6 Pentecost: An urgent matter
|"[Void of Time]" by Cam Evans, on Flickr|
When the days drew near for [Jesus] 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.”
Ok. Today is one of those gospel readings that I’ve preached on a number of times. It is a gospel where Jesus tries to make the point that the call to follow him is a drop-everything-be-willing-to-sacrifice-everything-for-the-sake-of-the-gospel sort of calling. It’s a gospel where Jesus seems to scoff at would-be disciples who seem unprepared for the challenge. It’s a gospel where we seem to have a cranky Jesus saying that security, grief, family, or emotional closure are all ultimately unimportant to the life of discipleship. And in other times and other places, sure, I can preach about the true cost of following Jesus (hint: it will take your very life from you).
Except that as the world still deeply grieves the shooting in Orlando that left so many of our brothers and sisters dead; as families and nations are being torn apart by politics; as too many in our community don’t have places to lay their heads or money to buy food or support systems to offer them any security, let me tell you.
I can’t give a free pass to Jesus today when he says things like “let the dead bury their dead” or “anybody who looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God” or “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head so why should anybody.”
This does not seem like the Jesus that we know and love, right?
Surely Jesus cares about grief, and families, and emotional health, and security, and safety, and basic needs, right? Surely these things are not actually outside the kingdom of God, right?
Ok. Let’s take a deep breath and start from the beginning. Yes, this passage is about sacrifice. Yes, this passage is about the cost of discipleship. But no, Jesus isn’t just being a jerk.
First, we have to remember that at the very beginning of Jesus’s ministry in Luke’s gospel, he outlines his mission: to bring good news to the economically insecure, to bring liberation to those captive to injustice, to bring sight and clarity to the unseeing, to bind up the brokenhearted, to lift up the weak, to bless the dying, to reach out to those who have been cast out. Moreso than any other gospel writer, Luke focuses on Jesus’ identification with those who are suffering and struggling the most. So we can’t read today’s passage and assume that Jesus has turned callous.
But Jesus has turned urgent.
Twice in our reading today we hear that Jesus has his face set toward Jerusalem. This is an important detail.
Prior to Luke chapter nine, Jesus and the disciples have been doing ministry in Galilee. Jesus has been teaching, healing, preaching - establishing his ministry and letting the disciples get a front-row view. But now at the end of chapter nine, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem and begins a ten-chapter march to the city.
And what is Jerusalem? In Luke’s gospel, Jerusalem means many things. Jerusalem is the temple, the center of faith and worship, where Jesus goes to confront that temple with the temple of his body. Jerusalem is the focus of Jesus’ prophetic call to speak truth about God’s kingdom and justice, even if that truth turns over tables. Jerusalem is the religious leaders who will throw Jesus under the bus. Jerusalem is the disciples who will shout hosanna and then betray and deny him. Jerusalem is the Roman occupation, where those who fear him will look to arrest him. Jerusalem is Pilate. Jerusalem is the crowds shouting crucify. Jerusalem is the cross.
Jerusalem, in Luke, is just another name for Jesus’ core mission, where great power will be shown in great weakness; where salvation will no longer be a matter of isolated acts of healing in the Galilean countryside, but a cosmic, definitive act of healing for all creation.
So it is not in spite of the concerns of his would-be followers that Jesus moves on without them; it is because of those concerns. It is because the dead are still burying their dead that Jesus must keep moving forward without delay. It is because children of God live in homelessness and insecurity that Jesus must keep pressing onward. It is because families are still being torn apart by violence and broken relationships that Jesus must keep walking to Jerusalem.
It is not callousness that causes Jesus to dismiss and dissuade his would-be followers. It is urgency.
The ancient Greeks had two different words for time: chronos and kairos.
Chronos is the root of our world chronology. It is linear time. It is the one-directional flowing of time from past into present into future. Chronos is the time zone in which we live our daily lives. The meetings that we put on our schedules, our kids’ baseball games, the cycle of seasons, the aging of our parents, our own aging, all the life transitions that come with the march of time: these are all parts of our chronology.
Kairos, on the other hand, is a word meaning “the right time” or “the opportune time” or the “appointed time.” It isn’t about the rising and setting of the sun or the tick of the second hand. Kairos is decision time. Kairos is action time. Kairos is God-time. When Paul in 2 Corinthians writes, “see, now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation,” this is kairos talking.
The would-be disciples were living in chronos time. They want to follow Jesus, but they cannot see past a linear timeline. They are willing to follow as long as they can write Jesus into their day planner. They don't yet understand that they can't just put off discipleship until tomorrow; they don't realize that for Jesus, the time is now. They are earnest, they are faithful in their desire to follow, but they simply don’t understand that Jesus is operating in a different time zone. Jesus is on kairos time while they are still seeing the world through the chronos lens.
But the march to Jerusalem is all about kairos. It is crisis time. Decision time. Jesus needs to get to the center and speak hard truths and give up his life. So his call to follow is no longer a nice existential, “drop your nets and hang out with me for a while” sort of call. Now that he is in urgent-mode, the call to follow is very specific: “follow me to the heart of this whole business and stand with me while I do the hardest thing that anyone will ever do.”
Our own lives of faith and discipleship are always lived between these two time zones, one foot in chronos, the other in kairos. This is what baptism does for us. It claims us as children of God but it also pulls us up out of the water into a kairos way of life, where we are called to work for justice and peace and to live lives of worship and service; baptism lifts us into the kairos urgency of God's kingdom, even if that kingdom isn't yet made perfect in our midst. The ongoing work of discernment that we are called to do as baptized disciples is to figure out, at any given moment, which time zone needs to take priority.
When are we being called to sit back, let go, move slowly, let the world unfold as it will? And when are we being called to urgency, action, passion, dropping everything to proclaim and serve God? I suspect that we find ourselves doing much more of the former than of the latter.
I suspect that even when events and crises in our world spark flashes of kairos urgency in our hearts, we more often than not find a way to stifle that instinct and go onto live life as usual. We turn off the television. We walk down the other side of the street. We give money to somebody else to do the work of the kingdom so that we don’t have to see what they see on the front lines.
But part of the ongoing work of faith is to soften our hearts and to let down our guard so that the kairos moments in life - the urgent moments, the times when the world is so aching, so trembling, so weeping - become kairos moments for action.
One of the pieces of my own journey of discipleship - and my own journey toward kairos urgency - has been learning to wrestle with the pain in our world instead of trying to normalize it. This means that I’ve had to make peace with the fact that mass shootings break my heart; that hate and mean-spiritedness make me weep; that injustice makes me angry. Being a person of faith means that I have to let myself feel things deeply…and then I need to pay attention when I feel the tug of the Spirit, when she says that I need to stick my neck out and proclaim all the things that I believe to be true about God’s plans for peace and salvation and hope and healing for the world. It’s not good enough for me simply to believe those things. I have to say them out loud to the world.
For some of you, tapping into kairos urgency means that you, too, are being called to speak. Others of you are being called to feed. Others are being called to accompany people in grief, or to build homes, or to stand in front of Congress, or to dig gardens, or to join the armed forces, or to stand up with protest signs, or to work for environmental justice or to choose a college major or course of study that makes a difference in the world even if it doesn’t make you any money. For some of you, you are being called to feel the world deeply in a way that you haven’t even felt it before.
But friends, it doesn’t take much effort to realize that the kairos urgency is always bubbling away underneath our chronos lives. For Jesus, his life is defined by the urgency of his mission to save the world for all its pains and reunite it with God the creator. As disciples, may the Spirit empower us to tap into that urgency, to not be afraid of it, and to let the good news of our salvation be the good news that pushes us forward, always forward, for the sake of ourselves and the world.
Brothers and sisters, may God's Spirit grant each of us eyes to see the kairos in the midst of the chronos. May the Spirit make us eager and urgent for the fulfillment of God's kingdom. And may we, as disciples, follow in the way of Christ, whose urgent love for the world has brought all salvation, life, and hope. God bless and strengthen us as we strive for these things.