First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, March 6, 2022)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
Luke 9:59-60; James 4:7-10
Many years ago, an inquisitive young student asked a Harvard professor this question: “What does it mean to be a Christian?” As this highly trained teacher glanced out the window to carefully ponder the question, he saw the Rev. Phillip Brooks (1835-1893) walking by. Then immediately, the professor said to the student: “Well, as a matter of fact, it is hard to define a Christian, but there goes one.” Pastor Brooks was a godly Episcopalian clergyman. You may be interested to know that he wrote the lyrics of the well-known Christmas hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Phillip Brooks demonstrated what it meant to be a real Christian.
The simple yet the most profound truth is that: The best argument for Christianity is a Christian. This morning, we continue to unfold the truth about discipleship. What does it mean to bear the name of Christ? Through this series of messages, we have been reminded that discipleship is our primary call as Christians; there is no such thing as a follower who is a disciple and a follower who is not. Discipleship is an exciting, never-ending journey of transformation.
The story before us this morning is a story of someone who missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Listen to what Luke tells us in Luke chapter 9:59-60, “To another Jesus 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.” As we unpack this Scripture this morning, let me very briefly address what’s at stake, then underscore two observations for our lives today.
What is at Stake?
Christ must’ve seen some protentional in that man’s life, so He invited him, “Follow me!” But the man gives Jesus what it seems to be a valid reason not to do it now: “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.”
At first look, Jesus’ reply sounds very harsh. In the Middle East culture back then, and even today, it’s the children’s responsibility to look after their parents. You would work in their business. You would provide for them in their old age. You would feed them. If they were sick, you would nurse them. And when the time comes, of course, you would bury them. The man seems to have a very valid reason.
I want you to know that Jesus’ reply isn’t as harsh as it might seem, and the prospective disciple doesn’t have a valid reason at all. The man’s words don’t actually mean that his dad is dead, or even unwell. His statement means something like, “I’ve got to table this to a later time.” “I will take care of this after my father dies.” “To “bury one’s father” is a standard idiom for fulfilling one’s family obligations for the remainder of the father’s lifetime, with no prospect of his imminent death. This would then be a request for indefinite postponement of discipleship, likely to be for years rather than days. Two observations, two applications we can draw from here:
First: Half-Hearted Discipleship is not Enough
The prospective disciple didn’t turn Jesus’ invitation down. Basically, he said, I will follow you, Lord, but not now. I call this half-hearted discipleship, lukewarm discipleship. James 4:8 calls this, “double-minded” person.
Halfhearted or partial commitment has never been enough. Gibran Khalil Gibran (1883-1931) was an American artist, poet, and writer of the New York Pen League. In one of his inspiring poems titled, “Half a Life,” he says, “Do not love half lovers. Do not entertain half friends. Do not indulge in works of the half talented. Do not live half a life and do not die a half death …. Do not accept half a solution. Do not believe half-truths. Do not dream half a dream. Do not fantasize about half hopes. Half a drink will not quench your thirst. Half a meal will not satisfy your hunger. Half the way will get you nowhere. Half an idea will bear you no results.” To summarize, half-hearted discipleship is dangerous. It will get us nowhere.
Second: Stop Going in Circles
Half-hearted discipleship will make us go in circles. No destination will be reached. The person in our story today had the desire to follow, but he never did it. If you happen to see him a few years later, he would be where you left him. As disciples of Christ, we are to make progress, to go from glory to glory, from strength to strength. We are not supposed to go in circles.
Going in circles will waist our time and exhaust our resources. The story of the people of Israel in the wilderness is a fascinating one. After liberating them from the bondage of Pharoah, the people were commanded to make their way to the Promised Land. God promised them His presence and His guidance. The journey was supposed to take less than 2 weeks. Guess what? It took them 40 years to get to the Promised Land. Why? What happened? Because the Israelites kept going in circles.
Instead of walking by faith, they were crippled with fear. As a result of refusing to obey the Lord, they found themselves stuck in the wilderness some 40 years later. They were told that they had “dwelt long enough in the wilderness.” They got used to it. For 40 years, Israel walked in circles. They refused to go where God wanted them to go; seeing the obstacles rather than the power of God. For 40 years, they remained in the same station of life, using their weakness, and the strength of the giants ahead as an excuse.
Friends, we have spent enough of our life living in the wilderness, in partial obedience to the Lord. It is time to stop walking in circles. Half-hearted commitment will definitely spoil life. The story is told of a woman who rushed up to the famed violinist Fritz Kreisler after a concert and said, “I would give my life to play as beautifully as you do”, to which he responded, “I did.” May our discipleship reflect that level and depth of commitment. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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