Thursday, July 04, 2013

Setting Your Face Toward Jerusalem

Preached June 30 in Dunmore and Throop UMCs

Jesus set his face for Jerusalem.  That means more than he pulled out a map and traced his route, marking all the Stuckey’s restaurants where he could pick up nut rolls and Bolsa blankets.  It meant more than he called AAA and ordered up a custom triptych.

He set his face toward Jerusalem.  He knew that the time had come for the climax of his ministry. 

It was a pretty direct route, because he doesn’t avoid Samaria.  Historically, Samaria and Israel didn’t get along.  In a nutshell, here’s why:

Once, Judea and Samaria were one country.  The ten tribes of Israel in the north were conquered by the Assyrian empire, and were culturally and religiously influenced by their conquerors, and their expression of the faith as given by Moses became different than in the south. 

A couple centuries later, The Babylonians conquered Assyria, and all their land holdings, including the ten northern tribes.  Babylonia kept going, though, and conquered the two southern tribes, too.  So now here were two people who couldn’t avoid each other, being in the same empire, but their faith expressions had changed enough that they were alien and foreign.  There had been intermarriages in the north which were literally un-kosher in the south.  One had Mount Zion for its holy mountain, the other Mount Gerzim.

It would be as if someone who was born and raised in Northeastern PA, Scranton area, were to move to New Mexico.  Same nation, but different culture, and good luck finding a pierogie there! 

The Samaritans and the Israelites had many different understandings of faith, but used many of the same terms.  Perhaps then, it is understandable that this particular Samaritan town doesn’t take to Jesus, once it’s known he has set his face for Jerusalem.  He’s not there for them.  He’s not stopping to preach, not stopping to heal, he’s on a schedule.  So they aren’t very hospitable. 

James and John then ask if they should rain fire down on this village.  Remember, earlier in chapter nine, they have seen Jesus transfigured by God, and in the air with both Elijah and Moses.  They remember Elijah doing that same thing once, so they ask if he wants it.  And he tells them to knock it off.  He was “stern” with them.  That’s not why we’re here.

Then in the scripture, there are a series of small stories in which three different situations are presented of people wanting to join Jesus’ ministry.  One says “I will follow you wherever you go.”  Jesus warns that one that there will be no home, no roof nowhere to rest.  We don’t know if that guys joined up after that or not.

The second one is invited by Jesus; the man replies that he has important family obligations.  Jesus tells him to go and proclaim the kingdom of God; presumably at the funeral and after. 

The third one says “let me say goodbye, and I’ll join you”.  Jesus tells that one he must be focused on one thing.  He uses the image given again by Elijah, this time when he calls Elisha to follow him, and Elisha drops everything, and leaving the plow in the field. 

Do these situations sound fair, frankly?  Is Jesus really telling this man to leave everything, the possibility of wife and kids, to follow him?

Some might say that this young man is putting family above Christ, and he is a fool.  But others might say that this man has family duties and responsibilities, and Jesus is asking this man to shirk them. 

Each one of these stories give us a certain amount of trouble.  I don’t know how I’d answer each one, and one could very well say that, because I am a clergyperson, I have already answered this call.

It is a troubling set of stories.  But I think the key for us in understanding the greater picture, the application in our lives, is to go back all the way to the beginning of today’s periscope.  To look at the beginning where it says “Jesus had set his face toward Jerusalem.”  He was focused on his goal.

When Jesus was on earth, bodily, there was cause for urgency.  Cause for people to drop the plow and follow.  To leave a parents’ burial journey and follow.  It was very short term. 

We do not have that urgency.  We have a Holy Spirit that is always waiting for us, standing behind us, flinging lit matches under our own spirit, waiting for something to catch fire.

While the urgency is not the same, with someone standing before us saying “you, come with me,” the call is the same.  We are still called to serve.  We are called to expend ourselves in God’s service.

We are called to set OUR faces toward Jerusalem.  We are called to be like Jesus.  Can we do this while we are burying our parents?


Can we do that while we are plowing fields?


Can we do that while making sandwiches for our grandkids?


Can we do that while mowing the lawn, or working on homework? 


Can we be shining lights for Christ, no matter where we are or what we do? 

Yes.  If we keep our faces pointed toward Jerusalem. 

This lesson does not teach us that we are failures because we have duties. Our duties separate from explicitly serving God are not distractions.  What we are being taught is that the goal of imitating Christ, the WWJD of it, is to keep our faces pointed toward Jerusalem, no matter who we are and what we’re doing.  To unify our lives into one wrapped in and directed by God.

To keep our faces pointed toward Jerusalem.        




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