6/27/04 , P4C

“Setting Our Faces”
Luke 9: 51-62

ooking back is not good unless you are backing up. I learned to look back when I backed my new 1965 Impala convertible into a utility pole. I now look back and also look into all three mirrors when backing. But some folks look back too much.

Jesus never seemed to look back. He was driven by a purpose and in our story we find him “ setting his face to go to Jerusalem ,” (51, 53, NRSV) or, as the NLT translates the expression, “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem .” Even though Jerusalem was the city that killed the prophets, and would crucify him, Jesus had to do it and die. He was born to die; this was his holy purpose.

If Jesus would have waited until he was into his temptation, passion, trials and gruesome scourging, it would have been harder to go through with the Divine plan, but he had already yielded to his fate earlier on; and so, he plowed ahead toward Jerusalem . We all can agree that Jesus was purpose driven.

Yet, we weak humans whiffle, we waffle and waver. We're like kids on the playground asking, “What are you going to be when you are grown up?” One day we want to be a fireman and next day a cowboy. More specifically, I wanted to be Hoppalong Cassidy. Like that could happen!

Later, in college I had a great geography course at East Carolina in which we viewed aerial photographs of rivers meandering along on a zigzag path snake like path, following the course of least resistance, cutting around rocky ground and problems. Haven't most of us wandered along at times, waddling left and then waffling off over yonder way: and sometime we get lost. We wake up and realize that we have no purpose, no direction and we begin to grasp at straws, anything. I liked my biology teacher so I became a future biologist, for a while. Later I admired a friend's big brother who was an optometrist, so I applied to the Memphis School of Optometry. There is nothing wrong with either worthy profession, but they were not right for me. I was just a lost young person.

I have received several wisecracks this week about my story on our church newsletter cover, admitting my failure as a running back. I was a lineman and never carried the ball, until that Friday night when I caught a very short kickoff. That was my one chance to run with the ball, and I ran fast as I could in the direction of the least oncoming potential tacklers, and that was ten yards to the right. I saw a big guy coming at me so I reversed course and ran ten yards to the left, and fell down at the spot where I had originally caught the ball. At least I did catch the ball and did not fumble. But it would have been better if I had “set my face” toward our goal line. I have thought of that experience often. It is not so woeful that I did not run a touchdown, but that that experience has been a microcosm of life. I have since felt about as foolish as I looked that night in the middle of the football field clutching the ball at the bottom of the pile, knowing that the whole world knew that a fallen lineman would be the last one to get up with all twenty two guys on the field grinning.

When Atlanta hosted the '96 Olympic Games most preachers used the analogy that Paul made in his letter to the Philippian Church about running a race, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward...” (3:13, 14, NIV)

Its good news that we have the assurance that we are ultimately going to heaven and that ought to be enough, but it's not. I have never known a grieving family to act like that was enough, in itself. Sure, we take consolation in hope, but still our hearts are broken when we lose a dear one who has held onto life with their last struggling breath. God has implanted this strong desire to live and it is sometimes the thing that encourages persons to keep on taking chemotherapy even though the medicine is making them terribly ill.

God has hard wired a shorter range goal into us to keep us ticking despite adversity. God has also given us a sense of holy ambition, to succeed, even though it is sometimes thwarted by environmental conditions, or difficult circumstances. I was reared around cotton mill workers, and furniture factory workers, who had their divine ambition wrung out of them. I recall how some of my Daddy's church members only had their church life to keep their human dignity alive. Recalling beloved individuals who kept their heads high and their hopes and dreams alive, I am so proud of how some were able to pull themselves up out of the killing dust of the factories and mills. I can name names of college presidents, physicians, pastors, school teachers and others who came up hard. They all made it because they each “set their face” toward their God given goal and high calling in life.”

My uncle James was orphaned at age ten and called to preach in a country church at age sixteen. His older siblings, including my father, made sure that James received an education. But it was the Holy Spirit who provided the vision and the calling. What a wonderful celebration we had at the Mount Tabor United Methodist Church on Tuesday. Fellow United Methodist preachers, several Baptist preachers, and former church members packed the Sanctuary and church grounds. Only God could bring so much out of such a hard beginning. James now has his heavenly prize.

However, I must confess that at times I still want to be a cowboy. I am proud to live around so many real live working cowboys in a county that produces more beef than any other in Georgia . Don't we all wonder, “What could have been?” But don't we in the same breath thank God for the clear purpose and high calling that He has sparked in our hearts that has made what we have so glorious!

I have an old broken down cowboy hat somewhere; a gift from a country Campmeeting where I preached 17 times in 7 days. Just maybe I'll look for it, or drop by Tractor Supply. I think I might wear it when I write my sermons--- it couldn't hurt!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
6/27/04 , P4C