Questions at the Crossroads
Week One: Where Are We Going? Make a Decision
Luke 9:51-62 (MSG):
When it came close to the time for his Ascension, he gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem. He sent messengers on ahead. They came to a Samaritan village to make arrangements for his hospitality. But when the Samaritans learned that his destination was Jerusalem, they refused hospitality. When the disciples James and John learned of it, they said, “Master, do you want us to call a bolt of lightning down out of the sky and incinerate them?” Jesus turned on them: “Of course not!” And they traveled on to another village.
On the road someone asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said. Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”
Jesus said to another, “Follow me.” He said, “Certainly, but first excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have to make arrangements for my father’s funeral.” Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”
Then another said, “I’m ready to follow you, Master, but first excuse me while I get things straightened out at home.” Jesus said, “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day.”
This Lenten season, or the 40 days leading up to Easter, we’ve been on a hypothetical road trip with Jesus. On Sunday mornings, we’ve been exploring the book of Luke, examining the questions and behaviors presented as Jesus prepared to make his final dissent into Jerusalem.
Our scripture this week encounters Jesus as he begins to realize where his journey will take him. It says that he “gathered up his courage and steeled himself for the journey to Jerusalem.” He didn’t just pack up and head straight into town, though. He continued to travel around Galilee, Samaria, and other key cities. Jesus centered himself for the internal journey he was on. He was physically carried back and forth, but mentally he was fixed on Jerusalem as his final destination.
Jesus was on a journey, and so are we. Faith is a process; one that can be easily described as a windy road, filled with stops along the way. At some point we’re all faced with those typical road trip questions: Where are we going? Who’s coming with us? How will we pay for it? What will we do when we get there?
This week, we’re going to be looking at three potential disciples that Jesus encounters on his journey. Each of them are faced with a choice on their destinations. All three make reasonable arguments about why they can’t embark on their faith journey right now, and all are met by Jesus with a counter argument.
The reality is, we’ve all got excuses. There will always be something that feels more important than exploring a journey of faith with Jesus. But, Jesus will always encourage us to refocus, to gather courage and steel ourselves for the journey, and understand that the lessons we learn here will impact every life stop we reach along the way.
BEHIND THE STORY:
In Luke 9, we encounter Jesus as he prepares for his impending death. He starts by commissioning his disciples to go forth and perform miracles and to share the Gospel. He explains to them that they should be humble in the process. They should share the good news of Jesus by forming relationships and relating to their communities, not by demanding flashy living arrangements or expecting high praise.
Then, Jesus and the disciples find themselves in a bit of a bind. Jesus was preaching to a crowd greater than 5,000, and all they had to eat were five loaves of bread and two fish. Here, we see Jesus instruct and empower the disciples to feed the crowd. After some strategic organizing, they were able to feed everyone and have an abundance in leftovers.
Jesus would go on to warn the disciples of his incoming death, but they were unable to understand at that time. He would then have a mystical and otherworldly encounter with Moses and Elijah on the side of a mountain, where he would further learn of his great “exodus,” or departure from this world. He again reminded them of his soon departure, and they were still unable to understand. It’s after this encounter that Jesus internally hardens and focuses himself to Jerusalem, and we step into our scripture today.
3 WOULD-BE DISCIPLES:
The Eager Disciple:
This first disciple approaches Jesus and asks to come along for the journey. They are eager to be a part of the team. Perhaps they’ve seen the impressive miracles, or maybe they’ve recognized the reputation and status that comes with following Jesus. They have an assumption about what it’s like to be a disciple, and they want to be in on the experience.
Jesus had to gently remind them that it’s not all rainbows and butterflies. This journey isn’t always an easy one. We’re not exempt from the difficulties and hardships of life. Instead, by embarking on this journey, we’re choosing to surround ourselves with a common community. This way, when life gets hard and the road gets rough, we have a support system. We’re not on this road trip of faith alone.
Have you ever joined a group because of what you thought it was, only to realize it was different from the inside?
Can you think of a time that you were especially thankful for the community around you?
What are some misconceptions of Christianity, positive or negative, that might have prevented you from exploring faith earlier? - Have these ideals changed since you began interacting with the people in your Crew?
2. The Maybe Later Disciple:
The next disciple we encounter is asked by Jesus to come along, and they put it off because of extenuating family circumstances. Now, too often, this scripture is used to inflict damage. It can be used to say that nothing should come before God, not even our hurting family, in a way that is damaging.
Instead, this passage can be read as a means of helping us prioritize our lives. Jesus is reminding them that our lives should be ordered with the Kingdom of God (our journey’s destination) first. Who is to say that Jesus wouldn’t have sent this person home to their family with a renewed sense of purpose? It was, much like Jesus’ own journey, less about a physical location and more about an emotional and spiritual orientation that helps move us along.
Have you ever made excuses about why you can’t invest in your spiritual life? - What are some of those excuses?
How can you begin integrating faith and spirituality into those excuse areas?
Rather than compartmentalizing faith exploration for another time, how can you use what time you have now to begin processing what that might look like for you?
3. The Messy Life Disciple:
The final disciple Jesus encounters is focused on the state of their life. Like most of ours, it’s probably messy and broken and imperfect. They want to have their life more put-together before committing to journey with Jesus. But, Jesus reminds them to not procrastinate. He’s not looking for our lives to be perfect and blemish free. Rather, Jesus wants to walk with us as we navigate the messiness of life. His specialty is finding healing in the mess.
Where can you see yourself procrastinating in faith? Are you holding back in areas until you are “more stable” or “more established?”
How can you begin stripping away excuses and intentionally engaging with your faith this week?
Week Two: Who’s Coming With Us?
Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?” He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?” He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.” “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”
Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?” Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
“A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”
“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”
Last week, we set out on a journey towards becoming more like Jesus. We acknowledged there are many reasons and excuses for not engaging our faith right now. We have misconceptions about the faith, we don’t feel like it could apply to us right now, or we may not feel like we’re stable enough to know Jesus. But, we know that Jesus wants us as we are, right now, in all our disfunction and messiness. We shouldn’t delay the journey for a better day. Jesus is ready for us right now!
So, now that we’ve set out on our journey, who are we bringing along? Every seasoned road-tripper knows that the journey can be made or broken based on the people we bring along for the ride. In Luke 10, Jesus reminds us that our passenger should be our neighbor. In this story, we’re commissioned to go out and love others. Through that love, they might come to experience a bit of Jesus in their own life.
We’re called to embrace going a little differently. We’re now asked to view every interaction, every threshold we cross, a little differently. As a society that is always on the move, our journey requires us to consider every moment as an opportunity to love other better. To serve, to empathize with, to stand up for, and to support. There is value in learning someone’s name, someone’s story, their passions and fears. When we begin viewing everyone as our neighbor, we begin to recognize the value placed on their life. When we see that value, we can begin to help them uncover and live into it as well. It can become a beautiful opportunity for transformation. Every person we encounter is a potential passenger on our road trip.
BEHIND THE STORY:
In Luke 10, Jesus is asked a loaded question. A religious scholar, someone who had likely been studying the laws and scripture their entire life, asked Jesus what it would take to gain eternal life. It was asked to back Jesus into a corner, rather than a serious answer. But, Jesus loves pushing us to think critically. So, Jesus responds with a question of his own; “How do you interpret it?” After validating the scholar’s answer, leaving them feeling frustrated at their failed attempt to catch Jesus in a contradiction, they pose another question; “How would you define ‘neighbor?’” It’s here that Jesus begins to respond with the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
This story is laced with political scandal and Jewish ritual. First, we have a man that is robbed, beaten, and left for dead. While lying on the side of the road, he is passed by a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan. Each of these characters are significant.
The priest is often criticized for not stopping to help the man. However, it’s important to understand the implications had he stopped. Priests held the responsibility of keeping the entire Jewish community ritually clean in the eyes of God. They had daily rituals and sacrifices that needed to be performed like clockwork. It is possible that the priest, when looking at the man, assumed he was dead. This would explain why he crossed the street, denying aid. To encounter a dead body made a person ritually unclean for 7 days. That means, if the priest would have stopped and the man was dead, he would have been unable to perform his duties for a week. It is likely that the priest denied help, not out of malicious intent, but out of need. He would have had to weigh the price of one to the ritual purity of many. Now, that’s not to say that he was blameless. It is possible that others could have stepped in his place, and that he could have stopped to help. The priest represented what it meant to follow all the religious regulations of the time. Jesus was making the point (among many points) that often the institution and ritualistic obligations can hinder us from aiding and helping the very people we’re called to love and serve.
The second character is the Levite. They were an entire family set aside to aid in the temple. They’re sometimes compared to our modern day worship leaders. They serve an important role, but they’re not the priest. It’s less clear why they did not stop to help. Some suggest they were looking to the example of the priest. We have a tendency to invest too much obligation in our leaders without taking responsibility for the role we’re called to serve. Our leadership is there to help guide, but they are not there to alleviate our responsibility to our neighbors. Even when leadership fails, we still hold a responsibility to step up.
Finally, the Samaritan man stops to help. This was a major political bomb for Jesus to drop on the listeners. Israelites and Samaritans had a deep, deep hatred for one another. This racial divide stemmed from the first Jewish exile, and ran so deep that often many were unaware why they despised the other so much. They just knew that they should. For the Samaritan man to put aside his racial biases and aid the injured Israelite, Jesus was making it clear that there is no divide. We might draw lines in the sand, deeming some worthy and others not, but God doesn’t.
It would have been incredibly humbling for the crowd to hear of all the Samaritan did for the injured man. It created a space for reflection. “If I were to stumble on an injured Samaritan, would I stop?”
A PRIEST, A LEVITE, & A SAMARITAN:
In many ways, the priest represents the flaws in ritualistic or institutionalized religion. We can get so wrapped up in checking all the boxes that make us a “good Christian,” that we completely overlook the needs of people all around us. Ritual becomes more important than relationship, and that’s the opposite of what we’re called to do. Now, that’s not to say that any one institution is inherently bad. There are many communities that do a great job of loving their circles and aiding those in need.
When we think about the people we’re bringing along for the journey, we must remember that Jesus is for everyone. No one is left out. And when we see one person in need, we’re meant to be a support system as we work to pick them up, dust them off, and encourage them on their way.
Most of us can name ways we’ve seen the Church fail. Instead, what are the ways you’ve seen the Church do right by people?
Have you ever been uplifted or supported by a community or church before? (community can be church, or something else. The Holy Spirit is everywhere!)
What is one way you can serve to positively impact someone’s life today?
The Levite is where many sometimes find themselves. They look to leadership to accomplish the very things they’re called to do. It’s easy to project their responsibilities onto figureheads. Then, when they fail, they can blame them and not themselves. And yet, when we don’t step up to help out our neighbors, they still suffer - leader or not.
What is a social justice issue or topic you’re passionate about?
What is one way you can become more active in that issue?
Aside from larger policy, how can you love on the people around you that are impacted by said passion point?
The Samaritan accomplished something incredibly difficult; they set aside their political, racial, and geographical prejudices to help the “other.” It is no light fact that this Samaritan stopped to help the Jewish man. Loving the people we dislike is one of the hardest things we’re called to do. But, as we push ourselves along on this journey towards Christ-likeness, we recognize that it’s not up to us to decide who is worthy of our aid. God can redeem any story.
What’s your initial response when someone you dislike is in need?
We tend to find stories of individuals helping their adversaries as powerful. Why do you think that is?
Prayer often pushes us to find our own sense of healing and restoration. Have you ever prayed for someone who has caused you harm? Would you consider making that step?
What step can you take this week to begin viewing each interaction as an opportunity to extend grace / compassion / love, regardless of the person?
Week Three: What Do We Do When We Get There?
Luke 14: 7-15 (MSG)
He went on to tell a story to the guests around the table. Noticing how each had tried to elbow into the place of honor, he said, “When someone invites you to dinner, don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host. Then they’ll come and call out in front of everybody, ‘You’re in the wrong place. The place of honor belongs to this person.’ Red-faced, you’ll have to make your way to the very last table, the only place left.
“When you’re invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes they may very well say, ‘Friend, come up to the front.’ That will give the dinner guests something to talk about!
What I’m saying is, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”
“Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God’s people.”
For most people, the parable Jesus teaches in Luke 14 is interpreted as a tale of humility. It’s meant to remind us to not place ourselves first, and to think of others before ourselves. While this is certainly one way to interpret the story, it does go much deeper than that.
The parables Jesus told weren’t intended to promote a certain social etiquette. While it’s possible to pull important social lessons from reading the story at that level, it wasn’t the main priority. Jesus doesn’t just want us to become socially polite people. Jesus wants us to be whole people, people who know who we are, and who stand confident in our identity.
There are two main characters in this story, and these individuals really represent the two halves that make up the whole of ourselves.
There’s the guest - the person who accepted an invitation to the party. This reflects our internal self.
There’s the host - the person extending an invitation to the party. This reflects our external self.
These two halves work together to make one whole. When we’re able to recognize who we are as a guest to the ‘party,’ we become better hosts, extending invitations that others are compelled to respond positively to. We’re all better when we’re clear on our identity.
Note - When we talk about a ‘party,’ we’re creating an analogy for a relationship with Jesus. When you’re new to a party, we know that you’re mainly there to get a feel for the crowd, the people, the environment. If you keep coming back, it’s because you’ve found community there, or you liked what you experienced and you want to learn more. We all fall somewhere on that invitation spectrum.
You can be buddy-buddy with the host (Jesus), or just exploring if you even like the guy. Or, you can fall somewhere in-between. Just know, no matter where you are on that continuum, you always have a standing invitation here, to this party.
TWO HALVES OF THE WHOLE:
Jesus says something significant in the beginning of our scripture. He says, “Noticing how each had tried to elbow into the place of honor.”
This gives us some insight to the type of crowd he was dealing with. Most of us have been to a party with a Guest of Honor before (ex. graduation party, wedding, birthday party). It is very clear who the most important person in the room is. So, if every person at this party was vying for the place of honor, that tells us that everyone was on the same level. They all got the same invite in the mail. And yet, they all wanted the spotlight to be on them.
Have you ever been to a social gathering where one person seemed to be snagging the attention of everyone else? What did that feel like? Why do you think they were responding that way?
Have you ever been in a situation where you felt like you had to prove you deserved to be there? Like you had to win over the other guests? What was that experience like?
Have you ever caught yourself rooting your identity in what other people thought of you, rather than who you actually are?
The scripture goes on to say, “Don’t take the place of honor. Somebody more important than you might have been invited by the host.”
What establishes someone as being ‘important?’ What comes to mind?
Often, we equate importance with money, power, or social status. But, lucky for us, we’re not the ones throwing this ‘party.’ The parables of Jesus were meant to paint a picture of what the Kingdom of God looks like. Or, to put it into NBRHD language, what it looks like to create heaven on earth. The heaven we create, the Kingdom we participate in, isn’t just for the prestigious, powerful, or wealthy. It’s for the wandering, the marginalized, the questioning, and the hurting.
Thinking now from the perspective of Jesus, how might we redefine what establishes someone as important?
Does this change the ways we view ourselves? How?
Because we know what it feels like to be a guest at a party, we know what it feels like to be invited, or not invited, in the first place. The scripture says, “Don’t just invite the people who can do something for you.” At some point, we must recognize that we play a role in someone else uncovering their purpose, value, and worth. When we can acknowledge what it feels like to be invited to something, and to feel like your identity is rooted in what other attendees think of you, then we are able to use our position to inspire others to own who they are.
What do you think about the idea that you might help someone else uncover who they are?
How does this idea then change the way you interact with people?
Have you ever been selective in who you were friends with, because of something they might have been able to do for you? How did that make you feel? How did that make them feel?
The point Jesus was making here is that once we accept the invitation extended to us, we become an invitation to others. When we’ve spent time where community is forming, people feel free to be themselves, and Jesus is present, we’re pushed to welcome others into that space. Each of us are here today because we were invited by someone else.
They found a place where they felt loved, accepted, and worthy as they are, and they wanted you to experience something similar. When we come together for Crews, that’s the ‘party’ we hope to throw.
As a group, what can you do to maintain this connection as we break for the summer?
What are some ideas of ways we can improve this structure? Ideas of events you’d invite someone to? Joys you’ve felt?
Spend some time this week reflecting on yourself. How have you grown over the last year? What characteristics and qualities of yourself are you proud of? What are some areas you recognize as points of improvement, and what steps can you take to get there? How can this community help you as you continue growing in your identity?