St. John’s United Church of Christ, Union, Illinois
People are really good at making excuses. We make excuses for everything, including why we can’t make it to church on Sunday. The kids play soccer on Sundays. I was up late on Saturday night. It’s the only day I can play golf, or fish, or hunt, or sleep in. We had company, and I had to fix a big dinner.
Now, I make plenty of excuses too. I have even made excuses for not making it to church on Sunday. But there is more to following Jesus than just going to church. Following Jesus is a way of living, a way of being in the world that makes the kin-dom of God into reality. Following Jesus means seeking justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God, all the time.
We heard some excuses in the skit earlier. Maybe you haven’t been the best person you could be. Maybe you feel unworthy. But God loves you anyway. When you follow Jesus, you can learn to be kind, honest, trustworthy. You can learn to welcome people who are different. You are good enough to follow, and by following you become something more. Don’t let your past mistakes be an excuse for not living into your future.
Maybe you have tried your best. You have participated, you have done the work, you have brought some hope and peace to others. Take that experience and build on it. Discipleship is not a destination. Don’t let complacency be an excuse for not doing the more difficult work of seeking justice.
There are times when it is good to follow Jesus. We love one another and learn from one another, and it is joyful to follow Jesus. Don’t let business be an excuse for not being kind. But this isn’t a fairy tale either. Don’t let sentimentality be an excuse for walking away when following Jesus gets hard.
We see people all the time who claim to be Christian, but fail to care for the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the outcast. We see hypocrites who point to the bible as they ignore the commandment to love. Don’t let the behavior of others be an excuse for not following Jesus yourself, and living as a better example of what it means to be a disciple.
And really, it’s a difficult life sometimes, being a Christian. There is no simple way to be a disciple. It means truly dedicating your life to loving others. There are so many excuses. I want my family to come first. I want to be a Christian, but I’m not yet ready to make a commitment. I have something else that I must do first. I keep looking back at what I had before I started out on this path. And gosh, I’m just so tired.
The excuses are where we get into trouble. I yelled at the kids because I didn’t want to take the time to listen, to explain, to manage my own anger before trying to manage theirs. I was mean to the waitress because I just wanted things to be perfect, and I didn’t want to think about separating my disappointment from the person just trying to do her job.
Jesus reminds the people along the road: this is not a fun adventure. Especially at this point in the narrative, because “he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This is going to be hard. I know someone who seems to function by the adage, “That’s good enough.” For any task, they will do what is expected, but rarely will they do their best. Most things just seem to reach a certain point where they stop and say, “That’s good enough.” Well, it isn’t. There are times when good enough isn’t.
After college I worked for a bank. In the check processing department, the checks would get run by the thousands through these huge, high-speed machines. Sometimes the machine couldn’t read the numbers and it would reject the item. When each batch was done, there would end up being a stack of rejects, and the report printed out at the end of the job would show that the balance was off. There was a room of ten or so people whose main job was to take the rejects, print out a new number strip that would get glued to the bottom, and check that all the items were accounted for. Good enough wasn’t good enough there. Everything had to balance at the end of the day.
More is expected of us as Christians that just being good enough. That is just one more excuse. More is expected of us, especially when we identify ourselves in some way as being Christian. If I wear my cross necklace on the outside of my shirt, and then I’m disrespectful or hurtful toward another person, that is what they will think Christians are like – selfish, hypocritical, heartless. More, and better, is expected of us if we profess that we love our neighbor as our selves, that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
You know who it is that has called us to follow. You know what God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do. If we are really going to be the people God wants us to be, then we can’t let excuses get in the way. We can’t worry about where we’ll rest our heads at night. We can’t get stuck in the past, focused on what might be lost rather than on what might be gained. We can’t put a hand to the plow and look back.
Wouldn’t it be better if we worked on finding reasons? Instead of excuses why we can’t follow Jesus, why we can’t be who God is calling us to be, what if instead we focused on the reasons why we can.
I follow Jesus, not because I’m afraid but because I’m brave.
I follow Jesus, not because I want to go to heaven and avoid hell, but because I want to bring the kin-dom to this life.
I follow Jesus, not because I need to protect myself from the fear of death, but because I need to protect the vulnerable from the oppressors.
I follow Jesus, not because I think I’ll get health or wealth, but because I want to bring joy and hope to others, even others who are very different from me.
The reason I follow Jesus is because I want to be happy. Happiness for me means inner peace, control over my passions and desires, life lived fully in this moment, joy in remembering what God has done for me, acceptance of what is and courage to change what must be changed.
I follow Jesus because when I do, when I seek to live as he might have lived, when I treat myself and others with respect and compassion, when I care for not just myself but the world and every living thing in it, I am happy.
When I seek to live my life – even when it is difficult – in the way that Jesus lived, with patience, with kindness, with love even for those who abused and then killed him, I find the joy and love of God.
I follow Jesus because Jesus knows me, knows the excuses I make, and still calls me to follow. And perhaps the best reason I should, I must follow Jesus, is that the Kin-dom of God needs me. Amen.