Sermons

"We Set Our Faces Toward Love," Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

"We Set Our Faces Toward Love," Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Jun 30, 2019

Passage:Luke 9:51-62

Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jill Walters

Series: Pentecost

Category: Discipleship

Keywords: love, focus, distraction

Summary:

It's easy to get distracted by all of the many demands of life. But Jesus is determined and focused to make sure that the Good News of God's love is shared with everyone, even as he makes his way to his own death. We can be focused, too. We don't have to separate sharing God's love and the tasks of life, we can engage in them while we are present with God's love in the midst of both good and hard times.

Detail:

May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of each heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

​“He set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  We have entered a turning point in Luke’s story of the life of Jesus.

Jesus has been teaching and preaching and healing people.  He’s been traveling the country telling everyone who will listen about God’s love.

And now, he has reached this place and this time.  It’s time for him to head toward Jerusalem...toward his arrest...toward his death.  There’s no avoiding it.  It’s time.

 So, Jesus “sets his face.”  He’s determined...single-minded...focused.  He can’t be distracted.

 Those who follow him are easily sidetracked.  And when they get sidetracked, they lose sight of what Jesus has been teaching them all along...that God loves every single person and wants them to know how much they are loved.

First, we see John and James get off track.  Jesus makes plans to spend time in a Samaritan village, but the people of that village don’t welcome Jesus. 

Jesus has shown great loving kindness and mercy to Samaritans throughout his ministry.  Maybe the history of conflict between the Samaritans and Jews blinds both sides.  Maybe neither side can see the reality that they are all called to be part of the Kingdom of God...not just later...but now...right now.

So, the Samaritans refuse to welcome Jesus and James and John are mad.  They’re not just mad, they’re furious!  They’re ready to call down fire from heaven to destroy this village.    

 And Jesus turns to them and “rebukes” them.  He won’t have any of this.  Have they learned nothing from these years of living with him and ministering with him and healing people?

They’re distracted.  They’re off track.  Jesus is focused.  He’s got his sights set on Jerusalem...setting into motion an act of love and sacrifice that will change the course of history...and these disciples are upset because the people in a Samaritan village snubbed Jesus.

 And Jesus keeps moving forward...toward Jerusalem...focused...determined to get to Jerusalem.

 As he travels, people from the countryside approach him.  They’ve heard Jesus, maybe even witnessed his acts of mercy or heard him teach.  They know he’s the real deal...this message of love changes lives...they know it.

 So, the people start to join in this caravan making its way to Jersusalem.   They want to follow him.  They want to be part of this revolutionary movement of love. 

 One man says “I will follow wherever you go.”  And Jesus responds that even the animals have places to call home, but he has none.  There’s no place where Jesus can take refuge or be safe from the dangers of this world.  Jesus knows fear and what it’s like to be vulnerable.

 Then Jesus calls out to another man to follow him.  The man responds that he first has to go bury his father.  And Jesus responds “let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 

Ouch!  Harsh!

And then another man says he will follow Jesus.  But this guy wants to go home and say goodbye to his loved ones first.

Jesus says:  “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Whoa!  Now that sounds a little heartless.  These guys are eager to follow Jesus.  One guy wants to bury his father and the other wants to say his goodbyes before they set off with Jesus.  And Jesus responds like this?!

But remember, Jesus is moving forward...toward Jerusalem...focused...determined to get to Jerusalem.  He’s not looking back...his eyes are fixed on Jerusalem. 

These followers are distracted.

Jesus knows what they don’t know.  Jesus knows what’s coming.  Jesus knows that the wheels are in motion and time is running short for him.

Now, if we look at the whole of Jesus’ ministry, we know that Jesus doesn’t have anything against people burying their dead or saying goodbye to their loved ones. 

Jesus himself knows the depth of grief.  He says his own goodbyes to his dearest family and friends before his death. 

Jesus understands that these people are making huge sacrifices to follow him.  Jesus understands that following him to Jerusalem is hard.  Jesus understands that grief and pain and loss are not only part of life, but also part of following him.

 The followers are distracted by the tasks and demands of life.  Just like we get distracted by the tasks and demands of life. 

 It’s not that these tasks and demands are somehow “bad” or “wrong.”  It’s that we separate them from following Jesus.  We compartmentalize. 

We, like the followers say, I’ll follow Jesus after I’ve finished “fill-in-the-blank.”  After I’ve finished work...after I get the house cleaned...after I run the errands...after I get my finances in order...after, after, after.

 But what is following Jesus?  It’s loving people, seeing them for who they are...for who God created them to be...it’s being present with them in whatever they’re going through.

Sounds easy, right?!  Oh, no, no, no.  It’s so much easier to be “after” people...to get distracted...to separate our tasks from the following of Jesus.

If we’re distracted by the tasks, we don’t have to be fully present.  We’re safer.  We don’t have to deal with all the pain and suffering, the intimacy, the closeness. 

We don’t have to let people see us up close with all our flaws.  We don’t have to risk rejection and hurt.

But what if Jesus is calling us to follow him while we’re going about our day...not waiting for some grand gesture like going to Jerusalem to face persecution and death? 

What if Jesus is calling us to love people while we’re taking on all the tasks of life...to be present with them in whatever we’re doing?  What if Jesus wants us to be “while” people instead of “after” people?

 Being “while” people is messier.  The rules aren’t as clear and we risk getting hurt.  Being “after” people means we can deal with the task without truly connecting with the people. 

Following Jesus while in the midst of our everyday lives is freedom.  It’s that liberating life that Bishop Curry is always talking about. 

And freedom is sometimes scary...and sometimes harder...because it’s unknown and unpredictable...and it’s full of surprises and wonders and...it can be full of love!

Richard Rohr is a Roman Catholic priest and Franciscan friar who lives in Albuquerque.  He’s a prolific writer and speaker, particularly on spirituality.

 In his daily meditations on Thursday, he told a story about, Brie Stoner, who is learning how to live a life of contemplation in the midst of being a mother of a toddler and infant.  

She was lamenting about how hard it was to pray and be present with God when she was tending to all the demands of little ones...little ones who can’t wait...who need her most precisely when she’s trying to carve out a few minutes of quiet prayer to connect with God.

What she discovered is that God is present in those moments of interruption.  Instead of trying to separate her time with God and her time with her children, she realized that they are one.

 “With or without the luxury of stillness and silence, God comes to us disguised as our very lives....If I learned to let my heart open enough, I just might begin to recognize each cry, each diaper change, every choo-choo play time request . . . all of it, as the startlingly stunning, diaphanous infusion of infinite love colliding into the small shape of my very finite and ordinary reality.”[i] 

This is love...this is the amazing love...the life-giving, liberating love that Jesus is focused on.  This is the love that fills Jesus as he sets his sights on Jerusalem. Nothing distracts Jesus in proclaiming God’s love for all people, not even facing his own death.

My hope for all of us is that we can follow Jesus...that we can set our faces, our souls, and our hearts toward love in whatever we’re doing...whether it’s going through the routine tasks of the day...the bigger events of our lives...the things we don’t want to face or deal with...or the wonderful joys that life offers. 

I pray that we can be fully present to them...that our hearts can be filled with love...not just “after,” but “while” we’re in those moments.  Amen.

 

 

 

[i] Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, Daily Meditations, Conscious Parenting, “God Interrupting,” Thursday, June 27, 2019