Third Sunday After Pentecost
“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.”
About half of our church year – from the first Sunday in Advent, usually around the end of November, right up through Pentecost and Trinity Sunday just a few weeks ago – is a portion of the year where we focus on the life of our Saviour, Jesus. We begin with the prophetic proclamations of the coming of the Saviour through the readings from the ancient prophets in Advent, through Jesus’ birth, through the Epiphany in January, through his journey to Jerusalem and the cross, his ascension to the right hand of the Father, and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
In those first six months all of our readings tell us the story of our salvation: how God took on human flesh in the form of His son, Jesus, died on the cross for us, and rose again from the dead. But the next number of months, until we begin the year over again, have a slightly different focus. It’s a time that has traditionally been called Trinity Season, though now we call it Ordinary Time, though there is little that is ordinary about it.
Through the coming months we will hear in the Gospel lessons stories from Jesus’ life and ministry, while we hear selections from St. Paul’s Epistles alongside them. And the main thrust and meaning of what we will be hearing, when you look at it altogether, the real theme of it all is this: now that we’ve gone from Advent to Pentecost and we have heard the incredible story of how God, through his love and mercy, has come to save us, it’s time for us to think about how we are to live in the light of that. These coming months are kind of like the, “Okay, great, so now what?” kind of answer to the first half of our church year.
Because if you’re anything like me, it’s not hard to feel ‘on’ or engaged, or quickened, or activated during exciting times in our lives, or during emergencies, or crises. But it’s much harder to be engaged, and active, and alert during the slowness, the monotony of every day life. How many of us can hop-to and lend a hand to a friend in an emergency, but have dozens of unfinished projects sitting around the house that, “we’re going to get around to”? I have wanted to put a garden bed in at the Rectory for almost three years; I finally did it last week and it took me two hours. I have whole bookshelves at home as testaments to the ways that I can get distracted and easily put things off.
But our readings for today are laying out for us the difficulty that leading the Christian life can bring, and trying to help us to understand that the same distractions, the same procrastinations, the same lethargy that we face in every day life which can threaten our reading, or our garden beds or our house projects, can equally threaten our walks with Christ.
In our Gospel reading today Jesus is wrapping up his ministry in Galilee and, as the reading says, is beginning his journey towards the cross and so he, “sets his face to go to Jerusalem.”
As he continues on the way would-be followers of his begin to appear and announce their commitment to Jesus, that they will follow him wherever he goes, and he invites them to, each time reminding them that this narrow path is not an easy one to tread.
To the first he says that the Son of Man, unlike the animals, will have no place to lay his head. Our walks with Christ can sometimes leave us feeling a bit alienated or homeless in our lives, maybe feeling a bit set-apart from the rest of the world that seems so fixated on those worldly sins that Paul mentions in his Epistle today, things that even we can fall into.
The second and third would-be-followers each desire to come with him, but have an, “Yes absolutely I’ll follow you! But first I have to take care of myself” moment – the one burying his dead father, the other saying goodbye to his family.
Jesus’ reminds them both that to journey with him one must be prepared to forsake and leave behind our old lives – physically and spiritually; just as a person ploughing a field must keep their eyes forward to ensure the lines and furrows and straight, deep, and good for planting, we need to keep our gaze forward on Him.
These last two should remind us a bit of the disciples, followers of Jesus’ who themselves forsook all, leaving net and boat, family and friends to follow Him; but people, Jesus knows, who will – like us – be tempted to put what is most important in second place, tempted to keep glancing back over their shoulders at that old life, rather than straight ahead on the bright horizon.
This isn’t at all easy. Following Jesus means making an often uncomfortable break with the priorities and attitudes that we are most accustomed to in our daily lives.
Yet Jesus’ words in the Gospel today are not, I think, saying that we cannot or should not bury our loved ones or be with our families; but it is teaching us that even our families, our friends, our passions, our desires for things in this world can all be things that get in the way of our faith when we put them first. Family, friends, hobbies – all great things, but not if they distract us from our Christian life, and love of God.
Jesus calls us to follow and our answer must not be, “Yes Lord, but first…” it must simply be “yes”.
Yet time and again we will fail in this task. Time and again I will get distracted and tired, I’ll put prayer second and Netflix first. Time and again we let our faith become another one of those un-done things sitting on the to-do list or unfinished projects on the workbench.
But our walk with Christ is just that – a walk, a journey– something ongoing, something that is happening and unfolding each and every day, right now in this moment, and throughout the rest of our lives.
The hope of this passage and our readings today, I think, is that while we are going to fall off the wagon, as it were, and over and over give in to distractions and temptations that lure us away from our relationship with God, we are guided by a saviour who is with us on and off the path, one who helps us over and over to set our faces upon Him. And this we sing out today in our hymn:
Help me the slow of heart to move
by some clear, winning word of love;
teach me the wayward feet to stay,
and guide them in the homeward way.