on the way with Jesus: “it’s in the way we set our faces”

Luke 9:51-62

I’ve been hoping I would remember how to do this!
It’s like riding a bike, isn’t it?
Either way, wobbly or balanced, today,
we begin an eight-week worship series
called on the way with Jesus—
eight weeks in which we will look at lectionary texts
pulled from the so-called travel narrative of Luke’s gospel—
or Jesus’ Journey to Jerusalem
(for those who like lots of lovely alliteration).

And everyone agrees that Luke’s travel narrative begins
with our first verse, this morning—
with that part about Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem.
Much less consensus about where the travel narrative actually ends.
Depending on which scholar/article/commentary you read,
the travel narrative extends through Luke 18:14,
after the parable of the pharisee and the publican
and before the blessing of the children.
Some read it that way.
Or 19:10, after the Zacchaeus story in Jericho.
Some read it that way.
Or 19:28, right before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem,
or 19:47, after Jesus’ cleansing of and teaching in the temple.
Lots of ways to read it.

Now what is it? This travel narrative?
Because I have to tell you, as a travel blog,
it fails.
Not enough of the details of travel.

During our sabbatical travels, for example, I tried, on my blog,
to write about some of the particulars of our various stops—
in part, to note what seemed significant,
in part, to share our experience,
in part, to mediate memories for the girls,
but also because I won’t remember what I don’t write down.
As a travel blog, Luke’s travel narrative fails.

As an itinerary, well, it fails as well.
If we requested GPS driven directions
from Samaria to Jerusalem,
the GPS would have constantly been rerouting
through Samaria (Luke 9:51-53)—
in Jerusalem or on its outskirts (Luke 10:38, cf. John 12:1-3)—
then back in Galilee or Perea (Luke 13:31-33)—
between Galilee and Samaria (Luke 17:11)—
in Jericho (Luke 18:35-19:10)—
back near Jerusalem (Luke 19:11).

In Germany, the talking GPS we named Josie,
in our rent car we named Marta—
Josie often suggested, “Make a U-turn as soon as possible”—
with an imagined air of ever-increasing exasperation!

As is often—as is perhaps usually the case in Scripture,
this travel narrative has so much less to do
with the chronology and geography
of mapping a particular journey,
than it does with the stories and teachings
Jesus shared on his way
that help us on our way
to incarnate ever more, life lived in the way of Jesus.

When the days drew near for him to be taken up,
he set his face to go to Jerusalem.

When the days drew near—when the hour was at hand—
in the fullness of time—
rhetoric implying knowledge on Jesus’ part?
He knew it was time?
Some read it that way.
Or rhetoric implying some great plan of which this was a part
whether Jesus knew about it or not?
Some divine time frame to salvation history?
Some read it that way.
Because it does sound like the cross, doesn’t it?
When it was time for Jesus to be taken up.
Or the resurrection.
Or the ascension.
All that.

But remember, I don’t remember what I don’t write down,
and this wasn’t written down until some forty to sixty years after Jesus—
so might well constitute more the affirmations of a confessing church
than specific and accurate memories of Jesus.
And some read it that way.

So once upon a time, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.
And what’s that? Physical and geographical?
There’s the sun. Jerusalem’s south and a little west of here.
I set my face this way to get from point a to point b.

Or is this theological?
Jesus oriented himself to and by the holiest of holies,
the home of God amidst Israel.
Wherever I go, I go towards God.

Or is Jesus asking the question,
“What is the biggest possible consequence
to living life my way? God’s way?”
Jesus identifying and confronting the worst that could happen.
Jesus counting the potential cost, and concluding,
“I can live with that.
In fact, I’m not sure I can live without it—
without some sense of there being a consequence
to my choices and actions in following God.”

So maybe Jesus setting his face to Jerusalem
is physical and geographical. Maybe it’s theological.
And maybe it’s consequential.
Oh, and it’s also scriptural—
resonating with words of Isaiah:
“The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
he who vindicates me is near” (Isaiah 50:7).

Even more pointed, the words of Ezekiel:
“The word of The Lord came to me:
Mortal, set your face toward Jerusalem
and preach against the sanctuaries;
prophesy against the land of Israel …” (Ezekiel 21:1-2).

And Jesus sent messengers ahead of him.
On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans
to make ready for him; but they did not receive him,
because his face was set towards Jerusalem.

What does that mean?
Would they have received him otherwise—
if his face weren’t set toward Jerusalem?
The Samaritans, after all, didn’t worship in Jerusalem,
they worshipped at Mt. Gerizim.
But surely Jesus’ face wasn’t set to Jerusalem in rejection of Mt. Gerizim.
After all, in John’s gospel, in conversation with a Samaritan woman
about the different places of worship, Jesus said,
“A time is coming when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (John 4:21).

So I think what the Samaritans saw
was the same thing they saw back in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30)—
a face turned to God—set to God—
determined—not predetermined (that’s a Calvinist pun!).
And remember, they didn’t just reject him in Nazareth,
they tried to throw him off a cliff!
We tend not to be comfortable around faces set toward God—
around living that reflects more God than it does us.

but when Jesus’ disciples James and John saw this rejection,
they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire
to come down from heaven and consume them?’

Now let’s hear it for James and John.
Oh not for how comfortable they would be
in our let’s-follow-our-impulse culture—
particularly our impulses to violence and destruction.

And they do feel so right, don’t they?
Can we admit that?
We had a bike stolen out of our back yard,
and I confess to still having dreams
about being in the back alley
when someone emerged with that bike—
of being in that back alley—with a baseball bat!

So let’s not hear it for James and John
because they are virtually indistinguishable from us,
but because they had obviously paid attention
in Vacation Torah School and in Saturday School.
They knew their Scripture!
For long ago, in Samaria, a king of Israel sent a captain of fifty
to say to Elijah who was sitting at the top of a hill,
“Obey the king who says come down.”
And Elijah said, “If I am a man of God let fire come down from heaven
and consume you …” (2 Kings 1:10). And so it was.
Again, in Samaria, the king sent another captain of another fifty,
who said, “Okay now the king says hurry come down!”
And Elijah said, again, “If I am a man of God
let fire come down from heaven
and consume you …” (2 Kings 1:12). And it was so again.
But you know, the third captain of the next fifty,
sent to confront the prophet of God, on top of that hill in Samaria,
said, “O man of God, please let my life
and the life of these fifty servants of yours,
be precious in your sight” (2 Kings 1:13),
and a prophetic reminder was offered the prophet.

And Jesus turned and rebuked them—James and John.
The point for those who follow Jesus
maybe to insist
we not rain down fire on anyone,
and that we rebuke those who suggest it.
President Obama? And those who do it. President Assad?
They are precious in God’s sight.
Yes, I know it’s complicated.
And you might call it what needs be done.
Or the best bad option we’ve got.
Or it’s better than doing nothing.
But it is not the will of God.
For it is not the way of God,
no matter the cost to God—
which is always where God and our country part ways,
and perhaps where God and church too often do as well.
God embraces the consequences of God’s priorities.

Jesus regularly suggests, affirms and proves
that his priorities, his faith affirmations—
that his story as a follower of God,
is more important to him than his circumstances.
And we too often assume our circumstances are the story.
And so we regularly need that prophetic reminder,
“Let the lives of those we don’t know
be more precious in our sight.”

Our text then switches gears into three encounters along the way.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him,
‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him,
‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;
but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

Which is not to say I have no where to go,
but rather, I have no where to go home to.
Except maybe with my face set toward Jerusalem,
I go home to God.

To another Jesus said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said,
‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’
But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead;
but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

And let’s acknowledge this request as a Jewish religious priority.
This was a really important duty to fulfill,
and it’s not really legitimate to make it all easier
by suggesting this person’s father wasn’t dead yet,
that he was asking to not follow Jesus and just hang around
until his father did die and then bury him.
No, if your face is set toward Jerusalem,
even the most important responsibilities will fall by the wayside.

So another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord;
but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’

Now remember James and John remembered Elijah?
do you remember that when Elijah called Elisha,
he allowed Elisha to return home
to say goodbye to his family (1 Kings 19:19-21).
Not a coincidence, do you think?
But Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough
and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

I came across one paper on this part of our text entitled, “Jesus the Jerk”!
But Jesus, remember, identified possible consequences to following God—
faced them and accepted them.
He counted the cost,
and he demands that we, as followers, do the same.
Because we too often act like there’s not one.
And one way or another, there is.
We either pay the cost of confronting our world with the gospel,
or the cost of conforming to the world instead of the gospel.
One way or another, we pay up.

There are texts that are comforting and reassuring.
This isn’t one of them.
But comforting and reassuring isn’t always what we need.
Sometimes we need inspiring and challenging.
And sometimes we need a good swift kick in the pants.

We got back to the US last month to hear, for the first time,
a song many of you may already be sick of!
How many of y’all heard Sara Bareilles’ song, “Brave”?
If you stick around after the postlude, we’ll play the video.
Hear now some of the words:
“Everybody’s been there.
Everybody’s been stared down by the enemy.
Fallen for the fear,
and done some disappearing.
Bowed down to the mighty.
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue.
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live.
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in.
Show me how big your brave is.”

Now let’s put that together with
words Matt Damon’s character shares with his son
in the movie We Bought a Zoo,
“You know, sometimes all you need
is twenty seconds of insane courage—
just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery,
and I promise you, something great will come of it.”

Imagine 20 seconds of insane courage
in which to say yes to a new set of affirmations and presuppositions,
in which to follow Jesus and walk in the way of God,
and then to set our faces toward our gyms and our homes
our places of employment, our schools, our friends,
our families, our family budgets and our family schedules—
everywhere the story of God runs headlong into the stories of our living,
and to follow the story of God into and through our circumstances
instead of letting circumstances lead us around by our noses.

Imagine 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery
in which to say, “I’m sorry.” “I forgive you.”
“Let’s try again.” “I love you.” “God loves you.”
To say, “That’s wrong. That’s mean.
That’s unkind. That’s small.
I don’t want to be small.
I don’t want you to be small.
I want you to be big like God.
I want you to be brave.”

Imagine 20 seconds of insane courage
in which to set our faces, not toward Jerusalem,
but toward Washington DC,
and the absolute embarrassment
that is the amount of money we can find for war
apparently whenever we want to,
while not feeding our hungry and not healing our sick
and not extending the possibilities of dignity to our elders.
Imagine 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery to set our faces to God amidst
the obscenity that is our radically divisive partisanship,
and the blasphemy that is who we turn God into in our culture,
and the idolatry that is the ever prioritization of our circumstance.

Imagine 20 seconds of insane courage
to set our faces to our churches
and to say, “It’s not about us!”
To say, “Remind us, please, as those who are of God
that this is all about God and about others.
Remind us that we believe in a bigger story than just ours.”

In the “Brave” video, it’s not just about speaking up,
but about risking dancing.
Some are great dancers; some are … less professional!
When are we willing to risk looking stupid—
looking silly—
for the sake of that bigger story.

Imagine 20 seconds of insane courage—
now it has to be the right 20 seconds (and the right insane courage)
to know and face the cost, I’d like to suggest, of following God.
To swallow and set your face toward God.
“You can start speaking up….
Kept on the inside, in no sunlight,
sometimes the shadow wins.
But I wonder what would happen
if you say what you want to say,
and let the words fall out?
I want to see you be brave.”

Now it’s not just any words either.
It’s not always the words that first come to mind—
that fall so easily off the tongue!
But rather the prophetic reminder:
“They are precious in God’s sight.”
Just as you are.
God loves them as much as God loves you.
Do you love them at all?

Yes, it’s true, Luke’s not real clear about the geography,
because it’s not the geography he wants us to be real clear about.
Nor, I would suggest,
does he much care about a theology of Jesus,
or even beliefs about Jesus,
or events to come in Jerusalem.

He’s interested, rather, in the way of Jesus—
the way of Jesus in and through the world.
And how that is our way …
or could be.

I don’t remember what I don’t write down.
So let me write this down—
write it down on my heart—through my living.
Let the lives of those I don’t know be more precious in my sight.
And maybe the world—
maybe, just maybe the ways of the world
will find themselves a little wobbly—
find themselves rerouting.
Make a U-turn as soon as possible!
In 20 seconds.

May it be so.


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