This sermon is based on the readings for Proper 8 Year C in the Revised Common Lectionary.
This sermon was preached at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church On September 30, 2013, the day after Bishop Steven Miller ordained the Reverend Dorota Pruski to the Sacred order of Priests, and on the occasion of her first celebration of the Eucharist.
What a wonderful and glorious moment this is. We have been following this story for such a long time. Clinging to every detail, paying attention to every nuance of this story, waiting and waiting for this moment to come, maybe even thinking that it might never get here. It’s sort of like reading a great book. You are reading and the chapter is moving along, you’ve flipped ahead and you know that there are only a few more pages left in this chapter… but that page that is only half filled with text and has all that white space at the bottom is elusive, it’s still far out there. The tension builds, things are moving along… “Ok only two pages to the end of the chapter, I know there going to wrap this up somehow. There’s go to be some sort of conclusion here…” And then it happens! You get to the end of the chapter and everything changes. And then you realize, “wow! There’s still a lot of this book left! This story isn’t over yet!” And so the excitement and the thrill that you’ve had there in that moment as you concluded that chapter and got to all that white space at the end of the page is only heightened because you know the story will go on.
That’s exactly where we are this morning. We come in here this morning to celebrate the ending of a chapter and the beginning of a new one and it happens with these words, When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Well that is that chapter you thought I was talking about isn’t it? That is the beginning of a new thing that we are here to celebrate this morning… isn’t it? It is. Believe me. And it is important to take a moment to think about what Luke is doing for us here in this part of his narrative.
Jesus has been ministering in Galilee. He is at home with his people, gathering his disciples, building his support base, gathering resources, and today, with this chapter and this verse something dramatic changes. It’s important for us to recognize that for Luke the Gospel all funnels down to that one climactic moment, when there on that Holy Hill Jesus demonstrates to us beyond the shadow of a doubt that God will love us forever. And the people who are traveling with him are so transformed by that revelation and that moment that the Gospel then explodes form that place and that moment into all the world. So for Luke, there is this distinct shape to the story that is Gospel. Everything moves to this one climactic moment in history narrowing down to this one focus and then it expands exponentially, taking off into, and transforming the whole world. This is the moment when Jesus begins his movement towards Jerusalem.
For the next ten chapters we will hear that Jesus is “on his way,” “on his way,” “on his way” to Jerusalem. And so Luke wants to make sure that everything that Jesus says and does is now focused on that moment. Here we are standing at this moment of transition and Jesus encounters three would be disciples, three people from the crowd who come to him and want to follow him. I believe that there is some instruction for us in the words that Jesus speaks to them.
The first one come to him and says I will follow you wherever you go. Jesus points out to him that there is a cost to discipleship. Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests (Luke 9:58). They have homes. They are secure. They know their place. But to be on the road with me means losing that security, that sense of home and of place. It means putting those things at risk so that you might find them in me.
Then Jesus says to another person in the crowd, “Follow me” (Luke 9:59). And the response is, “I will follow you but let me bury my father first.” Jesus said leave the dead to bury their own dead. Now I think that we can get into trouble if we take that line too literally. Clearly, in the rest of the Gospel Jesus’ compassion would instruct us to care for our families, to care for our parents. What Jesus is trying to so is help this person recognize that he needs to reorient his sense of who his family is and what comes first. You need to make sure that the way you interact with and relate to your family is building the kingdom of God. Jesus goes on to say, “As for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:60). Don’t bury the dead out of a sense of duty, out of a sense of guilt, but care for the people around you the way that I am about to care for you as I walk this path to Jerusalem. So it’s with a reorientation of our relationships with people, based on this path, that we are called to walk with Jesus.
Another person comes to him from the crowd and says, “I will follow you wherever you go. But first, let me go and say goodbye to the people in my home.” Here is the moment where we hear Jesus’ urgency. You have recognized what is happening here. You have seen what is changing in the world and so you need to follow now. You need to follow now.
There is some risk in discipleship. We risk losing things that we are familiar with and a sense of security. There is a reorientation of our values and our relationships that comes with discipleship, and there is a sense of urgency to move now.
As this chapter of Luke’s Gospel comes to a close and we look forward to what is to come we find ourselves this morning in a very similar place. Saint Andrew’s will celebrate its Centennial a year from now. We will have been in this place for one hundred years. We are in the process of looking back at where we have been, who we have been, what we have done, and dreaming and visioning for our next century, looking into the future trying to discern who it is that God is calling us to be. And above all else we need to make sure that as we move in to this new period of our life together we are on the same road that Jesus walks. We need to make sure that we are on our way to Jerusalem.
So the advice that Jesus gives to the three people for m the crowd who confront him this day he also give to us… As you look to your future, as you move into your second century, there is some risk. You may have to let go of some of the things that allow you to feel secure, some of the things that make you feel at home. You may need to let go of some things and to change. Jesus also tells us that this will not be easy and we will need to make sure that our relationships with one another and with this place are guided by our relationship with God in Christ Jesus, that they are guided by the love that God reveals to us in the person of Jesus hanging on a cross. And we are reminded that as we move forward we should do so with a sense of urgency that hastens our feet, that keeps us on the path and that moves us towards the goal with intentionality and with a sense of mission.
There are lots and lots of story lines here this morning and lots and lots of chapters that are coming to and end, lots and lots of chapters that are beginning. Each and every one of us here today has our own story to write. But there is one that we want to hold up and celebrate on this day and it is the one that you thought I was talking about when I started speaking this morning.
I used the words “the Holy Hill” to describe Golgotha, the place outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. That is code language for some of us sitting in the room today because that’s the language that we use to describe Virginia Theological Seminary, in Alexandria Virginia. I am not sure that we would say that we were crucified there. But we made sacrifices. Dorota moved away from family and friends, from a life in Milwaukee, to a place thirteen, fourteen hours away. She has face those reorientations of relationships, of filial responsibility, has moved with a sense of urgency to arrive here in our midst today. And we thank God for people who are in her position of leadership, who have walked the path before us, and who are willing to walk the path with us as we make our way towards Jerusalem.
Dorota and her experience of discipleship will help to form and shape us in the years to come. And we, you, will help to form and shape her at the same time. The difficulties that Jesus describes, the difficulties associated with the path of discipleship are real. And they are formidable. But we can face them and we can move forward in spite of them because we do it as a community, because we do it together. And when one of us stumbles there is another to hold us up and to help us to walk.
So today, as we come to the conclusion of a chapter and look forward to the beginning of another, I would like to invite you to imagine that last page of the chapter that we have been on. There is only a third of the page that is covered with text. There is a white field at the bottom of that page where something might be added. As we move into this next chapter of our common life together on the road to Jerusalem I would like to invite you to imagine what story you will add, what words you will write on that page, what images, what pictures, what dreams, what joys, what struggles and what triumphs you will add to the story of our journey together.