Sermon – Sunday, June 30, 2013
Zion Lutheran Church, Hoople, ND
Distractions. They’re everywhere. It’s easy to get distracted. Have you ever been in the middle of reading or working on something and the phone rings? Or you’re thinking about something and you walk into a room and forget what you went in there for? Or have you gone to the store to get something specific and you got distracted by someone or something and got everything but the one thing you needed? That’s why I bring a list, because it’s happened to me. Lists are important because they keep us focused on our intended outcome.
Jesus, however, didn’t need lists. He wasn’t easily distracted. He always knew who He was and where He was going. “He set His face toward Jerusalem.” Jerusalem, the place where He would be betrayed, handed over, mocked, tortured, and killed. He set His face toward the cross. He was headed toward death and yet He did not turn back. He kept going, knowing what fate awaited Him. Why? Because that was the reason He was born. The cross was His purpose. All of creation was on an entire collision course to sin and death and Jesus was going to stop that, for us. Nothing was going to distract Him from saving us. Nothing. He was single-minded in His purpose of following God’s will. We were His number one priority, no distractions. He didn’t take the easy road.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case for us. We are all too easily distracted and we want to take the easy road. When Jesus says to follow me, we – like the person in Luke’s gospel – let distractions get in the way of our purpose. The person in today’s story said he would follow Jesus, but “first let me go and bury my father.” And another person said they would follow Jesus, but “first let me say goodbye to those at home.” These were not strange endeavors they wanted to pursue. These individuals simply wanted to take care of normal parts of life. I think what Jesus was speaking to was their distractions. He was asking them to follow Him and set their faces toward Jerusalem too, but these were probably only one of a list of distractions that would keep them from following Jesus. They said we will follow you, but first, I need to take care of one thing. I think Jesus knew that one thing would lead to another thing and another, and another. There would always be one more, “but first.”
If we’re honest with ourselves, we really aren’t any different. We will follow Jesus, but first I have to take care of my family, but first I need to finish work, but first I need to get through all these sporting events, but first I need to get all my affairs in order, but first…..the list is endless. All these gifts that God has given us – our family, our work, and our recreation – are good, but following Jesus must come first. The First Commandment says, “You are to have no other gods.” Luther’s explanation says this means “we are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.” God must come first. We must love God more than all the rest; otherwise we make them gods instead of the one true God. We must set our face toward Jerusalem. We must set our face toward the cross.
This begins in our baptism. Like Gabriella, in baptism her face is set toward Jerusalem. My face is set toward Jerusalem and so is yours. Baptism is a daily reminder – imprinted not merely on our foreheads, but in our hearts – that we are to look first and foremost to the cross. This is our identity. Gabriella was given a new identity today. She is a beloved child of God, a member now of the body of Christ, a worker with us in the kingdom of God. This is our number one priority. We are called to follow Jesus despite the many distractions that will pull us away. This is why we are baptized into a community of believers, so we can support one another in this journey of faith. It is not an easy journey. It leads to new life, but first, we must be willing to face death.
Just like Jesus, setting our face toward Jerusalem means setting our face toward death. There will be times we will be ridiculed for following Jesus. There will be times we will have to make tough decisions between following what the world says is good and following Jesus’ commandment of love. There will be times, many times, when Gabriella and all of us will be distracted, but we must listen to the call of the Holy Spirit to lead us back to Christ. We cannot be lured into a false illusion of discipleship. It is not easy. There are many who have set his or her face toward Jerusalem. People like Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned for 27 years in the fight to stop apartheid in South Africa, people like Rosa Parks, and elderly African American woman, who would not sit in the back of the bus and helped pave the way for freedom and equality, people like Mother Theresa who cared for the despised and outcast in the poverty stricken cities in India. We are not all called to such grand expectations; everyone has his or her own purpose in the kingdom of God.
There are many disciples here in this congregation who set his or her face toward Jerusalem: people who make the choice to teach Sunday School when it would be easier to let someone else do it, people who take the time out of their busy lives to donate and bring food to the Walsh County Food Pantry so people right here in this community will have food to eat, people who take the time to help people in this community who have been suffering from various kinds of flooding even when they have full-time jobs and homes of their own to sustain, young people who stand up to one another when bullying, and prejudice try to take hold, people who make the effort to come to worship and listen to the word of God when it would be easier to be distracted by a variety of other things, people who make the choice not to give up, but persevere despite incredible struggles. Disciples are people who set their faces toward Jerusalem and do not look back. It is not always easy, but the Holy Spirit led us first to Christ through baptism and we have the promise that the Holy Spirit will remain with us always. Like Gabriella, we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.
Why did Jesus keep His face toward Jerusalem, toward the cross? It was not because it was easy. It was not for any reward for Himself. It was for the sake of the world. It was for the sake of you and me. His destiny was the cross. His destiny was love. His destiny was making sure nothing would ever separate us from the love of God. As followers of Jesus, we are commanded to do the same. We are to set our faces toward Jerusalem. We are to set our faces toward the cross, for even though we have been baptized into Jesus’ death, we have also been baptized into His resurrection. Let us hear and act on the words of Jesus, “But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Distractions. They’re everywhere, but so is Jesus. Amen.