings occupied many Saturdays. Sundays, which felt like they arrived every other day, saw me depart early and return late to either collapse into a loooong nap or prepare for the next commitment. My wife teaches and so Christmas and Easter were her winter and spring breaks. Not me . . . O Little Town of Bethlehem, Christ is Risen Today!
Paul Dirdak, a clergy colleague in my California-Nevada United Methodist region, once told a curious layperson how busy his day had been. Paul listed the sermons he’d preached, the amount of travel time between multiple meetings at different locations, the phone calls made and received and so forth.
When Paul took a breath, the layperson said, “Well, young fella, I guess Jesus is getting’ a good deal with you today.”
Yeah . . . sometimes it seemed like Jesus always got a good deal with my time, energy, commitment, faith; my day-to-day, week-to-week, Advent-to-Easter-to-Advent world.
Writing was the second reason for my fond farewell.
The seventy plus hours of weekly work consumed all available time for writing. Though I may forever be a pre-published, post-pubescent novelist, I want and need to write. I believe filling in a blank computer screen with sentences represents part of my call to sharing the good news. For the sake of argument, let’s say writing is like a favorite dessert at the church potluck. Church had become a herd of hungry kids just ahead of me in the serving line. By the time I arrived at the desserts section, the homemade cookies and fresh apple cobbler had vanished into teenaged tummies. All that remained was a fork-poked slice of store-bought coconut crème pie. I can’t stand coconut.
There was a third reason for limping away from full-time church. I don’t often mention it; it’s mostly kept in my soul’s secret place.
I was tired of Jesus.
I was tired of Jesus getting a good deal.
Luke’s Gospel cast a scene where an eager, God-lovin’ and God-fearin’ fella* approached Jesus . . .
Eager Fella: I will follow you Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.
Jesus: No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
Nasty. Tough. Demanding. Jesus sure could spoil a nice day.
Let the dead bury the dead, Jesus also said, and—to paraphrase sacred scripture—if you snooze, you lose.
But what about my wife?
What about my writing?
In the final years at the last church I served, we were (I was) enamored with one of those church-growth, church-renewal, empower-the-laity, transform-your-church-into-a-thriving-body-of-Christ projects. I, along with many other clergy colleagues, had participated in workshops led by nationally renowned experts on how to make church relevant for the 21st century.
Truthfully, the nationally renowned experts’ new ideas weren’t too different than the old ideas about how to make church relevant in the 20th Century.
- Follow Jesus!
- Make sacrifices!
- Shepherd your flock!
- Let the dead bury the dead!
- Challenge laity to Christ-like transformation!
- Keep your clergy hands on the plow as you farm for Jesus!
Sorry, I burned out. I was tired of Jesus and his unwieldy plow. Or maybe, just maybe, the church growth experts’ version of the plow wearied me. But however I viewed (and avoided) the metaphoric plows, my self-doubt and insecurities concluded the experts were right . . . I was a pale excuse for a Christian pastor.
And yet I continue to be inspired by Jesus. He’s too demanding. He expects too much. Once he sat at table with sinners and declared there was always room for one more. Even me. Even you. But I sit at the table, fidgeting and forever wondering if I belong. I tag along far, far behind the Jesus forever tramping toward Jerusalem and think I could catch up, but instead I hang back.
Have a failed my faith? Easy answer: early and often.
Have I spent too much time looking back? Of course I have.
Right now I’m working a job—hospice—where I also spend a bunch of time with the buried and the grieving.
All things considered though, Jesus is still getting a good deal.
And he still makes me nervous.
And I still can’t imagine following any other path.
*You’re right . . . the Gospel writer didn’t add any of those adjectives about the man in Luke 9:61-62.
Image purloined from here.