The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – Series C – Luke 9:51-62
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
The Journey of Christ, is one defined by long-suffering.
It is not quick, it is not easy, and there are no shortcuts.
For He has set his face towards Jerusalem, and he will endure not only the pain of the cross, but for the entire way he will endure the rejection of the very ones he has come to save.
In the same way, as those baptized into Christ Himself, the Church’s journey is also one defined by long-suffering. Neither is it quick, nor is it always easy, and indeed, there are no short cuts.
The Church, as St. Paul writes, endures all things, believes all things, hopes all things, it is not defined by the moment, but by the constant and unchanging things of eternity.
We have been called to long-suffering, to the road and the journey marked by patience and by endurance, and yet, we are found in a culture of the world, and even a culture of the church, that wants nothing to do with these long, patient and enduring things.
Instead, we are found as a people defined by the moment, those who search out the quickest, easiest, and most painless ways to do anything.
If something doesn’t work we toss it aside and exchange it for something new, we have no desire to see things all the way through, especially if things don’t change very quickly.
And even more than that, if we look to the present culture of Christianity around us, what we find is not so much a voice of comfort reigning us back into the long-suffering road of the Gospel, but rather a culture just as obsessed with constant change and clever short cuts as we are.
We live in an age overrun with Christian bumper stickers.
Now, of course, these things aren’t bad or harmful in themselves, but even simple things, even bumper stickers, have a way of subtly and inadvertently forming us in what we expect of the mission of the church.
Perhaps it’s that we begin to settle with the idea that outreach is nothing more than plastering my confession on my rear bumper, cutting my neighbor off in traffic and hoping that he’ll glance down to the three words above my tail pipe and therefore confess, believe and live.
We live in an age of two page Gospel tracts.
The guarantee that if you read the right passages, in just the right order, with just the right arguments, then your neighbor will have no choice but to repent and believe the Gospel.
We live in an age oversaturated with the industry of ministry strategies.
The fool-proof plans that are packaged and repackaged every few years promising that if you adopt the right language, implement the right programs, engage the right culture and preach the right sermons, then your community will soon be bursting at the seams, and you’ll finally be the one true church.
In the end, what we really live in, is an age of impatience, of constant anxiety, and the pervasive doubt of whether or not Christ will actually preserve His Church to the end of the age.
And so whether we recognize it or not, we have been taught and have even taught ourselves that the journey of the Church is an easy and simple road, one with immediate rewards and instant success. And so anything that isn’t easy, simple, immediate or successful, is then considered not of the church.
And because of that, and dangerously because of that, we are often disappointed, frustrated, angry and even disbelieving when finally that patient and enduring road of Christ’s true Church comes into view.
Today, Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem, and with that He sends His disciples to preach the coming kingdom to Samaria, to open their mouths and confess the Christ regardless of the outcome.
The disciples and the message of Christ is of course rejected as Luke tells us, but that isn’t the end of it.
No, James and John, come frustrated and fuming to the feet of Jesus, planning to make things right.
They ask if they might call fire down from heaven and burn up the land and its people.
After all, they’ve been rejected, their expectations haven’t been met, their high hopes have been dashed to pieces, and so they now move to change the plan, out with old, in with new, if preaching the Gospel doesn’t work, perhaps calling fire down from heaven will.
James and John are not yet ready for the journey of the Church, they live in the moment, they’re quick to change course and unwilling to see the road all the way through.
And Jesus knows this. Even as he sends them to Samaria, still the Christ who has been given to know all things, knows even then, that his own disciples will be rejected.
And still he sends them, and indeed, still he sends you. For even in rejection, we are taught the true journey of the Church.
For Christ does not send the disciples into rejection so that they would be toughened up or given thicker skin.
He does not wish for us to normalize the rejection of the Gospel, or even become cynical with the hard-heartedness of man.
No, He sends them into rejection so that they might learn, and so that you and might learn that the long road of the Church is about gentleness, about compassion, that the church is about mercy.
And since it is all about mercy, what you and I are to be grounded in, is that the Church is and remains to be the city set on a hill, it is the mouth that never closes, the voice that never stops speaking, the Word that never ceases to go out.
Its mission is the long-road, the whole journey, not just today, but every day and eternity itself.
And so it looks like the life-long prayers of parents for their children who have wandered from the faith.
It looks like your faithful hearing, washing, eating and drinking of the gifts that do not change with the times, but remain to eternity itself.
It’s the relationships that God has carefully and intentionally placed you into, not only in your homes and families, but in your work places, in the check-out line at the grocery store, and yes, even here, even in the gathering of the church.
It’s both the one-time conversations, and the chance meetings, but also the whole life lived in relationship with one another, in the journey of the Church, the mouth that never closes, the voice that never stops speaking, the Word that never ceases to go out.
The disciples were rejected in Samaria, but it wasn’t because they lacked the right bumper stickers, or failed to bring the right Bible tracts, or even that they didn’t have the right ministry strategies.
What they had, and what they proclaimed, was the Word that brings life to the world, and that Word was, and it remains to be more than enough.
For it is the Word defined by the journey of Christ, the one of long-suffering, the one going down into death itself, bearing up all the rejection of the ones He has come to save.
That journey goes through Jerusalem, but it doesn’t end there, it is fulfilled there, but it doesn’t end.
And that journey is yours, Christ declares it to you today.
For indeed, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
And neither do you, in Holy Baptism you were made a citizen of eternity. Indeed, you travel here, you live here, but you do not remain, your journey is Christ’s journey, and your eyes are called to look to where He is and where He remains for you.
And just as He calls you to follow His journey the whole way, even down into death itself, still he reminds you to “Leave the dead to bury their own.”
For you dear Christian, even as you die, even as your loved ones die, your eyes are not called to look into those graves, or even your own. For there is no real comfort for you there.
Instead through this Word of faith, Christ has set your face to the hill outside of Jerusalem, and even more, to the grave of his empty tomb that has become your own, to the death that has already been defeated, and the resurrection that is already accomplished.
Leave your grave where it is, instead set your eyes to the grave that is already yours, and is already finished.
This is the end of the road, the end of the journey.
But today, we are not yet there. Today we are still on the road, still walking, still moving, still bearing up under suffering.
And so today, Christ, who has set his hand to the cross, and for your sake has not looked back, but has carried it all the way to Golgotha, and finished it all the way for you, now calls you to set your own hands to his own finished work.
Take heart, for it is finished, there is nothing left in the law and its demands for you to do.
You are free, free in Christ, and free to take up your place in this long-suffering journey of His body, the Church.
So take heart, and take hold of His cross for you, and indeed of your own cross.
Where there is rejection and doubt, remember that he has written your name in heaven, for it is finished.
Where there is discomfort and grief, remember that he has made his grave your own, for it is finished.
And where there is guilt and the burden of your sin, and the feeling that this road will never end, remember that he has carried you to his cross, put your hands to his own body, kept your eyes from looking back and has already finished the road set before you.
Take heart, it is finished.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.