Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

Determination

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"Determination," Image by Zach Dischner via Flickr, Licensed under CC BY 2.0


“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”

This is the verse behind the Gospel passage for this coming Sunday. Nothing will deter Jesus from going to Jerusalem. Nothing. At. All.

For as much as we could say about this portion of Luke as the Gospel lesson for this Sunday, what seems clear, no matter what is put in Jesus’ way, Jesus will, no matter what, make his way to Jerusalem.

I find a certain comfort in Jesus’ determination. Not that I ever doubted Jesus would live into prophecy and fulfill his destiny, so to speak. And I have never doubted that Jesus believed and knew he had to live into and live out what his mother taught him. He knew who he was and where a message like hers, like his, would end up. There’s no way you can utter the words of the Magnificat, there’s no way you can preach a sermon like Jesus did in Nazareth, and expect acceptance or a world-viewed happy ending.

This might sound odd, but I have to admit that it’s reassuring for me when Jesus confirms the direction of ministry; when Jesus affirms his purpose. Sometimes I need to be reminded that Jesus did what he set out to do.

And why? Because our human nature, our human inclination, seems, more often than not, to be the opposite. We give up or give in. We let the difficulties and the challenges of what lies ahead to redirect our intentions. Of course, this is not to suggest that we could ever do what Jesus did. Only Jesus could and can go to the cross. To be clear, the ability of Jesus to shoulder what was to come his way is not ours to bear. And it never will be. But, Jesus’ determination, at least this time around, exposed my own -- or lack thereof.

I have been thinking a lot these days about the things, or persons, that seem to deter our determination or derail our resolve. Sometimes, these are happenstance kinds of situations. Circumstances surface that delay our destinations or slow down our timing. Life, as it were, has a tendency to do that, to interrupt the best laid plans, to cause reorientation and demand a different navigational strategy. And, depending on the state of affairs, we might even manage to circumvent their influence and keep on going. We might even welcome the push toward a new terminus -- and, maybe it was meant to be, or at least we tell ourselves that.

Other times, however, those events that dissuade and discourage our forward progress are obstacles of our own making -- everything from self-doubt to self-sabotage. Because actually getting to where you want to go means, for one thing, change -- changed responsibilities, changed relationships, even a change in identity. And perhaps, somewhere in your subconscious, these are changes you don’t want, changes that produce fear, changes that give up control, changes that destabilize and disorient.

As a result, these realities are harder to traverse because they require a kind of self-evaluation, a forthright inner reflection, in which we rarely want to engage. It’s a lot easier to cast the blame outside of ourselves for not reaching our goals than it is to do the hard self-work of asking why and how it didn’t happen. Having to analyze not just where but why you gave up or gave in is not something we readily want to do. And to what extent it was not a giving up or giving in at all, but something entirely, and even wonderfully, different, is another matter altogether.

Furthermore, self-analyzation is not something we always can do. Because sometimes, we find ourselves in spaces and places where both introspection and self-evaluation are more perilous than accepting that the end of the road is not what, or when, you anticipated.

I find myself drawn, as a result of these ponderings, to Jesus’ determination. I know, at first glance one might say, “Well, of course he was determined. Of course, he succeeded. He was the Son of God, after all.” But that argument does not sit well with me theologically. Jesus was also human. And I keep coming back to Mary. Mary, Jesus’ mother, who surely taught Jesus a thing or two about having to reconsider your future -- and then having to set your course for that new future. Somehow, this time around, Jesus’ determination validates, underscores, and empowers my own, our own.

Perhaps in Jesus’ resoluteness there is inspiration to believe in our own. And maybe, that is just what we need. In this Lent. In this moment. A need to know that something or someone outside of ourselves is that which is necessary to keep us going. And, what is necessary for us to believe in a future that, at the end of the day, we cannot imagine on our own. A sense that there’s something more. A belief that more might truly be possible. All because Jesus knew his way.

Karoline

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