Saturday, July 6, 2013

“If Not Me, Who? If Not Now, When?”

“If Not Me, Who? If Not Now, When?”

Gospel Reading: Luke 9:51-62
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them.
Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him,
"I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

As I was preparing this lesson, lines from a Lovin’ Spoonful song kept coming to mind; “Did you ever have to make up your mind? You pick up on one and leave the other one behind.  It’s not often easy and not often kind.  Did you ever have to make up your mind?  Did you ever have to finally decide? And say yes to one and let the other one ride. There’s so many changes and tears you must hide. Did you ever have to finally decide.”

Well, that is not exactly a hymn, however it does speak to a very human concern. Decisions, decisions, decisions.
As a manager and a business owner I made decisions all day long.  Decisions that affected not just my business and my family but also the lives and families of my employees and my vendors.  Sometimes I had time to weigh all the pros and cons of my choices.  Sometimes however, an answer was needed ‘right now’.

Over the years I have picked up some ideas on how to make decisions.
1. Earnest Prayer
2. The coin flip
3. If not me, who and if not now, when?
4. Don’t let anyone should on you
5. Watch the direction you’re going and go the direction you’re watching.

The first method is, of course, always the best.  Earnest prayer for guidance should always be your first choice.  I remember a conversation that I overheard when I worked at a food production facility.  A contractor was talking to Bill, the company president, about some changes that the contractor wanted to make in a remodeling plan.  Bill said, “It sounds good to me but I need to talk it over with the Boss.”  The contractor grinned and said, “I always talk these things over with my wife too.”  Bill shook his head and said, “No, I meant I need to pray about it.”  The contractor didn’t know what to say.  Bill had just witnessed to his faith that God is ultimately the Boss, the final decision maker in his personal life and in his business.

When you pray expecting an answer and truly tell God what is on your mind and on your heart, you will receive guidance. Don’t try to make it a “pretty” prayer.  Say what you really mean in the same language that you use talking to your friends.  God knows what is in your heart, so tell Him honestly and bluntly what you want.  Sometimes I have been gladdened by the Lord’s guidance and sometimes I’ve been saddened by it.  Sometimes I have followed His leading and sometimes I’ve gone my own way.  Though it is not always easier, God’s way is always better.

Flipping a coin, rolling a dice or leaving it up to chance has been a decision making process since the beginning of time.  In the book of Judges it is recorded that Gideon, when faced with a hard decision, puts out a fleece.  He said to God, “I’ll place some wool on the threshing floor.  If there is dew on the wool while all the ground is dry, then I’ll know that you will rescue Israel.”
After Jesus’ ascension, while the disciples were waiting in the upper room, they drew lots (cast dice or drew names from a hat) to choose a twelfth disciple to fill the void left by Judas’ death.
A college professor told me that he would sometimes flip a coin to make a tough decision.  No, he wasn’t really relying on luck to make the choice.  His process would go like this:  Heads I will.  Tails I won’t.  Flip.  It came up tails.  How do I feel about not doing it?  Am I happy that the coin chose that way?  If not … chose the other option.  It forces you to confront your true feelings.  So, flip a coin but don’t necessarily follow its guidance.

Here is another decision making aid that I’ve used.  If not me, who?  And If not now, when?  I first heard those two statements sometime while I was in college.  When faced with a situation, they are great questions to ask yourself.  As a manager and a business owner I used them a lot.  And I’ve tried to teach them to my children.

If not me, who?  Sometimes I am the person to handle the task.  I am the best qualified and capable of seeing this through to the end.  Sometimes I am not.  Sometimes I am the one who sees the need and my task is to bring it to the attention of the one who needs to handle it.  And sometimes I am not.  Sometimes I am ‘butting in’ on someone else’s process.  Sometimes I need to get out of the way.

If not now when?  Sometimes, “This is the day and this is the hour” when action needs to be taken.  Sometimes the “important” have to give way to the “urgent.”  Remember, the early bird gets the worm.  Sometimes, the time is not right and we must have patience.  Remember, the early worm gets eaten by the bird.

Don’t let anyone should on you.  The idea here is simply that the world is full of advice givers.  Don’t make decisions based on what someone else says you “should” do.  Read the book of Job sometimes and look at the good advise that his friends gave to Job.  Really, the advise was not bad … it was just wrong for Job.  If you are going to listen to experts, pick the experts carefully.

Another piece of advice I’ve passed on to my kids, “Go the direction you’re looking and look the direction you’re going.” Which means know your goal and work toward it.  If what you are doing is not leading you toward your goal, readjust.

In his earthly life Jesus called a lot of people to follow him. Each person has to decide for him/herself what to do about Jesus’ invitation/command to follow him.

To Simon Peter and his brother Andrew Jesus said, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” And they dropped their nets and immediately went with him.

A little further along the sea shore, Jesus also called James and his brother John to follow him. They left their father and the family business and became disciples of Jesus.

Jesus saw a man named Matthew, a tax collector, and said, “Follow me”. Matthew invited his friends to his home to hear what Jesus had to say.

In these accounts these people immediately dropped what they were doing and followed Jesus. Can you imagine? Jesus walked into their lives … into their businesses and said, “Follow” and they did. This was at the very beginning of his earthly ministry. It makes me wonder what these people saw in Jesus that they would abandon all that was familiar and become his follower.

Not everyone followed. In Matthew 19 we meet the young man who came to Jesus to ask what he needed to do to gain eternal life. Jesus told him simply, “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” And then the young man asks, “Which ones?” Notice that this man came to Jesus seeking to GAIN something … eternal life. Jesus gives him the answer, “Keep
the commandments.” To this the man wants to know which ones. He is saying to Jesus “What is the minimum that I have to do to gain what I seek.” Jesus said to him,“If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven and COME FOLLOW ME.” The man went away grieving. He weighed what he had against what he had to gain and could not let go of what he had.  Notice that the command to “Come follow” was no different than what was given to the disciples.  It amounts to “stop doing what you are doing and start doing as I do”.

As Jesus’ fame grew so did the crowds.  Many were attracted by the power of his words and deeds.  But as time went on, most abandoned him.  What happened to the thousands that followed when he fed them with a few fish and loaves of bread?  The commitment waned as the days went on.  As he went into Jerusalem crowds gathered and lay their coats and palm branches on the path before him.  Once he was arrested, however, the crowds vanished like smoke.  We know that at his crucifixion only John, Mary (mother of Jesus) and few women were with him as he died.  After his resurrection and during the forty days before his ascension he had gathered only 120 followers back to himself.
Jesus never promised his followers an easy road.  On the contrary he told them (us) that it would be difficult.  He also promised that he would be with us … and that it would all be worth it in the end.

Saul (who became Paul) had a lot going for him.  He was both a Jew (God’s chosen people) and a citizen of the Roman Empire (the Super Power of its day).  He was well educated far above the norm.  He wielded the power given to him by the leaders in Jerusalem.  Here is what he has to say about what there was to gain and what there was to loose by following Jesus.  “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

Decisions!  Yes or no?  Now or Later?  That is what today’s gospel reading is all about.  Did you ever have to make up your mind?  Did you ever have to finally decide?

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.  Unlike most Jews who avoided Samaria, Jesus has passed this way before. Remember the woman at the well who came to believe that Jesus was the messiah and brought her townsfolk out to meet him?

But on this pass through … even though he had sent people ahead to make reservations for the night … the Samaritans would not accept him.  And why?  Because he was bound for Jerusalem.  One of the biggest divides between the Samaritans and the Jews was over where to worship God: in Jerusalem or on the mountain where Jacob had built his altar.

The Samaritans could not give up their hold on an ages old grudge over property and ideology to follow the Messiah.  His own disciples were no better when they asked,“Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"  Obviously they had their own prejudices that they could not abandon.

How sad and frustrated Jesus must have felt.  Three years of concentrated teaching and instruction and two of his “inner circle” were behaving like this?  After all, when Jesus said, “Follow me.”  He didn’t mean “walk behind me”. He meant, “Do as I do, speak as I speak and love as I love.” These words were spoken by the man who knew that if you truly love your enemy … you have no enemy … only another loved one.

They went on to another village.  I find it interesting that the gospel writer does not say if they are still in Samaria or if they have crossed the boarder into Israel.  At any rate, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go."

This sounds like music to his ears … don’t you think?  Then Jesus warns him of what it will cost to be his disciple by saying, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." He may have been referring to the rebuff that had just happened in the last village, however it more likely that he was stating the fact that the follower must be willing to give up his home, his family or whatever might tie him to a place. The writer leaves us wondering … did the man make good on his statement and continue to follow … or was being homeless too great of a stumbling stone? We have to ask ourselves these same questions. Though we may not be asked to give up our homes or our families … are we willing to do so?

Jesus invites another to follow. But the other said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God."  That sounds harsh doesn’t it? Remember that Jesus has a totally different view of death than most have. Death is not a permanent condition.  Death is not the end … it is only a transition.  Death was not as important as proclaiming the kingdom of God.  Every once in a while you have to stop and re-adjust your thinking.  This is one of those times.  Nothing, not even death is more important than reaching the kingdom of God.

Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." Before the days of GPS guided tractors, the way to plow a straight furrow was to look for a guide post at the far end of the field.  Line it up with the front of the tractor (maybe using the exhaust stack like the sights on a rifle) and go straight for it … constantly keeping your eyes on the target.  If you keep looking back to see how you are doing, you’ll end up with a crooked furrow.  And since the first pass through the field is used as a guide for all of the other passes… if the first is a mess … all of the rest will be a mess.  Looking back will never get you where you want to be.

Jesus was clear as to where he was going, to Jerusalem and to the cross, to the grave, to the resurrection and to the ascension. He was also clear as to where his followers were going. “And if I go prepare a place for you, I shall come again and bring you to join me, that where I am you shall be also.” John 14:3

In this day and age Jesus is still calling for disciples. He asks each of us to follow him. Did you ever make up your mind? Did you ever finally decide?

Jesus is calling for people to follow in his footsteps and continue his teaching, his preaching, his reaching out and his healing. He is willing to save us from our sins … from ourselves. And his call is universal as he is unwilling to see any perish. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “For whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Once you are saved then what?  That is when we follow Jesus’ last command and pass it on.  Or as Paul wrote, “How, then, can they (the unsaved) call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone to tell them?”

Whose job is it to tell the good news?  Ask yourself. If not me, who? And If not now, when?

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