As some of you know, I enjoy fishing. Fishing is a sport of many tricks and strategies: The tackle and equipment to select and manage, the body of water to choose, the time of day to go, the type of fish to seek, the length of time to stay in a particular spot that seems worthless. All of these are choices that can lead to triumph; but more often than not, they lead to indignities. One aspect particularly brings about more than a few assaults to my pride. It is when the weather seems to be uncooperative.
Years ago, on a Father’s Day, I opted to go fishing right about sundown. It rained off and on at sundown that day. But as soon as I would retreat to my truck, it would stop. Then, as soon as I would begin fishing, the rain would begin again. I decided I could take the rain and fish through it. As I stood on the shore, being drenched, I remembered something a friend once told me. There is a fine line between fishing and being a fool with a pole. I had crossed that line. I was no longer a fisherman but a fool with a pole, and a drenched fool at that.
This morning we hear of Jesus’ determination to go to Jerusalem. We hear that, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” There are two points in this sentence I want to highlight.
First, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up....” Jesus knew his trek to Jerusalem was not a simple pilgrimage. It was not just to celebrate another Passover in the holy city. He was going to Jerusalem to fulfill his mission. He was going to Jerusalem to offer himself on the cross. But notice that Luke does not make that the focus. Luke’s focus is that Jesus would be taken up, not that he would be lifted up,as the Gospels usually speak of crucifixion. Luke’s focus is on Jesus’ Ascension, his being taken into heaven after his resurrection. Luke’s focus is so distinct that he tells the story twice; once in this Gospel and once in the Book of Acts, which he also wrote. This is Luke’s way of focussing on the power, the promises and the hopes of the effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Jesus set off to Jerusalem knowing that he was heading toward his Ascension and knowing full well the trials and suffering through which he would have to walk before that Ascension. Yet, he was determined to walk that journey. He was determined to take the road to the cross, through death, into the grave, to eternal life, and, then, to be taken into heaven. Jesus knew that was his journey and he was determined to take it.
Which leads to the second point of interest. Luke notes our Lord’s conviction by saying that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Now, this is not a simple statement that Jesus started walking toward Jerusalem. Instead it is a Hebrew idiomatic phrase that highlights a person’s determination. Perhaps the best known example of this phrase is in Isaiah chapter 50. I have set my face like a flint,” the prophet says.
Interestingly enough, -that quote is from one of the Servant Songs. The Servant Songs are passages of Isaiah that describe a suffering servant of the Lord who brings redemption to God’s people. The Church has long seen these passages as blatant and clear prophecies of Jesus Christ. Luke used the servant song to underscore Jesus’ determination to be the suffering servant.
Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. This phrase means that Jesus set his face fast. He was resolute. He was determined. His mind was made up. His will was as hard as a rock. He had set his face like a flint to fulfill what God expected of him.
That is a strong and moving model for our own faithfulness. We are called to be followers of Jesus. We are called to be his faithful disciples. We are called to set our faces like flints toward him as he leads us to fulfill what God expects of us.
But then there is that image of fishing. When is that moment when, in our efforts to be faithful, we become more like a fool with a pole rather than a fisherman? How do we know when we have crossed that line. Well, it is not easy and many times we may not know we have crossed that line until we are well past it.
However, there is an antidote offered in today’s Epistle reading. In the last line of today’s reading we hear the challenge, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”
If we have been given life by the Spirit of God, then we should seek to live within the Spirit of God. We should be formed, reformed and informed by the Spirit of God. This word translated as guided means to march, to keep step. If we seek to be children of God, if we seek to live as a child of God, we must also seek to follow the calls of God.
That is what can save us from stepping too far over that line that separates faithfulness from foolishness. It is the time that we spend in prayer. It is the time we spend in the study of God’s Word. It is the time that we spend in fellowship with other Christians. It is the time that we spend in the worship of God. Each of these are the ways we can be formed, reformed, and informed by the Spirit of God.
The truly faithful following of God cannot be based upon a faith that is treated like a precious object. We cannot approach God like He is a priceless possession to be placed upon a shelf, only to be admired and referred to in the right company. That is not faithfulness, that is spiritual foolishness.
Martin Luther said, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing and suffers nothing is worth nothing.” If our faith is not challenging us to move deeper into God, to grow in the knowledge and love of the Lord, to offer our gifts and our very selves to God; if we are not setting our faces like flints to follow Jesus, if we are not being guided by the Spirit, then I ask you what are we doing here?
That one Father’s Day, I stood on the shore of a pond in the pouring rain thinking I was going to catch that trophy bass. Instead, I had well crossed that line. I was no longer a fisherman I was just a foolish man, standing in the rain with a pole. You know, I can live with that occasionally. But I wonder if I am doing the same thing spiritually. Am I acting faithfully or foolishly?
Let us each take up Paul’s challenge today. Let us seek to follow Luke’s image as well. Let us set our faces like flints to follow Jesus, living by the Spirit as well as being guided by the Spirit. That is faithfulness not foolishness.
© 2019, Tom Thoeni