The End of the Journey
By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: Luke 13:22, 31-35
In seminary, we preachers are counseled that an occasion will inevitably come when we have been harried and pulled in so many directions that we will not have time to adequately prepare a Sunday morning message. A certain pastor, on just such an occasion, remembered the words of his seminary professor who advised that, on such occasions, step into the pulpit and open the bible and point. Wherever your finger lands, consider that your preaching text. Boldly read the verse and pray for the inspiration of the Spirit as your message begins.
And so said preacher mounted the stairs to his lofty pulpit. He opened his bible – in a rather lopsided fashion – for his index finger landed on a verse from Revelation… hardly the best choice for preaching when one is unprepared. He read boldly, “I am coming soon.” He paused; nothing. Buying time, he proclaimed the verse again with greater intensity, “I am coming soon.” Again; nothing. A final time, he passionately leaned over the pulpit peering down at his congregants. With all the energy he could muster, he nearly shouted, “I am coming soon!” He had leaned too far. Losing his balance he fell from the lofty pulpit and landed at the feet of a startled congregant in the first row. Terribly embarrassed, he stood up and began to profusely apologize to the woman who, recovering her wits, interrupted the pastor to say, “It’s OK, pastor. I don’t know why I was startled. You warned me three times you were coming.”
The middle of Luke’s gospel, a section spanning ten chapters, is what bible scholars refer to as Luke’s Travel Narrative. For ten chapters, our gospel narrator informs us, repeatedly, that Jesus is journeying toward Jerusalem. It is his goal; his destiny, so to speak. And the gospel writer clearly warns the reader how this journey will end. It will end with Jesus being put to death and rising again.
It is a long journey toward Jerusalem. Within the gospel story world, it seems to drag on for an eternity. Are we there yet? When will we arrive? The emphasis on the journey motif is so strong that, also within those ten chapters, Jesus tells two popular parables that are unique to Luke’s story: the parable of the prodigal son who travels to a distant land to squander his inheritance and the parable of the Good Samaritan who helps a man who has been brutally attacked on his journey from Jerusalem to Jericho. So focused is the gospel on the journey that we have travel narratives within the travel narrative.
On and on the journey to Jerusalem stretches; yet the narrator never allows his reader to forget where we are heading and what will happen when we arrive there. We have been duly warned. Three times across those ten chapters, Jesus tells his disciples quite clearly saying things like: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected… and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”[i] Jesus recites the litany: betrayal, abuse, death and resurrection.
Across those ten chapters, we find over and over things like:
They went on from there…
They were going along…
As they went on their way…
Jesus approaches towns and villages (as we heard in this morning’s scripture); he goes through them and keeps moving. On and on he goes, determined – ultimately – to arrive at his date with death in the holy city of Jerusalem; a city that kills its prophets and messengers. As readers, we have been adequately prepared. So, when the moment comes, we ought not to be surprised or startled.
This Lenten season, my sermon series has been titled “The Journey.” Life, my friends, is a journey. Not some static, stagnant holding pattern. If you’ve dug in your heels and planted your flag, you’ve missed the point. Life is an on-going journey.
It is a decisive moment when Luke tells us that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”[ii] In his journey to Jerusalem, Jesus embraces the work God the Father has sent him to do: he will suffer rejection and abuse at the hands of the Jewish and Roman leaders, be put to death and, on the third day rise from the dead.
And we are well on our way. Next Sunday is Palm Sunday: that day when we commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. We are almost there. We have nearly arrived.
And so, in this morning’s scripture also, Jesus speaks again of his determination to complete his mission in Jerusalem. Regardless of obstacles, he will finish his work. Some Pharisees have arrived to see Jesus and they’ve have come to warn him: “Herod wants to kill you.” This is hardly news to Jesus. Whether their intentions are sincere and they are truly concerned for Jesus’ well-being; or whether they are testing Jesus to see what kind of response he gives… Well, their motivation is unclear. But, once again, Jesus is crystal clear. He will march on toward Jerusalem. No one can deter him from finishing the work God has entrusted to him. He knows where he’s going, how to get there, just how long the journey should take, and what will happen when he reaches his destination. He knows death is coming; he knows resurrection is coming.
And this morning’s scripture tells us something about the journey itself. All along the way, Jesus has been teaching and healing. He is making the most of his time on the road. He is using it to reveal the good news of the love of God. Good news that he expresses by way of a poignant metaphor in this morning’s scripture. Jesus likens himself to a mother hen. He seeks to gather God’s children lovingly in his arms in the same way that a mother hen gathers her vulnerable baby chicks under her wings. It is an intimate, nurturing image and it serves as a symbol for God’s passionate, compassionate care for us.
When Britt and I lived in Indianapolis, one spring a duck laid eggs close to our house. It provided a ring-side view to their development. One morning when I was in my study doing some work and getting ready to leave for the office, I glanced out my window and it was quite the show. There was momma duck, wings outstretched, moving her brood along. Behind her were two male mallards, behaving aggressively and rushing alternately toward the female duck and one another. Suddenly, momma duck turned around, opened those wings as wide as they would go and made herself as big as she could be, and started toward those male ducks. And did those boys back up fast. Now, that did not end the drama. The guys then got into quite a tussle with one another. Let me tell you the feathers were flying. I was afraid it might end with a dead duck. But, momma duck was done with them. She turned back around, gathered her brood, and on they went, leaving those battling boys behind.
Friends; Jesus is like that momma duck. He loves you. You belong to him and he wants to draw you near. Jesus is determined to walk the path to Jerusalem, but it is no mad dash to the finish for he will take whatever time is needed along the way to reveal the passionate love of God. That is the nature of his journey and he invites us, his disciples, to journey with him.
Folks, we too are on a journey through life. But, my question this morning is: are you journeying with Jesus or are you trying to blaze your own trail? If we journey with Jesus, our life’s goal will be this one singular task: to reveal the passionate love of God for his children; to reveal that Jesus will stop at nothing in order to draw us near. Everything else along life’s journey will take a back seat to our desire to make known to others the seeking love of God. Now, if we walk this journey with Jesus there will be unexpected twists and turns along the way. There will be no shortage of struggles. Jesus will lead us through places of risk and vulnerability. But, if we take that risk; if we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we know, ultimately, how the journey ends. It ends in resurrection and we can walk in that confidence.
Friends, life in this world, will try to steer us off the path. There will be many voices, like those Pharisees, that will caution us to look out for number one; to be focused on our own safety and security. After all, if we’ve learned anything from this year’s primary elections, the world wants winners, right? Leaders who are strong and aggressive and unapologetic. Why would we want to be followers?
But we can’t have it both ways. On the journey of life, to follow or to seize control; those are our two choices. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not recommending apathy or ignorance or irresponsibility. I’m just making sure we all recognize that being a follower of Jesus means letting Jesus take the lead. And that isn’t always easy.
Still, Jesus invites us to join him on the risky, rewarding journey. And to move along the path at God’s pace, not our own, so that we, too, can complete the work God entrusts to us. So that we, too, take time to stop along the way to share the good news of God’s love with others. To let them know that Jesus is like that hen or that momma duck, desiring to draw his children close to him. Risky though it is, we can walk with Jesus on that journey to Jerusalem because we know how the journey will ultimately end – in resurrection. When we die to sin and selfishness, then like Jesus, we conquer the power of death.
We are called, invited, to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t journey to Jerusalem alone, by himself. He could have, but he didn’t. Those thick-headed disciples must have slowed him down, I imagine. Yet still, he takes those disciples with him. He invites them to walk with him, to follow him on the way. Jesus pulls no punches when he describes the nature of the journey to them in chapter 9.[iii] He says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Folks, journeying with Jesus is no walk in the park. It is a journey that will demand a great deal from us. As Jesus journeys, he won’t be side tracked by fearful self-preservation. He pays little attention to the words of those Pharisees. He continues on; focusing all along the way on teaching people, and healing them, and showing them the love of God. His focus is on revealing the grace and forgiveness, the compassion and mercy of God. He moves onward to Jerusalem knowing that both death and resurrection await him there.
And Jesus invites us to join him on the journey. He doesn’t force us; he invites us. Jesus could journey with faith toward Jerusalem because he had confidence in how his journey would end. He knew how his journey would ultimately end and so should we.
[i] Luke 9:21. NRSV.
[ii] Luke 9:51.
[iii] Luke 9:23-24.
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