Good morning! My name is Sailor Steve. Early Monday morning, I boarded a boat I thought was a week long Caribbean cruise, prepared for a week of fun. I’ve got my sunglasses, my trusty pirate hat, and a life-preserver, just in case. Instead, I ended up on the Clipper Ship, High Seas Expedition, where I received this mop, useful for swabbing the deck. Instead of sitting by the pool sipping drinks with umbrellas in them, I ended up working with 90 plus kids ages five to twelve and 40 or so adult volunteers for some Vacation Bible School fun! During the week, we learned all about the God’s word, the Bible. We learned that the Bible is truth, that the Bible is comforting, it is surprising, it can be life-changing, and most importantly, we learned that the Bible is for everyone.
This morning, however, God’s word, and by that I mean lowercase “w”, the Bible, and capital “w”, the second person of the Trinity, Jesus the Christ, God’s word is down right confusing. Take, fore example, the story of Jesus and the Samaritan town. Jesus, having set his face for Jerusalem, sent messengers ahead to prepare a place for Jesus and his crowd to rest. The first town they arrive at, a Samaritan city, will not accept Jesus, and so James and John ask Jesus a seemingly ridiculous question, “would you like us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Really? Did they think Jesus would say yes to this?
Well, actually they did. They thought Jesus would say yes, because they still weren’t sure who Jesus was. Most of his followers were still pretty convinced that Jesus was the return of Elijah as promised by the prophet Micah. Jesus, like Elijah, had raised a widow’s son from the dead. John the Baptist sends his disciples to ask, “are you the one we’ve been waiting for?” Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to his house thinking he was a great prophet. When Jesus asked his followers who people were saying he was, “Elijah” came the answer. On the mount of the Transfiguration, Elijah stood with Moses and Jesus, further confusing the issue for Peter, James and John. And so, when the city won’t accept Jesus, James and John think “Elijah” and recall that Elijah had a knack for commanding fire from heaven. Once in the epic battle between prophets that Keith told us about last week. And, in a scene just before his assumption into heaven, Elijah called down fire on three separate occasions consuming three groups of Samaritan soldiers sent by their king to kill Elijah.
So, in all honesty, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Jesus would allow his disciples to call fire down from heaven, except for the fact that Jesus was not Elijah. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Most High God, and his was not a journey toward war, but a path of peace.
And so, our confusing morning with Jesus continues as he is met by three different men who are willing to follow him, but seem to be rejected. Truth be told, Along the way, Jesus encounters many who would like to join him on the journey. Some, like the man we encountered last week, have been healed by Jesus and want to follow him out of gratitude. Some, like James and John, have been with him all along, and will continue to follow him even though they haven’t a clue what is really going on. Still others want to follow out of curiosity or because of a recent tragedy or because they feel called.
Jesus takes this opportunity, at the very beginning of his journey to Jerusalem, to tell his disciples and any would-be follows and us what it means to follow him. His message is clear, that the gospel matters. The in-breaking of the Kingdom of God is more important than anything else.
So important that even though he has been run out of his own hometown, he doesn’t change his tune. So important the even when the Samaritans won’t let him in, he stays the course. So important that it means traveling all over Palestine to share the Good News. Jesus really has not place to lay his head but by the provision of his Father, and the message he has to share is so important that sometimes the Father says, “just keep moving.”
The message Jesus has to share is so important that all familial obligations go out the window. For a son to bury his father was the most important and holy task a son had in Jewish tradition. Additionally, the Deuteronomy requires that a body be buried as soon as possible; often the same day. The man who wishes to bury his father first comes to Jesus in a raw place. His father hasn’t been dead for weeks or months while the family waited to get together for a proper burial. His father died today, and while he’d like to follow Jesus, maybe tomorrow would be better. But now is all Jesus has. There is no time to waste, the message of the Kingdom is too important; more important than everything else.
Jesus doesn’t turn these men away, but he does test their resolve making sure they are willing to commit everything to the Kingdom. In the story of those three nameless me, we are invited by Luke to place ourselves in their stead, and ask, honestly, are we willing to journey with Jesus, are we willing to take up our cross and follow him? Last fall, I invited you to join me on a six-week journey with Jesus. We had three basic rules for that trip: don’t be afraid to ask questions, there will be no competition, and serve one another. This year, our journey with Jesus is much longer. This morning we hear of Jesus setting if face toward Jerusalem and we will follow him on a Vast Voyage all over the Palestinian countryside from now until Halloween. As the theme song for VBS said, “This great adventure through God’s word will change our lives, change us for good. It will surprise us and show us the truth.” That is to say, if we go about the next four months with an open mind, an open heart, and an open soul, we will be changed for good by finding the truth because we are on a journey of discipleship and journey that is, by definition, life-changing. This journey will take us all over the map. There will be stories of joy and of heartbreak; narratives and lessons; parables and explanations – in every instance, however, there will be a lesson on what it means to journey with Jesus.
Which leads me to a fourth rule for this year’s Vast Voyage. Rule #4 is that we go in peace, and we go right now. Even though I have just returned from a week long, very exhausting expedition, I am eager to go again, out into the world to proclaim all that God has done for me… for us. The stained glass window above the main entrance reads, “Go in Peace…” Not “come and rest,” not “taste and see,” not “sit and wait,” but Go in Peace. We return to this place each Sunday to be refreshed and renewed for another week of following Jesus along the way. We come to the table to eat of the flesh and blood so that his peace is within us.
And so we leave this place and follow Jesus in service and in love. This past week a group of fifth and sixth graders (along with a lot of seventh and eighth graders who tagged along) spent their VBS week dong just that. Much to our surprise we had someone complain that their child wasn’t learning about Jesus. My thought, however, was that the best way to learn about Jesus is to act like him, and so they went and saw the light of Christ shining in washing a handicap van, serving food for the home bound through meals-on-wheels, mixing paint for Habitat for Humanity, distributing clothes for the needy, doing yard work for the elderly, and stuffing hair booms that were later deployed at the mouth of Week’s Bay. They gathered with the whole group at the start and end of each day to sing praises to God and learn the Bible Point, but then they did what each of us is called to do and followed Jesus out into the world to share his love in word and deed.
Jesus and his disciples are beginning a long and winding journey to Jerusalem that will end in death. This voyage is not one of conquest, but a a peaceful march toward the Kingdom of God. As we join Jesus and his companions on this four month voyage, may we remember the rules: don’t be afraid to ask questions, there will be no competition, serve-one another, and go in peace and go right now. When we leave this place, refreshed by our time at God’s table and begin our own journey, may we go in peace, to love and serve the Lord. Go in peace, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit. Go in peace, and go right now. Amen.