“Fox Holes and Bird Nests”
Sermon on Luke 9:51-62
July 1, 2007
The Rev. J. Curtis Goforth, O.S.L.
The American Dream: What exactly is the American dream? There was a story in the New York Times about a Russian immigrant that came to New York City and drove a cab for several years. He earned enough money to open his own electronics store after about 3 years. And he would frequently sell electronics to this one Soviet diplomat who later got him into the oil business. Now this former Russian immigrant cab driver just purchased a $40 million mansion just across the street from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That to me sounds like a great example of the American dream, doesn’t it?
Most people think a lot about the American dream around the fourth, but what exactly is the American dream? The American Dream has to be more than getting married and having 2.3 children, a home, a good job, and a stainless steel refrigerator. I think The American Dream is different for each person, but there has to be some common ground in order for it to exist in our collective consciences. I think to most it includes being able to raise a family in a nice community. And education certainly has to figure in to the equation too. The American Dream for most also involves a certain degree of financial independence. And for just about everyone, the most telling part of the dream is to own their own home (something most Methodist ministers can’t claim—those darned lucky foxes with their fancy holes!)
Homes intrigue me. I always wanted to be an architect when I was young. I am quite fond of that show on MTv called “Cribs.” Cribs is this show where a prominent professional athlete or musician or movie star takes you on a televised tour of their mansions. It’s really very humorous to see a celebrity telling you about their granite countertops or their guitar-shaped swimming pool or their low-rider Hummer. One pro basketball player that was featured on the show had an entire room built just for his shoes! Maybe that’s the American dream—to have a mansion in Beverly Hills where your basketball shoes have their own room.
I wish there had been a version of this show back hundreds of years ago when you could take a tour of the homes of some of the more prominent figures of history like Alexander the Great or Napoleon. It would be very intriguing to see where it was that Attila the Hun kept his sword collection or where King David wrote his psalms. I’d like to see what their cribs looked like.
Celebrity homes are one thing, but isn’t it interesting that the most famous person to ever live was homeless? Jesus was born in a stable and his first “crib” was a feeding trough; and by his late twenties or early thirties he was wandering around the countryside—homeless—healing people and teaching them about the kingdom of God. Jesus doesn’t seem to have even been concerned with the American dream. We have no record of what college he attended. He didn’t marry and have 2.3 children. His financial portfolio and 401-K plan was non-existent. And although he was the son of a Jewish carpenter, he had nowhere to lay his head. He said that even wild animals owned more than he did.
Our gospel lesson tells us that as Jesus was traveling one day on his way to Jerusalem, someone came up to him on the road and said that they would follow him wherever he went! Jesus immediately told him how he wouldn’t have a place to live if he did that. Though we are not explicitly told that the person didn’t end up following Jesus wherever he went, I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that he didn’t. Then we are told that Jesus called someone to follow him. But the person wanted to attend his father’s funeral first. Jesus responds with some harsh words. He tells him to let the dead bury their own dead and commands him to proclaim the kingdom of God. We are left with the impression that he didn’t follow Jesus either, and who could blame him? Then, like the first person in the story, another comes up and tells Jesus he will follow him, but he wants to tell his family goodbye first. This sounds a lot like our Old Testament lesson where Elisha is plowing and is called to follow the prophet Elijah. Elijah allows him to go and tell his family goodbye, but Jesus requires even more of his followers than Elijah did. Jesus tells the man that wanted to tell his family goodbye first that “No one who has once grasped the plow yet keeps looking backward is fit for the kingdom of God!”
And here we are gathered in this room today trying to figure out how to follow this homeless Galilean in a world far removed from the one he inhabited. Jesus’ commands in our gospel lesson are harsh! Jesus’ commands are almost unbelievable even! But I think there is a real message in this passage for we who seek to follow Jesus now. The people in our story this morning all wanted to follow Jesus—two of the three even come up to him and ask to follow him! But they all three want to follow Jesus on their terms. I really like the phrase “Most people want to serve Jesus, but only as an advisor.” We all want to follow Jesus on our own terms.
There are all kinds of excuses out there as to why we don’t want to follow Jesus—excuses that are not nearly as good as the ones given by those in our lesson today. But Jesus doesn’t want our excuses, he wants our service. He wants our everything. He wants our hopes, our fears, our doubts, our talents, our lives—but he doesn’t want our excuses.
I think it is a truly wonderful thing that a poor Russian immigrant cab driver can come to this country dirt poor and in a few years live in a mansion with millions of dollars in his bank account. Who wouldn’t envy that? I think its wonderful that we take time out to celebrate our nation’s history and reflect on the cost of the American dream. But I think too often our focus is only on the here and now and on the kingdoms of this world instead of being on the hereafter and the kingdom of God. I am proud to have an American passport. I am proud to have a house to live in in a nice community. I am proud that my daughter has the freedom to pursue whatever she wants to do in life as she gets older. I am proud that many other people in the world look to our country as the place to be. As the song goes, “I’m proud to be an American.” And let me tell you, nothing will make you appreciate America more than living in some other country for a year.
But on this week when I remember my earthly citizenship in the kingdom of America, I can’t help but remember that it’s my citizenship in the kingdom of God that’s even more important. And there’s hope for all of us yet to live in a mansion, but we might have to emigrate to a different kingdom for that to happen. Thy kingdom come, Lord Jesus. Amen.