DON’T LOOK BACK and DON’T LET GO
A sermon at Ketchikan Presbyterian Church by George R. Pasley
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them.
56 Then he and his disciples went to another village. 57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
DON’T LOOK BACK
I wonder how many times the Bible gives us that warning?
Don’t look back- that’s the lesson we learned when Lot and his family were fleeing Sodom, as fire fell from the sky and the city was being destroyed. Lot’s wife stopped and looked back, and she turned into a pillar of salt.
The prophet Isiah, writing to a people who were growing accustomed to a life of ease in exile, wrote- “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.”
Writing about his own life- when he thought that perhaps death could be near- the Apostle Paul, addressing the Philippians, write: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
When Israel left a life of slavery, only to find themselves starving in the dessert, they complained, and remembered that as miserable as their life was in Egypt, they had food to eat.
God was not pleased. God gave them manna in the dessert in answer to their complaint, but the manna came with a scolding- don’t look back, look ahead to what I am giving you.
Paul, writing to the Galatians, makes a metaphor, drawing on the experience of Israel leaving slavery: “You were slaves, living in slavery- but in Christ, you are free- so do not wander back into that old way of life.”
Don’t look back.
Well, it’s tempting.
It’s tempting to look back when the current life is difficult.
It’s tempting to look back when D-Day draws near.
And it’s especially tempting to look back when the present is very uncertain.
Remember the good old days? Weren’t they fun?
Let’s go back.
What we know is, we can’t go back in time. But we can go back to a way of living that ignores the responsibilities and challenges of the present- that’s the temptation.
And we can go back to a way of life that does not trust in God, the one who brought us here- and that’s the danger.
“As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.”
What we need to do right now is look at those words VERY carefully.
Jesus was ABOUT to be taken up into heaven- and what do we know?
We know what the little girl in Sunday school knew- when asked by her teacher how we GET to heaven, she answered- You have to DIE first.
That time approached Jesus- it approached in the form of death on a cross, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
It might have been tempting to look back to his ministry in Galilee, and stay there!
Galilee was a great place. Huge crowds, exciting sermons, and amazing miracles.
But Jesus was resolute.
Resolute- that doesn’t sound like a word you would use when you’re headed out on a picnic- “They resolutely made their way to Ward Lake.”
No. resolute is an adjective we use to describe our determination to focus on the goal, even when it’s tempting to drop it like hot potato.
Jesus resolutely made his way to Jerusalem.
Jesus knew than danger lay ahead, but it was not nearly so dangerous as giving in to temptation, to an old way of life, to trusting in humans and not in God.
And to teach us that lesson, he used an odd metaphor- a plow.
If you grab onto a plow, and look back, you’re NOT FIT for the Kingdom of God.
What is it about a plow?
I’ve plowed a little tiny bit. It wasn’t too hard.
I sat on a tractor- an old tractor, that sputtered and carried on, but it moved, and it pulled a small plow- and I had to aim ahead towards where I wanted the furrow to go, at the end of the field.
But there was a major difference between that plow, and the plow of Jesus’ day.
The plow of his day- the plow that was STILL prevalent in America a hundred years ago- was a plow pulled by oxen, or horses. And the plowman WALKED BEHIND THE PLOW.
Everything depended on looking ahead. You looked ahead, towards your destination, and you guided that plow as it made its way through the soil. More than that, you weren’t just steering.
You were holding the plow in the ground, and lifting it out when it came time to turnaround and start another furrow.
It was, in fact, the hardest labor there was, on the farm.
I’m sure I told this story before, about the nutritionists who were doing research into fitness, and how much we needed to walk each day in order to stay in shape.
One spring they went to an Amish community, and gave pedometers to some of the Amish farmers, so they could record their steps.
On day, after plowing all day, a farmer recorded 50,000 steps.
Just to give you a clue, 50,000 is just a few steps less than I took on the day I ran a marathon.
So the nutritionist was impressed: “50,000 steps- wow!”
And the farmer, who had made all of those steps while holding a plow down into the soil, waking in the plowed soil behind a strong horse, replied, “And they weren’t easy steps, either!”
Trusting God is hard work.
It’s hard work when God leads you to a cross, as it did Jesus.
It’s hard work when God leads you to prison, as it did Paul.
It’s hard work when the journey leads you to something that doesn’t look like success to you, as it does to many small congregations.
It’s hard work when you put your trust in God, and the result is not an easy life.
It was hard work for me when I was a commissioner to General Assembly, four years ago- and I was reminded, watching this year’s commissioners do their work. Putting our hands to the plow is work, no matter what the specific work is. But if you believe our calling as a church is to demonstrate the Kingdom of God- to give people a visible image of what God is doing and will continue to do- in the world, then you’ll keep your eye on the goal, and not on what you left behind.
It’s hard work, to believe in good news, when bad news comes.
It’s hard work, as it was for Dolores, when her doctors told her there was nothing they could do.
Plowing is hard work, and if you look back- it could all be ruined.
All that work you did in Galilee, gone for naught.
That old life that seemed so good?
Not really. Remember?
Sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.
Listen- no matter how good you’ve been, there was something on that list that ruled over you.
You were a slave.
But Jesus set you free, and gave you a responsibility to love your neighbor.
And love is a plow. It turns the old sod over, so seeds can be planted.
Love forgets the old way of living, and creates a new.
When seeds are planted, and nurtured, things grow.
And when things grow that produce fruit, we all prosper.
But none of that happens when we look back.
And none of that happens when we let go,
So hang on to the plow, and be resolute
And let your resolution become a plowman’s song,
A song of joy,
Because the Kingdom of God is growing beneath our feet.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.