Preaching in the context of a culture that values pleasure and self-fulfillment is a challenge when confronted with readings that underscore the seriousness of a life of faith.
. . . [T]hree brief encounters between Jesus and potential followers. . . make the reader aware that following after Jesus is truly difficult and requires serious reflection and commitment.
In the first encounter, Jesus pictures the difficulty of following him in terms of entrusting oneself entirely to God's providing. Every creature has a home, a place of security and belonging, but Jesus does not. . . . There is no word of judgment spoken for today's listener (who might have many material possessions). Instead, Jesus models the surprising freedom that comes from having placed himself without reserve into God's care.
In the second episode, Jesus dismisses obligation to family as an excuse for failing to respond wholeheartedly to Jesus' summons to follow. In a culture that placed supreme value on family identity, Jesus' words were certainly shocking. The preacher should be clear, though, that this word of scripture does not call believers to sacrifice children, spouse or parents for the sake of church activities. The point is that family relationships must not prevent believers from learning Jesus' way of forgiveness, compassion and generosity.
Finally, Jesus describes making a commitment to follow him in terms of putting one's hand to the plow and not looking back. . . Just as Jesus holds nothing back as he makes his way to Jerusalem, so the disciple who would follow him must yield his or her entire life to the rule of God. – Aaron J. Couch
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
The First Reading gives us the story of another call to follow the will of God.
Elijah is instructed to anoint two leaders to lead this battle for Israel, Jehu as king over Israel and Elisha as prophet to carry on Elijah's work. . . .
Elijah then, without words, calls Elisha to be his successor by placing his mantle on Elisha. Elisha clearly intends to never return to his life as a farmer. After saying farewell to his family, Elisha slaughters his oxen and serves them for a feast. – Aaron J. Couch
The call is not received without hesitation on the part of Elisha, for such is the seriousness of the prophetic venture. Yet, Elisha returns home before following the one who chose him for a new life only to take appropriate leave of his parents whose well-being he was obliged to tend and putting an end to the power of his livelihood (his oxen). There was no turning back.
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Paul warns his readers to resist the lure of any religious promise that would substitute the freedom of Christ for the bondage of a set of rules. In verses omitted by the lectionary, he denounces those who would require gentiles to submit to circumcision and obedience to Jewish law as a prerequisite to faith in Christ. It is not the law itself that Paul rejects, but the law as a means of acquiring righteousness before God.
Addressing freedom in verse 13, Paul recognizes a different danger to life with God: Christian freedom may also be compromised by self-indulgence. . . .
Freedom given by the Spirit is not to do whatever one desires, but rather the ability to desire the life-giving good that God would give. – Aaron J. Couch
Aaron Couch is a co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon.
Homily Service 40, no. 8 (2007): 3-12.