December 2, 2020

Help Me with My Sermon!

By Chaplain Mike

OK friends, I need your help.

For the next three Sundays, I have the privilege of leading worship and proclaiming the Gospel in a sister congregation. One thing I have appreciated about the Lutheran tradition is the emphasis each Sunday on the Gospel passage and message.

As you know, however, Jesus spoke some “hard sayings,” teachings that are hard to process personally, and difficult to understand as “good news.”

This week’s passage is a good example—Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. 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?’ But he turned and rebuked them.

Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ 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.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’

I’m working on this, but I thought I might enlist your assistance in the process.

  • What is the “Good News” in this Gospel passage?
  • Where do we see God’s grace in this text?
  • What attracts you to Jesus as you read these words?

Join me in the study, and let’s talk!


  1. I really like this pastor approach to the text. He says it a lot better then I could. The study of this text starts at 2:00 mark.

    The key to finding the grace in this text is the first verse for sure. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” This points us to the cross and where the work of Jesus really happened.

    • He had some good things to say, but I have to confess I found his style annoying. For me, the Ricky Nelson video ultimately saved him.

      Thanks, Alex.

  2. In the lectionary this passage is linked to Galatians 5 and to the call of Elisha… both of which make it clear that this is possible through the work of the Holy Spirit… The good news is that we can’t follow where Christ is going on our own… He did go to Jerusalem… and then He infused us with the Holy Spirit so we actually now have a nature that can follow Christ in freedom!

    • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

      Good call, Fr. Greg. I think that’s how I’d frame it too. Sometimes the “gospel” part of the readings is outside of the Gospel Reading. The call to follow Christ isn’t for sissies. Yes, salvation is free. Yes, we can’t bring anything to the table. But spiritual formation and sanctification sometimes is hard and sometimes requires sacrifice. The key to that is the empowering of the Holy Spirit. If we try under our own strength, we’ll fail, but as we seek the Lord and seek his empowerment, he gives us what we need to make those sacrifices. The other two readings reinforce that empowerment from the Holy Spirit. Indeed, when they got to Jerusalem, Jesus’ disciples all fell away. They couldn’t live up to the standard from the passage above until after the Resurrection and Pentecost.

      I’m reminded of a common belief in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries at the height of the Roman persecution of Christians. The Christians considered it the highest honor for God to call them to be a martyr for the faith. But they believed that if an individual went seeking martyrdom under their own strength, they wouldn’t have the fortitude to resist the Romans’ offer of freedom in exchange for worshiping the Emperor. I.e., rather than martyrs, they’d end up traitors. So, the common practice was not to seek martyrdom, but to go into hiding, etc. If God wanted you to be a martyr, martyrdom would find you and God would give you the strength to die for your faith.

  3. I think the gospel and grace of this passage is the incarnation, God-with-us. Jesus, the Son of God, is walking and talking among men and women, calling these individuals into a relationship with the Divine, but as stated in John 1:10-11, that invitation is rejected. The religious pretense and idolatry (love, trust, fear of something other than God) of the people becomes apparent. It seems to fit recent events, where those claiming to be Christian and attach themselves to things that look very Jesus-like indeed are actually worshipping finely-crafted substitutes, or disguises for self-worship. Therapeutic deism is no substitute for the gospel.

    • That was my thought too – I saw grace in the invitations and interactions of Jesus. Life sometimes seems brutal to us, and sometimes God’s plan in people’s and our own lives is baffling, as with Jesus’ responses in the passage.

      I think grace shows through here because we have (1) the promise that He works it out for good and (2) that each of us has our own path to take. Sometimes, when we look at our own and other people’s paths to Jesus, it seems cruel and brutal. But we don’t know what’s best for them…Jesus does. And His responses and tailored for their life experience at that point in time. The passage doesn’t give us a background story for each person Jesus interacts with, which is true in all of life – you don’t know what’s happened to the people you interact with from day to day. But God sees every hurt they’ve endured, every circumstance life has thrown at them, and He understands perfectly how to orchestrate their lives to give them a fair chance to say yes to following Him.

  4. alvin_tsf says

    i believe the grace of the gospel is given in

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

    the will of God to rescue His people had been set and has defined Jesus’ mission in the world. but the fact that Jesus Himself has set His face shows His devotion to the Father and the love for His lost sheep, knowing full well what awaited Him in Jerusalem.

    the reaction of the disciples to “call fire from heaven” reveals our depraved nature with regards to our love of power and our twisted sense of justice.

    but Jesus, in mercy, shows the way for us to respond to His scandalous grace, shown in the cross. we are to abandon and lose our very lives for His sake. because that’s what He did for us as He set His face towards Jerusalem.

    He left the glories of His heavenly home to become a transient preacher to a stiff-necked people. (that’s me!) He left His Father to die a criminal. He abandoned His home so He can take us back there and also to live in us right now.

    well, that’s all i can muster with my limited inductive abilities. hope i get to read your sermon series chaplain mike. have a blessed day!

  5. For the triple play:

    1. “…the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus did not have a burial place. The disciples even did not want to dwell on His death. This man, like Christ’s disciples, would NOT follow Jesus anywhere. He would not follow Christ to the grave.

    2. “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” On its face, one could say that Jesus is telling the man, “Go to the funeral, but preach the Gospel there.” This might not have gone over well (since one’s enemies include those of one’s household). This man might have to insinuate to his grieving that his buried father is in hell.

    3. As a preacher once said that a preacher once said, “If you put your hand to the plow and turn back,” and he paused for effect, and followed with, “then turn around and put your hand back on the plow!”

  6. dkmonroe says

    The Good News here is the forbearance of God, and the graciousness of His call for people to be like Him.

    When Jesus is rejected by the Samaritans, I doubt He even gave a thought to punishing them for it, but the disciples insist He take revenge for the slight. His rebuke of them is an expression of love and grace, because with it He teaches them a righteousness beyond what they are familiar with and what they expect. The good news is, God is not quick to exercise wrath. His first response is forbearance.

    Jesus’s remarks to his disciples and followers (it seems that at least some of them are new arrivals) seems to be an expansion on the object lesson He has shown them by His interaction with the Samaritans. He seems to ask, “Can you be like me? Can you suffer rejection, to the point where you literally have no where to lay your head, because it is denied you? Can you suffer such rejection gracefully, and not think to take revenge for the slight, but rather give blessing, even for those who slight you? Can you suffer it when people reject me? Can you suffer it when they reject you, for my sake?” This is a lesson in grace.

    Does this passage attract me to Jesus? To be perfectly frank, I fear that if I were one of those men wanting to follow Jesus, and being told by Him that I was not even to return to my family and say goodbye, I would find it frustrating. Abritrary. Too harsh by half. But again, there is a lesson here: the call to Christlikeness is the call to pour one’s self out. To not expect a place to lay your head. To not avenge slights and disrespect. And to not keep one’s old life close at hand, when one is called to live a new one.

  7. Tom Canova says

    This seems to give comfort, showing the sovereignty of God – which is a great comfort in that as we realize God is sovereign, which sometimes we see in retrospect, we are encouraged that he is always doing what is best in the present even when it doesn’t make sense. In this case, what was best at that moment and what was necessary was the timely completion of the call to the cross – which was obedient to the Father. When it says ” they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem”, it is important to see what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say they did not receive him because they were stubborn and unrepentant. Though this is true, it is only part of the truth and this may be one of the things the disciples were focused on, not realizing the important role of Jesus and the Spirit in awakening the heart of a sinner so that the sinner might come to the Father, being born from above. Jesus’ face was set towards Jerusalem, [rather then toward …], which is given as the reason they did not receive him. We don’t know which of these people later heard the good news, repented and received new life in Jesus later – but I certainly expect that some did, based on God’s call, recorded in Acts, to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, … We don’t always understand God’s timing – but because we know God is sovereign and we know he is faithful and good, we know His timing is best and is right in our lives today.

  8. As others have pointed out, the first verse is the key to context and thus the key to the character of God in the passage. So often we take one phrase like, “let the dead bury their own dead,” and make entire rules and religions out of them. There were other times when Christ sent the people he had healed right back home, right back to normal life in their communities. In fact, normally Christ seemed to heal people back into their “normal” contexts. He didn’t demand some sort of lifetime devotion in exchange for his miracles.

    But in this moment, in this “fullness of time” there is a difference. There is an urgency. Indeed, all of time hinges on the next few days. The people asking to follow him did not know this, but Christ did. He was just being honest about the nature of the journey for anyone that truly joined him at this point. Christ will not accept our devotion to a religion, to a quick club, or a neat social adventure. He also doesn’t demand the sort of harsh self-flagellation that I think we sometimes characterize as “true discipleship”. Christ was truly honest about the journey. He is the ultimate context. What he asks of you right now is what the journey truly demands. He is a master of the journey and you may have a role to play in that journey but you cannot question where it may lead or what it may require. At times it may only require joking around by a campfire, at other times the pace quickens and your life may be called upon. My two cents.

  9. abstract idea, actually all my ideas are abstract 🙂

    comparing Jesus in Matt 6:26-30:
    26 Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? 27 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?

    28 “And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, 29 yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. 30 And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?

    with Jesus saying:

    ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests’

    we are not to worry, we are to depend on God & on his love, God loves his creation! he loves his creation so much that he sent his son to our world!! Where he lived & suffered without a home & ultimately died for us! we are to follow him without worry of our body, family, & lives! easier said than done! 🙂 This life of discipleship will be hard but we have hope in his Kingdom.
    just some thoughts. peace

  10. “Where do we see God’s grace in this text?”

    “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?’ But he turned and rebuked them.”

    At this point, even on the road to Jerusalem, the disciples were still not getting it. James and John are the two who wanted to be on the right- and left-hand when He entered into His kingdom. and had no idea of what they were asking (I saw somewhere that Jesus could not promise them the places on His right and left because they were already given – to the two thieves who would be there when He entered into His kingdom) and here they are, still thinking they are on the triumphal path to the declaration of the Messiah, and wanting to be zealous in striking down those who dared reject Israel’s King.

    This foreshadows what Jesus will say to Pilate about “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my servants would fight to prevent me being handed over to the Jewish authorities. But now my kingdom is not from here.”

    So where is grace here? Even in our ignorance, when we either refuse and deny Him, or (maybe worse) think we know what is going to happen and try to steer Him along the paths we find best, still He has mercy upon us.

  11. Of course, we shouldn’t forget the really vital part of the sermon, which is the appeal for donations to the roof repair/repainting the church/school heating bill fund.


  12. Shintath says

    The part about “setting his face toward Jerusalem” refers to the Jewish prayer-direction. The Samaritans, by contrast, faced Mt. Gerazim. They condemned Jesus for being different from them, but he refused to condemn them back.

  13. I actually preached my first sermon last year as a new pastor from this passage. I’d never preached from the lectionary and started on the wrong year! Oh well, it was an awesome experience preaching through the Gospel of Luke. After this passage, I began every sermon with “we are on the road with Jesus to Jerusalem.” I think my churches got sick of the phrase!

    I don’t recall all of my sermon and I can’t find it in my Word docs. but here goes.

    What is the Good News? The Good News is the mission of God (his desire to redeem all of creation from sin, death, and the devil) is being carried out in the life of Jesus. He has given his disciples an interpretive paradigm for understanding how people will respond to the Good News in the parable of the Sower and the Seed, he has shown them by his actions that God cares for those on the fringes (the demoniac in the land of the Gerasenes, the woman suffering from menstrual bleeding, people suffering from leprosy – all unclean by Jewish standards), and they have seen that God is with him through his miralces. It’s time to go – there’s no looking back.

    God’s grace? I’m Wesleyan so I’m warning you. This whole mission is about grace. God freely extending his mercy to a world filled with rebellion, sin, and unbelief. “Hard” grace is seen in Jesus’ warnings not to turn back. He doesn’t cut potential disciples any slack. This is the single most important journey that has ever been made.

    What attracts you to Jesus in this passage? Our Lord’s resolve and the fact that he is brutally honest. They go hand in hand in this passage.

    Also, anyone who preaches through Luke really needs a copy of Joel Green’s commentary (NICNT). Instead of the cookie-cutter approach that many commentakers take, Green focuses on the narrative theology of the text. Blessings

  14. Here is how I read it.

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

    As I think most agree this passage is foreshadowing what will happen in Jerusalem.

    “…they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem.”

    I think this passage becomes clearer in the three exchanges with would-be followers that come after. It would be easier to receive Jesus while he was focused on healing or working miracles. But now he is focused on sacrifice and discipleship.

    “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?’ But he turned and rebuked them.”

    Let the Spiritually dead bury the Spiritually dead. This is his response.

    “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”


    “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”


    “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

    I see these three responses as very closely linked and meant to be understood together.

    He is talking about what it means to become a disciple. Once you begin the work, you cannot look back. While you are plowing a field, you must keep your attention straight ahead upon the row you are plowing. If you turn your attention, the row may not be very straight.

    Let the Spiritually dead bury their dead while you continue to proclaim the Good News to those who will listen.

    Unlike the foxes and the birds who build comfortable homes, the disciple is called to keep going.

    All three responses seem to me to be a call to would-be disciples to keep going, to keep focused on proclaiming The Good News of the Kingdom. We are not meant to look for safety or to be distracted. We keep going.

    This is how the passage speaks to me. No matter what, do not let the distractions of the world, or the desire to have a comfortable home keep me from following Jesus.

  15. Brother Bartimaeus says

    This is a great passage for a summer sermon, as apparently everyone around Jesus thinks he’s taking a road trip to Jerusalem.

    How about it being a guide for the journey to spiritual maturity? Some won’t want to associate with you or hear what you have to say, and those who do might want to pull you in the wrong direction or misinterpret the message. Some might take it lightly, but it’s really a weary trip. Some will come up with excuses or get sidetracked with other matters. Some will want to just look back on the good times and not on the task ahead.

    The good news is Jesus has already blazed the trail, given us the map, and has provided the grace needed to accomplish it. We just need to follow the path and set our faces towards him.


  16. Mike,

    1) The Gospel is in God’s grace and mercy to the Samaritans and the apostles. The apostles were like Jews of their day, highly prejudiced against Samaritans. It sounds like they took personal offence as Jews to the Samaritan’s treatment of Jesus, thus their vengeful response. The Samaritans were offended that here’s this guy who supposedly has Good News for everyone, but he wouldn’t stay, instead keeping on his way to Jerusalem, so he looks like someone who wants the Samaritans to become Jewish. Seems like this would have been offensive to the Samaritans. Was not the original audience of this text not only Jews but also Gentiles? This story may have touched both cultures from opposite perspectives.

    2) God’s grace is shown in part by the answer above but also in the frank responses Jesus gave to those who asked to follow him, or those he asked to follow him.

    3) Jesus once again exemplified true leaderership – he stays focused on his goals but still lovingly coached those that wished to go along with him in meeting those goals.

  17. The good news is all in the first line – “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” I imagine Jesus with his eyes and jaw set with determination to take on our sin when he had none, die under the heaviness of that sin, and rise again to redeem us from that sin. All he asks of us is to set our faces to go to him. Now that’s grace, and that’s good news!

  18. Grace is a little harder to see in some scriptures than others, mostly because of our preconceived notions of how easy it should be. Surely Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem was an act of grace on our behalf. But His relentless demand for primacy in the verses that follow is also an act of grace on our behalf; it is only when we place Him first that we are able to enter into the fullness of life that He offers. In some ways, this is another side of the command to “seek first the Kingdom of God.”