Set.

Luke 9:51-62

A Samaritan Village Refuses to Receive Jesus

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.54 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?”[a]55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then[b] they went on to another village.

Would-Be Followers of Jesus

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 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.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus[c] said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

What does it mean to “set” your eyes on something?  Setting a course?  Is it important to have others with you in that endeavor?

Our Gospel lesson in Luke this week finds Jesus at a turning point, he is setting his eyes towards the journey to Jerusalem.   As we’ve discussed in the past,  Jerusalem is the center of Jewish religious life, it has the rebuilt temple, it is the focal point of Jewish life, it is where God dwells on earth symbolically and literally for Jews at that time.  Jesus has been teaching, preaching, and loving folks from all different walks of life.  He has been healing and restoring to community those on the margins of society.  He has also challenged the religious-political structures of that time to be model better the type of community that God intended:  inclusive, loving, restorative, and built upon the notion of God’s dwelling being made with all of humanity.  Jesus modeled this by being a rabbi, someone on the “in” of Jewish culture, going out to those on the outside, building genuine, authentic friendships with no strings attached, but loving them towards restoration and bringing folks back “in” to community with others.

I recently came across this quote from Richard Rohr that describes how Jesus, and how the church reforms.  

“You can only reform things long term by unlocking them from inside – by their own chosen authoritative sources. Outsiders have little authority or ability to reform anything.”

– Richard Rohr

In the Luke narrative, the theologian Gordon Fee says that Jesus is “the coming of salvation in all of its fullness to all people.”  No one is left out, humanity, as the Jesuit theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin says is the body of Christ that Jesus came to restore in the 2nd “big bang” of history.  

So, Jesus is now “set” to move towards the center of Jewish thought in Jerusalem, putting into another phase of God’s purposes of planting the seed that changes everything.  This is the Christ Project, the working all of humanity towards wholistic restoration of relationships with ourselves, others, and God.  

And, Jesus is determined to get there.  He sets out in a direct route that takes him towards Jerusalem.  In takes him through Samaria.  This is an area that is populated by folks who have have a mix of Jewish and Gentile (non-Jewish) lineage both religiously and culturally. A very diverse population.  Because they were considered impure to devout Jews as they intermarried with various cultures, and because Samaritans had a different view of where God dwelt and even had some different religious leanings, they were looked down upon by Jews and Samaritans didn’t want to have anything to do with Jerusalem, because of their being rejected over time by Jews.

So, when Jesus sends messengers to prepare the way for his journey through Samaria, his messengers are rejected and the Samaritans, folks who Jesus actually was trying to befriend, reject Jesus because his “face was set for Jerusalem”…in other words, they weren’t rejecting Jesus personally, but his intent to go to Jerusalem.  Yet, the disciples were upset and asked if they could ask for “fire to come down from Heaven” and destroy Samaria.  

It seems as if the disciples had not quite received the message that Jesus was sharing yet, actually, they didn’t until after Jesus’ death and resurrection, it’s certainly safe to say that they were working in an old paradigm of viewing Samaritans, looking down upon them rather then opening up to them, and they also didn’t like rejection.  There were drawn to the aspect of power and glory that Jesus presented, they liked the notoriety of the flash of Jesus’ message, the hearings, the miracles, but they were missing the power of rejection and of humility.

We all face rejection, but how we deal it is important.  If we are set on something bigger than ourselves, then rejection can simply be a moment of growth for us. Even if we are the ones doing the rejecting, there are lessons to learn if we are willing to have some self-reflection. If we take rejection in stride and move forward, we grow.  If we do the rejecting out of pride or contempt, it can lead us towards bitterness, discontent, and we miss out on relationships and God’s blessings.  God’s flow, God’s Spirit will always find a way to move towards growing something within us and in the communities that we find our being.  When we are faced with obstacles, instead of reacting to them with power plays or with pride, if we let love flow in and through us, we can see that rejection or barriers will simply add some narrative or contour to a greater story and will not stop us on our journey.

That’s what happens in this story about Jesus.  Jesus rebukes the disciples, in some ancient manuscripts, there is even an extra line in verse 56 that says this:  “You do not know what spirit you are of, 56 for the Son of Man has not come to destroy the lives of human beings but to save them.”  Jesus is for us, Jesus is for humanity, and Jesus is set on his journey to Jerusalem to change the course of history towards a trajectory of love that always wins out.  And, Jesus wants us to live in his spirit and do the same.  

It’s also important to note that even though the Samaritans didn’t get it, had pride and couldn’t see beyond their contempt for the Jews, that there are stories in the bible that show Jesus’ love and commitment towards the Samaritans, even befriended them.  The same thing with the disciples, they didn’t get it, even put up roadblocks and made Jesus’ life and message a bit difficult.  Yet, Jesus chose them and they chose Jesus to be on the journey together in ministry and literally in their journey towards Jerusalem.  

I have been reminded these past weeks at how important it is to be on a journey together with folks…folks that are imperfect, yet committed to be together and to be set towards a goal. 

A few years ago, I climbed Mt. Whitney with some friends from seminary…many of these friends we still keep in touch.  One friend is Andy Sexton.  He lives in Norwich, UK with his family. His wife, Rosie, started an organization called English+ that works with refugees and asylum seekers.  As many of you know, Brennan, our son, has been raising funds and is going to work with Rosie for a couple of weeks this summer in Norwich.  

A few years ago, I climbed Mt. Whitney with some friends from seminary…many of these friends we still keep in touch.  One friend is Andy Sexton.  He lives in Norwich, UK with his family. His wife, Rosie, started an organization called English+ that works with refugees and asylum seekers.  As many of you know, Brennan, our son, has been raising funds and is going to work with Rosie for a couple of weeks this summer in Norwich.  

When we climbed Mt. Whitney, Andy was there for me in many ways…all of us would encourage each other as we climbed, even as made some mistakes on our route to the top of the mountain!  

That bond continues on in many ways.  I’ve had other journey companions who’ve trained for marathons, friends who have conspired to get some good things going in our neighborhoods, like Oasis, where the summer camp started out of.  And, others who have co-created with me so many good things.

I can point to others who have been there for me…not perfect folks, actually, all of us a mess at times….there have been difficult moments in those friendships… But, still, there has been a flow, a bond, some would even say a covenant or a promise of friendship.    

These journey companions have caused me to be set on certain goals that are all about seeing the Kingdom of God, the ushering in of a reorganization in my life around following Jesus, of building authentic community, and of loving others in practical and humbling ways.

Jesus calls all of us into these types of relationships, as we journey together, we realize that we are dependent on each other in this new community that Jesus is calling us towards.  It takes priority over all sorts of other tasks.  We can’t be bogged down by how we’ve always done things or even understood things, there are too many people in this world that need the system changed in a way that Jesus lived out.  Jesus says to follow him and his way, to let the dead bury their own dead, to not make excuses of why we can’t follow, to not delay, to not try to build up some idea of power or some sort of kingdom of our own making, but to not look back and to look forward towards building the new reality of God’s Presence that builds us up, builds bridges between us, and tears down walls that have been built up both literally and figuratively.  May we live lives set towards the journey God’s called us on. 

Your homework this week:  Take inventory this week of who in your life has been a “life journey companion”.  Maybe it’s someone you have not seen in a while.  Reach out to them with a note or an email or a text and say “thank you”.  Then, reflect on how they have been a witness to God’s love for you in friendship.  

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