Series: Our Journey
Mar 24th | The Reverend Kevin Scott Fleming | Luke 19:28-40
There’s a lot going on this Sunday here at First Presbyterian Church. First and foremost, it’s the beginning of Holy Week. We join in the ancient story of those people who long ago welcomed Jesus into the city of Jerusalem with cries of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Even though, with the benefit of 2,000 years of hindsight, we know where things are going, we celebrate just the same.
And, secondly, we begin our generosity campaign – known as “Our Journey.” We are sharing the vision of what God wants to do in and through this congregation with all of our members and friends. If you haven’t picked up your campaign magazine, be sure you do before you leave this morning and bring it with you each week when you come to worship. We’ll be highlighting parts of the campaign each week and we’ll be asking you to look at particular pages.
When you turn to pages 7 and 8, you can see where our sermons are going over the next six weeks and there’s even a place to write a few notes, if you would find that helpful. I know it may seem a little outside our Presbyterian comfort zone, but humor me, won’t you?
We’re beginning a journey…so let’s get started.
We’re joining Jesus on a journey in progress. Jesus was always on the move, it seems, never staying in any one place for too long, always itinerating, always on-the-go. From Galilee, to Samaria, to Judea, Jesus traveled his little corner of the world, teaching by word and deed, and declaring the love of God for all people.
We joined Jesus on this particular journey some six weeks ago. On February 10th, we celebrated the Transfiguration of the Lord – that trip up the mountain with Peter, James, and John, when Jesus’ appearance was changed and a voice from heaven was heard to say, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35) Moses and Elijah appeared on that mountaintop with Jesus and they spoke about Jesus’ “departure” – his death – which was going to happen in Jerusalem. That’s what Luke tells us.
Then, just a few verses later, after a little time has passed, Luke adds the verses we read again this morning: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51) It’s a strange phrase – “he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” It draws on an image from Isaiah’s prophecy: “The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.” (Isaiah 50:7) Luke is letting us know that, like so many others who have walked the path that leads to life, Jesus is going to meet strong opposition and open hostility. Jesus is going to Jerusalem to be handed over and to be killed.
Still, Jesus was committed to his mission and his purpose. Jesus was committed – totally faithful – uncompromisingly devoted – to serving God with everything that he had – including his life. From that purpose he would not be deterred. Even though he knew what awaited him, he kept moving toward it.
The journey was most certainly hard for Jesus. He knew it was his last journey. He was under no illusion that there was a way out. God’s way was about to collide with the world’s way and God’s message to the world was going to be silenced by the world by silencing the messenger. Jesus knew that the “hosannas” of one day can quickly turn into the “crucify him” of another day.
It must have been a hard journey for those who followed Jesus. Many left their families behind to follow him. Many left their work behind to follow Jesus. Many were mocked and derided for following Jesus.
And some must have surely sensed that this journey was not going to end well. Little comments here, more direct teachings there – Jesus was dropping hints – hints that we can see clearly with the benefit of hindsight. The disciples were not fools. They knew that Jesus was confronting the powers – civil and religious – of his day and that against their combined powers, there was little escape.
If that was true of ancient disciples, it must be true for modern disciples, too. We must not allow ourselves to think that journeying with Jesus is easy. We must not allow ourselves to believe that being a disciple of Jesus is a cakewalk. It’s not. Discipleship comes with difficulties and demands – many of which we would just as soon ignore and turn our back on. Discipleship asks us to put away certain attitudes and actions that once were our norm. Discipleship invites us to give our time, our energy, and our treasure to expanding God’s kingdom of love. Discipleship challenges us to go against the grain of the world and live by a new set of standards and values. That is the true nature of discipleship and it’s about time that we own it.
And we don’t always know where the journey will take us. We are a bit like the old Zen story that Thich Nhat Hanh tells – the story of a man riding a horse that is galloping madly down the road. Another man is standing alongside the road, and yells to the man, “Where are you going?” The man on the horse yells back, “I don’t know. Ask the horse.” (Being Peace, p. 68)
That’s the way it is with much of our lives, but it is especially true of the journey with Jesus. A journey with Jesus is never predictable. One day you’re on a mountaintop, where everything can be seen with clarity and precision. The next day you’re in a valley where nothing is certain or guaranteed. One day you’re trudging through a desert and the next you’re walking on water. One day they are waving palm branches and welcoming you into their fair city and a few days later they are crying out for your blood. Where are we going? “I don’t know. Ask the horse.”
We’re never completely sure where we will journey with Jesus. But we know without a doubt with whom we travel. Even when we don’t know where we are heading, we know that Jesus is with us. It’s his promise to us: “I am with you always.” (Matthew 28:20) Even when we have not the slightest clue as to where the journey is taking us, we know that we are not separated – and cannot be separated - from the One who calls us to journey with him.
Because we know that Jesus walks with us – that Jesus is our guide and our companion on this journey – there is nothing to fear. Because we are convinced that Jesus is calling us to this new adventure, we know that we will get there. Because Jesus pioneers the journey, we can travel in trust and hope.
108 years ago, a book was published that has since been translated into over 50 languages. It has been filmed twice and nominated for eight Academy Awards. It has been turned into a successful play and even a successful mini-series. Written by the Polish author, Henryk Sienkiewicz, the title of the book asks a question, “Quo Vadis?” Drawing on a Latin phrase, “Quo Vadis, Domine?” – “where are you going, Lord” – it is the story of a young Christian girl and a young Roman officer, falling in love during the reign of Nero. Some of you are well-seasoned enough to remember Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr in the leading roles of the movie, which always seems to play during the Easter season.
In the novel, a story is drawn on from an apocryphal gospel. The Apostle Peter is fleeing from persecution and martyrdom in Rome but on his way meets Jesus. Peter asks him why he is going to Rome. Jesus says "I am going back to be crucified again", which makes Peter go back to Rome and accept martyrdom.
“Quo Vadis, Domine?” Where are you going, Lord? “I’m going where God is leading me.”
And that’s where we are going, too. We’re going where Jesus leads us. We are on a journey with Jesus and, though we are not always sure of where we are going, we know that we are not alone.
We are not alone. And because of that we can set our face like flint – and without fear or hesitation – we can follow where Jesus leads. We may not be asked to travel to our own Calvary, but we may travel through some uncomfortable places and through some difficult days. There are no guarantees.
But, just as the journey to Jerusalem included betrayal, denial, pain, abandonment, and death – it also included a resurrection. Even though the journey traveled through some deeply difficult days, it also welcomed a more than unexpected surprise. More on that next week.
For now, let the journey begin! Let us journey with Jesus. For now and evermore. Amen.