Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
June 30, 2019
“He set his face to go up to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51-62). And so, Jesus begins his faithful sojourn to the cross. From now until November 10th our gospel each Sunday follows Jesus on this journey as recorded in ten chapters of Luke (9:51- 19:28).
Every trek has a beginning. Every odyssey includes a moment of decision, a call to commitment, a challenge to respond. Jesus’ challenge was to pick up the cross. It was journey which was to be less about the destination as it was about a way of life. Jerusalem, Gethsemane, and Golgotha are not important as places, but for what Jesus’ showed us on the way there about how we are to live. The cross was not a transaction, or paying a debt demanded by God. Rather, it is urgently important for what it reveals about how we walk in faithfulness to God’s grace, with every step, in every day, for the rest of our lives. The path into life and the abundance of life goes through opening our self and becoming vulnerable. By exposing our weaknesses, we find our strength. In serving each other, we obtain satisfaction. In losing our life we find it.
It wasn’t a sure thing. In fact, many, if not most, would call it a foolish bet. Jesus set his face to go up to Jerusalem, not knowing how it would turn out –who would follow—how many would heed his message, our join him on this path. In fact, the jury is still out even up to this day. Jesus bet his money and his life on caring how well we live with compassion and faith. The way of the cross transforms our ultimate goal from mere survival to entering upon God’s glory. ‘Going my way,” Jesus asks? Ready to know the way to freedom? Ready to discover simple abundance and what will save you? Follow me, Jesus says.
Jesus doesn’t sugar coat it. The way to life and the cross requires sacrifice. It requires we persist through resistance, sabotage, and even hatred. Yet we do so know that God walks with us and fights beside us.
There is real urgency in our readings today. Every moment counts. Don’t look back, “Let the dead bury their own dead.” There’s no time even to say goodbye. For every time there is a season. The time has come for Jesus and the disciples to head toward Jerusalem. In every Christian life, there is a time to enter into mission.
Today’s gospel speaks to any of us who recognize our tendency to put off decisions that have big consequences. It speaks to us who come to Jesus with ready excuses to defer our Christian walk until we are in a better place, or a better time, or when all the stars align. There comes a time to stop making excuses until “I get my stuff figured out.” Are we waiting for others to stand up for those the world rejects? Or will you seize the moment and say God’s love is for all? There comes a time to stop waiting for God’s action, get up on our own two feet, and be the body of Christ.
We heard St. Paul say, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) In his famous Treatise on Christian Liberty, Martin Luther succinctly captured the gospel message regarding our freedom as people who have found new life in Christ. He wrote, “A Christian is perfectly free, Lord of all, subject to none. [and] A Christian is perfectly dutiful, servant of all, subject to all.” If you wish to love God then love your neighbor as yourself—just don’t expect all your neighbors to be happy about it.
This past week, 30 adult and youth volunteers welcomed 43 children to Immanuel for Vacation Bible School. We sang, danced, did crafts, projects, and plays to inquire together about a single question, “Who is my neighbor?” In Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan we learned neighbors are not just the people who happen to live next to us but anyone in need. We heard Jesus call to love and serve one another in radical, surprising ways, which is really another way of calling to follow him in the way of the cross. We heard Jesus’ challenge to build a neighborhood (like the one represented behind me), where all are welcome and support one another in lives of dignity and meaning. We march with pride today in solidarity with those who like Jesus set their face toward making life better for us all even at the expense of their own flesh and blood. We will carry on spreading this message of hope.
With Jesus, we were so bold to teach this lesson to our children at Vacation Bible School even though as many as 4,500 people were arrested last year alone by our Federal government and charged with a crime for aiding and abetting immigrants by providing things like water, food, or clothing.
Luke tells us the moment Jesus turned to the cross he met immediate resistance. Ironically, first from the Samaritans, who had been cheering him on, but who now turn away because they despised Jerusalem. Then his own friends, James and John, offended by the Samaritan’s rejection are moved to react with violence. Does insult entitle one to inflict injury? Does being right or having a holy cause justify the use of force?
“Elijah had called down fire on the Samaritans; could not Jesus’ followers do the same? Misunderstanding the identity of the one they followed, the disciples mistakenly thought they could achieve his ends by violence. How often have those who claimed to be following Christ repeated the mistake of these early disciples? They had yet to learn that violence begets violence, and that Jesus had come to break the cycle of violence by dying and forgiving rather than by killing and exacting vengeance.” [Alan Culpepper, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Luke- John, p. 216]
“The radicality of Jesus’ words lies in his claim to priority over the best, not the worst, of human relationships. Jesus never said to choose him over the devil but to choose him over the family. And the remarkable thing is that those who have done so have been freed from possession and worship of family and have found the distance necessary to love them.” (Fred Craddock, Luke, Interpretation Commentaries p. 144)
As the sun marks the turning of the seasons from Spring into Summer, so the cross of Christ declares the steadfast love of God that never ceases. God’s mercies never come to an end; but arrive new each morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23)
By way of the cross, Jesus transforms this world so often cold, lonely, and mean. There is so much suffering all around us. Yet the good news of Jesus Christ is we may all find the life we so desperately need in become a living sanctuary of hope and grace to one another by walking the way of the cross. That is why this mission is so urgent. That is why the time for action must be now. Will you come and follow me, Jesus says, so the blind may see, to let the prisoners go free, to kiss the lepers clean, and let God’s love be revealed in you? (ELW # 798)