(sermon note: 02-17 sermon note)
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he 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. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
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.’ To another he 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.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
This evening’s reading reminds me of the one about God who was handing out characteristics to all of the animals, and he was getting close to the end of the list. All the animals had picked except the lions, the beavers, and the pigs. God looked up from the list and said, “Who wants courage?” One of the pigs said to another, “Ooh, we should get that!” The other one said, “Naw, who wants to be courageous? You have to strut around and humans will start hunting you, it’s a huge pain. Let’s wait.” So the lions spoke up and took courage. “Next up, industrious! Who wants to be known for being industrious?” The pig said, “Hey, we could definitely be that. Make stuff, stay busy, it sounds good!” The other pig said, “Are you crazy? Get up at dawn, work all day, who wants that? I’m sure God saved the best for last.” The beavers piped up and took industriousness, so God went back to his list. “Let’s see, claws are taken, flight went to the birds, the cheetah got speed…Okay, here we go. Who wants to be delicious?”
Our poor friends, the pigs…known for nothing particularly special except for tasting delicious. Bacon, pork chops, tenderloins, roasts, no matter how you cut ‘em, I’ll eat it! Of course, those who raise pigs will tell you they have not one but two particularly special characteristics–voracious appetites and keen intelligence. Most other animals pale in comparison with these two characteristics so God did bless them with a couple of admirable qualities besides being delicious. Goes to show how generous our God is! And we know that God hasn’t doled out the characteristics exclusively to any one animal. They are a multitude of animals that have claws or industriousness or courage or speed or flight, no one animal has exclusive rights to any one characteristic. God is not only generous in attributing multiple characteristics to any one animal but spreads the characteristics to multiple types of animals.
Well, the deliciousness of pigs isn’t what our reading triggered in my mind. No, it was the idea of God doling out courage to his creatures that our reading triggered. All throughout the reading we heard a variety of people showing great courage. Evidently the lions weren’t the only ones given the characteristic of courage! Right in the opening sentence, we heard of the courage of Jesus himself: “when the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Now that’s an interesting expression, “he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Initially, we think, “okay, so Jesus had simply become resolute in his endgame mission.” He had shifted his focus to carrying out his ministry in Jerusalem at the end when he was arrested, tortured, and crucified. We think it’s more of a figurative expression, not so literal. Yet in the verses after we heard how the messengers went to a Samaritan village to prepare it for his arrival only to be shunned. Why? “Because his face was set towards Jerusalem.” James and John were so angered by the shunning that they asked to rain heavenly punishment down on the village. Jesus, of course, rebuked them and told them to simply move on to the next village. But the expression, “he set his face to go to Jerusalem,” certainly took on a more complicated meaning once it had a real-world reaction to it. It was more than Jesus becoming resolved in his mission and ministry.
On the one hand, the expression said, “Jesus was carrying out his Jewish mission by going to the Jewish mecca, Jerusalem.” Samaritans had no desire to help Jesus in his particularly Jewish mission. On the other hand, I think the expression also conveyed something a little more intimidating and frightening: Jesus’ fearlessness. Perhaps the Samaritans knew what awaited Jesus in Jerusalem and wanted no part in it. Perhaps they knew that Jesus knew what awaited him in Jerusalem and, because he was so fearlessly committed to going there anyway, Jesus was no more than a suicide bomber. Perhaps Jesus had a literal look on his face that was frightening…that said, “I am going to my death and I just don’t care.” That can be frightening to behold, a man with nothing to lose. Or a man with courage that few people have. Indeed, even the people who approached Jesus along the road down to Jerusalem wouldn’t or couldn’t follow him because they lacked the necessary courage to do so. They had courage to approach Jesus, just not enough to actually follow him.
Well, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem and in doing so showed a great deal of courage. He did know what awaited him there and I’m sure his face in those remaining days of his life was frightening to behold. Courage, sheer courage, can be frightening to behold. Why? Because it defies logic and reasoning. It’s a life force from within, it’s the Spirit within us. It is what drives us forward to conquer whatever obstacles are in our way. It is what helps us get up when obstacles push us down. Oh yes, Jesus knew what awaited him in Jerusalem and yet his great courage compelled him to go. Jesus was a profoundly courageous man, willing to go where others were afraid to go, say what others were afraid to say. Of course, he boldly went into Jerusalem because he had more than enough courage to do so.
God has given us all great courage. God wants us to live courageously and without fear. God gave courage to Jesus to do what he had to do, endure what he had to endure. So, too, does God give courage to us all. Recall the words that David spoke to his son, Solomon, when he was setting out to do something that no other person had done before: build God a temple. He said, “be strong and of good courage, and act. Do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” (1 Chronicles 28:20) What a powerful endorsement from a father to his son! God would be with Solomon all through the building of his temple and He would help him see it to completion. It reminds me of Paul’s letter to the Philippians when he said, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (4:13) Solomon could build his temple because he was strengthened by God.
Today we’re setting out on our 6-week journey through Lent. It is meant to be a time of introspection and reflection. I know we’ve been forced into a prolonged season of introspection and reflection over the last year as we’ve endured the pandemic. But I invite you into yet another Lenten season of introspection and reflection. Dig deep, learn more of yourself and of God and of the world within. For some of us, that might be difficult and scary but know that God gave you courage, too. God gave courage to all his creatures who must, for a time, have their being in this world. This world can be a frightening world, for sure. Be of good courage though. Tap into that courage within, use that courage to overcome whatever obstacles may present themselves. Let us go through this Lenten season with courage just as Jesus went in Jerusalem with courage. Let us cling to the words of David as he sang in his 16th psalm, “I keep the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” (v. 8) Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.