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Sermon for June 26, 2022 – Proper 8

Speaking Of Life 4031 │Unseen Footprints

Have you ever been so focused on a problem that you lose sight of everything but your desired solution? Heber reminds us that God’s faithfulness to us in the past can fuel our hope for his goodness to us in the present, even if shows up for us in unexpected ways.

Program Transcript

Speaking Of Life 4031 Unseen Footprints
Heber Ticas

You’ve probably heard the old hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
The lyrics go like this: “Have you trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged. Take it to the Lord in prayer.” The idea of taking our problems to the Lord in prayer is a well-known prescription in Christian circles, but sometimes it doesn’t seem like it’s enough to steady us. Sometimes we need a new angle on taking our problems to the Lord in prayer.

Let’s consider Psalm 77 where the psalmist Asaph is in trouble. He’s taking his problems to the Lord, but it’s not comforting him this time:

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints.
Psalm 77:1-3 (NRSV)

Asaph goes on to ask questions, the same questions you and I ask when we’re at the end of our ropes. He asks: “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (Psalm 77: 9, NRSV).

Asaph initially concludes that he must have done something to turn God’s heart away, or that God has changed. But then he makes an important decision, one that is just as important as praying in the first place. He looks to the past for evidence of God’s faithfulness and remembers God’s deliverance of the people of Israel through the Red Sea:

Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Psalm 77:19-20 (NRSV)

Asaph remembered a situation when the Israelites were fleeing Egypt with the Egyptian army in pursuit. They could see the Egyptian army on one side and the Red Sea on the other with no apparent way out. God opened the sea.

He answered their cries for deliverance though his “footprints were unseen.” As is often the case, God chose to resolve the situation with a completely different solution than what was expected. Has that happened to you? Like Asaph, we can trust that God’s solution to our problem will be the best outcome for everyone.

While taking our cares to the Lord in prayer is still a good idea, it also helps to remind ourselves of stories of God’s faithfulness. When we are faced with trials and temptations, we can choose to think about God’s past provision in our lives and in the lives of others. God’s faithfulness in the past gives us hope that God will be faithful to us now.

Today, let us rest securely in God’s faithfulness. Even if you can’t see his footprints in your current circumstances, just like he has in the past, he is carrying you through.

Mi nombre es Heber Ticas, Hablando de Vida.

Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20 · 1 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 · Galatians 5:1, 13-25 · Luke 9:51-62

The theme for this week is taking the next right step. Our call to worship, Psalm 77, presents the psalmist in trouble, and he responds by remembering another time when Israel was pinned between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, and God’s solution to their troubles was different than expected. 2 Kings 2 recounts the story of Elijah being taken up to heaven, including the uncertainties that Elisha faced in continuing ministry without his mentor. In Galatians 5, we are reminded that the freedom to love is always the best choice, resulting in the fruits of the Holy Spirit. And in our sermon text, Luke 9 shows Jesus’s singular focus in heading toward Jerusalem and contrasts that way of loving intentionality with our own tendency to forget to make first things first.

The Problem of Priorities

Luke 9:51-62 (NRSV)

You may remember a popular self-help book by Stephen R. Covey called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. First published in 1989, the book sets forth Covey’s “true north” principles that, if ingrained as habits, can help people progress from dependence to independence, and ultimately, to interdependence.

One of Covey’s seven habits was habit #3: “Put first things first.” This particular principle distinguishes between what is important and what is urgent. It requires us to understand what we value and what is often a knee-jerk reaction to demands placed on us. The idea of prioritizing and “keeping the main thing the main thing” (another saying attributed to Covey) is hard for most people, and Jesus’ disciples and early followers were no different than us. We’ll see Jesus’ followers wrestling with their desires to be right, to do good, and to be thought of as good by their culture. Let’s read our sermon text for today found in Luke 9:51-62.

[Read sermon text.]

What can we notice about this passage?

The passage has two separate stories: The first story, which we’ll title How to Handle Conflict, is about the disciples’ reaction to the Samaritan village’s unwillingness to welcome Jesus. The second story, which we’ll call Getting Priorities Straight, is about people struggling to understand how to love God and love others as part of following Jesus.

Story #1 – How to Handle Conflict

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 toward 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. (Luke 9:51-56 NRSV)

Messengers are sent ahead to make preparations for the group’s stay in a Samaritan village, but they are not welcomed. Why? If we look at v. 53, it says “they did not receive him because his face was set toward to Jerusalem.”

Samaria was what was left of Israel’s northern kingdom after Israel split into northern and southern kingdoms (both of which were later decimated by invaders). The Samaritans had their own sacred scriptures (a version of the Pentateuch) and held worship in a temple on Mount Gerizim. If we remember Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-26), she asked why the Jews insisted that Jerusalem was the only place for true worship. We can surmise that the Samaritans saw Jesus’ intention to travel to Jerusalem as another slight in their long history of being treated as second-class worshippers by the Jews.

In v. 54, the disciples known as “Sons of Thunder,” James and John, ask Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven on the Samaritan village. Jesus rebukes them and tells them to move on. We might first think that the disciples were overreacting and that we would never do anything like that. But how many times have we argued on Facebook or another social media in an attempt to justify our opinion on any number of topics? If we consider how we are often more interested in being right than being loving, we probably will realize our methods of handling conflict are not that much different than the disciples. In fact, we’ve seen it throughout the history of Christianity.

“Triumphalism” – the self-righteous idea that your doctrines, beliefs, or culture is right and everyone else is wrong – is too often seen in Christianity. Well-meaning Christians often portray that everyone who disagrees or believes differently is wrong. Christian history, from the Crusades through the Spanish Inquisition and beyond, shows some Christians resorting to violence – just like those we often condemn – when people refuse to believe our “good news.” When we find ourselves focusing on how wrong everybody else is and how right we are, we must ask ourselves, “What am I making a higher priority than following Jesus by loving my neighbor as myself?”

Not only was Jesus teaching the disciples how to properly handle conflict (with grace and patience, not fire from heaven), but he also maintained his focused intention – to head toward Jerusalem to accomplish his mission. Jesus knew his priority, and he refused to be sidetracked by the disciples’ desire for retribution.

Story #2 – Getting Priorities Straight

The second story involves Jesus’ interaction with those who wanted to follow him but who struggled to understand what that meant. Each of the three interactions seemed to lack the singleness of focus that Jesus had with “his face set toward Jerusalem” (v.53).

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 plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62 NRSV)

Jesus’ followers experienced struggle with competing priorities, just like we do. They tried to juggle their desire to follow Jesus with cultural responsibilities and expectations. The first follower wanted to do good, promising Jesus “to follow you wherever you go.” Jesus’ response indicates his need for a place to stay, but the follower’s promise to follow isn’t backed up with action to help locate a place to stay. Two other potential followers seem willing enough, however, they appear to struggle with understanding how following Jesus fits in with their other cultural responsibilities.

While Jesus’ responses can seem a little harsh, we might look at these interactions as Greek literary devices called chreiae [pronounced Kray-ah] chosen by Luke to convey a specific point through a saying or action by a character in a story. In these verses, the theme of discipleship is emphasized by phrases like “I will follow you,” or “Follow me.” Rather than taking Jesus’ words literally, we can understand that he is showing how important intentionality is to stay true to one’s purpose. In fact, Jesus is demonstrating that intentionality and focus as he travels toward Jerusalem.

Rather than saying that followers literally should not bury their dead, Jesus is showing his followers that the path to discipleship is not easy. Cultural responsibilities in Jesus’ time were important and hard to break away from. We, too, face cultural systems that expect us to do what everybody else does, following culturally constructed roles and scripts. Jesus is illustrating that discipleship will not only require us to handle conflict differently, but it will also require us to change our priorities, particularly in how we move and operate within the world.

We might ask ourselves this question: How are we loving our neighbors as ourselves when it comes to our day-to-day interactions with family, co-workers, and friends, both in person and online? How does our discipleship to Jesus affect our political views, especially when it comes to how the poor and other marginalized groups are cared for in our society? If we answer these questions in the context of being a Jesus follower, we will see Jesus’ approach to these groups reflected in our actions.


  • Recognize our tendency to want to be right more than we want to be loving. Though we can villainize the disciples James and John for wanting to call down fire on the unwelcoming Samaritan village, we must be on guard for those same tendencies in ourselves.
  • Realize that following Jesus requires a singular focus and intention. This means that as a result, our priorities will be different, and our loyalties to our culture and its systems may not fit within the focus and intentionality of a Jesus follower. If we value what Jesus values – people – our actions will reflect that same commitment to love, even when it is difficult.
  • Know that authenticity in our discipleship is an ongoing process of growth. Because we are steeped in stories from our families of origin and our culture, it takes time to recognize the inconsistencies between what we say and do and what we want to say and do as followers of Jesus. God accepts us as we are while encouraging us to love with Jesus’ singular focus. We are called to accept others as they are while encouraging them to accept Jesus’ love and love others in return.

Recognizing priorities and having a singular focus and intentionality were part of Jesus’s character. Jesus worked with his disciples to “put first things first,” understanding that growing in love for others includes asking us to be less steeped in our personal stories so we can follow Jesus’ lead in how we express his love to one another.

For Reference:




The Spirit of Truth w/ Jenny Richards W4

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June 26 – Proper 8
Luke 9:51-62 “Moving On”

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Program Transcript

The Spirit of Truth w/ Jenny Richards W4

Anthony: Let’s move on to our final passage of the month. It’s in Luke 9:51-62. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Proper 8 in Ordinary Time, which is June 26th.

Jenny, do the honors please.

Jenny: Sure.

51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 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?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.

57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 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.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Anthony: The Sons of thunder, James and John, wanted to unleash some thunder, didn’t they? A fiery death on the Samaritan villagers because they didn’t receive Jesus. So let them burn Jesus.

It’s unfortunately a common refrain in some Christian circles. So, it might surprise some that Jesus rebuked James and John, instead of the Samaritans. What does this teach us about the triune God?

Jenny: It’s it hearkens back a little bit, doesn’t it, to what we were saying before about our speech? What we see really clearly here is that Jesus doesn’t have time for our petty rivalries when it comes to whom he loves. These people that James and John were so furious with for the insult that they offered to Jesus—and it was an insult—they weren’t even Christians, they were Samaritans, right? And yet Jesus wouldn’t allow those people to be mocked or punished for not being believers.

And as you say, that is a common refrain in some Christian circles. And it’s profoundly unchristian. Jesus did not only refuse to be harsh towards non-Christian who didn’t want to hear him, he respected their wishes, stopped everyone else from having a go at them, and moved on to a different village. He refused to let his followers give those non-Christians a hard time for their beliefs and their rejection of him.

He wouldn’t allow them to be mocked or attacked. So how dare we, who claim his named do anything less? How dare we?

When we consider that all of humanity is profoundly loved and included by the triune God, and if we are to love them covenantally, then we need to take that approach as well.

Anthony: Jesus said, let the dead bury their own dead. Jenny, on the surface, the statement from our Lord can appear to lack some compassion. What’s going on here? Help us understand.

Jenny: Oh, I agree that on the surface seems to. But again, if we never separate who Jesus is from what he does, anytime there’s a passage—this is what I do—anytime there’s a passage that seems a little odd, I go back to who I know Jesus to be. And given who I know Jesus to be, he can’t have actually been saying things that lack compassion towards them, even if they are hard words for them to hear.

So, I’ve always taken this as, in many ways, a call to prioritize our time, especially in the context of Jesus needing to finish his earthly ministry and not be slowed down in his trek back to Jerusalem.

And it also seems to me to be doubling as a warning about this discipleship scene—this call to follow Jesus is not some glamorous picnic where you get to do cool spiritual tricks, like casting out demons and raising the dead and being popular at Christian parties, right? That whole section is headed, “The Cost of Following Jesus.”

If we’re really going to follow him, there is significant cost. Our priorities change, our earthly comforts change. We become focused on the kingdom and those things take priority over everything. We can’t be slowed down by other things. I think this is the heart of the point Jesus is making: we shouldn’t use other things to procrastinate what we know we’re called to do.

And it’s hard to follow Jesus, especially considering that exhortation of the Torrances to yield the obedience of our mind to what’s given rather than inventing the gospel, re-inventing the gospel into something we might be more comfortable with, or that gives us a bigger part in the picture. JB Torrance always talked about the obligations of grace. The obligations in covenant are unconditional obligations. It is hard to love someone to the extent that God does, that is harder than a contract. It’s more beautiful and freeing and rich, but it’s harder.

I wonder whether sometimes, the things that hold us back and have us distracted and looking towards other things include, past concepts of ourselves and other things that are going on in our lives that we still cling to. Oh, I can’t serve God yet because I need to sort out this other issue or whatever. Those things can be hard to let go of. And so, we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds about a whole lot of things, not just our concept of God, and none of that is easy. But it’s beautiful and it’s life-giving, and it is worth regarding all of those other things that we do in life as barely worth a glance by comparison.

And of course, as we follow Christ and we live in the kingdom of God, those other things find their proper place in any case. The dead will still be buried, and we will still be able to care for our family and all of that. But to me, this passage really emphasizes keeping first things first and letting God be the one who tells us which those things are.

Anthony: Amen and amen. Jenny, it has been an absolute delight to have you on the podcast. You are a beloved child of God and your words have been very instructive. Thank you for being with us.

Jenny: I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to join with you, Anthony. And I’m really thrilled to just be able to spend time thinking about and rehearsing and going over the beauty and the depth of the love of God. It’s morning here for me. What better way to start the day? To be able to share in that is part of what makes being part of the community of God and what makes church and the family of God such a rich and important community to be a part of.

Anthony: Plus, you’re easy to listen to. We like Aussie accents around here. So, take that Aussie accent, and if you would, say a word of prayer over our listening audience. I know they’d greatly appreciate it.

Jenny: I would love to!

Father, we thank you for the enormity of your unconditional covenantal love for us and for the beauty and the glory that is so evident in who you are towards us in Jesus. Especially as we head into Trinity Sunday, we ask that by your Spirit, you continue to reveal to us more and more this love, that surpasses knowledge, the love you have for us, and the love that you have for all people.

In so doing, we pray that you will work in us in all of the areas that we find it so hard to believe and see you for who you are. And the ways that we find it so hard to see ourselves the way that you do, just meet us in those Jesus by your Spirit. Help us to know this truth and to be freed, to live out of this truth, out of this grace, and out of this love. May that transform everything about the way in which we see others and transform the way in which we live out these lives that you’ve given us day by day in our families, in our work, and in our ministries.

In your name, we pray. Amen.

Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Have you found remembering how God answered prayer in your own life helpful to anchor yourself during a difficult time? If so, please share your experience.
  • As in the case of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea to escape the Egyptian army, has God ever answered your prayers by providing a solution that completely surprised you? Tell us about it.

From the sermon

  • How can you tell when you’re starting to engage in a conflict where you want to be right more than you want to be loving? In other words, how do you feel in your body, and what kinds of thoughts start to race through your mind?
  • As a follower of Jesus, our priorities and values should match his. What priorities and values did Jesus hold? For example, Luke 9:54-55 shows that Jesus prioritized grace and mercy over righteous retribution. Think about other interactions Jesus had with people and what priorities those interactions reveal.

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