Do you ever wish you could go back to a time when you were younger?
Is there something you miss doing as you’ve gotten older? It doesn’t even have to be something big or stupendous, but do you ever wish things were like they used to be? It wasn’t all that long ago that I could take the girls to Disneyland and ride the teacups with them and we would spin around and around as fast as the strength of my arms could turn that wheel. Emma would yell, “Faster, Dad! Faster!” And it seemed as if the teacup would spin right off its mooring and fly us up into the air! Those days are long gone. About four or five years ago something changed inside of me and suddenly I couldn’t go faster any more. We had gone on the ride together, but I think only half of me got off. The other half had spun off to some far corner of the universe. I felt AWFUL! My head hurt so much and my stomach was so nauseous, I had to sit down for a full half hour before I could move. It took me two more hours to go on another ride. This had never happened to me before so naturally the next time I had the chance to go on a spinning ride I did, thinking it must have just been something I ate or I had the flu or something. But again, I could barely walk in a straight line afterward. And over time it’s only gotten worse. Where once I just couldn’t spin very fast became not fast at all to no spinning whatsoever. The worst was when I took Emma to the merry-go-round in Griffith Park. Granted, it was the fastest merry-go-round I’d ever been on, but I wasn’t even on one of the horses! I was sitting in one of those stationary benches and I STILL got nauseous. A merry-go-round. I find that as I get older there are other things I can’t do anymore either. I can’t eat too many Tommy’s hamburgers without getting some severe heartburn. I can’t eat certain foods before going to bed or it’ll haunt me all night. I can’t sleep on the ground without at least an air mattress for cushioning. And the list keeps getting longer. Sometimes I think it would be nice to be able to do those things again.
Most of us probably wish for that from time to time.
Maybe not about merry-go-rounds or Tommy’s hamburgers, but about things going back to the way they were. It would be great if we could take the benefits of the life we have now and somehow still have things the way they used to be. Whether that’s being able to eat what we want or do what we want or have the endurance we used to have, whatever it is sometimes it would be nice to be able to do those things we used to do. The danger though is when we allow our past to dictate our future. The danger is when we allow our past to dictate our future. Sometimes we get so fixated on “what used to be” that we miss opportunities right in front of us. Nancy McKittrick and I were having a discussion after Easter worship last Sunday and she told me about this Upper Room devotional she had just read, and it said that often when we think of the resurrection of Christ, we think about Christ being restored. But restoration means being repaired or fixed the way you used to be and that’s not what happened to Jesus or any of his followers. When Christ came back he was transformed, not restored. He wasn’t the same old Jesus who used to hang with the disciples, sharing stories, giving wise advice and teaching universal truths. He had conquered death and had come back to life! There was a fundamental difference in who Jesus was from that point on. If anyone doubted that Jesus was the true Son of God, this convinced them otherwise. Who else could bring themselves back from the dead? The truth is the resurrection of Christ was about transformation not restoration. The truth is the resurrection of Christ was about transformation not restoration. And that’s what Jesus wanted for his disciples. That’s what Jesus wanted for the world. It’s why he told the disciples to go and to baptize all nations, because he wanted the world to be transformed by the power of the Gospel message.
But often we resist.
Even though we know and understand Christ’s message to us, sometimes we resist. Because there is a part of us that wants to be anchored to the past. There’s a part of us that yearns for how it used to be. We remember old friends who used to come and wonder if maybe a new pastor will convince them to return. We remember family members who attended when they were young and wonder why they haven’t come back. And if somehow we could just make it as good as it was back then, it would be all better. But that’s not the path Jesus lays out for us. If you have your Bible or a Bible app on your phone, please go to Luke 9:57. Luke 9:57. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem and on the road he encounters these three men. All three of them agree to follow Jesus, but he says different things to each one and that’s the conversation we are going to listen in on this morning.
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
There are certain jobs that require you to focus on what’s in front of you.
Laying down the lines on a baseball field. Painting dividing lanes on the street. Or plowing a field. If you’re constantly looking back or looking around, you’ll end up ruining whatever it is you’re doing. You’ll end up drifting left or right unintentionally and mess up all the work you’ve done so far. So that’s why Jesus tells this last guy “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Because a person who can’t keep focused on the job at hand but dwells instead on other things is likely to mess up. What God has planned for us requires our full attention. There’s also a sense of urgency and importance in Jesus’ talks with these guys. One guy asks Jesus to first let him bury his father. And Jesus’ response always kind of bothered me. “Let the dead bury their own dead.” Sounds kind of cold. But what I found out was that in Jewish tradition you sometimes had to wait a year after someone had died to rebury their bones and Jesus is telling this guy not to wait around. It could also mean that his father isn’t dead yet and he’s waiting to get his inheritance and Jesus is telling him instead to forget about that and follow him. “Let the dead bury their own dead” means to let those who are dead to their sin bury those who are dead in their body and focus on creating more of the living by spreading the Word of God. Even though there’s a part of us that wants to stay anchored to the past, there isn’t a boat in the world that can move forward when the anchor is weighing it down. We have to be willing to move on.
H.G. Wells once wrote, “Adapt or perish, now as ever, is Nature’s inexorable imperative.”
“Adapt or perish, now as ever, is Nature’s inexorable imperative.” That is true in every aspect of our lives. Whether it’s the future of this church or the future of our own lives, we are constantly in a state of change and if we don’t adapt, we’ll find ourselves left behind. It reminds me of the movie The Untouchables with Kevin Costner and Sean Connery. Kevin Costner plays Eliot Ness and he and Sean Connery who plays officer Jimmy Malone are sitting in a church together talking about how to get Al Capone put away. Malone asks Ness, “What are you prepared to do?” And Ness replies, “Everything within the law.” Malone looks at him fiercely and says, “And THEN what are you prepared to do? If you open the ball on these people Mr. Ness you have to be prepared to go all the way, because they won’t stop until one of you is dead.” Malone was trying to prepare Ness for the reality of the struggle he was about to face. When Eliot says he is prepared to do everything within the law, he’s not just establishing boundaries for himself, but he’s letting Malone know what it is he’s comfortable doing and Malone’s point is that you have to be prepared to do something different. That doing things the way you want or the way you expect isn’t always going to get the job done. And I think that lesson applies to our churches and our lives. We have to determine what it is we really hope to accomplish and then gut check ourselves if we’re willing to do that. Most of us have some bad habit or indulgence we know we should give up. For some of us, it’s more than an indulgence but something that threatens to hurt us. And for the most part we even know what we need to do to overcome it. The question is are we willing to do it. Are we willing to do what’s necessary to get the job done?
As much as I would like to go on the teacups again without getting sick, I know I can’t.
But instead of pining for something that’s never going to happen, I’ve learned to focus on other things that make me happy. I pay more attention to the slower rides that in my youth I used to pass up. I like to spend time just people watching once in a while and noticing the little details I never used to look for before. I find myself doing the tours and learning a lot more than I did when I was younger. And I have found that I have an even deeper appreciation for the place that always made me happy as a child. Maybe we should do that more in our lives. Instead of pining for what we’ve lost, we should focus instead on what we can find! Instead of wondering why our marriages don’t have the passion they used to, instead appreciate the person you’re with who knows you better than anyone. Instead of wishing that your kids were still younger, just valuing them for the people they are and are becoming. And instead of wishing that our churches could be like they used to be, maybe we can find out how we can reach the community of today. Meet the needs of the people who live here now. And find a way to move forward with meaning. We can’t restore the past, but we can find a way to transform the future. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.