Sunday, March 18, 2018
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There’s a fascinating blog called Invesprico that follows investment and marketing trends in society, giving you insight into what people are thinking, and what trends are developing amongst the masses.  Recently there was a blog that dealt with impulse buying.  According to this research, impulse buying is very common.  In fact, the statistics are quite overwhelming:  84 percent of all shoppers claim that they have had an impulse purchase at one time or another.  Forty percent of e-commerce is driven by impulse buying; twenty percent of purchasers say that their impulse buying has led them at one time or another to spend a thousand dollars or more, so driven are they by its power.  Fifty-two percent of millennials say they have had an impulse buy within the last year, the greatest number of any demographic.  
What this has pointed out is that impulse buying has become part of our culture.  It is exacerbated or driven by social media with its abundance of ads flashing before your eyes.  When you turn on the television, there are advertisements.  When you look at the newspapers, there are advertisements.  There are channels on television that basically just feed impulse buying:  you go on, you see a product you never thought you were going to get, but suddenly you feel you should.  It is hard not to be driven by impulse buying, but it is like a cloud that is continually hovering over our heads.  Buying and purchase is necessary and there is nothing wrong with that!  In fact, the world would come to a standstill if people didn’t buy products, but impulse buying can be very dangerous.  It can lead people into debt; obsession; all manner of financial destruction.  It can also cause them to have a whole lot of junk in their garage!
Impulse buying is a powerful thing. And human impulse is a powerful thing. When those impulses apply to matters of real allegiance, professional conduct and what we believe and follow, those impulses can cause ordinary people to treat religion and faith and discipleship like a commodity:  to pick and choose, to say one day, “I am going to follow” and forget about it the next.  Or today, “I want a religious, spiritual high” and tomorrow, “I am going to jettison my principles and convictions.”  It can lead to all manner of double-mindedness.  A strange way of looking at the thing!
In The Bible there was one such character.  He was one of three characters that Jesus encountered on his way to Jerusalem.  We are told in today’s passage that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem in the last week of his life – to the events of the trial and betrayal of the Passover, the moments in Gethsemane, and the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  Jesus was travelling through Samaria, casting his eyes to what lay before him in Jerusalem.  It was a tender moment for Jesus.  A moment when he really needed support.  The disciples were set to go out into the streets, towns and villages of Samaria to announce that Jesus was coming, and they did so, but they encountered some very unusual people.  There were three of them in this case.  One of them, an impulsive person, goes up to and simply says, “I will follow you wherever you want to go!”  Jesus does not buy this, and gets him to think about what he is saying.  Jesus says to him, “Unlike all the beasts and the birds of the air, the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”  In other words, as a disciple you have no idea where you are going.  There is uncertainty, no one location, no security – a place to lay your head.  If you follow the Son of Man, you have no idea where you are going, and you need to understand and take stock of this.  It is an uncertain road that follows Jesus and might require qualification.
Dietrich Bonheoffer in his famous work, The Cost of Discipleship, sees that discipleship is often treated like a commodity, something you can pick up or put down, something he called “cheap grace” that is easy to glibly, impulsively follow.  The Gospel and discipleship and true faith is not like buying a Birken bag or a power tool.  It is not something you buy on a whim, or simply because everyone else has one.  Faith, discipleship, following God is serious because a price has been paid for it.  It is not as if you decide, “Well, I will follow Christ without understanding the cost has been borne not only by you personally, but also by Christ himself, and that there is nothing that we have that has not had a price paid for it.  
John Wesley put it so eloquently:  “We are not in fact the owners, as we seem to think, of everything that we have.  We are merely the stewards.  God gives us something in time and in place, and we are stewards of that; that which we have been given, but we are not the owners!”  Wesley suggests that this applies to everything in life. We are not the owners of things, everything that we have is temporal. That is the way it is!  That is life.  Epictetus, the great Stoic philosopher who the late Paul Grenfell, a member of this church, introduced me to many years ago, wrote this about the fact that we don’t actually own anything:
I have lost it, but only we should say, ‘I have given it back’.  Is your child dead?  It has been given back.  Is your wife is dead?  She has been given back.  ‘I have had my farm taken away’ someone says.Very well, this too has been given back.  Yet it was a rascal you say that took it away.  What concern is it of yours by whose instrumentality the Giver calls for its return?  So long as God gives it to you, take care of it as of a thing that is not your own, but as travellers treat their inn.
In other words, nothing is really ours to own.  It might seem frightening, but it is true.  Even faith that we have, the convictions and the discipleship, has had a price paid for it by somebody else, and that was Christ on the Cross!  It was his sacrifice first, and our following came later.
When you really think about it, when you look at all the ministries of the Church, and you do a mental audit, as I have been doing recently, of all the things that we do here at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, I realize there is not one good thing that we have done, either in terms of caring for people, or in social justice, or in outreach, that has not borne a cost on the part of someone.  The Refugee Committee, for example works tirelessly to help bring refugees here and to support those who are already here. The amount of time, personal dedication and effort that has gone into this is quite remarkable.  People don’t just come to a food bank, for example, and get food as if it is in a vending machine; they have human beings, real honest-to-goodness caring Christians who have gone to great lengths to make sure that it is available for them, and who care for them.  Stephen ministers often have to travel, there is a cost involved, training, and a time commitment.  There are a plethora of things from Spirit Express to the Choir School that have volunteers and dedicated people involved.  The mission trip to El Hogar is a week or two out of your life, but it is more than that.  
In other words, there are things that do good; there are ways of serving Christ and God’s people, but be under no illusion, there is a cost that is being paid.  This impulse buyer of Christianity, the guy who wanted to follow Jesus needed to take stock of that, as Jesus said, sometimes a follower does not have a place to lay their head.  It is not all – I love the phrase – pure and skittles!  
I the second person in the story is the procrastinator.  I don’t like this person, but I love this person at the same time.  I don’t like them because I think they are dead wrong, but I identify with them because I have done it myself, so who am I to judge the procrastinator!  
Jesus comes up to the procrastinator and says, “Follow me.”
And, the procrastinator says, “Ah, just a minute.  First, let me go and bury my father.”  
Well that all sounds very plausible, but as every Jewish scholar of this passage suggests, no Jew in their right mind would say that because once a father died, they would already be in the process of burying them.  It is an immediate thing.  The true Greek meaning of this, when you look at it from another lens, is corrected to:  “first, let my father die and then I will bury him”, which means it could be indeterminate.  This particular person is saying to Jesus, “Well, I am going to wait for my father to die, and then, after I bury him, I will follow you.”  What a wonderful excuse that is! Jesus retorts with that incredible line:  “Let the dead bury the dead.  You have to come and proclaim the Gospel, the Kingdom of God.”  By that he means, let the spiritually dead, bury the dead.  
As N. T. Wright, the great theologian said, “There is urgency here in Jesus.  There is no time to fritter around and procrastinate.  We are at that point where Jesus is about to go to Jerusalem, putting it off is no good.  There is urgency to this, so let the dead, bury the dead, but you, you have got to do the work of the kingdom.”  How many times do we do this?  How many times do we actually say, “I will follow you, but......first, I have got to do this, and then I have got to do that.  I will follow you and I will commit my life to you, but first I have to have all the facts in place.  Or, I will follow you, but first let me get my career sorted out.  Or, I will follow you, but I need to make sure that I am on a good financial footing, because you are going to want something from me.  Or, I will follow you, but I have some things on my bucket list that I want to do.  
Recently I have been reading some brilliant Arabic stories. There is some wisdom in the Arabic world; it doesn’t have to be Muslim or Christian, it can be both or either, it is just wisdom.  There are parallels and parables in these stories, things that line up with one another, and they are brilliant.  I read the story about this one particular person who was an infidel – that was the language used – and he decided that he was going to leave everything to the devil in his will.  When the man died and the will was read in probate, and the judge had to make a decision as to how the wishes of the deceased could be carried out.  How do you leave everything to the devil?  This man owned a farmhouse, a farm, and animals. The judge thought about it for a while, and decided to do nothing – absolutely nothing!  The farm got overgrown, the soil eroded, the animals weren’t fed and died, the farmhouse was left open to the elements and became rundown and rickety.  Eventually everything died.  The judge, when asked how he was able to fulfill the man’s request, said, “When you do nothing, you do everything that the devil wants.”  That Arabic parable is powerful, because the judge is washing his hands of the affair and letting everything die.  The procrastinator who Jesus met on the road to Jerusalem through Samaria decided that he was going to do nothing.  Jesus said, “In that case, let the dead bury the dead.”
There was one final person: the irresolute one.  He was simply just double-minded.  He didn’t know what he wanted.  He said to Jesus, “I will follow you”, which is what the first one said, but then, like the second said, “but I must first go and see my family.”  He was a bit impulsive, and a bit of a procrastinator.  He was irresolute – double minded.  
Matthew Henry, the Reformed commentator many centuries ago said, “You know, there are two things going on here.  On the one hand, he says ‘I’ll follow you’, but he probably figured out there was a cost to following Jesus, and he is really not quite sure that he can do it.  But then, there is the other one, ‘Maybe if I go home, my family will talk me out of it, so I won’t have to follow you at all.  Maybe they will decide for me what I need to do.  I’ll hand the responsibility over to somebody else.’” This is quite possible.  For Jesus, there is urgency.  They are on their way to Jerusalem and Jesus needs a response.  He doesn’t not need, “I will follow you, but I will first have to go and see my family.”  Again, nothing wrong with seeing  your family, nothing wrong with burying the dead, all good things but things that stand in the way of being faithful, being a disciple, making a commitment to do what God wants you to do, how you should live and who you should follow.
In this series of parables, this was the best of them all.  It can probably be found in many different versions, but it starts off like this.  A young man is walking along a beach, finds a bottle and when he opens it a genie pops out.  The genie says to the man, “You can have one request, and I will give it to you.  Whatever you ask, I’ll make sure that you get it.”  
This young man, being pretty savvy and having some business acumen, thought about it for a while and said, “I know what I will do. I would like you to give me a newspaper from twelve months’ time.  Then, I will look in the business section and I will see which stocks are doing well.  So, if I buy them now, I will know how they are going to be doing.”  It is brilliant, isn’t it?  His request is granted, he opens the business section and he can’t believe all these wonderful opportunities.  Prices have increased by 50 percent!  There have been some tech issues and equities that have just gone through the roof.  There are all these wonderful ways of making money!  He is so happy he made this decision.  He is going to make a killing in the market.  But then he turns the newspaper over and sees the obituary page, and recognizes a name – His!  He realizes all these plans, the profits are not going to happen.   
When the irresolute man said, “I will follow you, but let me first go and see my family” Jesus saw the danger.  He knew what would happen and rebuked him.  Jesus said, “You know, you can’t do this.  This is not the answer.”  In rebuking him, he let him know that discipleship is more than simply saying, “I’ll follow you.”  It is more than paying lip-service.  I don’t know how many people I run into who tell me, “You know, Andrew, I have got this to do, I have got that to do, and when I get this sorted out then I will commit myself.”  
I was broken hearted some years ago by a gentleman who I thought had tremendous gifts, who could do really great things in one area of life, and he just didn’t rise to the challenge.  He waited for the challenge, and then he got bad news about his health. I was heartbroken.  Jesus was heartbroken for this man.  He wanted him pick up and leave everything behind and follow him.  He knew there was no turning back.  The decision was there before him.
It is a daily decision really.  It is not just a once in a lifetime decision.  It is a decision every day:  “I will follow you, Lord, where you lead me.”  I will go where you point me.  I will do what you want me to do.  You will open the door for me and I will go with you.  It is not an impulsive thing.  You don’t procrastinate and put it off; you don’t have a double mind!  You have a heart that is resolute and simply says:  “Christ, today I will follow you.”  That is faith! Amen.