Sermon for June 30th

I was quite fortunate to be asked to be the “pulpit supply” for my own church, Ann Arbor West Side UMC, on the 5th Sunday of June. This just happened to be the Sunday between our last Pastor’s final sermon, and our new Pastor’s first sermon … kind of like being a MLB middle-relief pitcher.

The scripture passages associated with the sermon are as follows:
Luke 9:51-52
Luke 15:1-2

The Journey

walking with jesus

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Will you pray with me?
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14 CEB)

Today we embark upon a journey, retracing the footsteps of Jesus, as he was heading from Galilee, in the north, to Jerusalem in the south.

As we begin this journey, it is important to note that, Jesus spent most of his life in Galilee, and most of his ministry happened there, Matthew and Mark’s gospels take place almost entirely in the Galilee region, and it’s only here in Luke Chapter 9 verse 51, that Jesus, “sets his face resolutely toward Jerusalem.” This is a turning point in Luke’s gospel and Luke thinks this is so important; he devotes 10 of his 24 chapters, to the journey to Jerusalem.

Keep in mind – Jesus knows, that when he arrives in Jerusalem, he’ll be crucified. Jesus could have avoided crucifixion by staying in Galilee. But Jesus “sets his face resolutely toward Jerusalem,” he’s on a mission; he’s a man who has three months to live.

Now, if you had three months to live, what would you do with that time?

What conversations would you have?

Where would you make sure you went?

What kinds of things would you do?

Jesus has three months to live, he knows this, his predicts this to his disciples again and again, “I’m going to Jerusalem, and I’ll be tortured and then crucified.” And yet, they don’t believe him! He has three months to live – what you’re about to see in today is what Jesus chooses to do with the last three months of his life.

So we are going to ask these three questions today.

The first is, “What kind of King is this?”

The second question we’re going to answer, “What kind of kingdom does he rule over?”

And the last question is, “What does he expect of his subjects?”

Everything that we read in the Gospels is meant to answer these three questions.

Today, we will try and answer these questions, by looking at the journey Jesus makes from Galilee to Jericho.

The journey should have taken three days, it’s about 76 miles. But instead, it took Jesus three months. This is because he had planned when he would enter Jerusalem to die. He left three months early, so that he could do the things we’re going to talk about today. He wants to arrive in Jerusalem at the Passover. So, three months before the Passover, he begins his Journey to Jerusalem.

He goes straight into Samaria. Now keep in mind, in his day, a good Jew would do anything to avoid going into Samaria, but Jesus takes the Ridge Road and goes straight into Samaria, and he offers the Samaritans the gifts of the Kingdom of God.

In fact he sends his disciples ahead of him, and he says, “Go, prepare the way. Go, heal the sick, and cast out the demons, and preach to the people that, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” And, even though they rejected his disciples, he went about ministering to them.

He disagreed with them theologically since, as Pastor Tracy told us, they have inter-married with non-Jews and adopted their religious customs so they did not practice a pure form of Judaism, but he doesn’t look at the theological differences.

They have mistreated one another, but he doesn’t hold the laws against them, he says these are the children of God. God cares about the Samaritans, so I will care about them, I will love them, and offer them the grace of God.

I know you might not quite get it yet, until you start thinking about it from this perspective … who are the Samaritans in my life?

If you had lived during the American Civil War, and you live in the South, who are the Samaritans? … … The north.

If you lived in Israel today as a Jew, who are the Samaritans? … … The Palestinians.

If you are a staunch Republican, who are the Samaritans? … … The Democrats.

If you’re a flaming liberal, who are the Samaritans? … … It’s all those dreaded conservatives.

Maybe it’s not even our theological or political differences; maybe, it’s the way that they have hurt us. They have said things to us, and done things and you know what … if they are going to be in heaven, I’m not sure I want to be there.

That’s the sort of feeling that we have.

I’m curious, who are your Samaritans?

Who are the people you feel so strongly about, you can’t hardly stand the thought of being together in the same room with them, so suspicious of them, it’s hard for you to even think positive thoughts about them.

Jesus went to them.

Jesus went to them to invite them to be part of the Kingdom.

And doubt not, they will be in the Kingdom, these people.

Tell me, if you had three months to live, could you; would you; find a way to make your peace with these “Samaritans” in your life? Or, as Pastor Tracy said, will you try and use this as your “loophole?”

It’s interesting, he has three months to live, and on the journey, he has things he must do, he has people to see, and places to go, and yet he gets interrupted constantly by people who want something from him.

But Jesus always stops for the interruption.

This is because; he recognizes that, the interruption, is where God is most profoundly at work.

Jesus stops, for the man who can’t speak. And he touches him, and suddenly the man can speak for the first time in his life.

Jesus is preaching in a synagogue, and while he’s preaching, a women walks in the back of the room, and she’s hunched over, like this (demonstrate). And he stops his sermon. And he walks over to this woman, all eyes are upon him, and he touches her, on the back. And then to everyone’s amazement, she begins to stand up straight (demonstrate), and the pain that she has lived with for 18 years is gone, and she begins to raise her hands and shout, “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord! I am well.”

He is in the home of a Pharisee, eating supper on the Sabbath, after worship, with all these prominent people from the town who are present. When, there’s a knock on the door, and the man who is standing at the door, his skin is stretched so taught, it’s about to burst, it’s swollen with what was called dropsy, fluids underneath the surface of the skin. This man is in such pain, he can hardly stand it, his body is on fire. And while this man stands at the door, Jesus looks at his host, and he says, “Is it lawful for me to heal on the Sabbath, Rabbi?”

And the Rabbi is not going to answer; he’s gritting his teeth, wondering why this man dares show up and interrupt his dinner.

And Jesus walks to the door, and he touches the man, and as they watch, they can see the swelling immediately go down. And the man is made well.

Jesus isn’t going to wait until the day after the Sabbath in order to heal the man; this man is in pain now! He can, and will, do something – and he will do it … now.

There are 10 lepers that are walking along in a village, somewhere in Samaria, and as Jesus is walking along on the other side of the street, they shout out, “Jesus, son of Nazareth, can you help us?” He doesn’t say no I’m busy; I’m sorry, maybe check with me tomorrow. He stops … and he finds out that they are lepers.

Lepers are isolated and live in their own colonies, and no one has anything to do with lepers … except Jesus.

So, Jesus heals the lepers. Now you remember, 9 of the lepers go about their business, only 1 of them comes back to thank Jesus for what had happened.

And that one leper, Jesus says, happened to be a Samaritan.

So these are the things that Jesus is doing and the people he’s associating with. But, he’s not just associating with the sick, and the Samaritans, and the lepers. He also associates with the “ordinary people” in his day.

He only has supper with the Pharisees twice, and he goes to the synagogue on a regular basis, but, the thing is, if you watch him carefully, he’s constantly irritated with these religious people.

He’s frustrated with them, because the religious people in Jesus’ day were just not “getting it.”

He heals the woman who was bent over for 18 years, and you know what happens right after that?

The leader of the synagogue stands up and says, “If you’re sick, don’t come here on the Sabbath! Don’t come to the synagogue to be healed.”

And the Pharisee who is sitting there when the man with dropsy comes to the door, all he can think of is, what is this man doing, wanting to be healed on the Sabbath?

And when Jesus is eating with another Pharisee, here this Pharisee is eating with the “Son of God,” all he can think of, is that Jesus did not wash his hands in the ceremonially appropriate way.

It really all comes out in Luke, Chapter 15, verses 1 and 2, where we read these words, “All the tax collectors and sinners where coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the Scribes were grumbling saying, this fellow welcome sinners and he eats with them.”

Think about this, Jesus, surrounded by people who don’t go to synagogue, aren’t a part of the temple, they’re sinners, they’re not “pure.”

And wouldn’t you think, that if you were a Rabbi, or a Pharisee, you’d go, “Look at all the people coming here to hear Jesus preach the good news!”

Don’t you think you’d be excited about that?

Except, they weren’t excited about it.

Because their understanding of holiness was that they were to separate themselves from people like that.

They had a certain way of making “those people” feel.

You know what that’s like, maybe you’ve done it to other people, or other people have done it to you.

That’s what the Pharisees thought that being religious and pious was all about … which made Jesus crazy, because, who most needed someone to love them back into God’s Kingdom, except for the sinners and the tax collectors.

They needed people that would make them feel comfortable in their own skin. Take them as they were, and then invite them to be part of a journey, and show them something so compelling that they could not resist; God’s grace.

That’s what Jesus did. These sinners and tax collectors, they felt comfortable with Jesus. Jesus made them want to be more than they were.

Let’s look at the things that Jesus taught. And there were so many wonderful things that he taught while he was on this journey, in fact, in Luke’s gospel you’ll find some of your favorite stories.

As he’s travelling through Samaria, one of the places that he goes is the home of Mary and Martha.

Mary and Martha are two sisters, and Jesus shows up at the house of these two women. That’s a very unorthodox thing for a man to do. Men didn’t go into the house of a woman, and grace them in this way with their presence; women were property in 1st Century Palestine.

Jesus goes to teach there, and there’s a whole crowd of people who gather around, and come and just sit in the house, and Martha does exactly what a woman is supposed to do. She takes her place in the kitchen. She’s preparing hors d’oeuvres, cookies, lemonade, and tea. And all of these people are sitting there listening to Jesus, hanging on his words, and Martha’s sister, Mary, where is she? Not in the kitchen, she’s at the feet of Jesus.

Whenever someone sits at the feet of a Master, they are a disciple.

Mary is taking the part of the disciple.

Martha’s in the kitchen, she’s furious. Doesn’t my sister know that women don’t belong at the feet of the Master? Doesn’t she understand she should be in here helping! And she’s getting more and more angry all the time.

And you’ve pictured this story … where’s she’s banging the pots and pans against one another. You know, trying to get Mary’s attention.

Finally, Martha’s so upset, she comes and she interrupts Jesus message, and she says, “Jesus, would you please tell my sister to get her fanny in the kitchen, because I can’t do all this by myself.”

And Jesus looks at Martha and says, “Martha, Martha, you’re worried about so many things, and Mary, she has chosen the better part. And that won’t be taken away from her.”

Now, what just happened there?

Jesus just obliterated the social norms. He’s changing the role that women might play in society and in his Kingdom, when he’s allowing Mary to be one of his disciples, to sit at his feet.

And, you know, it’s not just Mary, there is the woman who weeps at his feet. There is the woman who comes and anoints him with oil. There is the woman who is a Samaritan who’s had 5 husbands, and now is divorced and living with yet another man, who he calls to be the missionary to the Samaritans. There’s Mary Magdalene, who acts as one of his disciples, who is the first one who sees Jesus raised from the dead, and becomes the first one who proclaims the resurrection.

Jesus obliterates the social norms of his time, and how grateful I am as the father of a daughter, and partners with a wonderful woman, that Jesus said that a daughter, a woman, can sit at his feet, and be his disciple.

What kind of King is this?

And what does this tell you about his Kingdom, for men, and for women, and their roles? And what does this tell you about your role as one of his subjects?

Paul caught it when he wrote in Galatians 3:28, “In Christ there is neither Jew, nor Greek;
slave, nor free;
male, nor female;
for all are one in Him.”

Ok, Jesus finally makes it to Jericho; this is where we will end today.

He arrives in Jericho, sixteen miles from Jerusalem. He walks into the city; there are thousands of people who have come out to see Jesus. He is the wonder worker, maybe he’s the Messiah, and everybody wants to catch of glimpse of him.

And while he’s walking into the town, there’s one man who’s intent upon seeing him. This man has a hole in his heart so big; you could drive a truck through it. He’s the wealthiest man in town. He’s the chief tax collector, his name is what? … …  Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus wants to see Jesus because there is something missing in his life, in spite of having everything money can buy. And so Zacchaeus is trying to catch a glimpse of Jesus, but, Luke tells us, Zacchaeus is short. He can’t even see over the crowds.

So, he runs to the other end of town, there’s a giant sycamore tree there, and he scurries up the sycamore tree. And he’s sitting there, just so he can see Jesus. And, Jesus, much to his surprise, begins to walk straight towards the tree. And his heart begins to beat faster and faster as Jesus gets closer, and finally Jesus stops and he looks up in the tree and he says, “Zacchaeus, come down from there, for I intend to spend the evening at your house tonight.”

You could hear an audible gasp from the crowd.

Keep this in mind. This is the last night of Jesus’ life outside of Jerusalem. He’s going to go over the Mount of Olives the next day, and he’s going to go there to die!

And Jesus chooses to spend the last night outside of Jerusalem, in the home of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, the chief sinner of the town.

I want you to know that when Zacchaeus met Jesus, Jesus conquered Rome and Jericho, because at that moment, there was a radical conversion that happened in Zacchaeus’ heart.

Rome’s representative was won over, not by a sword, but by love that day in Jericho. From that time forward the poor would be fed in Jericho, by the one who had been the Roman tax collector. And justice was brought for all the people, and that, because of the love of Christ.

What kind of King was he? He was the kind of King who seeks out sinners, Samaritans, and misfits to be his followers. He’s the one who has compassion for the sick, the second class, and the poor.

What kind of kingdom does he lead? Not a Kingdom with a sword, not a Kingdom in a place, but a Kingdom that’s in our hearts – the hearts of all who are his followers, his subjects, and who call him their King.

And what does he expect of us? That we live humbly, we love God, we care for the poor, and for those who are in need, that we live our lives in such a way, that lost sheep are brought back to the fold.

That’s what we learned about Jesus in his journey today.

Let us pray.


O God how grateful we are that you sent Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to call us, a congregation of misfits, and sinners, and Samaritans.

Help us to walk humbly before you.

Help us to love you with all our heart, help us to love our neighbor, and to see those around us in need, as our neighbor.

Help us to seek to serve you radically, with all that’s within us.

And make us, O God, your subjects.

Allow us to be part of that Kingdom that knows no boundary, that’s timeless, and ageless.

We offer ourselves to you.

We ask these things in Jesus’ name.