6/28/98, P4C

“Looking Back”
Luke 9: 51, 57-62

ooking back is never good--- unless you are going backwards. Jesus’ life was a constant forward progression and here we find him, after realizing that his time to die was fast approaching, “resolutely setting his face toward Jerusalem.” (v. 51). He had a choice and he made it. He could have run the other way. He could have called ten-thousand angels to destroy his enemies and protect him. But he did not. He resolved to fulfill his mission to give his life that all humankind might truly live.

Don’t we sometimes find ourselves wavering, vacillating. I like the analogy of the winding river that meanders through it’s ancient basin. I took a wonderful geography course at East Carolina College in which we viewed aerial photographs of rivers snaking along a zigzagging path. Water finds the path of least resistance; and thus, it curls around rocky ground and problems. Isn’t that like us when we waffle along the low road of no direction?

In high school I played on a state championship football team, but I was a lineman and never got to run with the ball. Linemen are big braggers about how good they would be if they had decided to be fullbacks, or halfbacks. I finally got my chance when a short kick off came to me. I looked down at the ball in my arms and then I remembered to run. Oncoming tacklers were already headed for me so I ran to the right about ten yards, then I reversed fields and ran to the left ten yards, and then I fell down, about on the spot where I had first caught the ball. The games were filmed in black and white 8 mm, and on Monday afternoons the team gathered to celebrate our finesse. Mine was no celebration as the coach reran my nowhere run, at least half a dozen times. Maybe it’s true that football is a microcosm of life.

God’s plan for us is that we run forward. Lot’s wife looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. My neighbor looked back while driving and turned into a telephone pole.

When we hosted the ‘96 Olympic Games we all read the Pauline text found in his letter to Philippi, “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God is calling us up to heaven because of what Christ did for us.” (3:13 & 14, TEV).

Life is like a super marathon, or thousand mile walk: we can’t reach the end unless we keep going ahead. Paul encouraged the Philippians to “keep on growing in spiritual knowledge and insight, for I want you always to see clearly the difference between right and wrong, and to be inwardly clean...” (1: 9 & 10, TEV). Further he reminds us, “...I am sure that God who began the good work within you will keep right on helping you grow in his grace until his task within you is finally finished...” (1: 6, TEV). This puts into context Luke’s words in today’s gospel reading that, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (9: 62, NRSV).

The high point of any Methodist Annual Conference is to share in the ordination of eager, called, and trained ministers. In it I always experience a sense of self examination and divine reaffirmation. The low point of conference is in the clergy executive session where we hear the report of those who have looked back or given up for one reason or another. Is there an antidote to failure? Is there a preventative for the human tendency to look back?

Contemporary evangelicals call it “Faith Development,” a term coined some twenty years ago by Professor Jim Fowler at Emory’s Candler School of Theology. This whole movement now traces the building of personal faith in Christ from the pre-Christian yearnings of the heart, to an experience of personal relationship/friendship with God through being caught up in the significance of Jesus’ overwhelming love and atoning death. Although denominational terms are avoided whenever possible, the Methodist term “sanctification” is difficult to avoid in the process that follows salvation. Over months and years a person “in Christ” will naturally have a propensity to grow in a forward continuum. Bible study, group meetings, Christian music, retreats, and always worship are the events of grace in this looking forward process. Some folks encounter watershed moments in their growth: the race they are now running. I do not know if any two pilgrims ever go through the exact same sequence of critical moments that forever change them, but you hear folks still talking about the “Second Blessing,” “The Baptism of the Holy Spirit,” “The Deeper Life,” etc. I personally think that in any forward spiritual movement there will be times of refreshing. Sometimes these are precipitated by personal crisis, such as loss of employment, moving to a new town, the death of a friend. During these hard times the growing Christian is faced with the temptation to fall back; indeed, to look back. It is in these moments of crisis that the battle is won or lost. However, once victory is had the Christian can look ahead with greater assurance and heightened sensitivity to the need to keep looking forward.

I also feel that growth in Christ likeness, or to be a “Little Christ,” as C. S. Lewis was so fond of saying, will give an assurance of eternal victory. One gets his/her eyes fixed on Jesus and the life beyond the veil. Indeed, the veil is invisible and the Church Militant and the Church Victorious seem to be as one. Heaven becomes a “Future Reality,” to us my own somewhat illogical term. However, it seems to me that the highest spiritual expression a Pilgrim might attain is this sense of manifest destiny, a kind of knowing that the race will ultimately be won; and thus, this future event is a reality now. This seems to have been the mood of Jesus as he set his direction toward meeting his destiny--- and he never looked back!

But you ask, Where do I begin? You begin where you are. Each of us is at some place on the continuum of faith being developed. We each simply need to cry out to God in prayer asking for his help and guidance. We need to read his book, there is no substitute for that. We must set aside devotional time. We must make this our priority and never miss a day. We must find a good church from which we can grow. We must find a place to serve, some cause, a mission that we can be about. We must share with others our own story. And we must never look back!

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

6/28/98, P4C