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Sermon for Sunday 30 June 2019

First Reading                              1 Kings 19:9b-21

9bBehold, the word of the Lord came to {Elijah}, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 11And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 15And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 19So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. 20And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.

Psalm                                                          Psalm 16

1Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” 2All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, upon those who are noble among the people. 3But those who run after other gods shall have their troubles multiplied. 4Their libations of blood I will not offer, nor take the names of their gods upon my lips. 5O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; it is you who uphold my lot. 6My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a goodly heritage. 7I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me, night after night. 8I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall. 9My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. 10For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the Pit. 11You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Second Reading                         Galatians 5:1, 13-25

1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

Gospel                                                        Luke 9:51-62

51When the days drew near for {Jesus} to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56And they went on to another village. 57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And 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.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”


I’m sure that if I asked the question, who here believes that technology makes our lives easier, I’d get a near unanimous yes.  I mean it doesn’t take a Harvard graduate to realize that a washing machine is much preferred to a washboard when doing laundry?  And who here doesn’t recognize the benefits of social media to keep in touch with family and friends.  Of course, your attitude toward technology, when it comes to hand-held devices and social media, may change after you read my article in the next issue of the Rock.  And I’m sure many of us will agree that the misuse technology, not only by those who invent the apps, but also by those who continuously look for ways to steal personal information, or to prey on trusting individuals or on innocent children, has been a detractor from the overall benefit of the things that improve our lives.

One example of social media abuse was highlighted in an article in Hemispheres magazine that told about all the websites out there that are dedicated to helping you get online friends and followers for your social media accounts.  These companies will create fake usernames or pay real account holders to follow you and like you on various social media sites.  For instance, on the site Socialyup.com you can buy 500 likes for $30 or 20,000 likes for $699.  For $10, a company called FanMeNow will find you 1,000 Twitter followers and for $1,750 you can buy a million followers.  Think of that–a million followers for only $1,750!  That sounds like a bargain if you’re seeking to become a celebrity.  But that’s not all.

For some reason if you need to beef up views for your YouTube video, for $150 you can buy 30,000 views from a site called 500views.com.  For $3,100 they’ll make your video go “viral” by getting you a million views.  The article concludes with the following advice: “No matter what social network you’re on, you can buy your way to popularity.”  Makes you rethink the popularity of something the next time someone says a video has gone viral doesn’t it.   Considering all this social manipulation, I wonder how different things would have been if Jesus had access to all these tools? 

In our gospel passage for this morning, it would seem that at this juncture in His ministry that Jesus couldn’t buy followers for His ministry.  And the followers He did have, didn’t understand His ministry at all.  But things are not always easy, or as they seem.  Starting in verse 51 we read, that Jesus “set His face toward Jerusalem.”  Jerusalem, the capital city of the Jews, was the place where Jewish religious and political power met in ancient times.  The Samaritans, on the other hand, who were rejected by the Jews, didn’t recognize Jerusalem, but rather Mount Gerizim as the place where God was to be worshiped and since Jesus had made His ultimate destination clear, they in turn rejected Him. 

Furthermore, Jesus’ disciples thought He was going to Jerusalem to establish His earthly kingdom there.  For this reason, it seems, they were excited.  If you were to turn back just 5 verses to verse 46, you’d read how they had been discussing which of them would be greatest in Jesus’ kingdom.  For the disciples, Jerusalem meant power and status.  As I said, they still didn’t get what was going on.  But you and I know that Jesus had set His face toward Jerusalem knowing that this was the place where He would suffer and die.

A BBC sports announcer commented on the hiring of a new soccer coach for a troubled team: “He was hired to take them in a new direction, and he did.  Unfortunately,

[the direction]

was backwards.”  The disciples didn’t understand where Jesus was leading them.  If they had known, they might have re-thought their commitment deciding that He was leading them backwards.  Even though He would tell them at least three times, the question that kept coming to mind was, “What do you mean you’re going to Jerusalem to suffer and die?”  But Jesus was moving forward by obeying God’s will and fulfilling God’s plan for the salvation of humanity and the redemption of creation.  This is why the opening verse of our reading from Luke about setting His face toward Jerusalem is so important to understand.

CBS News journalist Scott Pelley once interviewed a man named Dean Chabot, a former neo-Nazi.  Chabot had spent years preaching hatred and violence against Jewish people and people of color.  He gloried in the idea of a race war.  But through the intervention of another former white supremacist, he began to change his beliefs.  He finally realized that he had to get out of the white supremacist organization, to cut off all contact with them.  Pelley asked Chabot, “Dean, do you consider yourself to be out, or do you consider yourself to be in the process?  Chabot said, “I am completely out.  Actually, doing this interview is the final step.”  Pelley asked, “How so?”

Chabot said, “Once this airs there’s no going back.  If you try to go back in, someone’s gonna kill you.”  “. . . There’s no going back.  You could loosely say that this is a man who has set his face toward Jerusalem.  He has given up his old life completely to claim a new life that’s free from hate.  Resolve of purpose like that is hard to find these days.  We often read of people in the Bible who had this kind of resolve.  An example of this is found in our Old Testament reading from 1 Kings.

Elijah has received word from God that Elisha was being appointed as his successor.  As we read, Elijah announces this fact by throwing his cloak, the cloak of a prophet, upon Elisha.  Elisha responds by going and announcing this to the family, saying goodbye and then taking all he has, he burns it, kills it, boils it and feeds it to the people.  Elisha leaves all he has behind to answer God’s call.  But where are these examples today?

We live in a 24-hour buffet of choices.  And so many of our choices are shaped by the next thing that goes viral on social media.  We’re bombarded with messages that make us think we might be missing out on something newer, something better.  How do we discover what’s most important in life?  And once we discover it, how do we commit our lives to it?  Jesus understood commitment and the cost and still He set His face toward Jerusalem.  And thanks be to God He did!

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins loves racing cars.  He says the most important lesson his race car instructor taught him was how to recover from a skid.  The race car instructor said, “What most people do when they start to go into a skid is focus on what they fear–the wall.  Instead, you must focus on where you want to go . . . The reality is that whatever you focus on you move toward.”  The instructor even had a “skid car,” a training car that was specially designed to go into a skid at the push of a button.  He used it to give his clients real-world experience in the split-second decision necessary to save themselves from a skid.

During his training, Tony was driving at high speed around the track when his instructor pushed the button.  As Tony went into the skid, he stared at the wall and his car began skidding toward that wall.  The instructor grabbed Tony’s head and jerked his face to look in the opposite direction.  He began pulling the wheel in the direction he was facing, and his car came out of the skid.  Don’t you wish sometimes that God would grab our head and turn our focus back toward Him?  We need to burn the race car instructor’s teaching in our mind, “. . . you must focus on where you want to go.”

This certainly could be one of the things Jesus was doing in this passage in Luke 9.   He was trying to help people refocus their lives on the things that really count.  It’s a fascinating story.  Luke tells us that as the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.  And He sent messengers on ahead who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for Him; but the people there didn’t welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem.  Here’s another important lesson for us to learn from this passage this morning.  When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?”

It’s amazing how “out of sync” the disciples were at times with Jesus’ plans for the world.  Luke tells us Jesus turned and rebuked James and John.  I pondered this aspect of the story and as always, I was amazed at the wisdom of the people who assembled the readings in the lectionary.  As I was reading our Old Testament lesson again, verse 12 stood out, “And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.”  Right after that John 3:17 came to mind, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”  You see the disciples were focused in the wrong direction.  They kept seeing Jerusalem as Jesus’ earthly kingdom.  Jesus knew that His face was set toward Jerusalem for a much bigger purpose, to save all who will call on His name (Rom. 10:13).  Rejected by the Samaritans, Jesus and His disciples move on to another village.

Along the way Luke points to more examples of having one’s focus on the wall instead of where we need to be going.  As they were walking along, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.”  To this Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”  Like Elisha, Jesus had rid Himself of everything that would hinder Him from His mission.  To another man Jesus says, “Follow me.”  But this one replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  In other words, once I’m done doing all the stuff I want to do, then I’ll come and follow you.  This man was hiding behind family commitments in order to put off committing his life to Jesus.

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”  This man’s response and Jesus’ response are more difficult to understand.  Unlike the first who mentioned a father, this man is much more general.  Commentators assert that what’s possibly going on here is the man was simply trying to seem dedicated, but when confronted, the man also makes excuses for not wanting to commit until a more convenient time.  In all three cases, it appears the focus of these individuals is the same.  Instead of being focused on where Jesus was leading, they were focused on their own agenda and desires or as Paul phrases it, “the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).  What a contrast to Jesus’ resolute determination to complete the work God had given Him, no matter the personal cost.

Jesus never hid the demands of the Kingdom from those who wanted to follow Him.  That’s why He had such trouble getting committed followers.  Unlike in social media, you can’t follow Jesus by buying 500 likes for $30.  Following Jesus means setting your face toward Jerusalem.  No other priorities.  No going back.  So, what does that kind of resolve look like for faithful disciples today?  For starters, setting your face toward Jerusalem means wanting God’s will more than your own plans.

Gladys Aylward was a young housemaid in London whose life was changed when she heard an evangelist preach on serving God with your whole life.  That day, Gladys developed a passion for international missions.  She began reading about China and took on extra jobs to save up money to travel there.  Gladys was a small, shy, poorly educated woman, but she trusted that if God was calling her to the mission field, then He would equip her for the work.  In 1932, she finally saved enough money to go to China.  

The safest route to China involved traveling by ship, but Gladys couldn’t afford that.  Most of her trip took her by train through dangerous war zones.  When she arrived, Gladys Aylward set to work spreading the message of Jesus in Yangcheng, China.  In 1938, when Japan invaded her region, Gladys led 100 Chinese orphans through the mountains of Yangcheng to safety.  She cared for many of them through the war.  She worked at the Chinese orphanage she founded until her death.  Her ministry was so powerful and effective that she was invited to speak in major churches in Europe, she met the Queen of England, and her life story was made into a movie, “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.”

What’s so interesting about this story was Gladys attitude about herself and her ministry.  When asked she said, “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done for China.  There was somebody else . . . I don’t know who it was–God’s first choice.  I don’t know what happened.  Perhaps he died.  Perhaps he wasn’t willing.  And God looked down . . . and saw Gladys Aylward.”  Gladys Aylward felt like she had so little to offer God.  But when she sensed God calling her to give her life to mission work in China, she resolved to go no matter what it cost her.  She set her face toward the goal God had called her to strive toward.  Her desire was to follow God’s plan for her life at the expense of her own.  Second, setting your face toward Jerusalem also means submitting to God’s will fearlessly.

Kenneth Bailey tells the story of teaching some short courses at the Lutheran Church of Latvia.  While there, he observed the interviewing of prospective students for ministry.  The interviewers told Bailey that the most important question they could ask a prospective student is, “When were you baptized?”  Why is that so important, Ken asked.

Latvia was taken over by the Soviets in 1940.  Under Soviet rule, Latvia was officially an atheist country until 1991 when it regained its independence from Russia.  The interviewers answered, “If they were baptized during the period of Soviet rule, they risked their lives and compromised their futures by being baptized.  But if they were baptized after the liberation from the Soviets, we have many further questions to ask about why they want to become a pastor.”

In other words, while they lived under communist rule , it really meant something to be baptized.  There was no question about their commitment.  Bailey writes, “The Master challenges His servants to live boldly and publicly as His servants, using his resources and unafraid of his enemies, confident in the future as His future.”  How differently would we live today if we were as confident, as the Latvians who were baptized during communist rule, in our future as God’s future?  Would anything change about our life?  Setting our face toward Jerusalem means submitting to God’s will fearlessly.

Finally, setting our face toward Jerusalem means living our lives and sharing our faith in Jesus confidently, so that others can come to know God.  We may never know the impact our faith story can have on others.  We may never know whose life will be changed because we were faithful and unafraid in sharing the love of Jesus.  A couple of years ago, a middle-aged couple came to thank a guest minister for his preaching.  A few years earlier, their daughter had been caught up in a life of wild rebellion.  Because of her choices, she had become estranged from her parents.  However, through the work of the Holy Spirit, this young woman gave her life to Christ.  She went back to her dorm room and wrote them a long letter of reconciliation.

Unfortunately, on her way back from mailing that letter, the young woman was hit by a truck and was killed instantly.  A few days after her death, her parents received the letter.  It spoke of the hope and joy she had found in giving her life to Jesus.  One can only imagine the pain of those parents at losing their daughter, but we can share in the hope and joy they had in knowing that their daughter had made that decision to give her life to God.  When she came to know Jesus as her Lord and Savior, she died to her old life and discovered eternal life through Him.

Setting our face toward Jerusalem isn’t easy.  It means giving up our own agendas and comfort to follow God’s will.  For Jesus, Jerusalem meant humiliation, horrible abuse and death.  But for the human race, for you and me, Jerusalem meant forgiveness and reconciliation with God and the gift of eternal life.  “For God so loved the world. . . ”  I’m so thankful Jesus didn’t come to condemn us, but to follow God’s will to offer salvation to all who believe.


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