Summary: Sermon preached on the first day of ordained ministry, likeneing the journey to Jerusalem to our spiritual journey.
Sermon: Ordinary 13, Year C
Text: Luke 9:51-62
Given at Holy Spirit, Southsea, 1st July 2001
In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
When Fr. Lewis [training incumbant] asks you gently to do something, you know that it would be best to do it. When he suggests quietly that preaching on your very first day of ordained ministry would be a good way to dip a toe into the water, I realised that this was indeed my first and my best opportunity for me to say hello to you all, and to say how pleased I am to come and serve here at Holy Spirit. I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for the kindness and hospitality you have shown both me, my wife Lou and our children: Liam, Emma and Zoë. Thank you.
I hope that I will be able to serve you well during my time here, and together we will be able to serve God well.
Now, as I begin my journey in Ordained Ministry here this morning, let us consider the journey that Our Lord begins towards Jerusalem, 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.
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 Scud 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, what Service as a Holy Deacon 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.