It’s A Wild Ride
June 26, 2016
At the age 26 Cheryl Strayed set out on a journey. With no experience or training, she began to hike from the Mojave Desert to Washington State along the Pacific Crest Trail. Walking alone, she experienced hunger and thirst, loneliness and companionship, terror and pleasure on her journey. As she started out, she made a very important decision. She made the decision to have no fear. Looking back on her journey, she reflects “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one others tell themselves. I decided I was safe. I decided I was strong. I decided I was brave. I decided not to fear. Nothing could vanquish me.” Her journey was dangerous, but she refused to let fear get the upper hand. She wouldn’t accept that she was weak and cowardly. Instead, she told herself the story that she was strong and brave. And so she was strong and brave. After completing her long and grueling hike, she wrote the book Wild, which was later turned into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. Looking back, Cheryl Strayed wrote that her life was “like all lives, mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. So very close, so very present, so very belonging to me. How wild it was, to let it be.”
It strikes me that there is a connection between Cheryl Strayed and her “no fear” decision and the passage from Luke 9 we are looking at today. Soon after Luke has Jesus telling the disciples of their journey to Jerusalem and how He would die, yet rise again, Luke has Jesus and the disciples beginning their journey to Jerusalem. Jesus knows that this trip will be a wild one, and that it will end in His death and resurrection, but He makes the same decision that Cheryl Strayed made. He will journey on and have no fear.
As they are journeying to Jerusalem Jesus instructs His disciples, engages in debates with His opponents, speaks in parables and heals the sick. On the road to Jerusalem, Jesus tells His followers a story that is different from the one they have been telling themselves. He tells them that they are strong and brave.
What a wild ride this journey to Jerusalem is! The teachings and experiences that Jesus uses equip His followers for their mission of proclaiming Him and His message of salvation. Unfortunately, many of us today are afraid of such a challenge. We don’t want to face intense hunger and thirst, loneliness and companionship, terror and pleasure. Jesus warns that the journey will be difficult. The ride will be filled with uncertain receptions. We must be wary and alert. When you take a wild trip, comfort and safety are not assured.
One instance of not being welcomed was the disciples entering a Samaritan town, and the inhabitants are completely unwilling to help a group of Galilean Jews who are on the road to Jerusalem. The Samaritans had built another temple on Mount Gerizim, and they wanted nothing to do with the worship of God in Jerusalem. The disciples James and John get a little wild when they receive this snub and ask Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” They want to drop a nuclear bomb on these unwelcoming Samaritans! But Jesus refuses to go along with their request and rebukes James and John. He had recently told them, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.”
What a wild ride this decision to respond to rejection with love is. Such a response is sorely needed in our world today as we engage in religious and cultural debates. So often the story we tell ourselves is that we are victims. We tell ourselves that we are victims of people, trends and movements that are out of our control. But Jesus tells us the story that we are strong and brave disciples who have the power to do good, love, bless and pray for others. Even our enemies. Especially our enemies. Instead of destroying the Samaritans, Jesus and His disciples simply move on to another town. And we can do the same. Instead of attacking people who disagree with us, we can just move on.
What a wild ride following Jesus is!
But Jesus “moving on” from the Samaritan village does not mean that He is afraid to take a stand. Jesus is perfectly willing to confront people with hard truths, and He speaks His toughest words to those who say that they would like to follow Him. He lets them know that anyone who wants to be a disciple is in for a wild ride. As they proceed along the road, someone says to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” This aspiring follower promises that He will stick with Jesus across the most hostile terrain. But Jesus tells him that the Son of Man has no place to lay His head. He lives the life of a homeless wanderer, with no home or family, much like Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Crest Trail. In many ways, even foxes and birds have more comfort and security.
A second potential disciple begs for a waiting period so that he can bury his father. Since the Ten Commandments say “Honor your father and your mother,” this seems like a reasonable request. But Jesus responds by saying, “Let the dead bury their own dead”.
Jesus is saying that sacrifice will be involved in making the choice to follow Jesus into the kingdom of God. Economists talk about “opportunity cost,” which is the value of what you give up to gain something else. For example, when a person decides to quit a job and go back to school full-time, they have to calculate the opportunity cost of giving up a stable paycheck. When a real estate developer decides to build a fast-food restaurant on a parcel of land, they have to accept the opportunity cost of not building a clothing store. In economics and in day-to-day life, every choice has a cost. In the eyes of Jesus, the opportunity cost of discipleship is comfort, security, home and family.
What a wild ride it is to follow Jesus!
A third would-be follower asks only to be given time to say farewell to his family. But Jesus again says no. Discipleship means sacrifice and the elimination of distractions. “No one,” says Jesus, “who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” He seems to be echoing the words of the angel to the family of Lot before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah: “Flee for your life,” says the angel; “do not look back.” When God overthrows the cities, Lot’s wife looks back and she becomes a pillar of salt. Do not look back, says Jesus. Keep moving forward. Don’t let your daily work or even your affection toward your family get in the way of pursuing the kingdom of God. Jesus wants us to be as focused on the future as Cheryl Strayed was on the Pacific Crest Trail. She walked a path that challenged, strengthened and ultimately healed her, which is why her book is subtitled “From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.”
Jesus wants us all to move from lost to found. Such a journey is a wild ride, and it requires that we walk a tough path with Jesus, entering into the challenging conditions of His life and ministry. A decision to follow Jesus cannot be merely the result of enthusiasm, it calls for resolute determination. These are hard words for us to hear, committed as we are to stability in our home lives and family relationships. It sounds as though Jesus is asking us to abandon our loved ones as we embark on this journey with him. For some of us, this may be the case, especially those who are trapped in unhealthy relationships. But for most of us what Jesus is saying is this: Don’t give anything a higher priority than the kingdom of God. Don’t let family relationships prevent you from having a relationship with Jesus Christ. Don’t allow your concern for security to interfere with your commitment to doing hard work for the Lord.
In short, Jesus is saying, “Follow me.” “Follow me”, Jesus is saying, on a journey that may be a wild ride, but that leads to new and everlasting life. This trip will involve challenges, growth and change. It will require serious sacrifices and true determination. But the result will be a transformed life in a place that looks different from where we are now, not the end of the Pacific Crest Trail, but the kingdom of God, where the lost are found, the weary are welcomed, and everyone discovers life with God, a life that is mysterious and irrevocable and sacred. Amen.