Have you ever tried to do something and it just has not worked right? I mean, you are following the directions as best as you can, but things just don’t go the way they should. True story, some years ago scientists at NASA built a chicken gun. It was made specifically to launch standard 4 pound dead chickens at the windshields of airliners, military jets and the space shuttle, the subsequent collision was to mimic both the bird and the aircraft traveling at maximum velocity. The idea was to simulate the frequent occurrences of collisions with flying birds to test the strength of the windshields.
British engineers heard about the chicken gun and were eager to test it on the windshields of their new high speed trains. Arrangements were made and a gun was sent to the British engineers.
However in Britain things went wrong. When the gun was fired and the dead chicken crashed into the shatterproof windshield it smashed the windshield to smithereens; it then blasted through the control console, snapped the engineer’s back-rest in two, and embedded itself in the back wall of the cabin, like an arrow shot from a bow. The engineers were appalled.
The British engineers sent NASA the disastrous results of their experiment, the video, copious notes, along with the designs of the windshield and requested the U.S. scientists for suggestions. Within hours NASA responded with a one-line memo: “Defrost the chicken.” You see, they thought they were doing it right, but despite their best intentions, they did it wrong. It happens to us all and we see that in our gospel reading today.
In our gospel lesson we see Jesus on his way to Jerusalem—He knows he is going to go there to die. And not only will He die; He knows he will die an ignoble and extraordinarily painful death. As He and his disciples are walking on their way to Jerusalem, there are crowds of people who are just following and then there are people from the towns and villages who come out to see them; keep in mind that Jesus is famous. He is a famous healer, a famous rabbi and teacher, and people are talking about him being the Messiah. Luke tells us about three people who talk with Jesus about becoming his disciples. In the first situation a fellow runs up to Jesus and says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Now that sounds pretty good doesn’t it? I will follow you wherever you go! You can count on me! I will be your right hand guy! It sounds really good, but remember that many of the Jews who are around Jesus are thinking that He is the Messiah and in their minds the Messiah is going to be the one bringing in the new kingdom—kicking out the Romans and setting up government. And there will be plenty of good paying jobs in this new government. Jesus knows this man’s heart—he tells him—you will follow me? Are you aware that I am homeless; I camp out most nights? I am not accumulating things here on earth. So you may be thinking that following me will bring you great financial rewards-but you better think again. And we do not hear any more about this fellow.
And then Jesus calls a man to follow him. He doesn’t do this very often. But here he does. The man responds with a “Wow, I really want to come follow you, but I need to bury my dad first.” Well, that’s a pretty good excuse right? Except, knowing the Jewish culture, his dad wasn’t dead yet. You see, if his dad had been in fact dead, he would not have been there talking with Jesus, he would have been involved with the preparation of the body and then the funeral itself. When a person in first century Palestine died people were typically buried that same day. So what he was really saying was, “Umm Lord, I do not want to go right now, give me some more time. I really like the idea of being your disciple, but now that push has come to shove, I am not comfortable leaving my family. Jesus responds in a way that sounds rather odd to us, doesn’t he? He says, “Let the dead bury the dead.” In other words, let those who are spiritually dead—those who do not care about spiritual things, let them stay until your father dies and let take care of things. Apparently this man, just like we do, had a heart for spiritual things and Jesus saw that and called him to follow. We do not hear the man’s answer and we do not hear any more about this guy either.
And then we see the third one. Like the 2nd this guy at first glance seems to have a pretty good reason for delay, right? He says, “I am willing and ready to follow you. But first let me go say good-bye to my family.” It sounds good but then after we hear what Jesus said to him we understand more what was going on. You see, apparently the fellow was not quite as gung-ho as he sounded. He said, “I will follow you, Lord.” But I want one more party before I go. I want one more good time to remember how happy life can before I get all religious. Jesus tells him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow share and looks back is fit or is worthy for the kingdom of God.” You cannot plow a straight line when you are looking backwards. It reminds you of the commercial where the guy turns and looks out the back window to back his car into the street, but instead of going backward, he runs into his garage door. That what Jesus says this guy is doing. He says he wants to follow Jesus, but he really does not want to leave the pleasures of this world. Like the first two men, this one also is never mentioned again in the Bible.
So we have three examples of what not to do. Three examples of what discipleship is not about. One, discipleship is not about expecting to get rich and wealthy, despite what Joel Osteen and some others claim. God does love us, but he does not promise worldly wealth and comfort. We are to have our heart and desires on heavenly things not earthly. Two, following Jesus takes priority over family ties and any other ties; we have to love Jesus above everyone else. And three, being a disciple is something we do willingly, not regretfully. We are to follow Jesus with a willing heart.
So how do we measure up? I suspect that you, like I, squirm a little bit. I mean, there are times when I am whole hearted, totally loyal, with no worldly desires. But, the fact is, there are other times when that is not the case—and I am sure that you are the same way. There are these other times when we do not measure-up to being his disciples at all. We are not fit; we are not worthy.
In fact, no one can make the cut; no one can keep the standards all the time. We see in the Scriptures even the 12 disciples were not always able to keep their hearts right either. Still as we see from the gospel Christ has high standards for us his disciples. He doesn’t lower his standards just because we are weak; no, he expects us to rise to meet his standards; he expects us to grow stronger. Being a disciple, being a follower of Jesus is the highest calling a person can have. It is the greatest thing anyone on earth can do. There is nothing more important than coming to know and be in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
But there is a right way and a wrong way— first we need to thaw the chicken; that is, we need to reset our priorities; we need to love Jesus above worldly pleasures and material things; we need to love Jesus more than any other person, and we need to put his kingdom and his priorities as the most important in our lives. Amen