Jesus walks, moves, doesn’t stick around. He doesn’t wait until you’ve figured out your plans, vested your 401(k), said your goodbyes. Jesus has a mission and that mission means movement.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus is driven toward Jerusalem, compelled to his final confrontation with the powers of Death—he wins through the cross and resurrection, but his mission doesn’t end there. Jesus is still on the move, going out and sending out, finding those broken places and people who need the healing power of his love.
To be a follower of Jesus doesn’t mean finishing what we started, fulfilling our ambitions and obligations until finally we have time for faith. Jesus is diving out into the crowd, moving quickly around the corners. If we want to stay with him, we have to stay close, not asking “where next,” because he is already dashing out ahead of us.
“Stay close”--that is the mantra of the disciple who has answered the call of Jesus to “follow.” In answering that call we have not made a stable choice, but a faithful one. We have chosen to be on the move and on the run, party to a divine conspiracy.
The ones in power, those who benefit from the arrangements of the status quo--they are the ones who get to stay put, build palaces, see their investments to the end. They are the foxes and the birds, Jesus’ snide language for Herod and the Romans who would rather us refer to them by their official emblems: the Lion and the Eagle. But Jesus is on the side of the peasant jeer, the colloquial caricature of the mighty. Foxes like Herod have dens and birds like the Romans have nests, but the Messiah doesn’t have a home. Renegades rarely do, an address means the authorities can always come knocking.
The reality is that even those who see the hope of the kingdom coming, God’s reign unsettling the agents of Death, have a hard time staying close when there is so much calling them to stay put. So Jesus calls on his disciples to leave behind “staying put, in all its forms and with all that comes with it.
To the one who wants vengeance on those who resist God’s mission, Jesus says, don’t waste your time. To the one who wants to bury his father, Jesus says, let the dead bury the dead. To the one who wants to say goodbye to his family, Jesus says, there’s no looking back, only looking forward. These are radical statements for us, but in a culture of honor and family they were even more shocking. And yet they fit the urgency of what Jesus is moving us toward--a new family, a new politics, a new creation. Why bury the dead when a life with Jesus can lead to the resurrection of the dead? Why say goodbye when Love embodied calls for our hello?
But as we all know, the burdens of the world can be heavy. The nag of obligations to false hopes and identities and claims can be hard to shake free of. This is why, as the biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it: “Jesus’ word is, do not spend energy on failed antecedents, but unload them to travel light in obedience...-leave off old memories that are small and suffocating; ...-leave off old hurts and affronts that are revisited too often to permit healing; -leave off the shrillness that always needs to make one more "statement"; -leave off old fears and hates and angers that block the wind, old modes of doctrine (liberal or conservative) that are only cultural accidents, and old moralities (liberal or conservative) that are, in fact, disguised fear and vested interest.”
Against all of the ways we are tempted to stay put, Jesus instead calls us to travel light and stay close. By staying close we will not have it easy, everything will not end up okay. Jesus, in our Gospel will soon be executed by the state not simply as a criminal, but as a rebel against the institutions of authority. Most of those who followed his call to “stay close” in those early days were persecuted, deprived of income, and cast out of their families. They stayed close to their Lord and that unsettled all the easy compromises of staying put, the little agreements and silences and injustices that keep the authorities in their palaces and the poor oppressed and the creation exploited.
There are many through the ages who have chosen to stay close rather than stay put. Francis gave up the wealth and money and power of his family to embrace lepers in the street and live a life of humble penance. Theresa gave up a good marriage and Spanish estate to live a life of prayer and to teach daringly in an age of inquisition. Dietrich Bonhoeffer gave up the life of a celebrity scholar to live as a renegade pastor and die as a conspirator against the Nazis. The Episcopal priest Jonathan Daniels, a Harvard grad, gave up his life while shielding the body of 17-year-old Ruby Sales from a shotgun wielding sheriff's deputy in Selma, Alabama. All of these could have stayed put but chose instead to stay close to Jesus.
And there are many other quieter modes by which disciples have stayed close in home and family and town, but never settled into staying put. In their prayer, and their living, they are always ready to follow Jesus when he calls, like the sleeper cells of God’s kingdom waiting for the call to get up and go.
When life is going well for us in the world as it is, we must ask, are we staying close or are we staying put? Are we ready for the call of discipleship, the call to follow? Jesus is on the move--redeeming, reconciling, healing, loving in all the broken places of the world. He is setting up cell houses where people learn to worship God and care for creation and forgive one another in a world that says that success can be measured by money and accomplishment and that those worth listening to are the ones with the right accent and the best vocabulary. Jesus is training subversives who look around the room for the person sitting alone or the person who feels very out of place. Jesus is calling those who follow him to go to those on the borders and margins, to bring them in, to live in ways that would make the lonely, and isolated, and poor welcome among us.
But we can never know exactly where Jesus is leading us, because it would be so easy to set up a home base there and stay put and then we’d just have another false kingdom, another institution rather than the God who is always moving out in mission. What matters is staying close, keeping our eyes locked on Jesus up ahead and running our hardest to keep up. Where is he going in front of you? Amen.