When the days drew near for [Jesus] 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. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."
Every once in a while, I ask myself this question, “What is God doing in my life these days?” As Christians, we believe that God works in our lives, so there must be some indication of God doing something: what is it? If I cannot discern God’s presence, does that mean God is not doing what was promised—that God would be with me, even to the end?
Is God keeping, me mindful of the needs of others? We often close our prayers with that simple petition, “keep us ever mindful of the needs of others.” Is God doing that for you? Or, maybe God is protecting you from pain and hardship? Certainly that should be at the top of our list of priorities. Who wants to experience pain and suffering when we have a relationship with the Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth? Might God be showing you the way to eternal life? I want to live in the assurance of everlasting life forever with God in His heavenly kingdom and I hope that He is showing me the way. But, how can I be sure? I know of no fail-safe road map for us human beings and God seems remarkably quiet on this subject. Is God doing anything for you today?
In the Gospel of Luke Jesus is traveling through Samaritan-ville and he has “set his face toward Jerusalem.” He is not to be deterred in this journey which he has undertaken with unwavering determination. His path will not be upset—by Samaritans or his disciples. But, his disciples are once again trying their best to understand Jesus’ message about discipleship—so Jesus tries to make it simple. First, be willing to let go of the past—move on. Try new things. Visit new places—court new friends. You cannot change the past so move on trying to eliminate the mistakes we made in days gone by. Second, there comes a time when we must leave the comforts of home for the uncertainties of the road. Living on the road doesn't have to be uncomfortable—but it may be. Don’t let that dissuade you from taking on new adventures. And finally, once you have made the decision to strike out, keep your face toward that destination and don’t look backward—it just puts you off course. Never look back once your decision is set because any deviation from the path will result in your journey not staying true and in line toward your destination.
We use lots of pilgrim talk when we talk about Christians and the Christian way. But, in many ways we are nomads traveling in the uncharted waters of the Christian life. We live in a land that is foreign to us and we work in hostile and frightening conditions. Most of the world sees things differently than we see them and to make matters worse, we have no home or fixed workplace. Like aliens—strangers in a strange land, we live a spiritual life in a physical existence. But we are also like pilgrims in that we don’t wander aimlessly. We who are true disciples and have set our faces toward Jerusalem have a final destination—to spend eternity with God, the one from whose love nothing can separate us. Because we have chosen to follow Jesus, he will lead us to new ways of living and new places to be with him.
As I was growing up in northern Indiana my Grandpa loved to take me on long rides through the country-side. I never knew our destination, when we would arrive, or at what time we would return. Grandpa knew the location of every covered bridge in the county, and where the best pie could be had in any direction from our current location. What more could a young boy what but flowing river water, a covered bridge, and pie? Life was good. But one thing was missing from our trips into the Indiana countryside—control. As a child I didn’t need to have control, but as I grew older control was a commodity that was sorely missed when it was not present.
I don’t know where the need to be in control comes from, but I do know that most adults have that need to some degree or another. We need to be in control—to finish our business before moving on to another task. We must bury our dead—we must hold onto our past as we move into the future. And we must longingly remember the details of the works we have done in ages long ago, as we contemplate what and how we will accomplish our future goals.
It can be very hard to interrupt our plans in order to follow Jesus. It is hard to take our lives calling with us during our day’s work; difficult to burn even a single hour in the week to worship God when we have so many other more pressing thing to tend. And while praying each day seems like a simple request, it is hard to remember to follow through with even that small task: or to study scripture, or be the hands and arms of God in the world, or be in fellowship with fellow Christians, or to give God from our first fruits—and not our excess. Our need for control is simply too strong.
And through all this cloud of illusion Jesus knows we are not really in control at all. Jesus demanded his mission come first, and that our control in mere illusion. Think of all the things that can ruin our best laid plans; poor health, natural disasters, the rulings of empires, and death—just to name a few. Our illusion of control confuses us into believing we have any control at all—we do not. So why not give into the reality of the situation? If you are tired of the unexpected ruining your plans; if you are tired of the unexpected taking up residence in the middle of your life and heart; if you are continually interrupted and disappointed, and feel inadequate or insufficient, I invite you to turn over the last small vestiges of control to God.
Ask yourself, why have I made no time in my life for the one who could turn lack of control into something so much more beautiful and inviting than control ever could be. Ask yourself, in your pursuit of control, are you sacrificing a relationship with God for the illusion of control over your life?
All Jesus wants is for us to ask him into our out-of-control lives—and become children of God.
Control is not a choice between us in control or Jesus in control. We have never been in control and could never be. Jesus doesn't go to Jerusalem to place himself in control. Jesus puts himself fully into our out-of-control lives and comes out the other side with us. The promise of the Gospel is not that we can be in control, or even that God is in control; rather God in Jesus joins us in our out-of-control-ness, and holds onto us, comforts us, advises us, and brings us to the other side.
This is the true promise of the Gospel of Christ: that letting go and walking with Jesus allows us the freest of freedoms; to let go of control and let Jesus be our guide through darkness into light, through the wilderness and into fresh pastures, through sickness into health, and through death into life.
This promise may not seem to be worth the oath upon which is was given but think about the hope it gives us after a few days of grieving the death of a loved one: Think of the encouragement you might receive after a few months on chemo, or while awaiting a transplant. This may not seem like much of a promise until you are facing—all alone—the prospect of recovery from addiction, abuse, or abandonment.
This may not sound like much of a promise, but at least it sounds real and trustworthy. It doesn't pin our hopes and dreams on some magical mystery tour of medieval theology but on the reality we know and can experience every day when we let go … and let God.
The world is a terribly chaotic and unsettling place, even with all we do to stay in control. So why not give up the illusion, end the games, take some risks, and throw ourselves into the work of living our lives as best we can in this violent but beautiful world in which we live. This is the world God loves so much and made for us to be with Him. Let’s trust that God will be with us in our adventure, that He will hold us together through all our ups and downs, through our pain and suffering, through our grieving and yearning. Let’s trust that God will guide us in our disappointments and heartaches and bring us in time to the other side where we will stand together wiping the sweat from our brows, laughing hysterically through our tears of joy and reunion, and greeting each other; “Alleluia, Alleluia, it was all true! Thanks be to God. Alleluia!”