History is incredibly valuable. The record of “where we have been” has much to celebrate, and multiple exemplars to marvel at. Particularly in this nation, we are proud of our heritage, and have many places that are almost sacred to us where we are reminded of the courageous people who got us here. I think of our trip to Philadelphia a few years ago where Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated and affirmed seemed particularly sacred. (I also attended worship at St. George’s United Methodist Church, one of the two oldest churches in our denomination and therefore for me a sacred shrine in its own right.)
History also has a cautionary component, however. As philosopher George Santayana is credited as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. History is more than monuments about wonderfulness, although it is that. History is about mistakes to learn from; errors not to repeat but to correct. It is valuable to look back.
But it is not valuable to stay stuck back, Jesus seems to be saying—and living out—in this passage from Luke 9:51-62. He has “set his face to go to Jerusalem”. He is clearly looking forward, to what he next is to do—and although he is someone who celebrates his own heritage, while at the same time negotiating with it and reinterpreting it, he isn’t staying in the past, and he isn’t merely repeating familiar patterns. He is looking to the future, what is on the horizon—and that focus is noticed by the people in the next town he visits on his way to Jerusalem. It seems that his focus is missed by his disciples, who stick with the familiar patterns of preparing for his visit to that town, even though that is clearly (at least to the townspeople) not his agenda.
How about us? Are we aware enough of our surroundings, our context, to act in forward-looking ways? Or are we somehow comfortable with the familiar patterns, established modes of functioning from the past, and not aware enough to pick up on how things may need to “change up”? Walking with Jesus—literally for the disciples; metaphorically fur us—calls on us to be attentive, aware, not missing the adaptations that circumstances call us to. When the clues are there, we can’t afford to be as clueless and the disciples were! We can’t be so ingrained in how we’ve “done it” that we miss that we need another way to “do it”.
NEW TESTAMENT Ephesians 3:14-21
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. 18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, 21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.
GOSPEL Luke 9:51-62
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ 58 And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ 59 To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ 60 But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’61 Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ 62 Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’