June 26, 2022- sermon- Betsy Wooster

Sermon Text:


Federated Church UCC

Sermon on June 26, 2022

Delivered by Pastor Betsy Wooster


It is especially good to be with you today. As I have been in ministry with this church over the past two 1/2 months, I have been drawn into the love and welcome of this community. I have such joy, and confidence about the way in which God’s presence at Federated Church, and God’s call in my life, offer us the opportunity to be aligned in ministry. I am grateful for this day.


Let us turn now together to these words from the 9th chapter in the Gospel according to Luke:

51 When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And Jesus sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but the people did not receive Jesus because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When the 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 Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village.57 As they were going along the road, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Human One has nowhere to lie down and sleep.” 59 To another Jesus said, “Follow me.” But that one said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the dominion of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the dominion of God.”

May God add understanding to our hearing of this word.


Let us pray:

God of mystery and power, we lift our spirits to you, as you are the source of all wisdom and understanding. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.


“Aslan is on the move.” That’s what the beavers said to the children Edmund, Lucy, Peter and Susan when these siblings found themselves in the land of Narnia.

When I was growing up, my mother read to me all the Chronicles of Narnia stories, by C.S. Lewis. I was captivated by them, caught up, with eyes wide open at the edge of my bed, listening to the fantastical adventures of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. Through the magical wardrobe entrance into the land of Narnia they went, where they found themselves talking with beavers, invited into the home of a faun to have tea, and eating Turkish delight, only to soon discover that Narnia was ruled by the White Witch, an evil ice queen who froze Narnia into a Hundred Years of Winter. I found her to be very scary.


Then finally, and most importantly for any child afraid of witches, the majestic and most powerful of Lions, Aslan, enters the center of the story as the one who is greater and stronger than the witch. He comes to counter her power and to release the people of Narnia from her spell.

The Beaver has told the children that “Aslan is on the move.”

The land of Narnia is in the balance between the rule of the witch – all winter and cruelty – and the rule of Aslan, with liberation and the freedom to live fully.

It is well known that C.S. Lewis crafted the world of Narnia as a Christian metaphor. Aslan the Lion represents Jesus Christ – powerful and loving. The work of Aslan, and of all those who he protects, is to confront the witch and liberate Narnia.  And this is, of course, the work of Jesus and all who follow the way of Jesus: To confront the powers that oppose God and liberate us from the cruelty and suffering such powers can wield.


Aslan is on the move.

Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.

“Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem.” That’s an interesting phrase, “set his face.”


It turns out that it is a semitic idiom that indicates a resolve to be obedient to God.  But it is more than obedience. It is a faithful commitment that accepts the cost. This phrase is also used by the prophet Isaiah, who lived in the 6th century before Christ, and whose writings Jesus studied and knew. Here are the words Isaiah speaks about the resolve that comes from God:“The Lord God helps me;

therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint,

and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.”

Hear this again: “Therefore, I have set my face like flint, and I know that he who vindicates me is near.”


The people of Galilee (and beyond) live in a kingdom of endless oppression and cruelty, like the creatures of Narnia. And Jesus is on the move.He is going to the center of power, not to meet violence with violence, but to meet them face to face with a love that is stronger than death and more powerful than the cross. Jesus knew what the outcome would be, and he forged on.

In the days just before this, Jesus has been traveling a fast paced, circuitous path through the countryside of Judea, preaching, teaching, telling parables, working miracles, casting out evil spirits, and then, finally, meeting Moses and Elijah in their glory on a mountaintop, during which God’s booming voice broke through the clouds, saying “This is my child, my chosen, you must listen to him!”


The next thing we know, Jesus is coming down from the mountain to be met by a great crowd, where there was a young boy with a troubled spirit. Jesus healed the child, turned to his disciples and said to them: “Let my words sink into your ears: The Human one is going to be betrayed into the hands of the authorities.”

It’s as if Jesus was echoing what God had just proclaimed from the clouds: Listen to me. My road ahead is costly. I am bringing God’s reign to earth, and you are part of the plan.

Jesus and the people of Israel lived in a world of extreme inequality, in which the people who held power exploited the populations of the Roman empire and kept their grip on authority by means of extreme cruelty. Jesus was not the only person to be executed on a cross. It was a frequently used and brutal message to remind people of the cost of opposing the empire.

The world was in the balance between the way of God and powers that oppose God. Keeping this in mind helps us think about the uncomfortable urgency that we heard in today’s Gospel text. Why did Jesus speak so harshly when his followers wanted to bury a family member, or tell their loved ones goodbye before leaving everything and following him? Jesus didn’t mince words with them about their desires and needs, and I have often wondered why. Why did Jesus rebuke those who wanted to attend to a family burial or say goodbye to their loved ones?  


I wish this characterization of Jesus wasn’t in here, I wish it had been left out, It doesn’t fit with the Jesus I have known and loved, who taught me to care for my family, for those close to me whom I love, and for those whom I do not know.

I believe that Jesus does want us to do all of those things; loving our neighbors is part of the plan. But it is also true that Jesus needs our devotion to the rule of God’s love for the world. I believe that Jesus is communicating a deep sense of urgency in the words that sounded harsh to me.


Jesus is not giving us a checklist as to what we are to do or not do. Rather, he is telling us to take seriously the importance of the things that are at stake in the world that God loves.


Every week in worship, we pray together the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray. Those disciples shared it with others, who then shared the prayer with their followers. And along the way, all begin to teach this prayer to their children, who shared it with their children, who shared it with their children, who shared it with their children, all the way down through the centuries until it reached us, the current generation of Jesus’ followers.

A prayer that Jesus of Nazareth taught centuries ago, we now say in worship every single week.  It’s really quite something when we stop to think of its import.


Many of us have learned the prayer by rote. And that can be comforting, saying the words of a prayer that we know as well as our own names. Praying these words as a community can be a powerful experience naming who we are as followers of Christ. But, knowing the words so well can also lead us to saying the words without thinking about them, so much.


After the opening salutation to God in the prayer, the very first petition to God are the words “Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Thy Kingdom come. We are asking that the way of God, a way of life, a way of blessing, be real on the earth! Isn’t this what we yearn for in a world that is still ruled by powers of dominance and oppression? We want a world in which Jesus is still on the move, and when Jesus is on the move, we are called to set our collective face to making real the will of God on earth.


There is an urgency that we join him, a healthy sense of urgency to continue and deepen our engagement with the ministries of creating community, the ministries of spiritual nourishment, in our LGBTQ+, creation care and justice ministries, in forming relationships with humility and understanding to overcome legacies of systemic racism, in our studying of the scriptures and deepening of our prayer lives, in our ministries with and for underserved communities whose needs are the same as ours, in being a community that proclaims unconditional love instead of endless evaluations of one’s worth by our achievements, job titles, or social status,


By setting our faces together, with like minded purpose, we can do so much, you are already doing so much, and as a minister called to follow in the way of Jesus, I am excited to join you. This can be costly work, but it is also really, really lovely work.


Aslan was on the move, the beaver proclaimed.

C. S. Lewis continues the story this way:

“And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand, but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning — either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning, too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into the dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in inside.”


We can recognize in Jesus what Lewis writes about Aslan.  Today’s scripture reading emphasizes it. Jesus is facing a task of the most enormous meaning, and what he asks of his followers feels somewhat terrifying.


Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem.

This is the moment when Jesus makes the turn from his marathon of preaching, teaching and healing and sets his face directly toward the centers of power that would attempt to destroy him. He will no longer be drawn away from his purpose and destiny. He understands that he cannot compromise what awaits him.


I can imagine Jesus’ face, looking at his disciples, and speaking words that are familiar to us today, saying: “Stay with me. Join me as a witness to the power of God’s all encompassing, all redeeming love. Now is the time to bring the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven.”

By staying close to Jesus, we are disciples who can witness to God’s love, renew the world, and begin releasing the powers of bondage.


And let’s remember the end of what C.S. Lewis wrote about Aslan. Lewis tells us that rather than being terrifying, being with Aslan can be lovely, too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into the dream again.

This is what the children felt when they heard the name of Aslan. This is what we have before us as community. We have the sometimes daunting, but always lovely, too lovely to put into words, companionship with Jesus, an experience so life changing that we will remember it all of our lives. Thanks be to God. Amen.