With the Olympics in Rio de Janiero on the horizon athletes from all over the world are training for their events. American swimmer, Michael Phelps, is training for his last challenge in Rio. Michael has a training schedule that includes swimming 80,000 meters a week. That’s almost 50 miles! To fuel this rigorous.schedule he consumes 12,000 calories per day.
For Michael Phelps or any world class athlete, to have any chance against the world’s best they need to have one focus, to make sacrifices, reorder their priorities and be single-minded, determined and committed to being the best they can be. Without that determination, daily perseverance, and toughness, they would soon tire of the daily routine and their ability to be the best would soon fade.
Today's gospel reading is full of toughness. In a nutshell, Jesus is saying that if you want to be a disciple, if you want to respond to Jesus' call to "follow" then be ready for some tough decisions and demanding actions requiring determination, perseverance, and toughness.
Three people come to Jesus The first would-be disciple tells Jesus "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus tells him a disciple will never have security and comfort the foxes and birds have it. But, they won't. We all want comfort and security in our lives But, we never hear of Jesus being "at home". He's always on the move, going from place to place helping people in their needs, finding little rest, security or comfort.
Being a disciple is more important than personal security and comfort. In fact, if we find being a disciple is cozy and easy then there may be something wrong with our commitment, or obedience to what Jesus is calling us to do. Like the athlete, the disciple must be ready to make personal sacrifices. It may mean giving up what we regard as comfortable and cozy in our lives or in the church.
To carry out the work of Christ, we are most likely to be challenged. To do something that we've never done before To help people we've never considered helping before, To tell about the love of Jesus to people we've always been afraid to tell. To risk our reputation by sticking up for what is right or befriending someone whom everyone else think is a loser.
The second would-be disciple responds to the call of Jesus with:"Lord, let me go back and bury my father." Jesus tells him you go and proclaim the Kingdom of God." "Let those who have no interest in following me bury the dead. They'll take care of it. This man has a sense of human responsibility to his father. Jesus is saying that to follow him is the most important responsibility that we have. I think it’s important to see that Jesus isn’t saying that we should neglect our families, spouses, or work and use our devotion to church activities as a substitute for being at home What Jesus is implying is that when you follow Him as the first priority then you will be a better father, mother, grandparent, son or daughter, employee, or student.
Then there's the third would-be disciple trying to make a deal with Jesus. "I will follow, but first...." Jesus told this would-be disciple Don’t put off following me. Don’t we use excuses like "I’ll do more at church when I’m retired and have more time", "when the kids get older", "when things slow down at work", "when we’ve paid off the house, we'll give more". Jesus is calling us now everyday! Who knows, there may not be a tomorrow for us.
He’s calling us to do the work he has given us as the church and members of the church right now. The world’s athletes right now are focused on only one thing – being the best they can be when that gun goes off for their event in Rio. There is no place for conflicting loyalties when they travel the road to a world championship There is no place for conflicting loyalties when we travel the road to the best prize eternal life with Jesus!
At this point, I wonder if you feel the same as I do when talking about this whole matter of following Jesus and giving that our first priority. Do you get an uncomfortable feeling when Jesus is so straight to the point, so blunt as He was in this mornings gospel? Do you squirm a bit when you hear Jesus talking about following? I think that squirming is because we know the question that inevitably follows is "how well have I done?” How well have I followed Jesus?
Our human nature gets in the way of truly following Jesus with all our heart, soul and mind – we lose focus. Our priorities get all mixed up and upside down. We miss the mark! Just as Michael Phelps and those other Olympic athletes have a daily plan. Daily we need a fresh realization of the never-ending love that Jesus has for us, and an awareness that he waits for us and forgives us when we fall short.
May we respond to his calling with confidence because of his faithfulness to help us in the tasks he calls us to carry out. Whether they be big or small, spectacular or mundane. He can use us in all kinds of ways to call others to follow Jesus. He has given his Spirit to work in and through those who answer his call to follow. Amen.
Homily preached by Deacon Gerry Mattingly on the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, June 26th, 2016 at All Saints Church, Taylorsville, KY