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Stay the Course Through Peril
March 15, 1992

LUKE 9:50-56, 13:31-35

They warned Jesus. Concerned and caring Pharisees came and warned Jesus saying, “Get away from here for Herod is about to kill you.” Jesus's life was in peril. After a ministry of some three years in Galilee, Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. Jesus knew he was in danger but he stayed the course. Luke 9.51, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Isn't that a vivid image? He set his face to go to Jerusalem, not looking backwards, not looking backwards to Galilee where he was popular, where he enjoyed the beautiful lake, the camaraderie of the fisherman, the comfort of the lifestyle. Now he looked forward. He looked forward to Jerusalem knowing the danger that lay there, knowing that he would lose his life. Yet he set his face with determination in his jaw. He set his face to follow the course set before him. Luke 13.33, he said, “Yet today and tomorrow and the next day, I must be on my way.” Jesus stayed the course. In spite of peril, and through peril, Jesus stayed the course.

Our journey, our faith journey is also fraught with peril. Perhaps we are not in danger of losing our lives but we are in constant danger of losing what life is all about. Last week, we looked at the temptations that Jesus faced. Jesus faced three temptations and we today also face them: the temptation of security, the temptation of power and control, the temptation of privilege—security, power, and privilege.

Today, let's look at some perils we face. One of the letters we received at Christmas included this sentence, “In our country, it is a time of high dealing, big scandals, self-indulgence, the fling before a fall.” The writer, a medical doctor in Seattle, hit the nail right on the head. He's right. Beware of adopting and adapting to high dealing, big scandals, and self-indulgence. We are becoming so accustomed to scandal, we are no longer scandalized. And less and less we are demanding honesty, integrity and straight dealings from our bankers, our business leaders and our politicians. No one seems to care. Beware of the peril of high dealing, it is destroying our nation.

Beware of the peril of self-indulgence where we pamper ourselves with whatever feels good. Beware of the peril of possessing. One way we yield to the temptation of security is to accumulate things, believing in the philosophy that the more things we accumulate, the more secure we will feel. Have you seen the bumper sticker, “The one who dies with the most toys wins?” In the book II it Ain't Broke… Break it, Robert J. Kriegle wrote, “The greatest irony in the pursuit of the most toys is that it inevitably requires the most time to get them, leaving the least time to use them. There being only so many hours in the day, something has to give. Consequently, the dream car has been parked so long it has used more air in the tires than gas in the tank. The country house for weekend getaways may as well be in another country. The two-week ski trip to Europe has been delayed for the third winter…Blessed are the toys for they shall inherit the dust.” Beware of the peril of possessing.

Jesus expressed the peril well in Luke 12.15 when he said, “Be on guard against all kinds of greed. For one's life does not consist in the abundance of one's possessions.” And Matthew 16.26 Jesus said, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” Beware of self-indulgence and accumulation. How tragic to devote one's life to accumulation and end up with nothing. Things don't love back. Things don't satisfy the longing for relationships. Things don't satisfy the yearning for significance. Beware of self-indulgence and possessing.

To the perils of high dealing, big scandals and self-indulgence, I would add two more cultural characteristics that are killing us—violence and despair. Have you seen the movie

Grand Canyon? It's a powerful movie, a graphic presentation of the increasing violence in our country and the relentless deterioration of the very fiber of our nation. A chasm, the movie says, as wide as the Grand Canyon separates the haves from the have nots resulting in violence, despair, and destruction. In the movie, a young teen member of a Los Angeles gang cynically doubts he will ever reach the age of 25. The current Newsweek cover blares, “Kids and guns, a report from America's classroom killing ground.” The murder in Palo Alto last week again shocks us into realizing the pervasive presence of violence and despair. We are living in an age when Macbeth's cynical despair and hopelessness are becoming believable.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

Those depressing words of Shakespeare could have been written today expressing an increasing sense of hopelessness and despair. Beware of despair. Beware of the peril of despair. Don't get sucked in, become pessimistic about the future and give up. When you experience business setbacks, job stress, job loss, or family dissension or whatever, stay the course!

Jesus stayed the course! Even though Jesus knew he would die, he stayed the course. Why? And how did Jesus stay the course? How do you and I stay the course? How do we resist the temptations and the perils of high dealing, self-indulgence, accumulation and despair? How do we stay the course? Let's look to Jesus for guidance and help.

First, Jesus persisted in going to Jerusalem because he was more concerned about Jerusalem than his own life. He loved his people. He knew his nation was headed towards a destruction that would propel and disperse his people throughout the world where they would have no home for centuries. With agony and pathos, he told the Pharisees, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings.” O Jerusalem!

Jesus stayed the course because his own life was secondary to his mission. His mission, his concern was bigger than his own life, bigger than self-indulgence and the accumulating of things. Jesus was concerned for and dedicated to others. Brian Hamilton, age six, and his friend Marshall Siemon, decided they wanted to earn some money so they made a list of chores they thought they could do. A neighbor saw the list and was very impressed, so she hired the two six-year-old boys to pull weeds. She paid them $2.00 each. Brian and Marshall then discussed what they would do with the money. They decided on their own to give it to the poor. In the offering plate two weeks ago, there was an envelope containing $4 in cash and a little note designating the offering for the Ecumenical Hunger project. The two boys gave all they earned.  Even in their young age, they love God and care about people. Brian, are you here this morning? There he is; wave your hand. Thank you for that example. Jesus stayed the course because he cared more about the people than he cared about his own life.

Second, Jesus pursued his goal of saving Jerusalem, preaching the gospel of calling people to the kingdom of God because it was God's work. Jesus could stay the course because it was God's course. There's a fourth century story about a young king who visited a saintly desert monk, one of those shriveled up men who lived in the desert outside Cairo. The young king looked at the monk and said, “Oh, what a wonderful sacrifice you are making.” And the monk replied, “Your sacrifice is much greater.” “What do you mean?” asked the shocked king. “Because I have renounced this passing world. But you young king, have renounced the eternal world.” Is the course you are pursuing God's course or your own?

What do you want out of life? Are you satisfied with something trivial, transient and inconsequential? Or are you headed for the eternal kingdom of God? Jesus could stay the course because it was God's course. Jesus was following and obeying God's call. Jesus was doing God's work which ultimately cannot be defeated. Even cynicism, despair, and the destruction of the culture in which you and I are now living cannot defeat God. When you are embarked on God's course and stay the course, you will prevail. Let me be clear. We've chosen the theme of Stay the Course this Lent because it's not easy to live life's journey, it’s not easy to live the journey of faith. Anyone who says it's easy to live these days or it's easy to be a Christian these days is either a liar or a quitter. It's only easy when you give in and give up. It's only easy when you give in to temptation, when you give up in the face of peril. It's only easy when you give in to despair and give up on your future. That's easy.

Hard is to set your face to Jerusalem and renounce the perils of high dealing, self-indulgence, accumulation and despair. That’s hard! But you can stay the course when it is God's course because the Holy Spirit will be within you. And Jesus will walk ahead of you leading the way.

© 1992 Douglas I. Norris