“He set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
We all have a Jerusalem. We all set our faces to go in a particular direction. What is your Jerusalem? In what direction is your face set? And how does your Jerusalem compare with Jesus’ Jerusalem?
Most of you have probably heard enough of my preaching and teaching to know that I am talking about more than just Jerusalem the city in Israel. I’m talking about Jerusalem as a metaphor and symbol for the values that guide and describe our life, values by which we live and for which we die. What if setting our face to go to Jerusalem is about walking a path of integrity and authenticity? What if it’s about becoming our best and truest selves? What if Jerusalem is about living a life that is truly worth living? I am not talking about getting what I want out of life, having it all my way, promoting my personal opinions, or accomplishing my individual agenda. It’s less about what we do and accomplish and more about becoming who we were created to be. It’s about a destiny and purpose that give value, meaning, and significance to our life and the lives of others. Jerusalem is about God’s dream for our life coming true. That dream is reveled in the person of Jesus Christ.
I think this Jerusalem on which Jesus has set his face describes the life we want for ourselves, our children, and those we love. It’s the kind of life I want. What about you? Isn’t Jerusalem what you really want and at some level why you follow Christ? My experience of Jerusalem, however, is that it often eludes me and always challenges my priorities, beliefs, decisions, actions, and relationships. It usually asks me more questions than it answers. I suspect that is true for you as well. We all live and struggle with the question of Jerusalem.
Have we set our faces to go to Jerusalem? That question underlies so much of what is happening in our lives and our world today. Let me give you some examples.
- I suspect it’s one of the questions, albeit unspoken, being asked in the wake of Great Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.
- I wonder if it’s a question beneath the anger and division that characterize this year’s presidential campaigns and the politics of the last several years. Maybe something within in us knows that there is a Jerusalem and we have not set our faces to go there. The usual issues over which we argue, by which we align ourselves, and with which we beat each other over the head just aren’t taking us to the life we want. We’ve set our faces on something less than Jesus’ Jerusalem.
- The tragedy at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, like all the previous mass shootings, has awakened us once again to the question of Jerusalem and the direction in which our faces are set.
- Recently someone came to see me to talk about her spiritual journey, to ask questions, and think out loud about her life. She wanted to know if she was on the right track. It was really a conversation about setting her face to go to Jerusalem.
- You’ve probably had times when you’ve said to yourself, “I love my life,” and it felt as if everything had come together in just the right way. There was integrity and authenticity in what you were doing and who you were becoming. There was a fullness to your life that you couldn’t explain but you knew it was there and that it was real. That was about Jerusalem and setting your face to go there.
- Likewise, you’ve probably had times when life felt empty and impoverished. You were restless and searching for something more. Maybe it was in your work, your marriage, or your faith. Maybe it was figuring out what was next in your life. Regardless, that also was about Jerusalem.
Today’s gospel (Luke 9:51-62) has much to say about the current events of our world and our life’s circumstances. It’s a challenging gospel. It shines a light on the conflicts we experience and the ways in which our opinions and loyalties are torn and pulled in different directions. It reveals our divided hearts and our broken relationships. It names the reality that we, like James and John, are often quick to want to call down fire from heaven to consume those who oppose or reject us. While James and John might be willing to kill for Jerusalem Jesus is not. That’s simply not the way of Jesus. That’s not who he is. He is, however, willing to give himself and die for Jerusalem.
For Jesus Jerusalem is about healing and wholeness, mercy and forgiveness, peace, the dignity and holiness of all humanity, reconciliation with God and each other, overcoming death, and life fully lived. In that regard, Jerusalem is a place of hope, transformation, fulfillment, and new life. Let’s not turn away from that. Let’s set our faces to go to Jerusalem.
If we are going to set our face on Jerusalem then we must first face up to ourselves; the condition of our lives, the state of our world, and the direction we are headed. That means taking an honest look at what’s going on and answering some hard questions.
- If Jerusalem reveals Jesus to be our chief cornerstone, in what direction then have we set our faces when we choose to build on the foundations of private opinions, personal agendas, and party loyalty?
- If Jerusalem is about mercy and forgiveness, what is our responsibility toward Omar Mateen (the shooter at the Pulse Nightclub in Orando), Dylann Roof (the shooter at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston), and the institutions, churches, friends, family, or others who have hurt and betrayed us? How can we claim to have set our face to go to Jerusalem and at the same time withhold forgiveness?
- If Jerusalem is about the dignity and holiness of all humanity, then we cannot remain on the sidelines, silent, or indifferent in the face of injustice, discrimination, or prejudice. What would it mean and ask of us if in those situations we set our faces to go to Jerusalem?
- If Jerusalem is about peace, what then do we do about the wars we wage, military spending, and the defense industry? What do we do with the violence in our thoughts, words, and actions? How do we bring peace to the human heart?
- If Jerusalem is about reconciliation with each other, on what basis do we scapegoat a people or a religion? What does it say if we exclude the foreigner, deny the refugee sanctuary, or build walls? Do we reconcile only with those who are like us?
- If Jerusalem is about the defeat of death, and life fully lived, what then are the implications for our response to gun violence in this country? How does Jerusalem inform our conversations and debates about gun control and the responsible ownership and use of guns?
- If Jerusalem is about the truth of God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, how can we continue to invest our time, money, energy, beliefs, and votes to protect, promote, or impose on another our personal and individual truths?
If we set our faces to go to Jerusalem then we have to wrestle with these and a thousand other questions like them. I’m not asking these questions as a judgment or criticism of you or any one else. I just don’t think we can avoid asking and wrestling with them in light of today’s gospel. These questions stand at the intersection of Jesus’ gospel and today’s world, his life and our lives. I’m not suggesting what your answers ought to be. I don’t know. I have no answers for you or me. I don’t have clear or easy answers to any of those questions. I struggle with those questions in my own life and I’m as torn as you are on these things. But I stand with you in wanting to set my face to go to Jerusalem.
We’re not the only ones to struggle with setting our faces to go to Jerusalem. Along the way Jesus had three conversations about this. I sometimes wonder if these were conversations he was having within himself. I wonder if he was working out for himself what it would mean and what it would cost to set his face to go to Jerusalem. They sure are the kind of conversations I’ve had within myself. Maybe you have too.
Each one of those conversations is about letting go of or giving up something of ourselves and our lives. Setting our face to go to Jerusalem means letting go of home, a sense of security, and a place in society. If we set our face to go to Jerusalem then we have put ourselves on a path of change and transformation. If we are not open to that maybe we have set our faces to go somewhere other than Jerusalem.
Setting our face to go to Jerusalem means letting go of the past and the dead places and parts of our lives, the things that can no longer give or sustain life and growth. Jesus is not saying we should’t attend or conduct funerals. He is emphasizing that Jerusalem is about life and if we are more concerned with and attached to the past and dead parts of our lives then we are headed in a different direction than he is.
Setting our face to go to Jerusalem means letting go of seeking approval and identity from our families, social groups, and political parties. It requires a reordering of priorities. It is an all or nothing proposition. We may have to grow into the implications of Jerusalem for our lives but we are either on the road to Jerusalem or we are not.
What do you need to let go of in order to set your face to go to Jerusalem? When have you followed what you wanted rather than the greater truth of Jesus? What values do you continue to hold that are no longer valuable and no longer point to Jerusalem? Those questions aren’t for you only. They are questions I also must answer.
Today’s gospel does not allow for excuses, justifications, running away, or hiding. Our lives are too important and we matter too much to allow for that. To struggle with the questions raised by today’s gospel is the beginning of setting our face to go to Jerusalem. Let’s not turn away from Jerusalem and let’s not turn away from each other. Let’s stand together and set our faces to go to Jerusalem.
Always enjoy reading your sermons when we cannot attend St. Philips
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Fr. Michael, I am gratefully reading your blog-sermons whenever I receive them! You always have an aspect to your interpretation which challenges and inspires me! Thank you so much!
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