first-century-jerusalem

Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. The tone from our gospel lesson is provided from us in the first sentence. Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem. The ministry in Galilee has been completed and with single minded determination Jesus is set to go to Jerusalem. It is with our reading from Luke today that Jesus begins to prepare the disciples for the task that is before them; for the task that they will face after he is gone.

Setting Our Face Toward Jerusalem – Audio Sermon

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On one level our reading is about the cost of discipleship. Jesus has some fairly stern, perhaps even harsh words for those who think that they might follow him. “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” is the reply Jesus gives to one who would follow him. Jesus is not making following him sound very fun at this juncture. In fact it sounds very uncomfortable and from the sound of things it does not get any easier.

Another follower comes forward indicating he will follow Jesus, but first he must bury his father. The reply from Jesus, let the dead bury their own dead. Ouch. That’s not what we are used to hearing from gentle pastoral Jesus. Still another will follow, but first let me say farewell to my family. No says Jesus, anyone who looks back is not fit for service in the kingdom of God.

Jesus is making interesting and challenging claims over us in this passage. But is it really realistic? I can’t say good-bye to my wife before I leave, what about my kids? I can’t bury my father? I’m to let the dead bury the dead? And by the dead, is Jesus referring to others who have passed on or to those who have not yet heard and accepted Christ’s message? I mean think about it for a moment. If you’re an elder, when you attended the most recent session meeting did you say good bye to your family? And if you’ve lost a loved one, and we all have, did you bury them? Of course you did. You’d be crazy not to. So what’s going on here? What exactly is Jesus trying to say?

Fred Craddock once delivered a sermon on ‘The Gospel as Hyperbole.’ In the message he pointed out that the gospel is loaded with statements that are, on the face of them, ridiculous. We’re told to remove the log pole from our own eyes before criticizing others. We’re told that if we have even a smidge of faith, we can move mountains into the sea. We’re told a shepherd would abandon 99 sheep in favour of searching for just one that wandered off. We’re told that if everything Jesus did were written down, the whole world could not contain the books that would be written. We’re told stories like the one about a man who was forgiven a debt of a billion dollars who then turned right around and choked another man to death for the 50 cents he was owed. Ridiculous. Over the top. Who can take such hyperbole seriously?

But as Craddock went on to point out, it’s all a little less ridiculous once you come to realize that the kingdom of God Jesus cam to announce really does contain the cosmic power for salvation unto all people and all creatures. If the kingdom of God is half of what we think it is, we really cannot over emphasize its power. We cannot exaggerate enough to convey the true power of the kingdom and of the God who through grace sent Jesus Christ; bringing us from darkness to light. So let’s not toss out the radical language that we find in our gospel lesson, because it points to a powerful truth that we need to hear and remember.

In our passage Jesus is interested in aspects of discipleship. Jesus is testing our loyalties. He is not asking us to not say farewell before we step out the door, as Craddock alludes to it is an extreme example. Forcing us to wrestle with the question of how will we deal with the gospel in light of societal norms? We don’t live in a Christian society. For some people that statement comes as a shock, but Christendom is gone. Much of what we do and believe, what Christ calls us to be is not in line with how society behaves and acts. Christ calls us to help to poor and be charitable because it’s the right thing to do. Society calls us to be charitable because we might win a house by purchasing a charity lottery ticket. The motivation behind why our society does things is all driven by the self. What’s in it for me?

So when you are offered a promotion at work, but it means more time at work and you’ll need to cut back on the time you offer to the church. Should you take the promotion? Now, I can’t answer that question. The answer is different for each of us. There will be instances where yes is the appropriate answer. But if you aren’t thinking about that question through the lens of what it means to be a disciple of Christ, then the harsh words of Jesus in this passage might be pointed in your direction.

I know that sounds harsh and I will be the first to confess that I have made decisions without thinking through what it means to be a disciple of Christ. I’ve put myself first and everyone else, including Jesus, second. And those decisions have not necessarily been bad decisions, except, except I didn’t consider what it meant to be a disciple of Christ when I made them. And Jesus asks me to do better than that and the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross on my behalf demands that I do better than that. Doesn’t it?

Friends, Jesus is asking of us in this passage to think through the cost of being a disciple. Friends, there are echoes of John 15:18 where Jesus says to the disciples “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. And Matthew 10:22 “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.” What does it mean to be a disciple? When we walk through those doors, when we resume our busy lives are we going through the motions or are we living as disciples of Christ. When adversity strikes, are we rooted enough in our faith to respond in the light of Christ’s message for the world?

This is what Jesus wants to know from his follower’s as he sets his face towards Jerusalem. As he makes that final journey towards the cross, Jesus wants to know if the disciples will stand up and be counted. Now as it turns out they do anything but, Peter denies him, they fall asleep in the garden, they hide out in the upper room, Thomas doubts and Judas sold him out for a bag of silver. So if those twelve who lived and walked with him had problems living up to Jesus’ message what hope is there for us today?

Probably not much. Except… except Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem. That is where our hope is. This is the larger message that is contained within our gospel lesson today. Jesus is on the move, heading towards Jerusalem and the cross. David Lose writes that “… the larger narrative trajectory of Luke’s Gospel would suggest a different emphasis: Jesus’ commitment to embrace the cross for the sake of the world. The heart of these passages is neither the road of discipleship nor Jesus’ heroic courage in facing the cross. Rather it is a single mindedness of purpose that is prompted by God’s profound love for humanity and all the world.”

When this passage from Luke is read through the lens of God’s radical love for us everything, family, friends, work, discipleship. It all looks different when viewed through the lens of God’s sacrificial love for us. When we set our faces towards Jerusalem. When we walk with Christ and understand the magnitude of the sacrifice that was made for us everything looks different. Amen.

Text: Luke 9: 51-62

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No sermon is written in a vacuum. My thanks to the editors and contributors of Feasting on the Word a commentary I find invaluable in preparing my sermons. Also to the Centre for the Excellence in Preaching without which I would not have discovered Fred Craddock’s sermon on The Gospel as Hypberbole.