For the first four years of my life I lived with my mother and my grandparents. During that time my Grandpa grew a garden in which he cultivated potatoes, tomatoes, okra, corn, peas, beans... if it had a seed and could be grown in the garden, Grandpa grew it, and he grew lots of it.
This garden was no run-of-the-mill endeavor, either. It was gigantic, and because of its enormity, Grandpa owned a tiller. I'm sure many of you have never even seen a tiller, as I have not seen once since Grandpa stopped growing his garden. It essentially is a personal hand held plow that agitates the soil bringing the more fertile topsoil to the surface making it easier for the plant seeds to take root. I remember Grandpa starting up the gas engine on the tiller and working his way up and down the long rows of his garden for hours and hours.
As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." He said to another man, "Follow me." But the man replied, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Still another said, "I will follow you Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family." Jesus replied, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."
This last week Jodi and I rented the movie, "Music and Lyrics" staring Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant. It really was a pretty good movie. In the storyline, Hugh Grant's character, Alex Fletcher, is an 80's pop icon who has since wandered into obscurity. At one point in the movie, while interviewing for a gig on VH1s "Battle of the 80's Has-beens" he states something along these lines, "Everything that I've ever done that is good is behind me." He believes that he has already "peaked" and that the best moments of his life are in the past. As a result he spends the majority of his time singing his old songs at high school reunions and theme parks. He never looks to the future at all. He doesn't even try to write any new music. He keeps looking back.
I remember watching Grandpa till his garden. As a little child I was amazed at the level of focus Grandpa had. His eyes remained fixed just passed the turning blades of the loud tilling machine. He focused there for obvious reasons. He needed to make sure he knew where he was going. He was looking for rocks in the soil that may injure his machine. He wanted to make sure his row was straight. If Grandpa had turned around to admire the work that he had just accomplished he would never have finished with any kind of positive result. He would have plowed over his already existing plants, he could have ruined his machine, and ultimately, he wouldn't be able to grow a successful garden.
This seems so simple to us. Of course he would look forward while he was plowing ground. That's just common sense.
So why then do we spend large portions of our time like Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite reliving the glory days when we could throw footballs a quarter mile. Most of us spend the majority of our time looking back on our lives at what we have accomplished, who we have known, and how we used to do it. As a result, we never end up realizing God's potential in our lives because we aren't focused on what is to come.
Unfortunately, this is especially true when we look at the local church. Jesus says in this text, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God." When we seek to minister to others, we must eliminate phrases like, "we've always done ______," or "that's not the way we used to do _________." We must look to the future. We must look to the end. We must stop looking back and begin looking to the savior. Otherwise, we might wreck the whole garden.