Harrowing Of Hell
June 26, 2022

For the Rest of Time

The Rev. Nathan Kirkpatrick

She was sure that he was the man for her.
After six years of dating, she knew down to her bones
that he was right, that they were good together.
But each time she would hint around the marriage question,
each time the “m-word” came up,
she received the same answer:
“I’m just not sure that you’re the one for me.”

Six years. Six years of her certainty.
And six years of his ambivalence.
Finally, she had had enough:
She wrote him a letter.
She told him that she loved him,
but for the sake of her own soul and spirit,
they either had to get married or they had to break it off.

Her friends cheered her.
“About time,” a few suggested. (Six years?)
But now, she waited for a reply.
There was no email. No text. No phone call.
Day after day, she would walk to the mailbox, and there was just nothing.
Until finally, one day, a letter came.

But we need to talk about Jesus.
To my ear,
each of these would-be followers of Jesus
in our Gospel lesson today
have reasonable requests.

“Look,” says the one. “My father has just died.
Let me go home and bury him,
check on mom, meet with the estate attorney,
get everything in order, and then I’ll be back.”

Another says, “Let me run home, pack up some things,
make sure somebody’s going to walk the dog,
say goodbye to my family, and then, then, I’ll be ready to follow.”

A third says,
“I’m ready now. Where you go, I will go.
But just so you know –
I prefer Hiltons over Marriotts,
Delta over American.
And can we book first class?”

All of this seems reasonable … enough.
It seems honest … enough.

But on that particular day
Jesus’ reaction suggests that there’s something else going on here;
something worth paying attention to on this Sunday morning.
He seems impatient with them.

“Let the dead bury their own dead.”
“No one who puts their hand to the plow
and then looks back
is fit for the Kingdom.”
“Foxes have holes;
birds have nests,
but I have nowhere.”

His impatience with them
tells us that, however charitably I want to hear their reasons,
there was something less than charitable in what they’re saying.

I wonder if what Jesus hears in them is
something akin to the boyfriend who, after years of dating,
still says, “I’m just not sure.”

Against the certainty of His love,
Maybe what Jesus hears in them is ambivalence or resistance.
It’s as if the people Jesus is talking to
are delaying going with him, interrupting their going with him.
He loves them. All the way down to His bones.
But they’ve got reasons why they can’t follow.
Not now. Not yet. Soon. Maybe?

Their reasons sound honest, reasonable, fair.
But when you poke at them,
maybe their reasons are just excuses.

Part of why I want to hear them charitably
is because I can relate. Maybe you can, too?

Do you know that moment
when the call of the Kingdom comes –
and it catches you off guard?
It appears sharp and sudden — Follow me.
The call comes in a flash
That may shake our world —
But it stirs up in us
a certainty of duty,
and direction

That we must stand up, speak up, rise up.
That we must participate in the Kingdom’s work
That is never done until we are all set free.

That we must share
in the revolution that is God’s love in Jesus Christ
that sees the beauty and
respects the dignity of every child of God,
that cherishes creation and strives for peace with justice,
— that wants to remake the world. Right here. Right now.

Sometimes the call of the Kingdom
comes with lightning’s speed,
and we are awakened
to God’s possibilities
and our responsibility.

Jesus says, “follow me.”
And in the moment, how can we say no?

The problem is
There’s a moment after the moment.
There’s a moment after the moment
When it dawns on you or me
that this conviction
that this calling —
That to say yes to remaking the world
May well remake our lives first.
And now, I am a little less sure what I’m willing to risk.
And maybe, with the three would-be followers we meet in St Luke,
Now I have some questions. You may, too.
I think I need to go home and check on the dog.
I think I need to go meet with the accountant, the lawyer.
See what’s possible. See if it’s possible.
See if I can use frequent flyer miles for the journey.

Their reasons sound honest, reasonable, fair.
But when you poke at them,
When you poke at my reasons, maybe yours, too —
maybe the reasons are just excuses —
maybe, we’re using them to hold Faith –
using them to hold the call of the Kingdom at arm’s length.

Now, please don’t misunderstand me.
There are plenty of good reasons why sometimes we need to do that.
It’s part of discernment, right?
To examine faith. To inquire into our sense of calling.
To put to it the hardest and most meaningful questions of our lives.
And sometimes we have to do that at a distance.
We have to hold the thing up and look at it and really see it.

And there is no judgment in Scripture for those
who ask questions
about what they believe
or why they believe
or if they believe at all.

Those can be some of the most important questions of our lives —
to wrestle with the questions of faith and calling
can be the most important wrestling we do.
It’s what the late writer Reynolds Price called “a serious way of wondering.”

Week-by-week, it’s what you do here;
it’s what you claim here
by saying that you are a learning church.

But, today,
Jesus seems to be warning us that
there can come a point
when our questions can become shields,
when wonder becomes a defense,
when the seeking itself becomes an excuse from finding.
It’s as if we keep on missing the thing, on purpose.
If we’re going to ask the questions,
at some point, we have to be willing to be changed by the answers.
Faith doesn’t require that all our answers are the same,
but faith requires the vulnerability of relationship.

There comes a point
when the urgency of the Kingdom’s Good News
either remakes our lives or it doesn’t.
We either give ourselves over to it — or we don’t.
She went to her mailbox,
— you knew you were going to get the rest of that story! —
and there was a letter — an invitation to dinner.
She almost didn’t go. There had been so many dinners.
But she needed to know what he would say.
He told her that he loved her, that he had always loved her.
But that he was afraid
that he would be a terrible husband.
He told her that he was scared.
That he didn’t know what it would mean for them to get married.

And that made sense to her
It made her love him even more
– he had been afraid for six years.
And, so, she took his hand,
and told him that no one ever really knew what it meant to get married,
but that they would figure it out
— together — a day at a time
for the rest of their lives.

To you, to me,
Jesus says, “Follow me.
And we’ll figure out what that means
a day at a time
for the rest of time.” Amen.