Single-minded, faithful to our vocational journey!
A sermon preached at St Mary’s Iffley
by Andrew McKearney on 30 June 2019
It’s such a special moment for us as Nikolaj joins us here at St Mary’s. Yesterday he was ordained a deacon and for the next year or so he’ll serve amongst us as a deacon. Then, God willing, he’ll be ordained a priest and for two or three years after that he’ll serve amongst us as a priest. What a privilege for us to share with Nikolaj on his vocational journey!
So what might today’s gospel have to say to us?
At first sight it’s a bit disconcerting! We may be put off by the demands that Jesus makes of those who wish to join him on his vocational journey!• You must be prepared to not even have a roof over your head – I hope we’ve repaired everything that needs to be fixed in Nikolaj and Hannah’s home!• You’re not allowed to perform the important family and religious duty of burying your own father – with both Hannah’s father and Nikolaj’s father here with us this morning, I don’t know what to say to that!• And the common decency of saying goodbye to those at home is denied – with a baby on the way that’s never going to happen!
So can we take anything from this gospel passage?
Context is always important! Jesus has just started out onhis journey to Jerusalem. We heard Luke describe it with great weight:
‘When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up,
he set his face to go to Jerusalem.’
This was clearly not a parish jolly!
In fact whenever Jesus’ journey is described there’s an overwhelming sense of purpose about it. Once he’s started on this journey, Luke reminds us again and again that Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem even though the route that Luke describes is absurd and his sense of geography hopeless!
Never mind! Luke is trying to be faithful not to the outer story – whether Jesus went to this village or that – but to the inner story. And dominating that inner story is the fact that early on in his ministry Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem.
Matthew, Mark and Luke know of only one journey that Jesus makes to Jerusalem, John’s gospel tells of a number of occasions. John may well be truer to the outercircumstances of Jesus’ life that Jesus did go there a number of times but the other gospels may well be more faithful to the inner story. Jesus knew very early on that his vocational journey was in only one direction – and that was towards Jerusalem!
But why go there at all?
Jesus takes the road to Jerusalem, not because he wants to but because he has to. There’s a deeper reason to go to Jerusalem than can be fitted into human categories! It’s in obedience to divine pressure that Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem, knowing full well what this means!
At one point on this journey, Jesus cries out:
‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and
stones those who are sent to it!’
At another point Jesus says starkly:
‘I must be on my way, because it’s impossible for a
prophet to be killed away from Jerusalem.’
And when Jesus finally comes near the city he does nothing but weep over it.
His journey to Jerusalem is not a casual journey but a vocational one!
So what does he take with him?
No animal is mentioned until the arrival in Jerusalem when a donkey is borrowed for the purpose. There’s no evidence that Jesus ever carried a sword, though it may be that some of his disciples did.
But what Jesus does take with him is his small group of disciples.
Company clearly mattered to Jesus, though he had some problems with the company he kept! We just heard how James and John want to torch a Samaritan village!
Perhaps I’ve said enough for us to be able to put into context the demands Jesus places on those who wish to come on this journey with him.
‘I will follow you wherever you go’ someone says.
Do they know where Jesus is going?! Do they know why?! Do they know the likely outcome?!
‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air nests;
but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
Jesus does want others to join him, but there simply isn’t time to go and bury the dead or even say farewell. The divine pressure is such that the only suitable response is to be utterly single-minded:
‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back,
is fit for the Kingdom of God.’
It’s such an interesting image that Jesus uses!
You hold the plough in your left hand, keeping it upright, regulating its depth by pressing down or lifting it up, and watching out for rocks and stones.
And in your right hand you hold a long pointed stick with an iron spike at the end, which you use to control and direct the oxen as they pull the plough!
And all the time you’re trying to plough a straight furrow with these two moving objects in your hands!
The only way to succeed is to fix your eyes on an object up ahead so you don’t deviate to right or left.
It embodies perfectly Jesus’ mindset and if you want to join him it has to be yours too!
So perhaps there is something both we and Nikolaj can take from this gospel passage.
It was Saint Paul who wrote that we are to have the same mind in us as was in Christ Jesus:
Single-minded, faithful to our vocational journey!