Sunday, June 27, 2010

Jesus Is Always on the Way

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Cyril of Alexandria, Pastor and Confessor
June 27, 2010
Luke 9:51-62

Jesus never looks back. He’s always looking forward. He’s always on the way. God doesn’t sit around and wait for things to happen, He makes things happen. He’s not counting on us to get it together, He’s bringing about what needs to happen to accomplish what needs to be accomplished.

What is that? Salvation. Restoration. He doesn’t want us to just to make it through life, He wants us to experience abundant life. He pours out all the wealth of His eternal blessings upon us and we too often miss them because we’re setting our eyes only on what is in front of us instead of what lies ahead.

I think too often we think of God as “up there.” As “out there.” He’s above everything and removed from everything but we’re down here in the trenches, in the thick of problems, sins, temptations, suffering, confusion. Does He understand what we’re going through? Does He care? Will He help us in our difficulties? Will He clear up our confusion?

Our problem is that we’re stuck. We’re stuck on ourselves. Instead of seeing an opportunity to help someone who’s in need we see someone who is disturbing us and is a burden on our time. While we could see others as people who are loved by God so much that Christ paid for all their sins, we too often are annoyed with them when they waste our time or don’t do things the way we’d like them to. Instead of realizing that God blessed us with many blessings in this life we wish for those things we don’t have but would like to have. We aren’t going forward into abundant life because we’re stuck on ourselves.

Jesus says in our Gospel reading: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” We are not fit for the Kingdom of God. We look back. Like Lot’s wife, we long for what we left behind when we thought we could live without God. We don’t want to go forward. We want to stay right where we’re at. Yeah, we’ll serve God, but we want to do it on our own terms. That’s why we look back. That’s why we long for the fulfilling of our own desires rather than the things God gives us in our lives as opportunities to serve others.

We should understand Jesus’ statement—“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God”—this way: everyone who puts his hand to the plow looks back and therefore is not fit for the Kingdom of God. None of us serves God with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength. We all look back. We all wonder what it would be like to be free of the constraints of God. We are not fit for the Kingdom of God.

There is one who is though. Jesus alone has put His hand to the plow and has not looked back. He alone is fit for the Kingdom of God. It’s because He’s God, of course. But it’s also because He is always on the way. Particularly, He is on the way of the cross. He is always moving forward, not looking back. In the Gospel reading He sets His face to go to Jerusalem. It is there He will go to the cross, and He knows it. But that is the specific reason He sets His face toward it. He is moving toward it because it is there He will pay for the sins of the world. It is there He will accomplish the task of being the servant of the world. He is always on the way toward this.

When there are some who would deter Him from that destination He will have none of it. He will continue to go forward. It is the same today. We preach Christ crucified. There is no other name under heaven by which people will be saved. So we continue to preach Him and Him alone. We continue to preach the cross, the one crucified for the sins of the world. When there are some who would deter us from that we continue to move forward, not looking back to a message that is kinder and gentler. A message that doesn’t tell people of their sins and that they are under the eternal wrath of God. A message that substitutes the cross for possibility thinking or simply all the ways you are good in and of yourself. Jesus saves people through this one thing, the Gospel. Not through anything they do or appeal to. The cross is where Jesus was headed and it is the cross we still preach today, no matter how many people reject it.

And when there are some who are on the way with Jesus who would rain down fire from heaven upon those wretched people who would have nothing of the Gospel, Jesus is just as insistent that they are seeking to prevent Him from being on His way as those wretched people were. James and John were the ones Luke tells us who were rebuked by Jesus. Interestingly, he says nothing about those Samaritans being rebuked.

One of the things the kids love the most about VBS is the skits. They’re simple and they’re silly, but they’re also meant to drive home a point. The point, as you probably guessed, is the Gospel. But the more we learn of the Gospel the more we learn that it’s not just Jesus died for you so you can rest assured that you’ll be in heaven. It is so much fuller and greater than that! One particular line and response that really struck me in the skits this past week was when the Queen Bee asked the hive manager why Christians don’t just stay safely in the Church where there is peace and security. The bees would be much more comfortable in the safety of the hive. The response given to the Queen was that there are a lot of people in the world who do not know of the peace and security of being in the Church so we who do know of it go out and tell them the Good News. We are not free to blast people out of the water. If they seek to deter the Church from the proclamation of the Gospel we don’t call down curses upon them but more ardently make known to them the Gospel. Anything less and we will be the ones who are rebuked by Jesus.

This is how we follow Jesus, by being on the way with Him. He is always on the way, because He is constantly bringing us out of being stuck in our own sinful prison. We want to follow Him but we don’t want to leave the hive. One person 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.” It’s scandalous to think of God as not having a place of His own but Jesus willingly lays aside His own comfort and security, having no place to lay His head, so that we may rest in the eternal mansions He prepares for us. On the cross Jesus was out in the cold. No one there to help Him or bring Him out of His misery. No one to placate the wrath of God upon Him. He alone took the path to the cross and received the full brunt of eternal damnation so that we will not be left out on the Last Day.

To one person Jesus said, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” We are so ready to serve and follow our Lord. We don’t say no to Him. We say yes. But how pathetic are we that we can’t just simply leave it at that. Yes, Lord, I will follow You. I will go on the way with You. I will walk the way of the cross as You did. Instead it’s, Yes, I’ll follow You Lord …right after I take care of some important things. And note that these are truly important things. There aren’t many more important things in the eyes of God than being able to have a proper burial for your father. But we are so wrapped up in ourselves that even these godly things come before God Himself rather than the other way around. Following Jesus means going the way of the cross, not taking care of what we need to take care of and then getting around to following Him.

We want to look back. We want to follow Him on our own terms, not simply as He has called us to. Jesus simply says, Follow Me. Walk the way of the cross. He is always on the way. He’s never going back. He wasn’t deterred then and He won’t be now. You might wonder how it is that He still walks this way of the cross when He has already done it and it is the one time sacrifice for all time. He is never to suffer and die again. How is He still always on the way when the way He is always on is the way of the cross?

It is because it is always about the cross. We preach Christ crucified. We don’t preach Christ who tells us how we should live. We don’t preach Christ who tells us that He loves us because we sure are trying hard, and at any rate we’re not nearly as bad as some. We don’t preach Christ who is one of many ways of thinking about God who is not bound up in only one religion. The cross is what we preach.

Christ continues to be on the way because whereas from the moment He was born He was on the way to suffer on the cross, from the moment He rose from the grave He has been on the way to delivering Himself to you. He is not interested in the spectacular, the emotional, the convincing. He is interested in simply bringing to you Himself. That’s why He’s always on the way. Always coming to you in the proclamation of the Gospel. Always united with you as you have been Baptized into a death like His and a resurrection like His. Always bringing into your mouth Himself, His Body and His Blood for the forgiveness of your sins.

Just as He set His face toward Jerusalem back then He sets His face toward you today. He was on the way to Jerusalem back then, walking the path to the cross. He is on the way today, working through His Gospel and His Sacraments to forgive you, delivering to you in them what He accomplished on the cross and by rising from the grave. He needs no place to lay His head, He’s God. But He’s not interested in rest anyway, just the rest He gives to you in your Baptism and in His Holy Supper. He never looks back, He’s always looking out for you, sustaining you in His grace, lavishing His mercy upon you.

After all, wasn’t it on the cross, the place where He set His face, where He said, “It is finished”? What was accomplished there is for all time and eternity. In the proclamation of the Gospel, in your Baptism, as you partake of His Body and Blood in His Holy Meal, eternity is brought to you at a moment in time for all of time. It’s because He never tires of loving you, forgiving you, saving you. He’s always on the way, He being the very way, truth, and life. Amen.


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