Fr. Bill Carroll – The Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 26, 2022

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

I have decided to follow Jesus.  

I have decided to follow Jesus.  

I have decided to follow Jesus.  

No turning back.  No turning back.

I’d like to begin with this old Gospel song, which comes to us from the Church in India actually.  Many of us learned it in Sunday School.  Presiding Bishop Curry often sings it in his sermons.

The song should remind us of what Jesus tells us in the Gospel today:  “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.”  In other words, the claims of Jesus come first.  All our other loyalties—even very important ones—come second at best.  And so, we see Jesus confronting the man who wants to go home to say goodbye.  And we see him answering the man who wants to go and bury his father:  “Let the dead bury the dead, but—as for you—go, proclaim the Kingdom of God.”

It’s not that Jesus doesn’t feel the force of our other commitments.  That would be inhuman.  Surely, Jesus loved his own family and friends.  In fact, in his culture, the ties of family were even stronger.  Jesus knows that his teaching here is shocking—even offensive.  And I don’t think he means that we can’t ordinarily fulfill our human obligations.  What he is trying to convey though, in a particularly forceful way. is something he says elsewhere in the Gospel:  “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.”

In the first Christian centuries, following Jesus often meant leaving your family and friends behind.  At a minimum it created tensions.  Father or mother, sister or brother—any close relationship—might draw believers away from the claims of Jesus.  Often, these first believers came from families that worshiped the Greek and Roman gods.  Indeed, the Empire itself claimed absolute loyalty, with Caesar himself claiming to be both Lord and Savior, as well as the Prince of Peace.

In many, many ways, the Church faces similar challenges today.  Here in the West, we are unlikely to be persecuted.  We are more likely to feel irrelevant or ignored.  Christianity is no longer the only game in town, if it ever was.  The claims of Jesus co-exist with those of other would-be Lords and Masters.  But, as Christians, we claim that Christ alone is our Lord.  Secular ideologies of domination and control often disguise themselves in religious language.  But we follow Jesus of Nazareth, whom we crucified.

This past week, I have been working on a new inquirers’ class.  Bishop Doyle will be making his visitation with us on September 11.  This year, beginning on the Wednesday nights in August, we will be presenting a filmed inquirers’ class open to those preparing for baptism, confirmation, or reception into the Episcopal Church.  The class is meant to be an introduction to following Jesus today—as well as to the particular ways that we practice our faith as Episcopalians:  how we are governed, what our history is, how we try to follow Jesus together.  The class uses our Baptismal Covenant and our parish Rule of Life as starting points.  And sixteen laypersons and both our clergy will be involved in filming the first edition of this class.

Yesterday, I sat down with Gary Whitwell, Jessica Wilkinson, Christy and Nathan Collins, and Fr. Andrew, in order to film the first two sessions we filmed, including the one about “inviting and welcoming others to follow Jesus in the way of love.”  In other words, we were talking about evangelism.  And we noted that many of us bring baggage from other denominational backgrounds when we think about that word.  

For us as Episcopalians, evangelism is about more than a one-time decision for Jesus.  It is about an ongoing conversion to Jesus and his love—from the ways of this world.  And so, we reject fear- and shame-based approaches, in favor of one based on love and gratitude.  Our Baptismal Covenant speaks of “proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.”  And, in our rule of life, we took our cue from Bishop Curry, who often speaks about following Jesus in the way of love.  All his ways are ways of love.  As the Presiding Bishop said in another place, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”

One place that Bishop Curry started using this language was the exact place that most people outside the Episcopal Church first met him, namely his sermon at the royal wedding.  What he said to Harry and Meghan that day was probably heard by a billion people or more.  He began with a quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King, who said that “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new one, where love is the only way.”  And then, Bishop Curry invited that young couple—and all of us who were watching—to imagine a world where “love is the way.”  

Imagine (he asked us) our homes and families where love is the way.  Imagine our neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.  Imagine our churches.  Imagine our governments and nations where love is the way.  Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.  Imagine (he said) this tired old world where love becomes the way.  When love becomes the way—unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love.

As followers of Jesus, we know that that’s who God is.  God is love—and the power of God’s love can change the world.  Everything about the ministry of Jesus shows us this love.  Jesus doesn’t just tell us to love other people.  He shows us how.  And, from the beginning of his ministry, Jesus loves other people and shares God’s love with them.  He lives—and he dies—for all of us.

And so, according to Bishop Curry, when we follow Jesus and make love the way no child will ever go to bed hungry—we will let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.  When love is the way, poverty will become history, the earth will become a sanctuary, and we will lay down our swords and shields—to study war no more.  There will be plenty of good room for all God’s children, when love is the way.  We will actually treat each other like we are actually family, when love is the way.  And we will know (we will know) that God is the source of every single one of us—that we are brothers and sisters, that we are children of God. It is an inspiring vision of what God’s Kingdom—what God’s Beloved Community—will be like.  We will stop practicing those works of the flesh that Paul talked about.  We will start to practice the fruits of the Spirit.  We will be more loving, more peaceful, more self-controlled, and all the rest.

When love is the way, we will give up on all those sins and habits and structures that keep us from following Jesus and loving the people he gives us to love.  We will give up on those false Lords and Masters that cause us to hurt each other.  We will give up on our human divisions—and every attempt to control or dominate our sisters and brothers.  For that is not love.  That is not the Way of Jesus.  And no one who puts hand to the plow or looks back will be fit for the Kingdom of God.  

And so, would you sing with me?

Though none go with me, I still will follow,

Though none go with me I still will follow,

Though none go with me, I still will follow;

No turning back, no turning back.


The world behind me, the cross before me,

The world behind me, the cross before me;

The world behind me, the cross before me;

No turning back, no turning back.