The Way

Scripture (Luke 9:51-62) can be found here

This is the kind of scripture passage that makes me talk to myself. I read this story this week, and after I finished, I said, out loud, “That’s pretty harsh, Jesus.”

The gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus has “set his face for Jerusalem.” Jesus is pointing himself in a particular direction, towards a particular goal, and he is steadfast. He is resolved.

I think we have all “set our faces” for something, some time.

For having a conversation we dread.

For encountering a person who has hurt us.

For beginning a hard task… something that really matters, that a lot depends on.

We set our faces, and then we go and do that hard thing.

Jesus is setting his face to go to Jerusalem, where, he knows, he will die. But after which, he also knows, he will rise.

But did you notice? He is hoping he won’t have to do it alone. He wants his disciples to follow along with him on his way.

Do you recall what members of the early church called themselves? They called themselves “followers of The Way,” because they knew that, every day, they had to make a decision to follow Jesus. They had to figure out how to follow his Way at home. They had to figure out how to follow at work. They had to figure out what it meant in the private sphere, and in the public sphere.

This was not a Sundays only kind of obligation. It was about their whole selves, their entirety. It was about following Jesus, about loving God, with all their heart, and with all their soul, and with all their mind, and with all their strength (Luke 10:27). Followers of the Way had to figure out how to overcome or transcend or get by any number of obstacles.

In our passage, various obstacles present themselves, and Jesus keeps saying, in every way he knows how, “Follow me; we have to proclaim the reign of God.” He is shocking in the things he dismissed—home, family, obligations.

I am always shocked when I read this passage. I am always brought up short, because I have to ask myself: What am I willing to do? What am I willing to leave behind? How committed am I, really, to following Jesus, no matter what?

But did you notice? Jesus has companions on the journey.

One of the wonderful, incredible, and undeniable gifts of discipleship is that we cannot do it alone, and we are not expected to do it alone.

Jesus is, of course, our first and most vital companion for the journey. Without him, we’re just playing at discipleship.

But the journey is filled with other companions, too. People whom God puts in our path. And those people help us on our journeys in immeasurable ways. I’ll name just three of them.

Our companions on the Way help us to learn what our particular calling is. There are many gifts, many activities, many services, but one God. Our companions help us to discover the many ways to follow, whether that is helping to spiritually nourish our young, or visiting the sick, or helping girls around the world to stay in school, or helping folks in our neighborhood put food on the table.

Our companions on the Way encourage us. There are bumps in every road, and the Way of Jesus is no exception. When we hit a bump, and maybe even end up a little bruised, our companions help us to look beyond it to see the bigger picture. When we fall, our companions help us to get back up. When we are discouraged, dis-couraged, our companions share a little of their courage to get our supply back up where it needs to be.

And our companions on the Way help us to find joy as we go. When I first arrived at Union Presbyterian Church in 2007, I noticed it immediately. There was joy here. Joy, in abundance. Joy in Session meetings, joy at potlucks. Joy in planning a big event, joy in watching it unfold. Joy in setting out on a mission trip; joy in returning again, carrying our proverbial sheaves.

One such companion for me, for all of us, has been the Rev. Jeff Kellam. From the moment he introduced himself to me after worship one Sunday morning, and I began to learn his story, he shared the joy he’d found in his life of discipleship.

As many of you know, Jeff grew up in the yellow house across Liberty Avenue, and he grew up in this church. He studied with beloved Sunday School teachers here, and he participated in Youth Group, with leaders whose influence on him was lifelong.

Fifty years ago yesterday, Jeff was ordained here, one of just two Presbyterian Church (USA) ministers of Word and Sacrament ordained to the Ministry of Electronic Media (the other, for those of you who are wondering, was Mr. Rogers). He followed Jesus’ Way to Richmond Virginia, where he began his radio show eventually known as Celebration Rock, combining “a gentle gospel message” with rock music. He also served in congregational ministry there until he was called to his beloved Northeast Kingdom, East Craftsbury, Vermont. Nineteen years later, his ministry continued closer to home, as he followed the Way to Trumansburg, NY.

Jeff supposedly retired in 2007, but as I don’t have to tell you, retirement on Jeff looks a lot like full-time ministry on other folks. As our Parish Associate, he teaches, he preaches, and he provides pastoral care when I’m off gallivanting, and he serves the larger community by hosting the Encounter TV show for the Broome County Council of Churches. And he does it all with the love, joy, and peace; patience, kindness, and goodness; faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control that scripture tells us are the marks of one bathed in the Holy Spirit.

We are beyond grateful for this man’s presence among us.

Jesus calls each and every one of us to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through obstacles we cannot imagine. He calls us to set our faces to the task of being his followers, in every single aspect of our lives.

But Jesus promises us his constant and abiding presence along the Way. And he also promises us companions—companions to help us to discern how to follow; companions to encourage us; companions to help us find joy.

Thanks be to God. Amen.