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He Set His Face
March 14, 1976

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

LUKE 9:51-53

The series of sermons during Lent is called Journey to Life. We are on a journey.  We are traveling on a road that’s going somewhere, a road that has many bypasses, many other roads that are enticing, beautiful and comfortable. Remember Jesus’ words, “How broad is the way and easy is the way that leads to destruction. But narrow is the way. The way is hard that leads to life.” We all want life. We all desire life. From the depths of our hearts, deep down in our being, we desire life as revealed to us in Jesus Christ—the love, joy, peace, meaning, satisfaction, fulfillment, and purpose that we see in the kingdom of God and the person of Jesus Christ. That’s what we all want. We are on a journey. 

I have two questions: How do you stay on the road that leads to life? And secondly, when you realize that you are on the wrong road, that you’ve taken a wrong turn, how do you get back to the road that leads to life? 

First question: how do you stay on the road that leads to life? Luke 9:51, “He set his face toward Jerusalem.” In his ministry, Jesus came gradually to realize that he must go to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was where the leaders were. Jerusalem was where the the chief priests were. Jerusalem was the seat of power. It was in Jerusalem where he must witness, where he must do his work. And in those latter days, he set his face toward Jerusalem. Jerusalem was his destination. Jerusalem was his goal, an intermediary goal along the road eventually culminating in the kingdom of God. Life is a series of intermediary goals that we set for ourselves. The goal of Jesus to go to Jerusalem was an attainable goal. It was a goal that he could measure. He knew when he arrived there, he knew how successful he was in attaining his goal. And in attaining his goal, it led him further along the road to culminate in the final goal of the kingdom of God. 

To journey on that road to life, we must have clear, distinct, attainable, measurable, intermediary goals. In trying to find life, you will miss it if you don’t know where you are going. Isn’t it an axiom—if you don’t know where you’re going, you won’t know when you get there. You won’t know when you get there if you don’t know where you’re going. Many of us have hazy, fuzzy goals. But if the goal is distinct, clear, and ahead of us, we will reach it. When our boys were at the age of two and three, we used to play games with them. When they each reached the age of two and three, they got to play the game called “Take Me Home”. When we were riding in the car, at some point along the way, I would say, “Okay, take me home.” Then it was up to that boy to find home. I can still see those tiny little pointer fingers, “This way, Dad, this way.” As we wiggled our way around the countryside and around the town, getting home had many odd turns but eventually we made it because they would recognize landmarks along the way. Eventually, circuitous as it may be, we would reach home because they had the destination in mind. They had a place to go. You cannot make it in life if you don’t have a clear idea of where you’re going—a goal that is clear, attainable and changeless. Likewise, some people miss life because they have a goal that changes— flighty, fickle. They decide they want to go to the mountains but when they reach beautiful, downtown Oakdale, they decide maybe they’d rather go to the ocean. So they head out for the ocean and on the way to the ocean, they decide they should go to San Francisco! They spend their day traveling around, changing the goal and never reaching it—going through life jumping from one thing to the next. 

Or if I just had a boat, wouldn’t I be happy if I just had a boat, or a color TV. Or if I could live in Hawaii—oh, if I could just live in Hawaii, how happy I would be! Oh, if I could be popular. Oh, if I could have money. As the goals change, so the road changes. When the road gets bumpy, we go off on a detour; when the road gets steep and difficult to climb, we take a spur road. If the goal is not clear, and if the goal keeps vacillating and changing, we’re likely to miss life. 

Let me ask you right now one of the most serious questions of life. It’s a revolutionary question. Allow it to go down into your unconscious, deep down in your heart, a question you should ask yourself at the reflective times in life. When in the midst of the hubbub, turmoil, pressures and demands, you stop, or you take a walk on a cool, clear, crisp evening under the stars, or you sit on a hillside; at those times when you reflect, and right now, answer this question. What do you really want? Look at all you have accumulated, look at all you have, look at all you’ve earned, look at what you’ve made of yourself, look at what you’re making of yourself, look at where you’re going, look at the road you’re on, what do you really want? 

Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. He set his face. Isn’t that a beautiful expression? He set his face. Can you see his chin, see the skin tighten around his eyes, squint. He set his face. And indomitably, determinedly he walked to Jerusalem where there was hostility, where there was opposition, where there was no chocolate malt waiting for him. He set his face. 

To make it in life we must be determined. A determined person, a person resolute cannot be stopped. Did you ever have a kid like that? You can’t do anything with him. He has his mind made up. And those people in life make it even if they’re wrong, even if they’ve chosen the wrong things. They’re determined and resolute and they make it. 

Jesus set his face and walked to Jerusalem. I don’t know about you but if I’m walking along and I see a fight ahead, I’ll turn the other way. I’ll pretend I don’t see it happening. Some people run up to look at a fight. I’ll go the other way, especially if I’m going to be in it, especially if they’re ganging up on me around the next bend, waiting to ambush. Hiding behind the rocks are my enemies just waiting for me. Hiding behind a rock is anger. I don’t know about you, but I get upset when people are angry with me. It bothers me when someone is angry at me. But Jesus walked right into anger. 

Behind those rocks was hostility, opposition, a trial and death. But he set his face and he walked on. And he walked on alone for even his friends couldn’t help; in fact his friends were more harmful than helpful. His friends kept encouraging him to take another road. His friends encouraged him to detour. They couldn’t understand. He tried to tell them, he tried to tell them what was going to happen to him but they could not understand. He had no one to share his burden. He had no one. He walked alone because they couldn’t understand. 

Fortunate are you if you have even just one person in your life who understands. How fortunate are you if on your journey, you can stop periodically for a coke break, sit down with a coke under the tree and share your feelings with a friend, share your fears, apprehensions and doubts, wondering if you’re on the right road, wondering if it really is God’s will, wondering, doubting. Fortunate are you if you have someone to share that with you. But Jesus had no one. No one understood. He walked on alone. He set his face and he walked alone. 

There’s a man in American history who was alone, a man who was misunderstood and not supported during his life with much opposition—Abraham Lincoln. Abraham Lincoln wrote, “I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, if I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside of me.” He wanted to so conduct his administration that if he lost all his friends, at least he pleased himself. He had self-respect. Many times on the journey to life, we’re alone as Jesus was. 

The second question: when you realize you’re on the wrong road, how do you turn around and get back on another road? How do you get back to the road of life? What do you do when you’re wrong? John Wesley, the founder of our church, spoke of the means of grace. There are means by which the grace of God comes to us. There are ways by which he uniquely comes to us, especially in the sacraments of Baptism and Communion. Sacrament means “sacred act”, sacred vehicle, a unique way in which God visits his people. 

Today we celebrate Communion and we participate in communion. May it be an act where we find our way back on the road, the journey to life. When you participate in Communion today, remember his last supper when he shared with his friends for the final time. Remember that he walked where you walk. He knows what it’s like for he has been there. You and I will not be called on to walk to a cross as he walked but he knows what it’s like. What a friend we have in Jesus. Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen; nobody knows but Jesus, “I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.” 

When you receive the elements this morning, remember that as the bread is torn from a loaf and handed to you, so his body was torn, his body was broken. Remember the anguish, the sorrow, the suffering that he went through for you and for me. But Communion is more than remembering. Communion is a sacred act by which God visits us. Christ is uniquely present in Communion as he is present in no other way. He is uniquely present. In some mysterious way he meets us in Holy Communion. If you love him, he will meet you. If you share with him, if you’re on the wrong road, tell him and he will lead you back. If you’re on the right road, tell him and he will walk with you on your way. Open to him and he will meet you in forgiveness, love and power. He will meet you in Communion. 

We will make it on the journey to life if we have a goal sharp, clear and distinct. Walk in determination. Be resolute and firm, realizing that when we do fail, when we do fall, when we do stumble, when we do go the wrong way, he’s there to pick us up. He will forgive us and he will help us back, especially through communion. Let us celebrate today. Let us feast on his body and his blood as we proceed on our journey to life.

© 1976 Douglas I. Norris