I invite you to pray with me:
Spirit of the living God, rush into us today with life. Give us something to help us breath again. Feed our spirits, open our ears, so that we might hear something that matters. Something that inspires and uplifts. Something that turns our hearts towards you. AMEN
Hear the first verse from our Gospel lesson again: When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. This verse is the hinge upon which Luke’s gospel turns. This is where Jesus’ ministry in Galilee ends and his journey to Jerusalem begins.
But this is no simple missionary trip for Jesus. He is not going there to do what he can to help out. No, this is a mission in which Jesus stirs up the masses, by giving power to the powerless, love to the unloveable, food to the hungry, and healing to the sick. This is a mission through which he will pour out all of his life all in the name of love. Jesus will stand on the side economic equality and non-violence, which means he stands on the side of the oppressed and as such, he is one big trouble-maker. You see Jesus wants to bring about the kingdom of God, where fullness of life abounds and where evil, injustice, and violence are no more. Jesus wanted to bring about the Kingdom of God, not the Kingdom of Rome, which thrives on oppressing the weak in search of power. But Rome will will have none of what Jesus is selling. It wasn’t in their best interest to have a guy like Jesus hanging around, promoting the Kingdom of God. They were to be the final Kingdom in the history of the World.
If Rome is the ruler of the world, Jerusalem and the temple authorities are its henchmen. Jerusalem, the city that was once known as God’s dwelling place, had become the center of oppression, exploitation, and the betrayer of God’s covenant. Later, filled with sorrow, even Jesus will cry out, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” (Luke 13:34)
And yet…Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem. Jesus knew what he had to do; with his passion for love driving him, he could look no other way. If he were to fulfill his calling to bring about the Kingdom of God, where fullness of life abounds and where evil, injustice, and violence are no more, Jesus would have to go into the heart of the oppression – Jerusalem, the darkest place on earth.
And he does this because he loves these people. So much that he is willing to die showing them that. And he does this because he believes that it is never too late. Never too late to love again. To find life again. And so Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem, because fulfillment will not come unless he goes into the darkness.
And so it is for us. Finding the Kingdom of God, finding fullness of life, comes only when we turn ourselves towards the darkness of the world. Seeing the painful parts of life, and setting our faces towards it.
But the problem is, we are so good at avoiding the darkness. America lives according to the gospel of Bobby Mcferrin, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Celebrities gloss over the pain of their divorce by saying, “It was a mutual decision. And, it’s okay because we are still good friends,” instead of saying what they are really thinking- “This is never what I dreamed for myself. This isn’t what I hoped for.”
It’s like a friend of mine whose parents are just short of divorcing. It likely won’t be long. The parents already live separately and they’re barely talking. But when he and I talk about it, he says, “It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s not a big deal” as his eyes dart everywhere around, hoping I won’t see into them. And you and I both know that pain is simply being pushed further and further down, until the day he takes it out on his kid, or until the day he finds that alcohol just seems to make it go away…for awhile.
Or it’s like a young woman, Jessica, that my wife Lauren and I know, who lives in the South. And where she lives is paradise. Her life is filled with photo shoots on the beach, dinner out at expensive restaurants, and parties with her friends in a town where breast implants and botox injections come standard for people in their twenties. But the truth of the matter is, Jessica doesn’t know where her husband is when she wakes up. You see, they don’t go to bed together anymore, and their communication is so broken that they forget to tell each other where they are going. And while that life might seem like paradise, it is a plastic paradise. It isn’t real. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Jessica lays awake at night wondering how things got to be this way, saying “This is never what I dreamed of for myself. This isn’t what I hoped for.” And you and I both know that pain is simply being pushed further and further down, until…who knows.
We are so good at avoiding the darkness. But who can blame us? Life just doesn’t seem to deliver to us what we expect, does it? Life delivers the pain of our children beating us to the grave. Or the pain of no children at all. Life delivers cancer that silently sneaks up on us. Brain tumors, gun violence, oil spills, strokes, addictions, dwindling endowments, and dysfunctional families. But the thing is, if we turn our back on it, if we avoid the darkness as if isn’t there, it’ll will consume us.
We are so good at avoiding the darkness. And yet, fullness of life will not come unless we turn ourselves towards the darkness.
And so Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem, the darkest place on earth.
If you turn yourself towards that which is painful in life, if you stare into the darkness, if you reconcile the mortality of life, if you recognize your limitations, if you acknowledge your broken heart…strangely you will find fullness of life. Because you will consume it; it will not consume you. You will bring it into yourself and it will become a part of you, but it won’t have the power to become all of you. It might describe a part of you, but it will not define you. By going into the darkness, you release its power over you and your fear of it. By facing it and engaging it, you are able to integrate it and move on. Life won’t look like what it used to. In fact it might still feel quite painful and a lot like death, but rumor has it, God has a habit of bringing life out of death.
A professor at seminary told a story once about a woman from her congregation. She was about 85. Her husband had died a few years ago. And one day she comes up to this my professor and says, “Pastor, can we talk? I don’t know why but I feel like I have to tell you something I’ve never told anyone. When I was about 25, I had a child. I remember giving birth. But the moment that baby came out of me, the whole room went quiet and they rushed the baby out of the room, without even giving me a glimpse. It turns out, the baby died in my womb. And no one ever said a word about it to me. My family buried the baby while I was still in the hospital and it was never spoken of. Not once.”
Sensing the profoundness of this moment, my professor rightly asked, “Would you like to have a funeral for your child?” To which the woman responded, “Yes, I think I would.”
So the two of them trudged out to the gravesite that had never been visited. They stood by the headstone, they said some prayers, they lit a candle. And by the end, a little light had begun to shine into her darkness.
Fullness of life will not come unless you go into the darkness. You don’t see the light shining into the darkness unless you go into the darkness.And it is never too late to find light. Now matter how twisted, broken, and messed up life has been, it is never too late to find life again.
And so Jesus turned and set his face towards Jerusalem, the darkest place on earth. And the only thing reflecting in his eyes was a cross. The place where he will die with his arms open to the world, like a hen gathering her brood, all in the name of love. Whether you are clear in what you believe or not clear at all, when you see a cross, be reminded of a God who goes with us into the darkest places in search of life.
Today is a good day to face the hard things. Not tomorrow. Not next week. Today. The time is now. Set your face towards Jerusalem and don’t look back. This is the road to life.
May it be so.