Single-Minded Purpose

“Faith can be expressed and experienced in a variety of ways, but there comes a time in each one’s journey when it is necessary clearly and unequivocally to declare the depth of that commitment.  God’s palce in our lives is neither a matter of convenience nor something that can be taken for granted or assumed.  Unlike other human endeavors, our commitment to God is a heartfelt matter, rather than the result of a logical decision-making process.  When choosing to turn with Jesus “to go to Jerusalem,” factors such as love and grace play a far greater role than criteria such as length of association or depth of knowledge.  Adopting a life of discipleship cannot be a part-time or momentary commitment.  It is a life-changing shift in direction and priorities, in which our human needs and wants become subservient to the call of our Lord.”  (Richard J. Shaffer, Jr., Associate Dean, University of Dubuque Theological Seminary)

The seemingly simple call, “Follow me,” is far from simple.  Today we will look at a text that is associated with our call to discipleship and  seek to better understand the underlying purpose that God has in mind when disciples are called, even today.  Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem and begins a resolute journey that ultimately leads to his overwhelming sacrifice and ultimate triumph over death.  How are we also called to follow His lead?  What might it mean for us to adopt a single-minded purpose?  Join me as we explore God’s word together.

“Single-Minded Purpose”
Sunday, June 26, 2016
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 9:51-62, NRSV

“He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (51)  Jesus is determined to fulfill his destiny and complete his mission.  He “set his face” – set his jaw; locked-in on his next steps; focused on his objective.  We often hear this story and interpret it as a call to discipleship.  Jesus sets the example, leads the way and we are expected to follow.  Certainly there is some of that available in this passage.  Sometimes we hear this story as a testament to Jesus as an unselfish hero.  Knowing his fate, he sets off to Jerusalem to make his final sacrifice.  This element is there in the story as well.  Underneath this narrative is another element I want to explore this morning.  The heart of this passage is a single-minded purpose prompted by God’s profound love for humanity and the entire world.

Let us prayLord, lead us to discover your single-minded purpose for our lives.  We pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

At the turning point of C.S. Lewis’ beloved The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, several major characters encourage each other with reports that Aslan, the great lion and true ruler of oppressed Narnia, has reappeared to fight the evil witch.  Their words are simple, yet powerful: “Aslan is on the move.”  Today’s reading comes at a turning point in Luke’s gospel where Jesus turns toward Jerusalem and the cross.  The journey may not be along the most direct path, but clearly it is a journey with a very specific purpose and Jesus is on the move.  Fans of C.S. Lewis and his Chronicles of Narnia will know that Aslan represents a messianic figure, destined to save his world.  As new readers, when we first hear those words, “Aslan is on the move,” we don’t yet know who Aslan is, what his purpose might be, or whether to trust him or not.

It seems to me that first-time readers of the gospel might have similar questions about Jesus.

  • Who is this man?
  • Where did he come from and where is he going?
  • What is his real motivation?

Luke and Mr. Lewis share the ability to reveal the essence of their story layer-by-layer.  Luke uses his entire narrative to slowly reveal the complete picture of Jesus so that the reader might come to know him thoroughly.  In some ways, Luke’s narrative is difficult to follow if we try too hard to figure out its chronology or the map coordinates of each episode.  The real point is that Luke’s Jesus is on a theological journey, where the map is irrelevant.  The stories Luke shares reveal Jesus, layer-by-layer…

  • The character of Jesus;
  • The Father who sent him;
  • And the mission Jesus has been sent to accomplish.

The first half of our story today tells of a visit to a Samaritan village that refuses to receive Jesus, “Because his face was set toward Jerusalem.”  The Samaritans, you will recall, are a sect of Jews who dispute Jerusalem as the center of Judaism.  It is possible they refuse him because he is taking his fight to Jerusalem; the story offers no explanation; we can only speculate.  But maybe the reason doesn’t matter.  What matters is the reaction from the disciples: “Hey, Jesus, you want us to call down fire on their village and wipe ‘em out?”  In their defense, they remember stories of Elijah calling down fire to destroy his enemies – TWICE.  And, it was just a few days ago when they saw Jesus on the mountain talking to Moses and Elijah.  It’s easy to see how they’d jump right to the thermo-nuclear solution.  But Jesus says, “War’s not the answer, guys, give peace a chance,” and they move on down the road.

This is significant because it reminds us that violence and revenge are not part of Jesus’ vision.  He is driven by the single purpose of his mission and he will not be distracted by this minor rejection.  Understanding this helps us to ease into what seems like some harsh teaching from Jesus.  The challenges Jesus lays out for his would-be followers are pretty demanding.

  • If you want to follow me, you may be homeless and poor.
  • If you want to follow me, you won’t have time to mourn your own losses.
  • If you want to follow me, you don’t have time to say goodbye to your old life, just leave it behind.
  • If you want to follow me – NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.

Wow, he really makes discipleship sound like fun, doesn’t he!

The thing is, I don’t want to scare you away from discipleship and I don’t believe Jesus does either.  I think there is something more important going on here.  This story and the whole narrative arc of Luke’s gospel is about Jesus’ commitment to embrace the cross for the sake of the world.  Jesus’ single-minded purpose is LOVE and it is prompted by God’s profound love for humanity and the world.

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.”  (John 3:16, CEB)

Jesus does not seek revenge against the Samaritans who reject him, not simply because it doesn’t fit into his vision, but also because it is fundamentally incompatible with his very identity and mission.  To live according to this single-minded purpose we must see that this love of God’s runs contrary to our human conceptions of love.

Everything – friendships, relationships, family connections, even our discipleship – looks different when viewed through the lens of God’s unconditional, sacrificial love.  

To follow Jesus with his single-minded purpose may be difficult for some of us.  Can we truly embrace this kind of love and realize that every person – no matter what – is loved by God?  Notice I did not say everyone deserves God’s love; everyone is loved anyway.

So I, like many of you, have taken in much of the news that has come in over the past two weeks following the horrific shooting in Orlando and the many follow-up reports and reactions to this tragedy.  I have heard the arguments over gun control; the political rhetoric about Muslim extremists; and the hateful comments about the LGBT community in general.  Amidst all the talking heads, what struck me most was that 50 of our brothers and sisters died on June 12th.  All 50 of these persons were loved by God; even the man who pulled the trigger.  The talking heads want to be sure we know that this tragedy took place at a gay night club; they want to be sure we know the shooter was a Muslim.  What haunts me is that the parents of these young people had to receive the unthinkable news that their son, their daughter had died that night.  As a parent I cannot imagine hearing such news.  Then I imagine that some of these parents may also have heard, for the first time that night, their daughter, their son was lesbian, or gay, or bi-sexual, or transgender.  Families were rocked to their core and robbed of the full story of lives now lost.  Opportunities for love and understanding were taken away forever.  The tragedy in Orlando serves to highlight how much our culture needs to hear about the love of God and how silent we continue to be.

So what is there to do; for this church, for “The Church”?  Jesus told us very simply what to do: Love God. Love Others. Change the world.

Dr. Andy Stoker, pastor of First UMC in Dallas had this to say last Sunday: “It’s time to break silences.  It’s time to tear away closets.  It’s time to open doors and open lives and open hearts and open arms to the needs of those who need to hear, from us, that everyone is loved, not only by God, but by the church.  It is time.  It is time that we stand together as one people, one people of faith putting on the clothing of Christ so the whole world knows that we will no longer be silent.”

I am not only talking about LGBT issues, I am talking about any issue where the value of an individual is diminished.  I am talking about any policy that sets one group of people above another group.  I am talking about every instance of hate-speech that seeks to divide us or set us against one another.  Orlando is just an example of what we are up against.

I bring this up today because our very lives depend on it…Our eternal lives – with or without God.  In the end we will not be judged by our voting record or political party affiliation.  In the end we will not be asked where we worked, or where we went to school, or what our sexual orientation may be.  In the end we will be judged on one thing: DID WE LOVE?  Did we love God?  Did we love each other as God loved us?  Did we tell everyone we met that every single person – no matter what – is loved by God?  That was the single-minded purpose of Jesus Christ: To love and to show us how to love.  What would the world look like if every human being lived like that?  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.