Jesus has “set his face to go to Jerusalem,” nothing will get in his way, and he doesn’t take any excuses. And Jesus, of course, is just a stand in for us. Jesus bids us go – “go and proclaim the kingdom of God,” no excuses! Jesus gives us the spirit, and the power, to be the church. Go: There can be no excuse.
And yet, when it comes to excuses, you might say that we’re all trained professionals. How hard it is to let go of our own stuff, and our own agenda! We all make excuses. When a parent or partner is diligently trying to motivate us, even for the simplest things, like going to work or school, to a concert or to visit a friend, do we come right away? When they say, “time to go,” why don’t we go, instead of saying, ‘be there in a minute,’ as we continue watching TV, playing video games, reading a magazine, or sleeping!
As a pastor, I always have at the ready, my call story to the ordained ministry. Everyone expects that. But all the baptized, and all those spiritually searching, have a call story too. God says go, and, what do we say?
I admit, I had an excuse too. I said, God, I’ll go, but not yet. I was like the 3rd one in the gospel story who wanted to follow Jesus, but asked to say his farewells first. After college, I took a year off before making any decision about enrolling in seminary. My excuse was that I had some unfinished business with friends. So I hitch-hiked around the mid-west. Along the way I met some unbelievably great people, and one guy who tried to kidnap me. I ended up down in St. Louis with my friend Tom, who was going to grad school there. My sister and her husband lived there too, and were about to have their first child. They needed a renter to help pay the bills, so I moved in on the 2nd floor. It just so happened that my brother-in-law was enrolled in Seminex, the break-away seminary from the LCM-Synod’s Concordia seminary. It was an exciting time, lots of tension and unrest, because of the creative things that were happening in the church. As I look back on it now, I was like a Jonah running from God, only to be spit back out, on the beach of my destiny – no excuses. God was at work, beyond my control, and sent me to the perfect place, at the perfect time. I was able to see the church, and my calling, in a new way. By the fall, I was ready to start at the Lutheran School of Theology, our seminary here in Chicago. No more excuses! Gabriel Meurier said, “Whoever excuses him/her/self, accuses one’s self.”
My youngest sibling, Bill, is a compassionate family doctor in Madison, WI. He had the longest journey in answering his calling, of anyone in our family. Out of college he applied for and was accepted onto a very short list of Physical Therapy students at U. of Iowa. My dad was ecstatic, because that was his alma mater. A month later though, Bill decided he really wanted to take a year to go explore Europe, and he got a job as a bartender in London. My parents were not happy campers! What kind of an excuse was that? Not to mention that he would lose his place on the list for the Physical Therapy program, and would have to start all over, if he turned away now. Long story short, when Bill came back from his wanderlust, he did get back in the program, and he became a great Physical Therapist. He took his profession into the Peace Corp, and went to Malawi for two years, using his expertise to help hundreds of kids with disabilities. Finally, all this was just a warm up to what he really felt called to. When he returned from Malawi, he enrolled in medical school and became a family doctor. No more excuses! Or as Thomas Fuller said, “Bad excuses are worse than none.”
God sends the prophet Elijah to call Elisha to be his replacement. So Elijah throws his mantle on him, as a sign. Elisha runs after Elijah, only to tell him, I’ve got some stuff to do before I can come, to which Elijah can only roll his eyes, and walk away. But Elisha is not fooling around. He’s got a plan. He slaughters his large herd of oxen, chops up his wooden plow to use as firewood, and puts on his own farewell feast, one of the largest family BBQ’s of all time! Elisha gives up everything he has, and then, better late than never, he goes, as he is called, to become Elijah’s servant. As Dave Del Dotto, the self-made real estate man turned wine-grower has said, “No one ever excused his way to success.”
And so, there are many ways to set our face to follow Jesus, and oh so many more excuses not to. Let’s take a minute to share our own, with a neighbor next to you, or, pick out someone across the room. What’s your best, or worst, excuse?! What excuses do you use to avoid what you really should be doing with your life?
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In this green and growing season of the Sundays following Pentecost, our gospel readings all come from Luke. And they all deal with Jesus as he “sets his face” to Jerusalem, from now, thru October. Jerusalem is an important place for Luke. The story of Jesus starts and ends there. In between of course, Jesus is crucified and raised in Jerusalem, or “taken up,” as Luke says. So, it is this journey to Jerusalem where Jesus “sets his face,” “his countenance,” to go there deliberately, which is a sign to us, of taking on our calling from God.
Jesus shows us how to do it, which includes intentionality in building a community of faith, honesty to the powers aligned against us, and a deep trust in the one who will be with us through all our deaths and resurrections.
There’s Yiddish Proverb that goes: “If you don’t want to do something, one excuse is as good as another.” We have some days, and hopefully years, ahead of us here at Unity, to intentionally work on “setting our face,” to where God is calling us. It includes both some death and some resurrection, no doubt. And, it will help to know our own stories of the way that God is calling us individually, so that we can face up to where God is calling us as a community. And Jesus says, there can be no excuses.