Introduction and Call to Worship
Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. In this Eucharist, we set our face towards his death and resurrection, to be renewed by his presence here among us in Word and Sacrament and deepened in our resolve to travel with him.
First Reading 1 Kings 19:15-16. 19-21
God instructs Elijah to anoint Elisha to succeed him as prophet. Elisha sets out to follow Elijah and become his servant.
Second Reading Galatians 5:1. 13-25
Paul exhorts his Christian converts to stand firm in the freedom Christ has won for them.
Gospel Luke 9:51-62
Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem to meet his final destiny.
HOMILY “Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51)
This Sunday morning, 30th July, our new Curate Jo Winn-Smith will be made a deacon at Guildford Cathedral and I am sure our thoughts and prayers are with her, her family and friends at this momentous moment in her faith journey. To hear God’s call to service is exciting but also somewhat daunting. Next Sunday morning Jo will join us for worship as Deacon of the Eucharist and we look forward to welcoming her into our family of faith. Jesus knew all about journeys. His destination is our salvation, realised in Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets, hence mid-work he “set his face to go to Jerusalem”. (Luke 9:51)
Geoffrey Chaucer was a civil servant at the royal court during the second half of the fourteenth century. He was very well connected, entrusted with several important and influential posts in the service of the Crown over a period of many years. However, he is best remembered as one of the first poets of the English language, and especially for writing The Canterbury Tales. As a child I studied this work at school and remember a school trip to Canterbury to visit The Canterbury Tales exhibition – great fun with Chaucer’s colourful and entertaining stories of love, infidelity, intrigue, courtship and death brought vividly to life! A group of pilgrims meet at the Tabard Inn in Southwark on the south bank of the Thames and they set out on their pilgrimage to the tomb of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral. From a Knight to the Parson, the group comprises a random collection of people from many different walks of life, and, to pass the time, they each tell a story.
Some of the stories are in dubious taste; nevertheless, the pilgrims look forward to their visit to the shrine as a life-changing event. Their faith will be strengthened and deepened by their experience as they journey along the way. They set their faces to go to Canterbury. I am quite sure we will not hear such tales on our parish trip to Walsingham in October…but we too will go with our hearts set, this time towards our Lady’s House, the holy place of prayer at the heart of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Perhaps this year, as part of our pilgrimage, each one of us taking part could be willing to share our own faith story and journey with our fellow travellers along the way?
The pilgrims in Chaucer’s stories might well have been unaware that their journey was following a pattern that runs throughout the Bible. We find it first in the Old Testament. “Abram went and did as the Lord had told him... Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you.” Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt, through the Red Sea and then through the wilderness for forty years. It fell to Joshua to lead them into the Promised Land. All these journeys were pivotal moments in the Old Testament, the Old Covenant.
In today's Gospel, in the New Testament or New Covenant, we see Jesus on his journey to establish a new relationship between people and God: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Again, the moment is pivotal and life changing. According to Luke, from this point Jesus heads inevitably towards his death and, ultimately, his resurrection and therefore our salvation. This death will lead to a change in our relationship with God as all our sins are taken up into his open arms upon the cross; our failings are overcome by his love.
But his progress towards our redemption is not unhindered. There is no lack of courage or purpose of will on the part of our lord of love. But the disciples seem reluctant to go with him on his journey to Jerusalem. They also seem unwilling or perhaps unable to be in tune with Jesus. It reads as though they fail to understand the purpose of his journey. So, when they came to a Samaritan village, and the inhabitants were less than willing to welcome Jesus, James and John, two of his closest disciples, wanted to retaliate with force. Their reaction is clearly human – perhaps like ours would be: “Do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” They received the rebuke they deserved.
Others were less aggressive but still undecided in their response to Jesus: “First let me go and bury my father... let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus' reply left them in no doubt as to what he expected of them: “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Jo has now left All Saints’ Church, Woodham where she has served as a Lay Reader for several years, which is part of her own pilgrimage of faith as she follows our Lord on the path that he is calling her to tread. Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are a timely reminder as we examine where we are in life, what path we have been following and where our Lord would have us walk forward. Faith is a journey, a pilgrimage. Our Lord’s face is set towards Jerusalem, and he expects that those who follow him should be looking in that direction as well – the path that leads to eternal life!
The pilgrimage of faith is full of chatter, change and opportunity. As we journey through life and in faith so we must always look forward to the future. Like the disciples and those who followed Jesus two thousand years ago, we must look to the life-giving and life-changing event which took place in Jerusalem and which is the basis of our faith – the resurrection – the hope of heaven! Each one of us, in our own time and in our own way, must set our face “to go to Jerusalem”. Amen.
Today, Sunday 30th June 2019, our new Curate Jo Winn-Smith will be made a deacon at Guildford Cathedral, as she continues her pilgrimage of faith, following God’s call.
Chaucer is probably best known for writing , stories told by pilgrims on their way to the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral, a pivotal event in their lives.
The pilgrims were perhaps unaware that they were following a biblical pattern of journeys, an integral part of the Old Covenant, and followed by Jesus himself as “he set his face to go to Jerusalem”, where he would establish the New Covenant.
The disciples were unable to understand the meaning of his journey and proved to be a hindrance rather than a help.
We may find that we take after them in the practice of our faith, but each one of us has, in our own way, to set our face to go to Jerusalem.