Half-Hearted Faith?

Text: Luke 9:51-62
Date: Pentecost VI (Proper 8) + 6/30/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. He comes and “sets His face to go to Jerusalem,” there to fulfill His destiny and ours by offering Himself as the one sacrifice for the sin of the world, so that by faith in Him all who believe may be released from the curse and death of sin and be given eternal life. The King came in the Person of Jesus, walking the dusty pathways of Galilee, laying aside His equality with God taking on the form of a servant. Now the crucified, risen, ascended King comes to individuals today through His body, the Church, that is, through the gospel preached in His name. He comes through word preached, read and taught. He comes through water with that word. He comes through the daily assurance of sins forgiven. He even comes giving us His true Body and Blood to eat and to drink sacramentally. He has come to you. And when He comes He bids the same of everyone, saying, “Follow Me.”

So how’s your following, how’s your discipleship? To follow means, of course, to hear His voice and go at His direction. When we do not hear His voice, or worse, when we ignore it or replace it with other voices we cease following and surely fall into a ditch of our own making.

Today’s Gospel is the beginning of the second half of Luke’s narrative as the first (51st) verse says, “When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” The phrase “to be taken up” is shorthand for His entire atoning work, His suffering, cruel death by crucifixion, His rest in the tomb, then His astounding resurrection and even more amazing ascension into heaven. So here, says Dr. Luke, “he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Everything from here on in had that goal in mind. At least in Jesus’ mind.

The first disciples that He called, saying, “Follow Me,” had been following Him. Today He sends some of them ahead to make preparations for a short stay. But the place to which He sent them was a village of the Samaritans. Most Jews avoided Samaria even though it was the most direct route from Galilee to Jerusalem, taking a deliberate detour. Jews not only avoided Samaritans, Samaritans hated the Jews, especially if they were going to Jerusalem. For they believed not Jerusalem but Mt. Gerizim was the place of worship ordained by God. Luke tells us, simply, “the people did not receive him,” which is a polite way of saying they rejected Him.

This, of course, is the natural response of all people born in sin, separated from and even at enmity with God their Creator from their very first breath. It is astounding the increasing amount and brazenly public rejection of Christ we see going on in our country today. In the public square Christians are either deemed to be pitifully stupid or as enemies to be silenced if not punished. When you think about it, it is more and more amazing that “God Bless America” is still sung in baseball stadiums and athletic events, for you dare not sing it in a public school or at a high school or college graduation ceremony!

The disciples James and John discovered here that this following Jesus wasn’t necessarily an easy thing. So far we could call them “low information disciples,” as they still had much to learn. And lesson number one was to avoid the temptation of anger, wrath and vengeance. “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” ‘Sounds almost silly until you consider your own reactions to road rage or that other dirty fellow who only makes your life miserable. What were they thinking? Jesus “rebuked them.” He didn’t reject them or kick them out. Jesus still had His face set to go to Jerusalem. They still needed to follow Him there.

Here is the key to the meaning of this text today for us. James and John did not know that the Gospel of Jesus would eventually reach Samaria. Their question was to call down final judgment on the people or at least to somehow force them to receive Jesus. But the final judgment is God’s and still waits. And you cannot force anyone to believe. So what we are hearing today is simply this—that in our following of Jesus the important thing is to know and believe that He knows the path He is leading you on even though and especially when you don’t. It is as that wonderful prayer for guidance in our hymnal says it:

Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us…. (LSB  311, #193)

Oh, we have moments of glowing faith and determined conviction. “Lord, I will follow you wherever you go.” “Let us ever walk with Jesus, Follow His example pure, Through  a world that would deceive us And to sin our spirits lure” (LSB 685). And in this world we do well to remember that, as in His earthly ministry “the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head,” so we also need to learn the hymn, “I’m but a stranger here, Heav’n is my home” (LSB 748).

Then there are the times we confuse our priorities, agreeing with the Lord but…. “First let me go and bury my father,” “First let me say farewell to those at my home.” But what have you learned to sing?

One thing’s needful; Lord, this treasure
Teach me highly to regard.
All else, though it FIRST give pleasure,
Is a yoke that presses hard!….
This one thing is needful; all others are vain—
I count all but loss that I Christ may obtain! (LSB 536)

Seek ye first the kingdom of God,
And His righteousness.
And all these things shall be added unto you!
Allelu, alleluia! (LSB 712)

To follow Jesus means to hear His voice and to go at His direction. As it is hard enough to plow a straight furrow in a field (at least without the help of GPS!) just keeping your eyes forward and concentrating on the task at hand, so discipleship consists in being made “fit for the kingdom of God.” As Jesus once set His face to go to Jerusalem, so the disciple needs constantly to set your gaze upon Jesus our risen, ascended and reigning Lord and King, believing and trusting His word and Spirit.