the third sunday after pentecost …

Luke 9. 51-62
The gospel begins and ends with Jesus loving!

What Would Jesus Do? Chances are, if you never heard the question, you’ve, probably, seen the letters. W.W.J.D. On wristbands, bracelets. What Would Jesus Do? It’s a question that’s been around, in one form or another, for a long, long time. But it appeared in this particular expression, in the 1800s. First, a sermon, in 1891. Then a book, at the turn of the last century. But it was in the 1990s. With those bracelets and wristbands. That it, quickly, became a worldwide phenom.

Unfortunately, from our perspective – as a grace-filled, cross-centered, gospel-rooted church – it has no redeeming value. Truth is, we aren’t Jesus! Never were! Never will be! So, even if we knew what Jesus would do, we couldn’t do it! We wouldn’t do it! What did we say, just a few moments ago? That we are captive to sin. That we can’t free ourselves. Either we believe that … or we don’t. And if we don’t, well, that has implications, consequences, for what we believe about Jesus. For us, Jesus isn’t a role model. Jesus isn’t an example. Not foremost. Not first. He’s a savior! A gift! Pressed down! Shaken together! Running over! Dropped into our lap! And even on our best day, we can’t do what Jesus would. After all, that’s why Jesus is here, in the first place! To save! To redeem! To deliver! From what we don’t and can’t and won’t! For us, it’s all grace! It’s all charity! Start to finish! Beginning to end!

But I realized something, this week. Even though, as a principle of faith, the words – the letters – are … well … pretty useless. And even though they don’t tell us anything about Jesus … what he, actually, did … They are a handy way of working our way through the bible. Like the second half of the passage, this morning, from Luke …

“As they were going along the road, someone said to Jesus, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’” (Remember, Jesus at this time, was on the way to Jerusalem. On the way to be taken up. On the way to the cross.) Anyway, someone said, “I will follow you.” Jesus responded with something about foxes and birds. Then, Jesus told one person to follow him. The person had to bury his father, first. Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their dead.” Jesus told another to follow. That person wanted to say goodbye to his family and friends. Jesus said, “There’s no looking back.”

And for nearly forty years, when these verses came along, I’d find something else to preach on. I knew I couldn’t do what Jesus had asked of the two. Because I – called and ordained – WOULDN’T, I wasn’t going to expect you to. But, every three years, like clockwork, there it would be. Luke 9. 51-62. But this year, this time, as I read the passage, I saw the letters. I heard the words. W.W.J.D.? What Would Jesus Do?

What if the father who had died was Joseph? And what if Mary was among those at home? What Would Jesus Do, then? Turn around? Walk away? Never look back? We’re not talking about us doing what Jesus would do. What we’re talking about is knowing everything we know about Jesus, what would he – Jesus – do?

These are hard words. Hard not just in the sense of difficult to do. They’re cold. Unfeeling. And more often than not, there are those who wield them like a weapon. Using them against their nearest, their dearest. They make us thing we have to do the same. After all, the words are in red. Seemingly coming from Jesus’ own mouth … or so we think. But what would come from his heart? From his soul? What Would Jesus Do? W.W.J.D.? Jesus, the friend of tax collectors and sinners? Jesus, the one who could have cast the first stone … but didn’t! Jesus who invited the burdened and weary to rest! Jesus, who knelt and washed the feet of, even, Judas! Who gave his life as a ransom for all!

What Would THAT Jesus Do? Let the dead bury their own dead? Put a hand to the plow and never look back? We’re not talking about etiquette. Manners. We’re talking about love! Love, especially, for those who created us! Love for those who gave us life! Love for those who provided for our everything need! Daily! Abundantly! Love for those who protected us against all danger! Who preserved us from all evil! So, when one person says, “Lord, first let me take care of my father, my mother.” What Would Jesus Think? What would Jesus say? What Would Jesus Do?

I can’t think of him doing anything but understand. Saying, “Do what you have to do! Take as much time as you need! Bury your dead! Say goodbye!” Because that’s what love does! Sometimes … sometimes we follow Jesus, simply, by staying put. By remaining where we’re needed! By remaining with the people who need us! Jesus gives us the heart and the mind and the courage and the strength to love! Just! Like! him!

Sure, there are those who use scripture to manipulate, to control. Chapter and verse. Letter by letter. Word for word. Dotting each ‘i’. Crossing every ‘t’. And more often than not, Jesus has nothing to do with it. Jesus has nothing to do with it because love has nothing to do with it! If there’s anything Jesus would do, it’s love! Love with all his heart and with all his mind and with all his being! Picking up his cross and leading! Into the grave and beyond! It’s not just something he would do. It’s something he has already done! Something he WILL always do!

W.W.J.D.? What Would Jesus Do? Faith, for us, is more than a game of simonSays. Of Monkey seeing, monkey doing. At the end of the game, winners taking all; losers … Losers losing forever. Faith, for us, is believing – staking our life on – not what Jesus WOULD do. But on what Jesus has already done. Not just once. Or twice. But again and again! Over and over! Time after time! Put simply, first, it’s being loved and, then, it’s loving! First, it’s being loved! And then, it’s loving! Just! Like! Jesus! But, my friends, don’t be mistaken! Even when we don’t … Even when we won’t … Even when we can’t … Jesus never stops loving! Jesus never stops loving us! Jesus never stops loving us all!

Midland Lutheran Church