Putting Our Hand to the Plow

Rev. Jon Greene, Deacon

Grace Episcopal Church Radford

June 30, 2019

1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21

Psalm 16

Galatians 5:1,13-25

Luke 9:51-62

I have a fear of heights.

I’m also hard headed and haven’t let that keep me from doing a lot of things.  That’s led to some sweaty brows and a number of white knuckle moments over the years.

When I was in the Navy, we worked hard to try and get our best sailors to reenlist. 

On a number of occasions I told sailors, I would reenlist them “anytime and anyplace” that they choose.

Be careful what you promise.

One Chief Electronics Technician took me up on it.  He said he wanted to reenlist on the mast of the ship. 

Now I was on a smaller Navy ship, a frigate, but the top of the mast was still 115 feet in the air and the “platform”—where there was room for two people to stand--was 75 feet in the air—over 5 stories high.

When you climbed up, you put on a climbing harness and you were always connected to something.  So, there was no possible way I was going to fall.

But when you have an innate fear of something that logic doesn’t seem to matter.

The climb up was okay.  I looked at where I was putting my hands and focused on putting one foot, and hand, ahead of the other.

When I got to the top and stood on the platform, where two of us could stand for the oath of office, I immediately latched on to any anything I could grab onto in an absolute death grip.

The Chief could tell I was freaking out a little and I think was worried that he wouldn’t be able to get me down.  So he advised me, “Don’t look down.”

Now, I knew this was the correct advice, but, again, when you have this irrational fear of something somehow it becomes really important to examine carefully the manner in which you are about to die. 

I mean it was important to me to see if I was going straight down 75 feet to splat on the deck or if I was going to bounce off some things on the way down.

Would it be quick? would I linger?

I had to look down. 

Even If I knew it wasn’t the smart thing to do, I had to look down.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

This message stings a bit for me.  Because not only can I not keep from looking down; I can’t keep from looking back.

The phrase to put one’s hand to the plow is a proverbial expression for starting a new task.  And Jesus’ audience knew well that if you were plowing and looked back, you wouldn’t plow a straight line.  And crooked rows mean wasted space.[1]

So Jesus wants us focused on our call to serve…just as he was. 

But the demands he made, well…they just seem unreasonable to me.

When a prospective disciple responds, I’m all in, but first I have to bury my Father, Jesus responds, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”


Another says, I’m coming, but first let me say Goodbye to my family.  Jesus tells him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."


What would I do given those options? 

Honestly, I’d look back.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Lot’s wife.  You remember that story?  Lot is living in the city of Sodom and Gomorrah and two angels come to destroy the city, they tell Lot and his family to flee and don’t look back.

But Lot’s wife, we don’t even know her name, was human and looked back and was turned into a pillar of salt.[2]

I love that she did that; I would have looked back too.

You may have heard that I had a birthday last week.  The big 6-0! 

That’s a pretty big milestone.  One of my co-workers was kind enough to put a big sign on my door that said 60 isn’t old…if you’re a tree. 

Milestones like that lead one to look back.  Wondering what would have happened if…

I look back.  I just can’t help it.

And when I’m not looking down or back, I’m looking around. 

I start something and, almost immediately, something else pops up.  My life seems to be one huge series of distractions.

You can ask Kathy…she’ll ask me to do something and I’ll say sure, I’ll do that.  I’ll leave church and by the time I get home, shoot, by the time I get in my car…it’s gone.

If she doesn’t get me to put it on my calendar or my to do list…chances are I forget. 

I put my hand to the plow and look away.


Even stuff I’m passionate about, if I’m honest with myself, I’m always looking down or away or around.

I spent about 2 ¾ years of a 3 year diaconate program wondering if I should quit. 

I get fired up about suicide or school shootings or teen pregnancy or sexual assault or racial reconciliation or children in Haiti or at the border and decide I MUST DO SOMETHING!

I get fired up and then I look around at all the other things I need to do at work, at home, on NETFLIX and somehow that passion just fades away.

I put my hand to the plow, and then…I look back or down or around, and sometimes I just walk away from that plow leaving it in the middle of the crooked row that I’ve been plowing.

And Jesus tells me I’m not “fit for the kingdom of God.”

That stings.


This is a tough passage.  One of many where Jesus really challenges us to live a Way of Love that just seems so foreign to us.

We have tendency to explain such passages away and say, "Of course, Jesus doesn't really mean to leave without saying goodbye to our family or burying our father.” 

But I fear that any time we explain away a passage with the "Jesus doesn't really mean this" argument, we are out on a limb.

Because Jesus calls us to radical action.

Living the Way of Christ is not safe, it’s not comfortable, it’s not easy.

Don’t get me wrong, I'm not telling you to quit your job and go live in the desert and preach and eat bugs and honey.

But I am telling you that you are called to follow Jesus.

And that call has a particular meaning, a particular plow and a particular field, Jesus has in mind for you.

That may involve eating bugs.

It may involve going to Haiti.

It may involve working with the homeless or racial reconciliation.

And it may involve being a caretaker, or a Mom or a Dad.

Or just being a positive presence at work.

I don’t know—that’s between you and the Lord.

But you are called.  And what you are called to now, is not necessarily what you will be called to next year or even tomorrow.

But, make no mistake, you are called. 

And, if you are anything like me, you spend much of your life with your hand off the plow.

I believe Jesus' message to his disciples then, and to us today, is there is no place for half measures--you either have your hand to the plow and your eyes on the mission—or you do not.

You are either fit for the kingdom of God—or you are not.

That’s a pretty stern message, and, as I said, I can’t seem to live up to it.

Now you may think I’m about to go all hellfire and damnation on you, here, but you’ve got the wrong deacon, so just hold on a minute.

Tell me someone, one person, in the Bible or from your life, that doesn’t look back or down or around.


Moses killed a man and spent a good part of Exodus arguing with God.

Elijah’s sons were downright evil and he didn’t correct them.

David was an adulterer and murder.

Peter denied the Lord three times (after being told he would).

In fact, every single one of the disciples ran away and left him to be crucified (except the women of course—guys we need to let that soak in).

You see they were just as ignorant and distracted and downright sinful as we are.


There has only been one man that put his hand to plow and didn’t look back.

That, as we are told in today’s Gospel, set his face toward Jerusalem and walked directly to the Cross

…and through the Cross.

There was only one man worthy of the Kingdom of God…

And He was God incarnate…Jesus, the Christ.

And while none of us are worthy, again and again, He invites us to join in His Kingdom.

He calls us and says, “Follow me.”

And, sometimes we do. 

We put our hand to the plow and start plowing straight and true

But inevitably we find out it is dangerous and uncomfortable and hard or we just get distracted.  We look down or back or around and we cease to plow that straight row.


We cease to follow him.

And, as we wander off, He waits patiently for us to return. 

He continues to call, urging us to return to the plow and to the field that needs turning.

He calls me still…and he calls you.

To what plow, to what field is He calling you?


For He is saying, “Follow Me.”


[1] “What Does it Mean to Put your Hand on the Plow and Look Back? (Luke 9:62),” Becoming Christian,” https://becomingchristians.com/2016/08/22/what-does-it-mean-to-put-your-hand-on-the-plow-and-look-back-luke-962 , retrieved 5/31/19.

[2] Genesis 19.