The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Sunday, July 29, 2007
9th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12C
Luke 11:1-13

In the name of God: One, Holy, and Living. Amen.

“He set his face to go to Jerusalem.” We’ve heard these words before, but I’d bet they slipped by, unnoticed. Listen again. “He set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
Those words were spoken in the first verse of the Gospel lesson on my first Sunday here just a few weeks ago. They are simple words, and if we are not careful we could easily overlook them.
If Luke’s Gospel were an opera these words would likely be written as recitative – while arias drive the plot and develop the characters, recitatives connect these larger elements to give the work form and smooth transitions. It’s not likely that you’ll ever hum the tune of a recitative. That’s not what they were intended for. But they do serve an important purpose in their own way.

When we heard on July first that Jesus had “set his face to go to Jerusalem” you might not have noticed, but, in our cycle of readings, we were entering a long section of the story of Jesus’ life – Act IV of Luke’s opera of Jesus’ life – where we are told of Jesus’ “Journey to Jerusalem”. We’ve heard the stories surrounding Jesus’ birth. We know that there was a period of preparation for his ministry when he was baptized and when he spent forty days in the desert. In June we heard stories of Jesus’ first experiences of hands-on ministry in Galilee. During that ministry he teaches in synagogues and heals the sick and casts out demons from the possessed. And now, in this fourth act, Jesus begins the long and often difficult journey to that which he is called. With each step he approaches his destiny.

If Luke’s gospel were an opera, however, it would not be like most other operas or plays or novels with which we are familiar. In this, the first week since its release, the news media has been clamoring to cover the popular excitement about Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I’ve heard countless stories of adults and children who’ve read the book in a single sitting. Sales have shattered previous records. And every story, article, or review begins with a solemn promise not to reveal any secrets of the plot, and especially the ending! But Luke was not writing for that kind of audience.

Theophilus, the wealthy and powerful man to whom this document was originally addressed, knew at least a general outline of the life story of Jesus. Luke asserts that he is writing so that Theophilus “may know the truth concerning those things in which he had been instructed.” And like Luke’s original audience, we, too, know the story of Jesus. We’ve had centuries of tradition to teach it to us. We know what it means for Jesus to “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Like Theophilus, we know what he faced there. We know about the exuberant joy of Palm Sunday. We know about his last supper with his friends. We know that one of his friends would betray him in greed and frustration while another would betray him out of ignorant fear – betrayals that would lead to agonizing suffering and even death on the cross.

Though the transition was subtle, it gently points us to the dissonances that lie ahead before this score can land on its final resolution.

I have been enchanted by these simple words for the past four weeks because they speak to me so plainly as a parallel to the journey that we, of St. Peter’s Church, are experiencing. On July first, we, too, embarked on a journey – a journey that will lead us, like Jesus, into the next phase of our destiny.

But the journey that we face is not just a trip. Jesus was not merely traveling to Jerusalem; he was journeying to his destiny. Similarly, we are not merely entering a process that will culminate in our calling a new Rector; instead, we are embarking on a journey of self-discovery and discernment that we fervently pray will reveal the one who God is already calling to lead our parish into the next generation of its ministry in this place.

In Luke’s telling of the story of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, ten chapters – nearly half of the book – are devoted to the telling of this journey. In our cycle of Sunday readings, this journey began on July first; and, we will continue to follow it until All Saints Sunday on November fourth. Bob, our Interim Rector, has already advised us that we should expect the journey that we face to take no less than two years. A trip can happen in an episode, but a journey requires an epic.

So a journey can be a daunting prospect. We live in a “microwave culture”. We eat pre-prepared fast food, we drive too fast in express lanes on expressways, we look for direct flights that will drop us at our destinations as quickly as possible… While all of that may help us to reach the “end”, we often find that it has failed to help us reach the “goal”. Daunting, though it may be, we must resist the temptation to make our work over the next two years a “trip”. God is calling us on a journey.

So where do we go from here? If the concept of “journey” is so countercultural, how do we answer the call to enter into one?

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