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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 6/27

I was coaching girl’s basketball. We were getting hammered, down by about 40 with just a few minutes to play. I had taken out all my good players long before that, players who obviously weren’t good enough, but the other coach still had his best player in the game, not just passing the ball to the other players, but making shots and running up the score on us. Sitting on the bench beside me was Diane Weaver, one of my best players, probably the best athlete I ever coached, male or female plus she had kind of mean streak that served her well, usually. I’m sitting there watching this horror show, getting mad at the other coach, and I said, “Weaver, I should put you back in there to hurt that girl and teach that guy a lesson.” She looked at me with kind of gleam in her eye and said, “You want me to?” She was ready to go and she could have done it, but I said, “No, you’d better stay here.”

I don’t know if that has much to do with anything, but this morning’s gospel reminded me of that story what with the disciples asking Jesus if they should command that fire come down from heaven and consume the Samaritans. The disciples were upset that they had not been welcomed when they went ahead to prepare the way for Jesus as he was going to pass through Samaria on his way to Jerusalem and their thought was, “Let’s make ‘em pay for their lack of hospitality and for their disrespect,” which was not terribly unlike my thought as my team was being embarrassed. Let’s make ‘em pay. Keep in mind too, that the disciples had precedent on their side: in the part of the Elijah story that comes just before what we heard in today’s first lesson Elijah did have fire come down and consume men sent by the king of Samaria. It had been done before.

This desire to exact revenge on those we feel have wronged us in some way is pretty basic to being human. They’re not necessarily feelings we’re very proud of, but we have them; it’s the philosophy of “don’t get mad, get even.” Jesus, however, wouldn’t go there. He rebuked the disciples for suggesting revenge but if we were looking for some elaboration from him on this topic, we don’t get it. The text just says that they all moved on to another village and the story continues with some instructions for would be disciples.

Still, you might have expected a follow up parable or something about the futility of seeking revenge to highlight how such violence, however it is used. is never part of Jesus’ agenda; but that’s not what we get. The narrative quickly moves on with verses that upset a lot of people because they seem to trivialize family obligations and loyalty, obligations and loyalty that for many are of the highest priority. That might be another reason we wish that Jesus had continued with the theme of revenge being bad because we can agree with that, but “Let the dead bury their own dead,” and not even being encouraged to go home and say good bye to the relatives before following Jesus, we wish he hadn’t said those things.

To make any sense of all this you have to go back to the first verse of this lesson, v. 51 which says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” He set his face to go to Jerusalem; it’s a verse you might just quickly read and pass over, but this isn’t just part of a travelogue narrative. This verse marks a significant transition in Luke’s gospel. Up until this point Jesus had preached and taught and performed miracles, stories we’re familiar with, all of which were important in defining who he was. At various time he had also hinted at and sometimes talked quite openly about the sacrifice that would be required of him, but this is the point where those hints begin to be more than talk.

The days were drawing near for all this to happen, so setting his face to go to Jerusalem was a way for Jesus to say, “It’s time; this is what I came for; it’s time to get on with it.” There’s a shift here; the level of seriousness is ratcheted up. It will take ten chapters for Jesus to finally get there to Jerusalem and there are still healings and teachings that will happen along the way, but from here on everything becomes focused on the mission, the reason why God became incarnate in the person of Jesus. Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem, and he will not be distracted…and he won’t let the disciples be distracted either.

So…when the disciples ask about sending fire down to consume the Samaritans, besides being contrary to the core of Jesus’ ethical teachings, it would be a distraction from the mission. When he is asked about a funeral for someone’s father and about going home for a farewell, both of which seem to be legitimate and reasonable requests, with his face set for Jerusalem, they are distractions. At this point for Jesus, everything that isn’t directly related to the mission must be relativized, made secondary. His face was set.

The context of verse 51 is important to the interpretation of this passage and that context needs to be taken into account and because of that I don’t think it would be correct to conclude that Jesus would say that attending to family obligations is not or should not ever be a high priority. The centrality of the mission is important and not being distracted from the mission is important, but it seems fair to say that for many, their mission would include tending to family responsibilities.

Still, that doesn’t or shouldn’t let us of the hook relative to setting priorities because regardless of how we unpack this, it is clear from this and other passages that following Jesus is identified as a high priority. A couple of weeks ago I talked about how easily and willingly we as Christians blend into society, not wanting our faith to be very public, quite happy if no one really knows that we are Christians. One of the results of that though, is that the expectations others might have for us regarding our faith are lower, the expectations we have for ourselves regarding our faith, our discipleship, might also be lower.

We have largely become a culture of casual Christians, people for whom their faith is not a high priority, but more of a matter of convenience. Kathy gets mad at me when I quote Archie Bunker, but I remember he once said of a Jewish person he knew, “He’s one of your good Jews; he doesn’t take it seriously.” The same thing could be said of many Christians. For all of us the priority question is one that needs to be visited and revisited on a regular basis because we all get distracted. You hear a lot about how busy people are, and it’s true; there’s a lot going on, a lot you can be involved in, things you can do, places you can go, a lot of it good. Younger families with kids have all kinds of choices they can make regarding what the kids are going to do, what activities they’ll be involved in and they’re mostly very good things. But it’s easy to let church and related activities slip down the priority pole.

People of all ages are busy, but I still think most people find time or make time for those things that they think are most important. Hence, the priority question and by that I don’t mean that we ask it so we can point fingers at the choices others make, but so that we can look at ourselves and think about ourselves because we all get distracted, we all make compromises with our faith.

Having set his face for Jerusalem, for Jesus the priority was clear. With the fully human, fully divine nature of Jesus it’s always difficult to figure out what he knew and when he knew it. But having emptied himself of his divine nature, as Paul put it in the letter to the Philippians, in his humanity I think what Jesus knew as he set his face for Jerusalem was that if he went there, something was going to happen and it wasn’t going to be good. But that was the mission and for our sake he would not be distracted from it.

Jesus does provide a model of committed discipleship and devotion to the mission, but what we also see in his single-mindedness is its basis in love, love for all of us. The mission of Jesus is ultimately about God’s desire that human beings know that they are not abandoned and cut loose by God because of sin, but that they are loved, that God’s grace and forgiveness is available, even when, maybe especially when we are distracted by our choices. Jesus commitment to the mission was grounded in that love and grace and forgiveness and we are called to live and to act in response to that Some of the choices we encounter in our response are clearly wrong, like the revenge the disciples requested, like sending a basketball player in to hurt someone; other choices are less clear. If we really think about it though, if we really consider the measure of God’s love for us, if we consider the level of commitment Jesus showed for us instead of just taking it for granted which we often do, things are clearer; what’s the right thing to do is clearer. The distractions will still be around, but knowledge of the magnitude of God’s love and forgiveness and commitment to us, does make things clearer.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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