Monday, June 27, 2016
Setting Our Faces Towards Other Places: Sermon, June 26, 2016
I have been asked about yesterday's sermon by some, so will be posting it here on my blog. It was a beautiful service yesterday as I said my farewell to the UMC of Rancho Cordova Community I have been a part of these last six years.
UMC of Rancho Cordova
Sermon, June 26, 2016
“Setting Our Faces Towards Other Places”
Pastor Andrew Davis
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I love a good trip. Anytime there is a trip involved, there is that time of anticipation in the planning and dreaming. Then before long, it is time to pack, then like a kid on Christmas morning, there is the excitement of actually leaving for that trip, whether it is by air, train, ship, or car. But it feels like there is so much preparation that needs to happen before traveling. And packing is not necessarily my favorite part, plus Murphy’s Law, you know, whatever can go wrong will go wrong sometimes happens while getting ready or as the trip starts. But it is so easy to have our faces turned towards the trip while at the same time, we don’t want to forget all the details that need to happen before actually leaving.
Well, four years ago this August, I finally had my face towards Washington, DC and the beginning of a whole new adventure…seminary. Seminary was something I did not think I would ever do, much less getting ready to pastor a church like I am later this week. I did not intend to go to seminary when I did, but God has a crafty way of getting our attention, sometimes closing one door in order to point towards a different door. We may have our face turned one direction, only to hit a dead end, or be forced to make a full U-turn. Sometimes God likes to set our faces towards different places in order to open our eyes to see a bigger picture and what is possible when we choose to follow God’s path. Yet it is so, so easy to be comfortable. But sometimes, being in a comfortable and safe place is not always for the best.
While I enjoyed most of my nine-year career with Raley’s before seminary, I always felt there was something more I could be doing, but couldn’t necessarily put my finger on it even though several people through the years told me I should consider ministry. I felt I wasn’t faithful enough, which was a blind excuse to cover my fears and uncertainties. Little did I know that what was a major disappointment in the short-term five years ago ended up being that dead-end and U-turn that God put before me at the time and led me on this pathway, a pathway I did not see at the time because I had my face towards being a music educator and minister of music in the church. It was a pathway that opened my eyes at what was possible, plus reading most of Rev. Mike Slaughter’s book, Change the World during a flight from Denver to Sacramento also opened my eyes further at what was possible as opposed to what isn’t possible. It was possible for me to go in a different vocational path, yet I knew the way would still be challenging. But as Pastor Tina would regularly share early on in her time here and as Pastor JoAnn continues to challenge us today, the way is never easy, nor was it meant to be easy even though I certainly wanted the easy road. Hence why it’s sometimes easier to resist the call of God to ministry much less the call to discipleship. Sometimes it’s easier said than done to set our faces towards other places.
So it actually comes as no surprise that our Gospel lesson this morning is one of the most challenging texts to hear from Jesus as he sets his face to another place. See, Jesus and the disciples are on the road, but it is not an ordinary road trip, nor an easy road to be on because this is the road that Jesus will ultimately take to his death. When I was studying the New Testament Gospels with Dr. Carla Works at Wesley, Dr. Works refers to our Gospel lesson for today as “the hinge-point of Luke,” as it’s almost like it’s all downhill from here when Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem. After ministering and healing at the various places, Jesus sets his face towards the Holy City, but we know it is not necessarily going to end happily ever after, which Jesus knows, but the Disciples still do not. Along the way, Jesus also challenges those he encounters near Samaria to set their faces towards other places, and that is towards following him.
While we often want to characterize Jesus as compassionate and all-loving, Jesus demonstrates that love is not always warm and fuzzy, but that setting our faces to other places involves going into the unknown when we follow him. Jesus claims in Luke 9: 58 that ““Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head” (CEB). Following Jesus definitely takes us out of a comfort zone, demanding us to be out and about, and constantly on the move. Or like in the next verse where a would-be follower asks Jesus to wait so he can bury his dead father, Jesus replies saying “’Let the dead bury their own dead. But you go and spread the news of God’s kingdom’” (Lk. 9: 59, CEB). And even after wanting to say goodbye to their house, Jesus tells another that “’No one who puts a hand on the plow and looks back is fit for God’s kingdom’” (Lk. 9: 60). However, if we look at the translation from The Message, we get a little different spin on this story:
On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.
58 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”
Jesus said to another, “Follow me.”
59 He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.”
60 Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”
61 Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.”
62 Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”
He has his face set to Jerusalem, but anyone who wants to follow Jesus also has to have their faces set to other places which means not always staying in the finest places, nor going into the easiest places to go into. You’re more likely to stay in a run-down motel that needs the help from “Hotel Impossible” than the Ritz-Carlton along this path, as it’s more like bring your tent and cots. It also almost sounds like the song, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus” which says in its last lines, “no turning back, no turning back.”
To follow Jesus means keeping our faces towards places, all the way towards God’s eternal kingdom. According to Michael Rogness at Luther Seminary,
Jesus uses the occasion to speak about discipleship and about the implications of following him. As the text makes clear, Jesus is speaking to those who are indeed following him, not to potential followers. As he often does, he speaks in hyperboles and exaggerations for emphasis in making his point. He is saying, “Be willing to let go of the past.” You bury the dead and move on. There comes a time when you leave the comforts of home, let go of the doorpost, and move into uncharted waters.
IT doesn’t mean we’re always going to get to stay at a nice place like the Hyatt Regency that Mark, Pastor JoAnn, and myself were at during Annual Conference this past week, nor does it mean we’re going to get to always spend time in exotic places, but neither are we always going to get to stay the same along the way of our journey either. On her first Sunday with us in January, Pastor JoAnn challenged us to press on in 2016, in which setting our faces to other places means pressing on, keeping our faces forward, and not always looking back because nothing is ever the same (plus we don’t want to wind up becoming a pillar of salt like Lot’s wife in the Hebrew Bible).
That’s how these last four years away from California have been, only being in Washington, DC temporarily while working towards a Master’s of Divinity, taking a slightly longer path than I originally planned on and even seeing my call evolve into that of pastoral ministry instead of music and worship. My time in seminary also meant having to lose a good portion of myself, pouring out everything I believed, or thought that I believed onto the table, and piecing things back together in lessons learned, all while keeping my face towards whatever I was destined to do. Then this April out of the blue, April Fool’s Day in fact, I received a phone call from our district superintendent Rev. Schuyler Rhodes, telling me that I had an appointment, but not in Bridges. Later that afternoon while at lunch with a couple good friends, I received a phone call from Rev. Dr. Dave Samelson, DS of the Great Northern District asking if I would serve at Community UMC in Quincy and ever since, I have had my face set towards Quincy.
Setting our faces to other places can be both exciting and scary in the same breath. While Jesus demands that we keep looking forward and not looking back, the latter is so much easier to do. So often, we want to cling to what we oftentimes hear as “the good old days” or “do things the way we’ve always done them” but were they really that good and are the “way we’ve always done things” effective anymore? As disciples and those wanting to bring the kingdom of God here to earth in the here and now, we must keep our faces looking to other places just as Jesus had his face set towards Jerusalem, even though following Jesus will also require us to keep looking forward. Back in December, Pastor Tina’s words to us as she entered into the season of retirement were “be not afraid” and that is something we need to keep in mind as we set our faces forward to other places.
One of the things about itinerant ministry is that nothing stays the same, it’s almost like having no home to lay the head because we do not stay in one place forever. But, as Pastor Tina said to “be not afraid” and as Pastor JoAnn said at the beginning of her ministry with us to “press on,” so I now say to you to keep your faces looking forward, sharing the Good News with the people in our neighborhoods, especially our neighborhood that we are in right in the heart of here at UMC of Rancho Cordova. And I know that later this week, I will keep my face towards Quincy, getting to know my new church and new community. It is an exciting and scary new direction, but God is with each of us as we continue along the path. As I told the congregation at Hope Presbyterian Church in my final sermon in May, I share the same sentiments with all of you, my church family of UMC of Rancho Cordova:
even in the midst of some fear and anxiety, God is still present. My time here has been filled with many unexpected blessings, and I know whoever comes next will experience the same blessings that I have. Finally, tell your story. Share the story of how you have encountered God’s love in this church, and take that story into the greater community and world. But more importantly, be sure to share the story, the old, old story of Jesus and his love just as I will encourage my new congregation in Quincy to do the same until also we come full circle, and a new story begins once again.
And so, even though I have come full circle in an unexpected way here in Rancho Cordova and my time has been richly blessed, I have my face set towards Quincy just as Jesus had his face set towards Jerusalem. But, we must keep following Jesus, no matter what the cost is. And we must keep sharing God’s story, that old, old story no matter what. Like Jesus, let’s also keep our faces looking towards other places, keeping them poised on following Jesus, being not afraid, and pressing on.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
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