I have a confession to make to you this morning: I AM NOT A FARMER. I’ve been a city boy all my life. I have never put my hand to a plow…but I have put my hand to a rototiller, and if you’ve ever put your hand to a rototiller, you know what a wild ride it can be! Those babies can jump all over the place! Dug up a stone and it lunges to the left. Hit a tree root and it weaves to the right. Sometimes it hops up and down like a bunny rabbit FOR NO APPARENT AT ALL!
If you’ve going to successfully operate a rototiller, you can’t be distracted. It’s impossible to operate a rototiller and look at your cell phone at the same time. If you somehow manage pull it off, you’ll probably end up in the emergency room as well. You can’t wave hi to your neighbor or take a long look at the world around you. You’ve got to have both hands firmly on the handle grips. You’ve got to look straight ahead and focus all your energy on the task at hand.
So if Jesus was talking to his disciples in our day and age, I do believe he would tell them, “No one who puts a hand to the rototiller and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” And I think we would understand exactly what he was talking about, whether we’re farmers or not.
This brings us to a curious phrase Luke uses in our gospel lesson to describe Jesus’ mission. He says Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” when I hear this, I think of a rototiller. What Luke is telling us is that Jesus knew he was going to Jerusalem to die. Earlier in the 9th chapter of Luke, Jesus told his disciples, “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” [Lk 9:22]
We know what this means, because we know the whole story. Jesus had a hard row to hoe ahead of him. He knew the way would be steep and rocky. His friends would betray and abandon him. His fate would be placed in the hands of a hostile and unsympathetic crowd. He would be mocked, beaten, whipped and crucified.
Yet, in spite of knowing all of this, Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He put his hand to the rototiller and never looked back. And when they placed his lifeless body in the tomb, i appeared that Jesus’ work on earth was done. But like a seed planted in fertile soil, Jesus rose from the grave. God saved the best for last and rewrote the rules on life, death,forgiveness and love. But none of this would have happened unless Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. None of this would have happened if he hadn’t kept his hand to the plow and never looked back!
Friends in Christ, I have some good news and some bad news depending upon how you look at it. Jesus expects us to do the same! He told his disciples, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” We are left to ponder exactly what this means and how to apply it to our lives.
My framework for understanding what this means has been the enormous amount of bad news my family has received this past year. My sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent chemo, a double mastectomy, a hysterectomy, radiation treatments, and will face one more round of chemo in the fall. My Dad broke his hip and is not recovering well. He is having short-term memory issues, and was diagnosed this week with breast cancer, which he will have removed on July 7. My daughter underwent emergency surgery two weeks ago to repair a ruptured gastric ulcer. Thankfully, she is doing really well.
Finally, I have been struggling for over a month with two skin conditions that leave me itching more hours of the day than not. I won’t bore you with all the gory details but it involves me getting up around 5 am every morning because the itching wakes me up. Then I start a routine throughout the day that involves special soaps, creams, ointments, pills and more pills. Thankfully, this week I’ve turned a corner and I’m starting to feel a little better. But I know it’s going to take a while for me to make a full recovery.
To be honest, I’m feeling a bit like Job these days. This shapes my perspective as to how I understand our gospel lesson. I am putting my hand to the plow and not looking back, sideways, or too far into the future, because I can only handle all of this, one day at a time. With my eyes focused on the road ahead of me, I gather strength for each step through the peace, prayers and positive vibes offered by family and friends. I also take time throughout the day to breathe deeply, to meditate and to draw close to Jesus.
I don’t believe I’m being punished. I have not done something wrong to incur the wrath of God. Jesus says that God “Sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” [Mt 5:45] So I’m not taking any of this personally. It’s just the way life goes sometimes. Some seasons are joyful and sunny. Other seasons are dark and stormy. Each of us is guaranteed a little bit of both. So I’m in the rainy season right now, but I’m confident that some day the sun will shine again!
I’m certain that you’ve had similar experiences in your life as well. I have known some you for 23 years so I am quite familiar with the rototillers you’re holding onto. There are days when I wish I had a magic wand and could make your lives all better, but that’s not how it works. Sometimes life is tough. When it gets tough, I believe Jesus is telling us we need to narrow our focus. We need to eliminate unnecessary distractions and put our energy into what’s really important: faith, family, and friends.
As the Body of Christ, we need to be there for each other and for those out in the world who are suffering as well. When their rototiller lunges to the left, our prayers and words of encouragement will help to keep them strong. When it weaves to the right, our small acts of kindness will become a healing balm and remind them they are not alone in their struggle.
When their rototiller jumps wildly all over the place, we are the ones who proclaim the good news that Paul expressed perfectly in Romans 8: “For we are convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Rom 8:38-29]
This is what I get out of our gospel lesson. I can’t gift wrap this text with a pretty bow today, because I can’t gift wrap my life with a pretty bow either! I can only hope my words encourage you to rely on Jesus to be your strength when the road your hoeing becomes rocky and hard to plow.
But before I say “Amen,” we have one more thing to consider. In a few moments we’re going to baptize James William Roome VI. In the words of the baptismal liturgy, we’re going to welcome him “into the body of Christ and into the mission we share as God’s family.”
Today is a happy day with extended family here to celebrate with James his official welcome into God’s family. The rototiller is running smooth and even. But there will be days in the future when life will not be so easy for James. He, like all of us, will have to navigate all the challenges and changes life throws at him. There will be days when he will have to keep his hand on the plow and not look back. There will be days when he will find himself facing difficult times. When this happens, I hope his parents, Bill and Brandy, will remind him of this day and that he is a beloved child of God. I hope they will teach him the stories of Jesus so that he has wisdom and inspiration to draw from when times get tough. I hope that his godparents Greg and Lyn, will support them in this undertaking, along with those who are gathered here today. With everyone’s encouragement and Christ’s loving presence at his side, I have no doubt that James will be able to navigate whatever dark valleys he may face in the years to come.
So friends in Christ. I wish us all strength for the journey. Life is tough, but Jesus is tougher. So keep your hands on the rototiller and your eyes focused forward. have the faith the Jesus will see you though whatever difficult times you are facing. AMEN.
Copyright ©2016 by David Eck.