Gospel: Luke 9:51-62
1st Reading: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
2nd Reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-25
The birds of the air were asleep in their nests, and the bullfrogs croaking pleasantly in the lake at Camp Odyssey. The campers had a safe place to lay their heads, while the staff sat up to make sure there was no sneaking out. It was Friday evening, the last night of camp. If anyone was going to sneak out, this would be the time. This was their last chance to connect with that special love interest of 36 hours. This was their time to bond. This was their chance to test the limits now that they had been empowered. So the staff was anxious, and tired. We had our eyes on the prize—getting the campers safely through the week, even slightly more aware and open than when they arrived, rested and ready to go home in the morning. Nothing would stop us on our mission.
It was 2:30 am. I stood at the door of the bathroom arguing with four youth leaders who were supposed to be in bed. They needed a drink of water. The sound of the walkie talkies we were carrying on patrol were keeping them up. Why wouldn’t we let them sleep on their cabin porches? The adults were using their adult privilege to oppress the youth. Why wouldn’t we trust them? And on and on until I finally gave up and went to bed, knowing the next patrol would be by in 20 minutes to continue the conversation, there weren’t any boys around, and I was dead tired and needed to drive back to Portland the next day.
Eyes on the prize—that’s where Jesus is at in today’s Gospel reading. Only the prize doesn’t consist of him getting to sleep in his own bed, eat familiar food, and water his garden. This is the home stretch, the last lap for him as he heads for the cross.
I don’t think he’s complaining about his own discomfort—about not having a place to rest or belong. Believe me, the camp staff complained—good naturedly for the most part but maybe less so as the week progressed. But Jesus points out that this journey is not about his own comfort. He’s not here to lay his head down, or eat good food, or get recognition, or put his feet up. He’s here to serve. He’s here to teach about love and show love. He’s here to heal and feed and treat people like people no matter if they matter to anyone else. And this last lap is leading, not to a glorious finish, with cheering crowds and pretty girls. This race is leading him toward death, toward the cross, toward suffering.
A soft pillow and warm meal would be a distraction for him at this moment. He is focused. He is disciplined. He’s got one thing on his mind and that is to complete this journey, to take the worst of what human beings can dish out, to become the most despised all because people couldn’t handle how freely he offered love and compassion.
We are all on this same journey. It is easy to get distracted. When one is plowing a furrow, one look back and the row becomes crooked and throws off the whole rest of the field. It is like trying to drive while looking in your rearview mirror. Do any of us ever focus too much on the past. The past can inform us. We’d never be where we are without it. Yet we can get obsessed with the past and forget we are living in the present. We can carry regrets and pains we never healed. We can misremember the past and dwell there. We can impose our ideas of the past onto the present and try to make the present into the past. That is all futile. Jesus moves forward this morning, even though the future isn’t looking too bright at all, even though he must surely feel like giving up. He has his eye on the prize. The scene is set, the dominoes are already falling. There is no going back.
We are all on this journey with Jesus as his followers. When opportunities for service or sacrifice present themselves, it is easy to make excuses. “Little ol’ me?” Moses said, “But I have a speech impediment. You can’t expect me to lead the people.” Others say, “I am too busy already.”
We’d like to think that following Jesus would be easy, make life easy, make us rich, keep our loved ones from harm. But our journey, too, leads to the cross. We encounter it every day. Sometimes we do it to ourselves—increase our own pain, sAY things we regret, push other people away, etc. Sometimes it is completely random—an accident, A disease, a natural disaster. Sometimes we do all the right things and still we don’t see a better world.
At some point, Jesus says, we have to take a risk. We have to get out of our comfort zone, forsake our own pillow, our familiar role, our easy life, in order to really live. Sometimes that happens by choice. We Accept responsibility in a different way than we ever have before. We try something new out of curiosity, or out of a sense of duty, or because we want to learn and grow in a new way. Sometimes we do it because we’re forced to in a time of illness, or unemployment, or other upheaval in our lives.
Jesus encourages us not to make excuses. You have other priorities? Re-evaluate them now and then to make sure they are really giving you life. Don’t sign up to help with the same thing year after year just because that’s always what you have done. Ask yourself if it puts you on your path to the cross, to going through a little discomfort in order to learn and grow, whether it brings you closer to strangers, whether it is about love rather than recognition, whether it has the potential to open you more to others—to make you more compassionate and loving.
Jesus is saying don’t get distracted. One person in the Gospel has a funeral to attend. That sounds pretty important. He isn’t saying that wasn’t important. He’s saying that you can always think of one more important thing you’re doing that will keep you from your path. Another has someone to say goodbye to. There is always someone else to bid goodbye to. At some point, we need to lay those things Aside and get moving on our journey of faith.
However we might drag our feet, make excuses, argue with ourselves or God, Jesus moved forward to the cross to give us the freedom to dawdle and the freedom to move ahead. Like those campers standing in the bathroom At 3 am, we have a choice whether to get with the program. And Jesus responds in a very different way than I did that night. Jesus responds with grace. Jesus meets us where we are And respects where we are. Jesus shows us that we aren’t stuck where we are, but there is more to life. Jesus invites us someplace new—both scary and amazing.
Jesus’ journey was finally a matter of where he would lay his head, and that is in our hearts. Not that little Jesus we imagine when we are children, sitting inside us, but God’s love, God’s compassion, God’s generosity residing in our hearts And showing up in our words and actions.
The second to last day at camp we threw the ball around and whoever caught it said something they learned that week. Kevin was in my small group. He was in the foster care system and had been in trouble with the law. His friend had recently taken his own life. He had trouble engaging all week. But when he caught the ball he said, “I learned I can change my community.” I almost started crying. For a boy with so many troubles to get it like that and to be able to show that he got it was more than I could ask for. I hope that lives were changed for the better this week at camp—in fact, I know they were. That’s what Jesus hopes for today, too. Keep eyes on the prize, persevere to the finish, until God resides in all hearts and we form a community of caring and love.