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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Face Set to Jerusalem - 06/26/2016

The people Jesus encounters as he makes his Way through Galilee and beyond; as he makes his Way through the crowds of people he draws; as he makes his Way to the cross … all these people ….  have seen or imagined this look in Jesus' eyes before.

And it unnerves them.

It shows up in our gospel reading from today … “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51-53)

This isn't the first time we've heard something like this. Just last week we heard the story of the Gerasene man who was possessed by many demons and was so out of control that his family and friends had to tie him up and keep him confined among the dead in the tombs. Jesus healed that man. And remember how the Gerasenes responded? “Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.” (8:37)

And it's not just outsiders who have this reaction. At the beginning of his ministry Jesus went home to Nazareth and he read from the scroll of Isaiah and preached. He may not have had that “look” in his eyes yet, but they could hear it taking shape in his words.  

“'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” he read, “because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.' And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, 'Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.'” (Luke 4:18-19)

The people, his own people, were so unnerved by his words they ran him out of the synagogue, out of town and tried to throw him off a cliff.

It's no accident that Jesus pulls from the prophet Isaiah's words to begin showing people the the reality of his ministry … to begin helping them understand where all of this was taking him and them. The words of the prophets are the familiar scriptures for Jesus and the people he was born into, just as, for many of us, our familiar scriptures are the Gospels and the letters of Paul and other writings found in the New Testament.

And it is precisely because of this familiar that Jesus' words or that look in his eyes when he sets his face on Jerusalem was so unnerving for some.

They've seen or heard about this before. This is what the prophets do when they bring their tough love Word of God to those in power. In our 1 Kings reading today we hear about the prophet Elisha, for instance. Elisha was anointed to carry on the work of Elijah, that strange and mysterious prophet who shows up out of nowhere in the midst of a historical account of the of kingdoms of Israel and then disappears just as quickly in a chariot of fire that whisks him off to some place beyond our comprehension.

His prophetic work is continued in Elisha who speaks truth to these earthly kings of Isreal and their earthly power.

Walter Brueggemann, my go-to Old Testament scholar, wrote that the outcome of the work of these prophets was to “delegitimize and deconstruct (those in power) in effective ways ... to show that while they occupy ... forms of power, they lack the substance of power.” (Walter Brueggemann, Truth Speaks to Power: The Countercultural Nature of Scripture.) That ultimate and eternal power and authority can belong to no mere mortal. That is the power and authority of God and God alone.

While that may sound like good news to those who bear the weight of oppression and suffer at the hands of the power-mad on earth, fighting against such systems is not easy. It can be a lifetime of work that – hopefully – our children and grandchildren benefit from, but it feels as productive as tying rocks to clouds in our own lifetimes. And, as Jesus' own family and friends in the synagogue knew, as the Gerasenes knew, as the Samaritans who refuse to even welcome Jesus among them knew, prophets like this Jesus and those who associate with him are likely to end up crucified.

We were just talking about this in our Wednesday evening bible study of the Acts of the Apostles. Jewish people like Jesus, the gentiles who lived in the regions around them, and the people who became the early church we Christians are born of, lived under what was called Pax Romano – “The Peace of Rome.” But it was not true peace – it was beget in violence and maintained with violence. By being subject to Rome, the conquered people did not have to worry so much about others coming to them with war and attempts of gaining power, resources, land, slaves.

But the cost of Pax Romano was being completely subject to the emperor – your primary allegiance was to the emperor, you worshiped and made offerings to the emperor’s gods first and foremost, and you didn't question these things as the empire grew richer and stronger and bigger on the backs of the people.

To question this earthly system of power, was to risk drawing the attention of those who would do whatever they needed  to restore the Pax Romano order – those like Caiaphas and Pilate and Herod. Jesus and the people all around him saw the evidence of this harsh and deadly reality as hundreds, if not thousands, of people were crucified as examples of what happens when one questions the empire's power in any way.

This is an effective motivator for the Samaritans who did not extend hospitality to Jesus, for the Gerasenes who asked him to “please leave now,” to his own people who tried to run him off a cliff.

But Jesus sets his face on Jerusalem, nonetheless.

And although there are many who reject his presence, there are many who continue to be attracted to him too. They recognize God's promise of abundant love, life and Truth in that look in Jesus' eyes and they cannot help but follow him and proclaim all that Jesus has done and said.

 And, perhaps because Jesus knew “the days drew near for him to be taken up,” the tone of his teachings to his followers changes too. 

He tries to make them fully aware of what it is to say “I will follow you where ever you go.” Come, Jesus says, but know that disciples of my Way are not always received well, they may not always have a safe and comfy place to rest their heads at night.

To those who take up Jesus' invitation to “follow me,” he also warns that in doing so you may displease those you love, your heart may be broken when others do not chose the same Way. He reminds us that following him means we turn away from earthly pleasures and security that gets between us and our love of God and love of all God's people.

It would seem that there's not a lot of relief for anyone in this story today. The Samaritans who withhold hospitality and all others who would rather keep Jesus at arm's length continue to live in allegiance to earthly powers that hold death over their heads to keep them in order and under control.

Those who answer the call of Jesus and believe that he is the Messiah finally come, as the prophets foretold, are also putting targets on their backs.

But there is Good News here because despite the risks of continuing to give primary allegiance to earthly powers and despite the risks of questioning and challenging them … Jesus has set his face on Jerusalem.

And I believe its really important to remember that when the people who recognized that look in Jesus' eyes responded – whether they rejected Jesus or were attracted to him – they did so from a very human point of view.

Jesus, however, sets his face on Jerusalem from a divine perspective and it wasn't just the image of the cross that took shape in that look in his eyes.

Jesus saw and still sees beyond the noise and trouble that would be stirred up when he got to Jerusalem. He saw beyond the threats of death the earthly powers promised to insurgents like him.

When Jesus sets his face on Jerusalem he sees beyond all that, to a world redeemed in his resurrection.

He sees communities of the faithful eating and drinking together at the Lord’s Supper, bathing in the waters of baptism, encouraging each other and committing themselves to love God and serve neighbor above allegiances to earthly and sometimes very powerful empires.

He sees a world where death no longer has the final word and where the fruits of the Spirit Paul writes about to the Galatians move endlessly in us and through us. A world where we can live and speak boldly as followers of Jesus, confident and courageous in our salvation, free to question sin and injustice and rhetoric that dismisses and disrespects any part of God's good creation.

When Jesus sets his face on Jerusalem, when he got that look in his eyes, it was us he saw, shimmering and clean in our baptisms, nourished with his body and blood and poured out on a world so ready and hungry to receive our love. 


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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