Grace and peace are your through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.
The Gospel lesson from Luke will be our text for consideration today.
Who am I? What is the meaning of life? What does it look like to follow Jesus? Perhaps there are still many who contemplate these pressing questions today in the midst of a world that wants all the freedoms of the world but few of the responsibilities. Indeed, I think that these questions are still being asked, as they have throughout the history of creation but the stark fact is that so often today the answers to these questions are not being sought in the Scriptures but instead by entities within the secular realm. But the fact remains, there is truth, always will be, and we can know it, there is hope and always will be, the answers to the questions previously asked can only be found in God’s revealed word.
Let’s look at the first question; Who am I? You are the Lord’s, indeed all we see is His; How do you know this? Brother’s and sister’s the answer is straight forward, simple and comforting. You have been created by Him but more assuredly you the Baptized have been claimed by God to be sons, that is inheritors of eternal life, peace, mercy, grace and forgiveness. Yet to many Christians, the answer to the question “Who am I?” is so often tied to what we do. So often Christians become fixated on the phrase “Being Christ like” but what does this mean? Is being Christ-like a matter of what we do? Or is it who we are? The answer is both, but discernment, which sin clouds and distorts in sinners is too often the key. But perhaps we ought to reconsider what being Christ-like means, for even Christ said no, sometimes very forcefully, to sin and the sinners who faced Him; sometimes Christ walked away from unrepentant sinners who refused to hear His word, and in John 6 Jesus preached such an offensive sermon that people got up and left, we see Jesus being Christ-like in our text for today as He leaves the Samaritans to their sin. And yet even in the midst of all of this seemingly un-christlike behavior from Christ Himself He always had the salvation of mankind in mind, He left them and continued on as “He set His face to go to Jerusalem.”
We see this in our text; when the first man approaches Jesus ready to follow Him. While the man’s approach to Jesus seems genuine, the reality is that the man seeks self-fulfillment. For the first man, the prospect of following Jesus is a leisurely walk in the park, and why wouldn’t he believe this? He had no idea about who Jesus was; just a few verses before our text for today in Luke 9:21-22 and 43b-45; Jesus had just told His disciples what following Him would entail; He will go to Jerusalem in order to be crucified and the disciples would be the ones who would walk with Him every step of the way to His trial, execution and death, that’s the cost of discipleship; that’s the cost of following Jesus. And so, Jesus says; “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Following Jesus is not about what one can gain for this life, it is not about miracles, healings, the raising of the dead; for these things are merely a foretaste of what Jesus has come to do by His death in Jerusalem. He has come to bring about the miracles of faith, miracles of belief, miracles of discipleship, healing of the sin sick and the raising of the dead in sin to new life in Him, BUT… all of these things run through the cross and this is what Jesus tells the man and us today. Who am I? The answer to the question is best understood by understanding what the answer is not…. You are not God, it is not for you to orchestrate the plans and schemes. Who am I? You are His beloved Child the very reason that He sets His face to Jerusalem.
Now for the second question; what is the meaning of life? As Americans we’d say it’s to be free. And Paul agrees in our Epistle for today; “You were called to freedom” And on the eve of the 4th of July it’s important to remember the sacrifices that others have made to bestow the freedoms we have today. But freedom has become, in its most base forms, an idol. So often Freedom is misunderstood to mean; freedom to act and do as we please when and where we wish with whomever we wish, and so it is that Paul continues; “Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” There are infinite ways in which freedom can be prostituted, mis-used, mis-guided and mis-applied; throughout history we have seen this in the realm of marriage; what started with the freedom for no-fault divorce, lead to the freedom to co-habitate which lead to the wholesale dawn of the freedom to abort unwanted children, which lead to last Wednesday’s Supreme Court decision. In each step, freedom was used as an acceptable justification but what we failed to see is this; each step in its purest sense was bondage, bondage to our own wills and whims, bondage to and a self-reliance that said “I can take charge of my life” “I am the master of my domain, my body and my choices” we have forgotten who we are; WE ARE NOT GOD! and what has been lost in the process are God’s promises to us; that He will sustain us, that He will provide all that we need to support this body and life, He comforts us, guides us, to forgives us and to gives us peace.
The meaning of life is freedom, this is why Jesus set His face to Jerusalem; that we might be free from the wrath of God, free from sin, free from bondage to our own selfish wills, free to serve our neighbor without worrying about when we’ll get ours. To so many, this freedom of the Gospel appears to be bondage to many today who say the bible’s ways are antiquated, or that cultural mores and norms no longer apply to our enlightened culture. Too often we believe the lies with the result that we push ourselves away from the grace, mercy and forgiveness of God.
It happens all to often when those who have been called by baptism, react like the 2nd man in our text. Follow me; Jesus says. To which the man replies; “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Dear friends, whether the man’s father was dead or not is not the issue, what is is this; this man does not know what it means to follow Jesus and so often, because of our sin neither do we. Jesus says follow me to the man, in the same way that He did for you so long ago in baptism, as He did for you even this day as He pronounced the forgiveness of your sins. Follow me, hear what I have to say to you for my Words are eternal life, in them is the forgiveness of sins.
Dear friends God has given us great gifts; Wives, Husbands, Father’s and Mother’s, friends and other family, but what Jesus says today echoes Matthew 10:37-39 “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” So it is that Jesus in a very insensitive way says today: “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Dear Christians, Jesus is not saying that you should not love your family or friends or not bury your dead when they die; instead He is warning us that the temptation will be there to make these people into false gods who are worshipped over and above Jesus. It’s a stern warning that applies to all of you even today; many of you no doubt love and or know sinners of every persuasion, Jesus’ remarks warn us that this love for individuals, our desires to keep the familial or friendly peace by not rocking the boat, our desire for a lack of conflict within our families or with friends closest to us will stand in the way of loving Christ’s word, indeed of following Christ. And here’s the rub, isn’t it? We love our families and friends, yet so often they to us and we to them, fall into great sin and vice and there seems only two options; address it at the price of offense, or sweep it under the rug and look the other way while saying that doing so is the most loving thing to do. Brother’s and Sister’s, this is our life isn’t it? Increasingly we are finding ourselves at these loggerhead situations in our lives; people are leaving churches, families, society and sometimes even taking quick exits from life because of these things and in this the Devil derives great satisfaction, not just in the separation of families but is the separation of people from God, the pain and misery that comes from suffering with and in sin, Satan takes great pleasure in the death of the sinner whether it be the living death of separation or the physical death of suicide. But notice your Lord in our Gospel text when James and John wish to ally themselves with Satan’s fury “And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And instead of reigning fire down, the Lord simply listens to the Samaritans unspoken wishes and leaves. Jesus leaves those Samaritans alive that they may hear the Word of God and live, that they may, having heard who Jesus was, have faith worked in them, repent of their sin and live. And here is the answer to the question what is the meaning of life; The meaning of life is to be loved by God through Christ. And from this comes our loving of Christ when we agree unilaterally and unconditionally with everything that He has revealed to us in His Word. Finding your life, as Matthew reminded us of, is about the losing your lives in order to receive the life of forgiveness, mercy and grace that Christ has set his face to Jerusalem to procure for all. This is the cost of following Jesus, losing yourself, your selfish desires and finding that Christ your Lord has found you, given you purpose, life, and forgiveness.
What does it look like to follow Jesus? In our text Christ sent His called messengers to make preparations for Him, that model hasn’t changed. Today messengers have been sent for the very same purpose, to proclaim the coming again of the Savior of the Nations, the very One who has been sent for true liberty from sin of all His followers, the one who still comes in Word and sacrament to set you, me and all free from the bondage of sin, not in order that we may continue to sin but rather to set us apart, from sin, from temptation as we pray in the Lord’s prayer, from death and from the pitfalls of the Evil One.
In Jesus day; the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. So it shall be for you and me; in our own day the words of Christ will not be received just as they were cast away in Jesus day. There will be many who do not receive him, because of what Isaiah reminds us of; “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that you will not hear. (Isaiah 59:2) Yet, fire shall not rain down from heaven upon these now, Christ’s business is still the salvation of Souls, even these whom we may know as family and friends, whose sins have hidden the Saviors face and cannot hear, are still being pursued. Those who are baptized, yet have renounced this gift, those whose fear forces them on the insistence that they must take care of themselves, are still sought, still loved and are still cherished; should they perish in their sin God will not delight, indeed He suffers greatly still over all who are perishing, for Ours is the God who sent His Son for all, not that we may be judged guilty and die, but that we might repent and live.
Jesus set His face and went to His death for you. Brother’s and Sister’s where you and I are half-hearted in your attempts to follow Him, He wholeheartedly shed His blood and breathed His last on the cross for you. Where you would value people, civil freedoms and social justices or your own life over following Him, the sinless Son of God gave up everything— even His own life—in order to redeem you, to save you from idolatry, to make you His follower forever.
This news of His selfless sacrifice is not a guilt trip, a way to beat you up with the news that He’s better at this than you. It’s the good news that your faith and your salvation is not built upon your commitment to Jesus. Your faith, indeed your salvation, is founded on Jesus’ commitment to you. And where daily you falter in your following Him, He does not reign fire from heaven down on you, nor does He reign down the fire from heaven on those insist that they want nothing to do with Jesus; God does not desire the death of sinners as He reminds us in Ezekiel 18:23; Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? God does not desire the death of the wicked, instead He still ceaselessly offers you grace upon grace so that you might be His forever.
Dear friends, give thanks for the Savior who purposefully set His face for Jerusalem for you. It is for your salvation, for your eternal deliverance that He does so. He has died, and risen for you. The face once set on Jerusalem defined who you are and more importantly whose you are. He has set His face to Jerusalem that you might know that the meaning of life is to follow Jesus, to hear His word, to be fed by His gifts, to be forgiven of your sins, to receive His mercies new each day. He set His face on Jerusalem to save you, from sin, from death and from the power of the Devil. His face now shines upon you and is gracious unto you. He gives you all good things, people and possessions; to take care of, to teach, to forgive, to love with the self-less sacrificing love of Christ.
Let us Suffer here with Jesus, to His image e’er conform; Heaven’s glory soon will please us, Sunshine follow on the storm. Though we sow in tears of sorrow, we shall reap with heavenly joy; And the fears that now annoy shall be laughter on the morrow. Christ, I suffer here with Thee; There, oh, share Thy Joy with me! Amen.