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Counting the Cost

July 5, 2016

A sermon preached by The Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, June 26, 2016

 Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for him 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.”

I want to take this opportunity to say thank you for holding me in prayer as I helped my mom into her new role a caregiver for grandmother. Many of you know that my grandparents were moved to an assisted living facility in Arizona last spring, and that both of them were under hospice care. On Valentine’s Day this year they celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. We always thought my grandmother would pass away first, as her health at that time was the more fragile of the two. But … my grandfather began his health crisis a couple of months ago. My mother, who you all know lives in Florida, simply packed her bag and took herself to Arizona to be, with her older sister, a full time caregiver. She had been there almost three months.

My grandfather died three weeks ago. He had what he called “a good day”: he smoked a cigar, talked with friends, and went to sleep. It has now fallen to my mom, among her sisters, to take on the full time responsibility of caring for her mom, my grandmother.

And the first thing she did was call for help. My mom called for help, and I went – to transport grandmother from Arizona to Florida, to establish new routines in the house, to be another set of eyes and ears during intake interviews with hospice, with home health aides, with the companion service, and to help my grandmother with her grief.

The last thing my grandmother said to my grandfather was “Wait for me.”

My grandfather served on the Italian front during WWII, leaving my grandma at home with two daughters, my mom being born just before he left. He was gone for 19 months.

“No one tells you about all the waiting,” my grandmother told me. “It’s not in the marriage contract. Wherever he is now, in heaven or hell or wherever, here I am waiting alone again.” My grandmother has dementia, which complicates her grief, but it is poignant nevertheless.

I particularly appreciate the support I’ve been given by those of you who, like my mom, are nurses, and those of you who have been down this road before, as caregivers for parents, spouses, or children. Your experience has been invaluable. As you know, my mom has a hard road ahead.

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My grandparents, Leroy and Gertrude Sass,
with my nephew in early June

In our scripture reading this morning, Jesus too has a hard road to travel. He has determined to go to Jerusalem where he will speak and demonstrate God’s in-breaking kingdom among the occupying Roman forces and the leaders of the religious establishment. The two episodes we have read today speak about the cost of following him on this road.

In the first episode – Jesus and his disciples are passing through a Samaritan village, which refuses to offer him hospitality. The meaning is really complex here – the phrase of rejection, ‘because he set his face toward Jerusalem’ may indicate religious difference – Samaritans did not recognize the authority of Jerusalem in religious matters – but it is more likely political fear of reprisal: Jesus is about to confront religious and political leaders of occupation, and that he may be killed for doing so is a distinct possibility. Sheltering him may be dangerous. “Stay somewhere else,” they seem to say.

Jesus first challenge comes from his own disciples, James and John. They don’t handle rejection well. James and John want to call down fire and judgment on the village’s lack of hospitality. They have apparently forgotten Jesus’ instructions that when the disciples enter a village, if they are not welcomed and received, they should simply move on and shake the dust of the village off their shoes. Jesus sharply rebukes James and John:  This is no time for them to fail to demonstrate love, peace, and forgiveness. The challenges ahead are going to be difficult enough without having to carry along resentment.

In the next episode, however, Jesus cautions those who would follow him that the road will be hard and the cost could be high. As just demonstrated in the Samaritan village, Jesus’ road will involve complete dependence on the hospitality of others (the human one has no place to lay his head), an unfailing commitment to kingdom practices (which James and John forgot), and there will be no turning back. Please, please don’t read this episode the way James and John might: sitting in judgement on these (or other) would be followers, speculating on their motives or life circumstances. The road is hard, and Jesus wants them to be prepared!

I take great comfort in this: that Jesus knows what he is asking of us, even if we don’t fully comprehend when first we say ‘yes, I will follow you.’

In just a moment I am going to invite Ruth Doehring forward so that we can ordain and install her as an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and for this congregation. We believe God called her to this ministry, but in saying so today, we are invited to hear again God’s call to each of us – to witness to and practice God’s way of peace, love and justice in this broken and often fearful world. We will pray that the holy spirit will strengthen Ruth for her ministry among us. But we will also pray that we may recognize the gifts God has given to each of us and the opportunities we have to use them for the common good. It is a hard and high calling to serve the living God.

As Ruth comes forward, I am reminded of the words:

Who, having counted the cost, would ever begin.
But who, having begun, would ever look back.

 

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