He Set His Face to Go to Jerusalem
Where is your face set as you sit here this morning? I’m hoping you are looking this direction and listening to this message and not daydreaming about lunch! Jesus knew his time on earth was short and it was time to set his face toward Jerusalem and the events that would unfold, including his death. What do we see when we look ahead to the days and months ahead?
We’re now in the liturgical season after Pentecost called Ordinary Time. It’s a long period in the church calendar that extends until Advent in late November. It’s a time for growing, symbolized by the green liturgical color. It’s a time when we can take stock of who and where we are in our faith and continue to grow into being the Christ-like person we know we can be. What do we see when we look ahead into the future? Where do we have room to grow in our faith? I don’t think we have to have all the answers, but we do need to be willing to open our eyes and set them on the road ahead of us.
Where should we set our eyes? It often seems difficult to see beyond the busyness of our days. You hear this in today’s Gospel reading. “Lord, first let me go and bury my father. Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” I don’t think the message here is to ignore the issues in your daily life, but rather, don’t lose sight of the important work on the horizon. There is going to be a time, if we’re not already there, when we need to be like Jesus. Someone you encounter will be laying low with a hand reached out to you for help. Someone you meet will be struggling and ask you to listen to them. Someone may come into our lives who has their guard up and pushes us away. Will we still be there for them? Where will we be? Will our eyes be set on the needs of the world or will we be distracted and our vision narrowed?
What distractions might we encounter? If your life is anything like mine, we’re doing everything we can to juggle competing priorities and expending all our energy on getting through our to do lists. Those distractions are pretty typical. What about fear? Are we afraid to look beyond the setting sun because we are afraid of what we may find there? It may be that the further we look the less control of the situation we may have. This reminds me of a call I got some time back from a woman whose son was diagnosed with a health condition that would ultimately take his life. She told me that he hadn’t been a church goer much of his life but was having some spiritual questions about the end of life. She asked if I would call him and talk with him about these questions. She did mention to him that I might be calling. Of course, I’m going to help in any way I can, but I have to admit that I was a little afraid of how the call might go. I didn’t know if the conversation would be truly welcome or not. Would my thoughts on the end of life be lost on someone who wasn’t a person of faith? There was a bit of fear there for me. But I did call. How could I not make the call. In that moment, I had to set my face on helping this gentleman with his end-of-life concerns. To my relief, he welcomed my call and opened up about his medical condition and the realities he faced with saying goodbye to his loved ones. We talked about the importance of being present wherever he was with his wife and children, making sure his love was shared with them and his loving memory could continue to be shared even after his death. It felt good that I was able to overcome my perceived fear of possibly being rejected for my faith. I’ve been unable to reach him since that one call, but I’m hoping that means he has set his face on what is important in his journey ahead…being present to those whom he loves. I pray that that is true and that we doesn’t need to chat again. Ministry is like that sometimes. You may never again hear from someone you have helped. Maybe they got just what they needed to simplify the situation and move into it with peace. My hope is that my new friend has set his face on his Jerusalem. Knowing that his death awaits him, may he focus on the love he has to share, to some who may really need it!
Today’s Psalm says, “I have set the Lord always before me, because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.” That’s the mindset and determination we must always have. What must change for us to always set the Lord before us? Our awareness? Is God always set before us? “My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices. My body shall also rest in hope.” Maybe setting our sight on the needs of the world beyond our own, we too can have glad hearts and a rejoicing spirit. I hope so, for all of us.
The more I think about this story in the Gospel the more I believe that Jesus is asking us to not dwell on the past or to get stuck in the present, rather to focus our face and our efforts on the work ahead of us. He is calling us to be disciples, to look ahead to the troubles in this world and meet them head on. Will we accept this call? Is fear holding us back?
I haven’t read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings books or seen the movies, but I stumbled across this lovely verse in The Fellowship of the Ring,
“The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began. Now far ahead the Road has gone, And I must follow, if I can, Pursuing it with eager feet, Until it joins some larger way Where many paths and errands meet. And whither then? I cannot say.”
Our journeys will carry on and our Lord will be with us along the way. Thanks be to God.