You know the saying: "Freedom is not free." As we prepare to celebrate the 4th of July this weekend, it’s important to appreciate that. Think of how much so many have given so that you could be reading this in peace. Think of the lives given so that we can be so comfortable in our security that seeing things exploding in the sky this weekend will not be scary.
There was a cost to make that happen. I think of our members involved in the military right now — the family they’ve left behind, the creature comforts that they don’t have in Afghanistan, the risks they are taking on and the struggles they’ll have when they return adjusting to peace again. Winning and defending freedom takes sacrifice. It takes clear and unselfish priorities. It takes commitment.
And so does being a Christian. Jesus tells us in our text from Luke 9:51-62 today. You see, in the text, Jesus encounters three men on the road, all looking to follow him. To the first, Jesus says, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Being a Christian means being willing to sacrifice.
To the second, who wanted first to go away and bury his father before following, Jesus said, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." In other words, as good as what he wanted to do might seem, if it gets in the way of his relationship with Jesus, it is a problem. Being a Christian means prioritizing God above all, not just saying that we do.
Then to the third, Jesus said: "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." Being a Christian means commitment. If we are distracted from our goal of serving Christ and living for him, we aren’t serving him well.
Being a Christian is serious business. But, here’s the problem: I kind of like my creature comforts. It’s way too easy to do things that don’t line up with spoken priorities and the people and things around us keep seeming to demand attention. In other word, I fail when it comes to sacrifice, priority and commitment. Truth be told, so do you. So the question rises — am I really following Christ?
That’s when you need to look at the beginning of our text. This is how this section started out: "As the time approached for him to be lifted up, Jesus resolutely set out (literally: he set his face) for Jerusalem." (v. 51) You see, our commitment fails, but his didn’t. He knew what would happen in Jerusalem and he set his face like flint, he committed to going through with it. Remember when he was lifted up on the cross when the mockers said, "If you really are the son of God, come down and save yourself?" He could have. But he was committed to our salvation.
And even though we fail in our prioritizing, Jesus kept perfect priority. Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus prayed that he would prefer if there were some other way to accomplish this task, but then said, "Not my will, but yours be done."
As for sacrifice, he gave up everything — all glory, honor, power and became nothing. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us." Jesus offered the sacrifice of a perfect life we couldn’t. He did far more than any soldier ever could. And so we follow him, not perfectly, but forgiven, in freedom.
This Fourth of July, please appreciate those soldiers who sacrificed to win and defend your freedom. Even more, worship the one who earned you eternal freedom from sin and death, guilt and fear. Now, even as we look to the skies for the fireworks this weekend, we can be at peace looking to the skies for our Savior’s return because he has made us his.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.