The Unconditional Yes

Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 8/Year C: June 30, 2019
Gospel: Luke 9:51-62

Mother Hymes’ final sermon at WCEC’s last Sunday at Savanna Church (Luke 9:51-62). WCEC’s first Mass in our new church home is next Sunday, July 7 at 10:30am. 3836 Flatiron Loop, Wesley Chapel 33544.

Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, June 30, 2019

Lord, take our minds and think through them. Take our lips and speak through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire! Amen.

Many years ago, I was a standup comedian.  The richest resource as a standup was my training in improvisational performance. The television show, “Whose Line Is It Anyway,” was a showcase masterfully illustrating the ability of the performers to create full story lines, with minimal information, which never failed to result in the roar of the audience’s laughter. Although it appears to be off-the-cuff, improv does follow core standards.

First, improv performers must stay present to their partners and in the shared experience as it is happening, and go with the flow.

Second, don’t try to be funny; the laugh isn’t the destination; the laugh is solely dependent on the unfolding narrative as it is being created in the moment. In the dance of improvisation, it is not one person’s contribution that creates comedy; it is the partnership which co-creates the experience that births the shared comedic experience.

Third, performers must adhere to the golden rule of acceptance in improv—the “Yes, And…”  Many people live lives in a state of live lives of “Yes, but…” The “Yes,” comes with conditions.  Yes…I will do such and such, but in my own time, the way that I want to, and in a way that doesn’t cause me any discomfort.  In an improv sketch, the “Yes, but…” response is deadly to the flow of the sketch. And, it is certainly incongruent with a life of discipleship. These three standards offer some perspective for our gospel lesson.

Jesus’ determination to fulfill his purpose for God’s plan of salvation demanded that he set his face to Jerusalem—the place of his death, resurrection and ascension. This journey narrative started with Jesus’ disciples, James and John, being sent by Jesus ahead of him to prepare for his arrival in a Samaritan village.

Because of Jesus’ destination, he was rejected. The sons of Thunder—wanted permission to incinerate the village. Jesus rebuked them and moved on to another village. Jesus’ reaction was not, “Yes…but don’t they know who I am?!” His reaction, instead, was, “Yes…this village of Samaritans rejected me…and my journey to Jerusalem continues.”

Jesus and his followers continued on their way when he interacted with three would-be disciples. The first person proactively approached Jesus, enthusiastically signing on to being Jesus’ disciple. “I will follow you wherever you go,” he said.

Jesus responded with the reality of his life’s journey in obedience to God—even animals have shelter, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head. Follow me if you want, but be clear that one of the basic things for human survival—shelter—is never promised. Discipleship is not glamorous. We are not told whether or not the person decided to follow Jesus.

The next person was approached by Jesus with his signature call-to-action command, “Follow me.” Devout Jews were bound to bury their dead. It is not clear if the person’s father had already died, or if he was not fully present with Jesus as he looked toward his father’s future death.

Nevertheless, Jesus, responded to this person’s “Yes, I’ll follow you…but I have something to do first,” with, “Yes, and…the spiritually dead will bury their own dead; as for you, there’s still the urgent work of proclaiming the gospel.” We are not told whether or not the person decided to follow Jesus.

The final character is a hybrid of the previous two characters. He said with conviction that he would follow Jesus and explicitly uses the word, but, to preface his one condition to bid farewell to his loved ones. And, Jesus, in the moment hits him with this image of double-mindedness. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,” said Jesus.

The agricultural act of plowing is meant to do several things at once. The intentional disturbing of the soil rolls the old crop (what’s visible on the top) along with the weeds, and buries it under the freshly-turned soil.

Having been cut-off from sunlight, the old soil quickly decomposes, and becomes nutrients for the new soil, so nothing is wasted. The newly-exposed soil retains life-giving water more easily, resulting in healthier crops. This act of plowing creates visible trenches in the soil in which seeds for new life can be planted.[1]

These trenches are spaced with intentionality, so distractions from the work at hand can result in visibly crooked trench lines which could ultimately affect the planting of the crops. To start the work of plowing, which demands one’s full attention, and look back is to take one’s eyes off of the pattern of trenches that have been created to guide the ongoing work of creating fertile ground for new life to flourish.

Such is the call to a life of discipleship in Christ. To be a disciple is to pattern one’s life after the guiding patterns of Jesus’ life.  It is Jesus’ life that guides the ongoing work of creating fertile ground in order for new life to flourish.  Therefore, we must be single-minded in our commitment to serve God.

And, yet, we are human, with the enthusiasm to follow Christ. Even the most faithful follow Christ, as they hold fears about uncertainty, doubts about worthiness; and the burden of guilt and shame for taking a break from the demanding journey. Faithful people, do look back, and God knows that. He loves us anyway and He says to us, as Jesus said to the individual on the journey, “Yes, you may have looked back…now, set your face to me. And…you still have the urgent work of proclaiming the good news of my coming kingdom in Christ.”

The good news is that as we grow deeper in relationship with Christ, we become more Christ-like. So that on those occasions when looking back occurs, it is about looking back to see where God has been present all along on your life’s journey, correcting you along the way, so that God’s plowing of your soul becomes fertile ground for renewed life within you and all whom you meet.

Growing into the full stature of Christ demands that we, who are baptized into Christ, set our faces toward Christ. As Christ set his face toward Jerusalem to fulfill his purpose in God’s plan for the salvation of the world, we must set our faces to Christ for pattern of obedience as we work to build God’s kingdom here on earth until Christ’s coming again.

The path of discipleship sets no priorities above following Jesus.  As we journey with Jesus, individually and collectively, may we remain present with Him, as He remains present with us. May we adopt the golden rule of living the “Yes, and…” as we accept the distractions of this world and continue with the urgent work of proclaiming the gospel as Jesus has given us to do.

And, may we celebrate the life-long, shared, improvised dance of co-creation with God, as we are led by the Spirit to plow the field here in Wesley Chapel, planting seeds of Christ’s light and hope along the way.

Amen.

[1] “A Guide to Better Plowing.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4I8UVdsdEI. Accessed June 29, 2019.