Emmanuel Lutheran Church
Menominee - Michigan
6th Sunday after Pentecost
June 26, 2016
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Several years back, Amy, the kids and myself, all loaded up into the family truckster and headed to Wisconsin Dells; Noah’s Ark waterpark, to be exact, billed as America’s Largest Waterpark. We had an absolutely wonderful day and I think the kids were passed out in the car before we even got them buckled in. Time well spent.
I recall that it was a rare cool August day, so we were pretty much able to experience everything we wanted to that day, and right before we left I talked myself into going down the waterslide called “The Point of No Return.” Now, if you have never been to Noah’s Ark, I’ll tell you that this thing is advertised as being “ten stories up and five seconds down,” and it’s five seconds down because it’s pretty much a vertical shot from top to bottom. About 2/3 of the way up on each slide there are several yards of the slide where it still shines because I’m pretty convinced that persons have never actually come in contact with these sections of the slides because they shoot right over it. There’s a clock at the bottom that displays the amount of time it takes to come down this slide, and, let me tell you, with the gravitation pull on this frame, five seconds is pretty accurate.
But another and important aspect of this waterslide is that as you are walking up the advertised ten stories of stairs, on each landing there is a sign that will ask you something to the effect of, “are you sure you want to go through with this?” And the higher up you go, the stronger the verbage on the signs get until the very top landing where the sign reads that this is your last chance to turn around, for if you take another step forward and cross the painted line on the top landing, that you have reached that point of no return. If you are hesitant in any way, these signs do indeed wage psychological warfare on you.
I recall that there were different points on this climb where I would see people read the sign, take a glance at the slide, take notice of how far the drop was, and have a change of heart, and begin to descend those very same stairs that they moments earlier had been coming up on, opting out of taking the plunge.
As we join Jesus this morning, he is at a similar point in his journey. He has reached the point of no return. Luke writes, “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.”
Jesus is focused. He knows what lies ahead of him, and as he shows us here, he will not be diverted. And much like the Point of No Return waterslide, there are signs as well, warning Jesus what will happen if he continues this journey. But, much like a tank, Jesus’ destination is straight and true, and he will overcome any and all resistance, and Jesus will willingly go to the cross. He will willingly take the plunge.
We know how the story ends. We know that Jesus will take the plunge. But you know, Jesus isn’t alone at the top of the slide, for the question before us that Jesus is asking is, “who will join me?” On the “The Point of No Return,” attraction everyone is willing as long as we’re still standing on the ground. It looks fun from there. And the most devoted will climb every step and they will make it to the top, they will not be disuaded by the signs. But, still, once they reach the top and take a gander at how far away the ground really is, not everyone will cross that line. Not everyone will take that plunge.
It’s a lot like that for Christians as well. When we’re on solid ground and in our safe places, everything looks right and easy. And Jesus knows this and so this is a powerful crossroads for those who are willing to continue following him.
As Jesus is going along the road, someone comes out to him and says to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus has this very sharp retort: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” So what Jesus is saying here is that in order to take that plunge, that you must be willing to leave everything behind to be his follower; and I mean everything. Family. Friends.
Earthly possessions. Even pride. A prideful young pastor often boasted in public that all the time he needed to prepare his Sunday sermon each week was the few minutes it took him to walk to the church from the parsonage next door. But, after a few weeks of hearing his sermons, the congregation bought a new parsonage – five miles away!
He’s not alone, though is he? Pride tends to be something that gets in our way often and diverts us from making that full commitment. So Jesus has to challenge us and he does so by saying here is that, “I am totally dependent on the hospitality of others; are you willing to be? Because if you choose to follow me, from here on out, nobody’s going to stroke your ego. You will no longer have the finest of anything. If you are willing to join me, from here on out, all you will have are the clothes on your back, the shoes on your feet, and one another. That’s it. That’s a big commitment.
As most of you know, a week from Tuesday Patti Treptow and myself be joined by ten incredible high school youth of this congregation and we will venture into the mission field. We’re going to drive some 400 miles away. We’re going to work in various capacities on an Indian reservation. We’re going to be sleeping on the floor of a high school gymnasium. We’re taking the bare essentials with us because we don’t have room in our vehicles to add anything else. But we’re doing it all for one simple reason, and that is to bring our representation of Jesus Christ to this community. None of us have ever done anything like this before, but we go nonetheless, without excuse and filled with the Spirit that God will lead us into wonderful things. These ten young people are taking the plunge, because that’s the plunge that Jesus has asked them to take.
What plunge has Jesus asked you to make? Throughout his journey he has called his followers to discipleship, but here, the meaning of discipleship takes on a far more critical meaning, because Jesus defines discipleship from this point forward as meaning life or death, because Jesus knows what’s ahead of him, a most horrible death.
But, nonetheless, Jesus says, “follow me.” Now, the response Jesus gets is, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus says to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another says, “I will follow you Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” And Jesus response is, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
That’s pretty strong language there. That’s black and white. There is no middle ground; it is either “yes” or “no.” No maybe. No later. No when it’s convenient. There is urgency here and Jesus puts it to those who will follow him that they need to choose, and to do it right now. It’s time to go to Jerusalem. Join me now, because I’m leaving.
Jesus invites us to cross that line, and you know, at Noah’s Ark waterpark, I crossed that line. I went beyond that point of no return. I remember getting into that chute and grabbing that bar in front of me and crossing my legs and looking down and having every single possible bad outcome run through my mind before taking that plunge. I was scared, but as soon as I pushed off and let go, there was no going back.
The outcome of my life was dependent upon recycled water and gravity. But, you know, it was possibly the five most explosive seconds of my life. No harness. No safety net.
No escape. Just making the decision of letting go. And when it ended, I wanted to go
up and to do it again. The same holds true for the call to discipleship that Jesus offers us.
He asks us to make that commitment, because we’re all at the point of no return to just let go and let God. Will you cross that line and go through with it? Amen.