By: David H. May, Rector
If there were Bibles in our pew racks, I’d start by asking you to take out your Bible and turn to chapter 9, verse 51 of the gospel according to Luke, which is where our gospel reading for this morning begins. And I’d do that to point out, not what’s written there, but so that you could see the blank space on the page that comes between verses 50 and 51. In lots of versions of the Bible I’ve seen, there are extra spaces before verse 51. It’s there to give us a heads up that we’ve come to the significant conclusion of one section and the significant beginning of the next.
So after the blank space, verse 51 reads: “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” The time has come for Jesus to turn his face towards Jerusalem and the cross that is waiting for him there. The larger than usual blank space is there to let us know that we’ve come to a turning point. The early days of Jesus’ ministry with his disciples is over. We’re leaving that behind and crossing over to a more perilous time.
To be clear, it’s not that this big turning point happens because Jesus sees that his disciples and those closest to him are now somehow now ‘ready’ for this more perilous time because they have successfully completed their initial training as disciples. It’s not like he has observed that they have mastered the introductory courses and can now move on to the more advanced level. In fact, recent events make it look like sort of the opposite has happened.
There are four little episodes with Jesus and his disciples, right in a row, that come just at this turning point. I won’t describe them in detail, but you’ll get the point. The first describes a heated argument among the disciples about which one of them is the greatest. Ok. The second shows John getting his nose out of joint because there’s this fellow who’s casting out demons in Jesus name, but he’s not following along with them because he’s not a part of their ‘group’ – he’s not sitting at the ‘cool table’ in the cafeteria with them. I see. Then, after some of them try to find lodging in a nearby Samaritan town but are refused, James and John say to Jesus that maybe they should bring fire down on that town and destroy it and everyone in it. Well. And finally, a trio of would-be followers of Jesus do want to follow but also, sort of won’t or can’t or maybe will but not just yet. Their hearts are in the right place, I think. Sort of.
Honestly, I’m not sure how Jesus kept his spirits up sometimes. Just from these four little episodes it doesn’t exactly look like with ‘everyday and in everyway his followers are getting better and better’. But that is not news to Jesus. He turns his face to Jerusalem and the cross that awaits him there not because he thinks his followers have finally gotten it or are even showing that much progress. But only because he loves them.
And that’s the turning point – the extra space or two to stop and see – warts and all – that we are his and he is ours. That’s the place Jesus wants us to cross over with him. He wants us to cross over and join him in his way of love. Even though each of us has probably got recent episodes of our own we could name that might make it hard for us to keep our own spirits up. He’s turning towards Jerusalem and he want us to go with him. He wants us to plant our hearts firmly in his above all else and to forsake things like raining down fire on people who’ve gotten under our skin and stop all the hemming and hawing of ‘I’ll follow you’ but just not yet. Or if we can’t clear those hurdles, at least just keep following him anyway and see for ourselves that his love is will keep standing when everything else falls apart.
But in the meantime, it can be a hard journey. The temptations to play king of the hill and knock others off and proclaim that we are the greatest, or circle up the wagons and keep folks out who aren’t on our team, or command fire to come down on people who reject us, or hem and haw about where our true heart’s desire really lies can be disheartening. But maybe that’s why God’s grace keeps the Church alive, warts and all. The Church is where the great treasure of Jesus’ way of love, God’s power of Personal Love ‘that shakes the universe’, abides; and bears witness – even in the tiniest of ways – to the triumph of God’s coming Kingdom.
This past week, parents and parishioners and children and teenagers and staff members shared a week of Vacation Bible School. I was so glad to be a part of it. I thought the people who led it and helped in so many ways are real live saints of God. I thought the children and the kids who sang and played and learned so many things together were amazing. And I thought I saw and heard a voice – more than once – say, ‘follow me’.
All you really had to do was listen.
Like the woman, a parishioner, in the kitchen, early in the morning, humming as she filled paper cups with apple slices for the children for snack time. Happy as a lark, like she’d ‘turned and turned til she came round right’, like she’d found the thing she was looking for.
Or the little girl who when she heard that Jonah didn’t want to go to Ninevah to tell them about God’s love and mercy for them because he didn’t like the Ninevites cried out, ‘why? Why didn’t he like them?’ It was like her small heart was breaking because she knows we’re supposed to love each other like Jesus does.
Or the two teenaged girls huddled around a really little guy who was having a meltdown because all these people and all the noise was just too much. They were both scootched in close saying, ‘it’s ok. It’s ok’, with infinite care and stayed by his side til things got right-sized for him again.
Or a child’s care-giver who in everything she did and in every word she spoke showed forth the perfect, deathless love of Christ.
Or a parishioner’s eyes, so wide and bright as she held out the cup for children to sip from as she said, ‘the Blood of Christ, the Cup of Salvation’.
Or the teen-aged boy riding herd over a group of boys who looked at him like he was a super-hero, even if he didn’t know that.
Or the feeling – so strong – that we all were a part of something so much bigger and greater, and that we belonged to the One whose love is so true that if he walked in and said ‘follow me’ we would without delay, without wondering who was the greatest or who was along for the ride and forgetting old grudges like they never were.
Now, ok, it was Vacation Bible School, so that doesn’t mean that stitches weren’t dropped and people didn’t get annoyed, because that’s what life is like. There were tears and adjustments along the way. And, it was also really hot as we journeyed through the week. But none of that got in the way of the chance to cross over with Jesus, to turn towards Jerusalem and go with him in his way of love. Because I think we saw – here and there – that we weren’t just remembering or learning about God’s great Story of Love that the gates of hell cannot stand against: no, we were in it. We are in it. Because we are his, and he is ours. Amen.