Losing your grip or loosing your grip
A sermon on Luke 9: 51-62 by Nathan Nettleton, 2 July 1995
Fullness of life is often dependenent on letting go of all the things we thought were going to give us fullness of life.
Many of us could describe quite easily what our mums and dads want us to do with our lives. We have felt it either subtly or heard it explicitly since we were little kids. And it is not all bad. Parents generally want what is best for their kids and they usually do what they can to help their kids achieve happy and fulfilling lives.
Parents are not the only ones who try to shape the agendas of our lives. Our schools often do it to. Margie reckons when she was in high school there was a really strong agenda running to try to get girls to study maths and sciences. The girls at that school felt that pressure really strongly even if they were natural musicians and poets without the slightest interest in calculus or molecular biology. I certainly finished high school knowing very clearly what my school expected of me. We were carefully conditioned to see ourselves as the up and coming leaders in business and politics.
Big business and the advertising industry do their utmost to shape our agendas too, because if they can set our agendas, there is a lot of money to be made. And so we are constantly exposed to images on the TV and in the daily tissues of what the successful and fulfilling life is supposed to look like and what things you need to possess in order to achieve it.
The church has generally backed up these agendas. I certainly don't remember many sermons or Sunday school lessons when I was growing up saying Defy your parents, or Break free from the guidance of your school. I think I can remember a few that suggested that I shouldn't take much notice of the commercials on the TV but I think that was because some of them gave the impression that sex was probably good fun, and that was seen as a pretty dangerous sort of message.
For the most part, what the church has held up as its model Christians, the pillars of the church, has been the same sort of people that the rest of society has honoured too. People who work hard, get good jobs with secure career paths, buy houses, pay taxes, raise children, own a cat and a dog, join service groups, dress neatly but soberly, put their rubbish in the bins provided.
What was that pledge we used to say as kids? Was it in primary school or scouts? I can't remember.
I love God and my country.
I will honour the flag,
serve the queen,
and cheerfully obey my parents,
teachers and the law.
We knew our place and the church sanctified it all and made it clear that the responsibilities of good Christians were those of good citizens. What's good for the country is good for the world and what's good for the world is good for God.
Now what I want you to do, is have a think about where you are in all that. What are the agendas that you've had put on you? Some of them might be ones you've accepted, some of them might be ones you're still trying to resist. But especially what are the agendas that are high on your priority list, the things that you work pretty hard for, the things you invest a lot in? I'll shut up for a minute so you can think about them.
Now hang on to them for a minute, because we'll come back to them.
Along came Jesus and he got people thinking he might have some answers, got them thinking they'd like to be with him. And so we get to our story. A bloke comes up and says, I'll follow you wherever you go. But Jesus says, Dingoes have lairs and budgies have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. I reckon a couple of days with me and you'll be heading home to your house and your pillows.
And Jesus says to another bloke, Come with me, come wander. But the bloke says, Look I will, I really want to, but I've got to do the right thing by my old man first. I've got social obligations you know. Just let me take care of them and I'll be right with you.
Another said, I will follow you, Lord; so long as I can stay close to my friends and family. If you follow, you follow, says Jesus, I can't tell you where we'll be going.
And now Jesus comes to us saying, Follow me. What ever it was you were thinking of before, assume for a moment that Jesus is calling you to leave it behind to come follow. That's not necessarily the case, but maybe, so let's assume it is for a moment. What are you going to be feeling torn about? What will you be responding? I will follow, but first let me what?
We get a lot invested in so many things. We get ourselves caught up in all sorts of agendas, and yet are they really the things that fulfil us?
If lovely environment, nice homes, clean streets, secure jobs is what brings happiness and fulfilment, then why has Canberra got the highest suicide rate in Australia? If marriage and family is the be all and end all, why are divorce, domestic violence and child abuse so prevalent? If career and success and promotion are the sources of self-esteem and security, then why are more and more executives spending the only few hours they're not at work with their psychiatrists trying to stave of burn-out, emotional collapse and even nervous breakdown?
Buying into the agendas is not producing a happy and fulfilled generation of people. If anything it is producing anxiety, stress, greed, competitiveness, jealousy and despair. And those who seem happiest are often those who have abandoned those agendas and followed a reckless dream. I remember hearing Eric Bogle in concert one night and he was saying how he used to spend five days a week as an accountant in Canberra and two days a week getting pissed out of his brain trying to forget that he was an accountant in Canberra. So one day he just quit and went off as a folk singer. Not much money or security in that. He's actually got quite a nice house now, but he didn't get it by setting his sights on it. He just decided that exercising his God-given gift as a musician was all that really mattered to him and whatever else came along, came along.
What did we sing before.
Come leave your possessions,
come share out your treasure,
Come give and receive
without method or measure;
Come loose every bond
that's resisting the spirit,
enabling the earth to be yours to inherit.
Those who quit worrying about which things are theirs, discover that God has given them everything. Everything is theirs. Those who stop worrying about what they are getting, discover the joy of giving. Another line from that song:
Come leave what you cling to,
lay down what you clutch,
and find with hands empty,
that hearts can hold much.
The reality is that as crazy as it sounds it seems to work. Paul said that investment in the Spirit brought forth fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. But we don't find these things when our investment in the spirit has to stand in the queue behind all the competing loyalties. If we try to fit our discipleship in around the defining claims on our lives, then we will only hear Jesus respond, No one who puts their hand to the plow and looks back will be fit for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus calls us to let go and to make our following of him the defining priority of our lives. The one ultimate priority around which everything else is assessed.
This job is being offered - is it consistent with the mission of Christ in the world? This relationship looks exciting - will it free me to follow Christ more or hold me back? I'm thinking of having a baby - is that using the gifts God has given me or obeying my mother? I'd like to live in a smaller town - will that enhance my service of Christ or isolate me from the mission I'm called to?
There is no general all-applicable right and wrong answers to these questions. Christ deals with each of us individually. But those are the questions we need to be asking ourselves. That house, that job, that relationship, is it on the road to freedom and life? or is it a road block?
Those who find the love joy and life that Christ promises, are those who are willing to sacrifice everything else to follow him and who receive back only that which is life giving, freeing and ultimately fulfilling.
Those who are ready to empty their hands and follow Jesus are invited by Jesus to this table, because here at this table Christ wishes to give himself to you. This is my body, given for you. This is my blood, shed for you, says Jesus. Take, receive, for here is life for you.