I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
(Matthew 8:18-22)

"Lord, first let me go bury my father." But Jesus replied, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." Wow, harsh words. Doesn't make Jesus sound like a loving person at all, does it? What was Jesus doing, didn't he care about his new disciple?

Well in truth we don't know what the exact situation was with the disciple Jesus was talking to. It's possible this disciple wasn't asking permission to go to his father's funeral, but rather was putting off following Jesus until his earthly father did die.

Or perhaps the disciple was the first born son and wanted to be sure to claim his inheritance. Maybe the disciple was afraid, and didn't want to face his father's wrath if he left the family business to follow an itinerant preacher. But whether his concern was financial security, family approval, or something else, it's clear he didn't want to commit himself to Jesus just yet. It seems the disciple may have been willing to follow Jesus, but only on his terms. Any of this sound familiar? How many times have we found reasons not to follow our heart, how many times have we turned and run the other way when we've seen Jesus coming towards us, knowing that he's going to ask us to do something, that we don't necessarily want to do.

After reading our gospel earlier this week and pondering over what it means to truly follow Jesus I was reminded of a story of a man whom God was calling to the ordained ministry. The call process lasted for years but the man ignored God, until one day the call came so loud and clear the man had no choice but to succumb to the will of God. No longer could he put off God and live with peace.

You see for several years this man used every excuse possible to justify to God why following him into the ministry at that time was not possible. The man used excuses like:

  • I can't afford to live on the salary of a pastor"
  • I need to save money for my kids education
  • How will I fund my retirement
  • I like my house I don't want to have to move
  • I'm not a good speaker
  • I don't like being around so many people

And so on, and so on.

Then one day God confronted the man and said, "'I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden,' I never said following me would be easy, but I'm calling you to set aside all these other things for something more demanding then you've ever experienced, I'm calling you to sacrifice for my sake, I'm calling you to make a difference in my kingdom, so will you come?"

Doesn't sound real appealing, but after prayerful discernment, I finally said yes!

Although this is part of my story I'm sure many of you can relate to it in your own personal way. I'm sure there are many stories you could share that will tell of sacrifice, that tell of humble obedience, that tell of God's mercies on your lives as you have strived to put aside other things to follow Jesus.

You know Jesus tells us that to follow him may mean we need to make a sacrifice or two, but I really wonder if we know what it means to sacrifice. Often times what we consider a sacrifice really isn't a sacrifice at all. You want me to give up going out to dinner twice a week? You want me to give up my weekly trip to the nail salon? You want me to buy a used car? Something to think about isn't it?

Now I think it's fair to say that Jesus was always very direct with those he wanted to follow him. He didn't mix words, and he didn't make false promises. He made sure that his disciples counted the cost and set aside any conditions or distractions they might have in following him. Jesus demanded full-time commitment and loyalty to his work.

Jesus makes it clear in our gospel reading today that even family loyalty was to take a back seat to following Him. And as we encounter Jesus today in our scripture, we also encounter his statement, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead." This statement challenges us to ask ourselves about our own priorities in following Jesus.

Are we prepared to put aside things of this world to follow Jesus when he calls, not if he calls, but when he calls upon us to do something? Are we prepared to spend more time helping his church, helping others, worshipping, perhaps going to some far away place in His name?

We're not necessarily called to make great sacrifices, but we are all called to make choices along our life's journey, when Jesus calls us to do something. Are we prepared to say yes, and to make it a priority?

Also the decision to follow Jesus shouldn't be put off until we feel the time is right. Because lets face it, we can always conjure up some excuse or reason for the time not being right. I certainly put off Jesus' call, and it's not something I'm proud of. It was easy for me to come up with excuses, but it wasn't easy to live with myself after while knowing I was purposely avoiding God. Nothing should be placed above a total commitment to living for Christ our savior.

As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we are called also to bear good fruit. Now to live abundant fruitful lives for Christ may mean pruning things from our busy days. Pruning can be a hard and painful process sometimes. Often we measure our own worth, and others measure our worth by what we get done. And we often times take this to extremes, to the point of even jeopardizing our own health. We're good at creating good things to do, but bad at pruning, bad at saying no to things, which in turn moves us away from God, and we're often times poor at prioritizing our activities so God is first.

If you maintain a Rose Garden you understand how important pruning is. To encourage more blooms you have to snap off the old ones. And at the end of the season much of the bush is cut back to encourage new growth Well the same is true of growing in Christ. If we're going to continue to grow and bloom, and be effective witnesses for Jesus we have to prune away the things from our lives that have become simply busy work, or unnecessary distractions.

The same is true within the Church as well. We need to continuously look at what it is we do to ensure it's in keeping with what Christ is calling us to do at this point in time. Simply doing something because we always have is not good discipleship, and we must prune away the old things so that new and wonderful things will emerge and grow. So we need to continually seek God's guidance and be willing to say yes to Jesus when he calls.

No, God never promised us a rose garden, but he did promise us salvation through Jesus Christ, a gift that ought to be enough to convict us to say yes, when Jesus asks us to follow him. After all the ultimate victory has been won. We know the outcome; all we have to do is live like we know it.

So when Jesus calls you to put aside all things, or to reprioritize your life to follow him, will you make excuses, or will you say, yes Lord I will follow?


Read other messages by Pastor Wade