This is a sermon I preached in my last year of seminary, about a year ago now, after I spent months wrestling through a tough situation. I have only now decided to post it because these past couple of weeks I have reread this sermon many times as a way to remind myself that things don’t always happen as we think. When we hit a roadblock we should focus on how we can grow from it rather than focus on the anger or doubt that may arise. I know many people struggle in this way and whatever your situation is I hope these words guide you as they guided me and many of my colleagues that I preached to that evening at Wesley Seminary.
As the time approached when Jesus was to be taken up into heaven, he determined to go to Jerusalem. He sent messengers on ahead of him. Along the way, they entered a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival, but the Samaritan villagers refused to welcome him because he was determined to go to Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to consume them?” But Jesus turned and spoke sternly to them, and they went on to another village. – Luke 9:51-56
This semester we are focusing on this idea of journeying. In our lives we are always journeying towards something. Right now in Lent we are on a journey to the cross as we move ever closer to Easter and reflect on our journey as well. However, as we are on this journey it is not always an easy one. The road is not always paved out nicely for us, or we don’t have that green line guiding us like in those Fidelity commercials. This journey is filled with times where things do not happen as we think they should happen. In our scripture Jesus has turned his face to Jerusalem and has thus begun his journey to the cross, and on a journey that he had been called to. Along this journey Jesus and his disciples are denied entrance to the town of Samaria. The disciples become enraged by this, because they see this as a piece of the journey. How could they possibly be denied access to a place to prepare and to share God’s word with people in Samaria. They want to reign down fire on this town, but Jesus simply tells them to move on. He rebuked the disciples because he realized that they cannot dwell on failures, but must continue to move on their journey.
Back in August I went before my District Committee on Ministry to be approved to go before the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry to be approved for commissioning. When I left the interview I felt pretty confident that God’s plan for my life would play as it was seen fit, but I still felt that meant I would be approved. I left feeling good about going on towards the Conference Boards. However, when I got the call later that day I found out I had not been approved on. I felt as though I had been denied entry to Samaria. All of this time working towards a goal. Working towards what I thought God was calling me towards. I am supposed to be going in to ordained ministry and now I am confronted with a roadblock. I felt as though I had failed in my living out of God’s call on my life. I felt angry that my District Committee had gotten in the way of God’s call. It didn’t seem fair. After all of the hard work I had done. The late nights. The hundreds of pages of papers I had written. Only to be told, “No you aren’t quite ready yet.” Boy did I want to reign down fire. I felt like God had failed me because I thought that I had a particular path in my life and now it wasn’t happening.
However, as we learn from Jesus it is not always in the cards to get into Samaria. Sometimes we have to remember that when we are following God’s call that things do not always go the way that we think. We must remember that it is God’s plan and not ours. God’s plan was for Jesus and the disciples to go around and sharing the good news. When they encountered a place where they were unable to do the that they became angry and wanted vengeance. They did not even stop to think that maybe it just wasn’t in the cards. We all have our ways of dealing with rejection. Whether it is anger, or denial, or doubt, or blaming others, but Jesus does not see any of these as helpful. Those reactions are not the way God wants us to work. God does not want us to live in anger or doubt or in blaming people. When we allow these things to take over we often lose sight of what it is God wants us to do, or maybe we even question God’s call on our life.
How do we just move on though? It can be so tough to move on from disappointments, but Jesus shows us that we must do it, so then how? What if instead of blaming God we moved to being able to seek guidance from God? What if God’s plan has become distorted by our own personal gains? What if you’re not being punished, but this is just part of the plan, a learning experience? It is through prayer, and through examining the situation. When the disciples wanted to reign fire Jesus pulled them aside and rebuked them then they moved on. The disciples listened to Jesus and then moved on. We do not know what Jesus says in this passage, or how long he rebuked them, because what we need to know here is that God is still there to help us understand why we must move forward. Instead of using the opportunity for anger and rage Jesus used the experience to teach and for the disciples, and us, to learn.
How have you experienced disappointment? How have you been told you are not allowed into the Samaritan village? How have you learned and grown from that experience?