The Rev. Diane Murphy
Let us pray. May we come to understand how best to learn from the experiences of our past and move forward, without hesitation, regret or preoccupation. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.
Today’s Gospel of Luke begins a series of chapters where Jesus is on the move…preaching, healing, visiting, admonishing…With deep insight, he shares with us the meaning of His life and his purpose; we hope these words and stories have become a part of who we are and wish to more fully become.
Jesus is a determined person in today’s reading: he has set his face to go to Jerusalem. He is focused, his is committed, he shows us how we must do the same. What that means for you and for me is a life-long discovery, however, and difficult to apprehend in our few moments here today but it is that razor-sharp image and sense of direction that we must learn. This same passage also warns us that if we look back, we will not be fit for the kingdom of God…a difficult and sometimes perplexing position but the way to discover truth and the purpose of our journey.
One of the best automotive advances in recent years in my opinion is the backup camera … no more twisting and turning to see every possible angle of oncoming pedestrian or vehicular traffic…no more taking our eyes off of the road in front of us. We can maneuver in just about any direction much safer than we use to. Oh, if only our spiritual direction could be so easily defined and contain such multiple perspectives. Our upbringings, our experiences and our exposures are so diverse and complex that Jesus’ simple statement of determination to move toward Jerusalem and what appears to be a somewhat casual dismissal of the past, at first seem very narrow and impress us as being anti-social, anti-learning and even anti-ethical but like most Biblical passages, this one requires reflection and prayerful insight.
Maybe you have heard this simple story but it is worth repeating since I believe all of us have encountered difficult challenges in the last few years.
The story is of a daughter who complains to her father that her life was miserable and she didn’t have any idea how she was going to make it; she was tired of fighting, struggling and moving from one problem to another without resolution. Her father, who was a chef, took her into the kitchen and there he filled 3 pots with water; he put them on the stove and once each began to boil, he placed a potato into the first, an egg into the second and ground coffee beans into in the third. He let them boil without saying a word. His daughter became impatient and began moaning wondering why he was wasting her time and not addressing her needs. After 20 minutes, he turned off the burners and took each one out. What do you see, he asked? She looked closer and touched the potato and found it was soft; she took the egg and broke it and noticed that it was hard; then she sipped the coffee and smelled its rich aroma and then, smiled. What does this mean? she asked her Dad. He responded: they all faced the same adversity, but they reacted differently. The potato started strong, hard and unrelenting but it became soft and weak; the egg started out fragile but inside became hard; but the same water changed the beans into something new and pleasing and better. When adversity knocks, how do you respond?
Personally, I know if someone had told me 4 years ago that my husband would have a terrible accident and sustain a traumatic brain injury that would change his and our lives forever, that my home would be destroyed by a huge historic tree falling on it requiring not just relocation but lengthy and costly renovation; and finally, that the world and how we lived in it would be changed forever due to a 5 letter disease, I would have said, I am out of here. My face would not be turned towards Jerusalem.
As a student of history and one who studies cycles in the marketplace and human behavior, this advice from Jesus is hard to hear; He cautions us not to look backward. However, not looking back does not mean we shouldn’t learn from the past.
There are other Biblical stories that condemn “looking back” such as Lot’s wife. “But his wife from behind him looked back and she became a pillar of salt.” Why was this such a mistake? It was because her looking back was a longing, a possessive longing for things and a lifestyle and THAT was what she could not let go of. She looked back longingly and desired what she had in the past and coveted it. In Ecclesiastes we learn not to ask, “Why were the former days better than these”. It is not from wisdom that we ask that, Paul in Philippians 3 cautions us to forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead because that goal is the upward call of God through the example of Jesus, his Son.
Jesus could have lingered on the happier times of his past, the joys of friendships, healings, thanksgivings and I am sure what were tender moments of family life.
Ruth could have looked back and stayed in the land of Moab but she accompanied Naomi and declared “Where you go I will go and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God.” She took her Moabite heritage into the family of God and eventually became part of the Davidic line.
That is what Jesus is saying this morning….set your eyes on Jerusalem and move into the arms of God because what ever suffering occurs on the journey, the end is an eternal embrace in the life of the Trinity. Pentecost and Trinity Sunday which we recently celebrated reinforce that message.
When Esau is able to forgive Jacob and run to him with open arms and when Joseph is able to not just forgive his brothers but bring them the fruits of his Empire, both looked forward from days of betrayal, suffering, deprivation and near death to create something new, something akin to the fullness of life God intends for us all.
Most of you know of Michael Jordan’s success but it is also revealing and hopeful to learn that he missed more than 9000 shots in his career, lost almost 300 games, and 26 times he was entrusted to make the game’s winning shot and missed. In his words, I have failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.
Twenty years ago I was serving as a Chaplain at the Washington Hospital Center assigned to the Intensive Care Burn Unit. Early on a Saturday morning, I was the only Chaplain on duty and I received a page from the Trauma Center. Within walking distance of the Hospital, a row house fire had taken the lives of 2 young children. I was called to share that news with the parents who had both been burned in the same fire but who thought all their children had been safely rescued. I remained with that family throughout much of the day in the midst of serving a number of other critical scenarios. That night, after 21 days without a break, I collapsed at home convinced that I could not view one more bullet-ridden or charred body or bring the news of death, particularly a child’s death, to anyone ever again. The next morning I was scheduled to conduct 3 worship services at the Hospital. Our daughter asked me to go with her to worship at Christ Church before I headed over the 14th Street Bridge. I didn’t want to worship 4 times that day and yet, I knew, my time with my family had been very limited in those weeks. Reluctantly, I knelt in the pew and glanced briefly at the Scripture for that Sunday. The first line of the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy literally jumped off the page to this doubtful and exhausted servant “The Word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” The power of Word allowed me to turn my face to Jerusalem…to go back to the Hospital, my place of ministry, at that point. I try and remember this transfiguring experience in those times when focus on the end time is so difficult.
Sometimes, our face is not set to Jerusalem; it would rather return to Bethlehem but the voice of a friend, a passage of Scripture, a deep gnawing within us pivots us forward, not backwards to move on to the end we were created for as the person we were created to be.
Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for each of us in going to Jerusalem. He could have taken out the Samaritans on the way, but he didn’t because his arms were all inclusive. He overcame death; and ultimately we will too and all the limitations we face in our daily journeys if we will only learn to look, like him, towards salvation which is to come.
In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.