Text: Luke 9:51-62
In the name of the +Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Stopping on an almost deserted road in the wilderness of Ireland, I leaned out of the car and asked the farmer standing by the gate – “how do I get to Dublin?”
“Well Sorr, if I was goin’ to Dublin, I wouldn’t be starting out from here”
However, we seldom have the opportunity to choose our starting places on life’s journey, we have to make the best of where we’re at and travel in faith and hope. This morning, we consider the journey that Our Lord begins towards Jerusalem; a journey towards the Cross and towards the victory that is our salvation.
The disciples never had an easy discipleship; for every time that they thought they had got this discipleship thing cracked, Our Lord challenged them, undermined their cosy assumptions and brought them closer to an understanding of what it really means to be a Christian. Frequently we read in the holy scriptures about how they started from completely the wrong place, but through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, they reached the final, blessed destination.
This morning’s reading tells us that “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” The Original Greek is much more descriptive, and older translations render it as “He set his face towards Jerusalem”: You can probably imagine the look: fixed eyes on the horizon, the jaw firmly set, a steely determination in the eyes.
On their journey, they were to encounter much apathy, much hostility and much to challenge them. A good example is the encounter with the Samaritan village. There was no love lost between Samaritans and Jews. The Samaritan town’s refusal to receive Jesus was the result of centuries of ethnic and sectarian division, truly the modern Holy Land has learnt very little from history.
The response was also typically modern: James and John, to whom Jesus had given the nickname “Sons of Thunder” want to respond with violence: heavenly violence, and the destruction of the village, by the calling down of fire from heaven: the Biblical equivalent of Cruise Missiles, perhaps. They thought that would please Christ, and would please His Father.
But their request was not pleasing to God, or to His Son. His holy desire was not to blast them from the face of the earth, but as the Prophet Ezekiel says, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32).
Christ came to earth to save lives, not destroy them; to heal, not aggressively crush.
And so Jesus turns and walks on, giving the people of this region another chance on another day. He walks on, after a firm rebuke to the disciples; they are wrong-footed, challenged once more and brought closer to understand what it means to be a Christian.
We are all engaged on a Spiritual Journey: just as Christ was now heading towards Jerusalem, so we are heading towards the New Jerusalem, the heaven on earth promised to us in the book of Revelation. When ever I think that I understand what discipleship means, what being a Christian means, or even, heaven forbid, priesthood, or incumbency in the Church of England means, I find that I am challenged, and Jesus Christ and his Gospel is there to challenge me, to wrong-foot me and to bring me to a closer understanding of the Christian life.
We need therefore to realise that following Christ on His walk towards Jerusalem requires something special from us: most especially Commitment and Faith.
Commitment, because no one ever said that this journey would be easy: Christ indeed told his followers that they would be rejected, that they would have to pick up their cross and follow Him; when times are hard, and prayer is a chore rather than a delight, and when the pressures and temptations of the world just feel that bit too distracting, then I am reminded by this morning’s lesson that Christ understands this, and that he promised us no less; and I feel my commitment renewed.
It is very easy, especially in such supportive, positive surroundings as this to affirm our commitment to Christ, to be part of the crowd of witnesses, and to go with the majority; but when Christ says “Follow me”, and the times are more difficult, the circumstance less convivial, and the people in the pub or at work, less understanding, I find myself identifying more with the man who wants to bury his Father first. The phrase “to bury one’s Father” is middle-eastern slang, and means to see off one’s responsibilities, to do the decent thing first. Christ asks for a little more than duty and the decent thing: he asks for everything.
The dead, He says, can bury their own; for Commitment to this journey, is more important, more pressing than ‘the decent thing’. It is, we are assured, much harder. This commitment, asked of us by Christ, is for real.
The journey also requires Faith, the well-spring which sustains us on our journey: it is the faith which was kindled in the apostles, and passed down through the ages in the body of the Church and it is Faith which we give thanks for with this morning’s Eucharist: Faith which nourishes, faith which guides and helps us through this journey.
I am speaking of the Faith which we need to nurture both in ourselves and within others, a faith which looks outwards and spreads throughout our community; a faith which needs to challenge the threats to it from outside: from the secular world, and from the ever-encroaching sectors within the church which seek to dilute the true Catholic Faith.
On our journey, we may encounter a great number of challenges, much apathy, and even some hostility, much as the disciples did; it is a long and arduous journey, and one which can only be achieved through Commitment and with Faith.
Much is spoken about getting people through these doors, but little about Mission. If we do not engage in mission –each and everyone of us- then the Gospel message will be lost and countless souls in this place will be lost. I do not mean getting out a soapbox, distributing leaflets, knocking on doors, but the mission of companionship, the evangelism of kindness, the sharing of a journey, the engagement of “come and see what God can do for you”. It might mean rejection, it might mean a move out of our comfort zones, but that my dear friends is what the Gospel calls us to. Even if we risk it blowing up in our faces, at least we will have died trying to do God’s will on earth – notice that even the disciples had a hard time of it.
So, sometimes, when we in our anger and our less-than-Christian moments want to call down fire from heaven, and perhaps wish the destruction of our own, personal, Samaritan villages, it is right that Christ stops and rebukes us and with that rebuke in our ears we can turn gladly on our journey towards Jerusalem following our Lord and Saviour with that commitment, and this faith.
“I wouldn’t begin my journey from here Sorr”, but then again, would any of us given the choice; it is perhaps more important therefore for us to journey with Christ, and have faith in the final destination. Amen.