Someone once said, “Being in church does not make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of being in church on Sunday. I do it myself quite frequently! I also enjoy puttering around in my garage, which I do for amusement or to complete a chore. But, setting aside Sunday as a special time to enjoy my relationship with God, and with you, my fellow travelers, is part of my lifestyle. That lifestyle, seeking to understand and enjoy the presence of God in my life by following the life and teachings of Jesus, is a commitment. A commitment I made, not out of fear of being hurled into a fiery furnace – although the thought does occur to me from time to time. It doesn’t come out of trying to look like I’m better than anyone else. In fact, in these days, to be seen as a religious person can be taken as being simple-minded, or a fanatic who sits in judgement of others.
No. My commitment, my Christian lifestyle, such as it is, is a result of getting glimpses of the Divine, of experiencing the overwhelmingly fulfilling completeness or wholeness of God’s love. Not all the time, not as frequently as I would like, but enough that my soul, my heart, and my mind hunger for more. I’m sure many of you know this feeling, or you would not be here. You, too, have felt that “tug” in your heart, provoking a certain sense of purpose in your life, or, in others, a lack of purpose, an emptiness, what one writer calls, “a God-shaped hole” in our lives that nothing else can fill – not drugs, not alcohol, not sex, wealth, possessions, or worldy power.
Only God’s love can fill that hole, that empty space, that need. Only God’s love can supply or lead us to that fulfillment.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem. Luke really wants us to understand how determined Jesus is to get there, he uses that phrase twice! This is a turning point in the life of Jesus. His public ministry, his days of preaching and healing in the midst of multitudes are over. The next large crowd he encounters will be those gathered as he enters Jerusalem, an event we remember on Palm Sunday.
He sets his face toward Jerusalem, but he does more. He and his closest associates begin that journey. Jesus understands that at the end of the journey lies his betrayal, torture and death. Nevertheless, he sets his face toward Jerusalem. Nothing and no one will distract or dissuade him from this journey. The Samaritans won’t welcome him? No problem, we’ll just go around them. People along the way want to join him, completely unaware of where he is going and what is going to happen to him. They know this Jesus, or they think they do. He is a great healer, a great teacher. He has a way of putting powerful people in their place, and a way of recognizing and celebrating the importance of the poor and the outcast. He is a celebrity, a force, and people want to be a part of the action!
But, first, they have things to do. Important, human things, things which can’t wait. And there’s the problem. Jesus, also, can’t wait. Is Jesus angry with them because they have these things to do? Does he condemn them for not dropping everything, as the apostles did, and follow him? No, I don’t think so. Jesus knows he is on his final journey. This is not a good time to take on new acolytes. All of Jesus’ energy, strength, heart, mind, and soul will be needed for his final days. Jesus is not rebuking these new, would-be followers. He is lamenting how the condition of being human comes with limitations. Jesus, being fully human as well as fully divine, knows full well these limitations. He understands how hard it is for us to follow him. He understands how our lives quickly fill up with commitments to family and community. How, for better or worse we arrange our societies for the common good, or to benefit a few at the expense of many. Being human is hard. Being human in a society which builds barriers on that road to the common good is even harder.
And here’s the paradox. If we want to follow Jesus, if we choose to live more fully in God’s love, we must engage and challenge the obstacles in this world. We must heed the call to remove those barriers on the path to the common good. Barriers, like our failure to come to grips with gun violence, or violence of any kind. Barriers, like sexism, racism, ageism. Barriers that keep us from providing affordable housing, fair wages, decent working conditions. Barriers that keep us from welcoming people fleeing their homes and countries because of war, or to better the lives of their families. The list goes on, but all these barriers have one thing in common. They are built out of fear, and fear can be overcome!
With the confidence of living in God’s love, and emboldened by having God’s peace in our hearts, we can overcome fear. And when fear is overcome, the foundations upon which those barriers are built are destroyed, and they can no longer stand.
Again, Jesus gives us the way. Jesus doesn’t want to enter Jerusalem because he knows the heartache, pain and death which awaits him. Yet, he gathers his friends around him and sets his face toward Jerusalem.
We, too, need to set our face to what we are called. With Jesus in our lives, and our friends gathered around us, we can walk that road, together, into Jerusalem. We can start removing those barriers, start building a better society based on hope, not fear.
Set your face toward Jesus. Gather your friends around you, start walking, and keep your face set on Jesus. When we do that, then we can live in hope. When we live in hope, then, together, we can proudly and truly proclaim the words of that song, “Deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome”. We shall overcome! We shall overcome!