St Barnabas, 17th March 2013
Living in the past
Nostalgia is big business … we talk about the ‘glory days’, we listen to music from our younger years, ‘retro’ is in, we have Sixties nights, decades old fashions come round again, we watch black and white films, a silent movie won an Oscar last month, we expect our football teams to match past successes … there’s no doubt about it, we enjoy looking back in time.
In fact, I’ve seen a couple of television programmes recently where people have tried to recreate the past … in particular, one lady who has restyled her kitchen as if it were the 1950’s … with a genuine food mixer of the period, a twin-tub washing machine, and those kitchen cupboards with the drop down front – does anyone remember those?
I can’t understand why anyone would reject the modern convenience of a washing machine and tumble dryer for a twin tub and wringer! Yes, perhaps life was simpler then … but easier? Probably not. There was still rationing in the 1950’s, clothes, food and furniture were in short supply and the range available was limited, people had jobs of course, but work was hard and often dirty … yet there was nevertheless a huge sense of optimism. Councils built new housing and it was a privilege to be given a council house or flat, more and more people had their own car, televisions and telephones were more widely available. And the music … well, anyone who lived through the Sixties can remember the revolution in popular music!
Life felt good – but would we choose to go back? By comparison, we have it all … our expectations are much greater, our comforts more freely available, entertainment is all around us, the world has shrunk and we holiday abroad with guaranteed sunshine.
Or perhaps the sun always shone on our childhood holidays? When we look back, we can easily lose our sense of how it really was.
But looking back isn’t just about the golden glow of nostalgia. There are things we can only learn from the past … I really enjoy the series of programmes that started with Tales from the Green Valley … a year in the life of a farm set in the 1600’s. The series continued with the Victorian Farm, the Edwardian Farm and more recently, Wartime Farm. They each recreate life as it was in the period, with all the hardships and the hard work needed to keep things going. It was really interesting to see how things were done, to rediscover lost skills (that may indeed come in handy again one day), to remind ourselves why some things are as they are now.
But no one is suggesting we should all live like that again!
Jesus set his face …
Why am I going on about the past? Well, in our reading today from Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells the disciples for the third time, that they are going to Jerusalem for a reason … that terrible things will happen to him, but that there would be a wonderful conclusion. The other two occasions are in Luke chapter 9 … and while reading it, a particular phrase from later in that chapter, 9:51, grabbed my attention … As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51)
Or as the King James version phrased it, (Jesus) steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.
‘Set his face.’ Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, was determined to go on … to face the future. He could have chosen otherwise. The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that going on was Jesus’ own choice, 12:2, slideLet us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Another familiar passage to many of us is in Philippians 2, Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!
Jesus went on to Jerusalem willingly, focussed on the future … let’s take a moment to look more closely at a couple of things in this short reading from Luke.
9v31 – Jesus took the twelve aside … this was a personal moment between Jesus and those he called his friends (John 15:14). God has always revealed his plans to those close to him … just as he did when he told Abraham what he was going to do to Sodom – we heard that story a couple of weeks ago when Tim talked about prayer as conversation with God. In fact, Amos tells us that, slideSurely the Sovereign LORD does nothing without revealing his plan to his servants the prophets. (Amos 3:6)
while the Psalms say that, The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. (Psalm 25:14)
One of the joys of a relationship with God is that the conversation we call prayer is two way … we talk to God and he speaks to us. We may not always understand the detail of what he says, in fact it appears that the disciples were deliberately kept from understanding Jesus on this occasion … look at v34 – Luke tells us that the meaning was hidden from them, rather than that they simply failed to grasp what Jesus was saying. So why tell them at all? So that at some time in the future, they would remember and realise that nothing that happened was by accident or out of God’s control … that Jesus knew all along what was to happen, that there was nothing they could have done to stop him, and that God had a plan that included them and that he wanted to share with them.
Telling them three times, Jesus wanted to make sure that after it was all over, they would remember and understand.
So they continue on their way to Jerusalem, on the usual road via Jericho. You’d think that knowing all that he did, Jesus would be totally focussed on the coming events …
He was surrounded by a crowd, so a blind beggar sitting beside the road could hear that something was happening, that a lot of people were about to pass by. What an opportunity to pick up alms, it was going to be a good day. Yet, as he listened to their chatter, trying to make sense of why the crowd was gathering, trying to pick out voices that he knew from the village, he heard a name, repeated over and over again by those who were passing – Jesus.
Such a man would hear all the local gossip as people walked by, perhaps even as people stopped to talk to him … so he knew that name. And as he sat by the side of the road, day after day, he’d had time to think. He knew about the history of the nation, about God and his promises, and as he heard all the gossip about this preacher man, this Rabbi that had stirred up the crowds with his teaching and had, so amazingly, healed others like him, this beggar man had put the pieces of the puzzle together … he knew who Jesus was.
So he called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those nearest him heard, they told him to be quiet, not to call attention to himself, not to distract the great man on his way to Jerusalem for the feast. But he wouldn’t be put off, and called all the louder … “Son of David, have mercy on me!” and this time, Jesus heard, and stopped. And when Jesus approached and asked him what he could do for the man, Bartimaeus – for that was his name – was healed and received his sight. He had asked simply for mercy, knowing who Jesus was, and knowing that he needed his sins forgiven, but had received so much more.
The crowd praised God, excited to have seen such a great miracle for themselves, but I wonder, did any of them stop to ask themselves, ‘What did Bartimaeus call him?’ … you see, in Luke’s gospel, this is the first time that anyone has used that title of Jesus, Son of David.
Son of David … of all the people in the crowd, it was the blind beggar by the roadside who recognised Jesus for who he really was, the Messiah, the promised one. The scribes and Pharisees refused to even consider the possibility – although as the leaders of the people they were supposed to teach God’s word, praying constantly for the Messiah to come and rescue his people. While the ordinary folk were distracted by Jesus’ entertainment value. Throughout the gospels, it is the simple folk with overwhelming needs who recognise Jesus, and who receive healing and salvation by trusting him … and blind Bartimaeus is the first to understand that God had finally fulfilled all his wonderful promises in Jesus … the Son of David, the coming king, the anointed one.
That’s why Luke includes the story here … as Jesus pushes on to Jerusalem, towards the horrors of the cross for our sakes, Luke adds layer upon layer of meaning, so that like the disciples, we too might look back and understand and grasp just who Jesus is and what he achieved when he reached his destination.
Living for the future
Just as Jesus ‘set his face’ to the future, looking beyond the immanent and awful events he would shortly encounter to the glories beyond, so we too are called to live for the future.
Yet we often fight shy of it, don’t we … yes, there are joys to look forward to; children and grandchildren; a holiday or retirement; Christmas presents and birthdays. But as we look forward, we can also anticipate the uncertainties; getting older – will we be in good health, who will look after us; will we still have a job, how can I pay the rent or the mortgage; when the children leave home, will we still see them, will we have to fund them?
If you’re anything like me, when you think about the future, you tend to anticipate trouble. But just as Jesus looked beyond the cross to the resurrection and his glory restored, so set his face towards Jerusalem and kept going whatever the cost … so we too are called, as followers of Jesus, to live for the future. We’ve already read part of Hebrews 12 but read a little earlier in the chapter … slidelet us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus …
In Colossians 3, Paul says, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (3:2-3)
When Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem, he would have had a mixture of emotions … anticipation, fear, loss, sorrow, but also hope and confidence. As we look forward, living for the future, we share those emotions … we know that the future might be difficult, costly, lonely … but we need to look beyond to the promise of glory, healing, joy. Because it’s only as we live for the future, that God can change things, change us.
I started by looking at the past – nostalgia ain’t what it used to be! And I said there are lessons we can learn from the past. Just as the Israelites were taught to look back at the Exodus for evidence of God’s love and provision and care, so we should look back to see where God has been faithful, provided for our needs, met with us, healed us, spoken to us. But … we can’t go back … the problem with nostalgia is that we have changed, and the world has changed.
Many of us, when we look back, remember times of blessing, when our church family was much bigger, people had more time to spend with each other, there was a vibrant Sunday School, our faith was still new and exciting, we had energy and commitment. We can look back and remember and long for it to be that way again. But if we get caught up in the past we can only praise God for past blessings, but there are so many more blessings he wants us to share.
Living in the now
We are people called to live for the future, to set our faces to heaven and Jesus’ return, to eagerly anticipate the promises of God … but what about the here and now?
God still has much to do, people still need to hear the gospel, experience God’s love and healing power, we still need to help the needy, to challenge our society about morals and justice, to spread the word about Jesus.
But even as we live in the present, we will either be looking backwards or forwards. The past shapes who we are, and can be a positive influence … we can gain inspiration from it, learn lessons from it, be encouraged by it. But we can also yearn to return to how things were, avoid change because we liked it how it was, and it can create false expectations of how things should be.
But if we live in the past, longing for things to be the same again, we’ll become dissatisfied with the present, miss out on current blessings, will fail to see that God is still at work … slide … Isaiah 43:18-19, Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Isaiah goes on to tell how God has blessed and provided for his people so that, my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself … may proclaim my praise.
So are you living in the past, or living for the future?