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Sermons

Making Up Your Mind

April 21, 2013

Bible Reading

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.

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 9:51-62)

Reading from Swedenborg

When someone becomes an adult and starts thinking for himself and no longer just as he was told or taught, he brings to mind what he has in his mind, looks it over, and either endorses it, doubts it, or rejects it. If he endorses it, it’s an indication he is led by good; if he rejects it, it’s an indication that he’s not being led by good, and if he doubts, it’s an indication he hasn’t yet made up his mind. Such things would be: that there is a God, that God created everything, that God rewards good people and punishes bad people, that there is a life after death, that there is heaven and there is hell, that these last for ever, and that people need to obey the Ten Commandments.

(Arcana Coelestia 5135)

Sermon

Right in the middle of other things comes a verse about Jesus that speaks volumes and takes us into things going on behind the scenes. It says, “When the time came, Jesus steadfastly set his face to go up to Jerusalem.”

We know why: Palm Sunday, Good Friday, Easter. But interestingly, this verse appears way, way back, much earlier—as if Jesus, while he was talking to the disciples and walking one Wednesday afternoon through some village in Galilee, suddenly stops in his tracks, understands the huge importance of something that has never hit him before, sees exactly where everything is going to lead, and right there and then makes up his mind and “sets his face,” as it says, steadfastly, to go up to Jerusalem. If you could stand inside Jesus’ mind, you might see one or all of (let’s say) three things: a picture forming of angry people who are clearly furious at Jesus himself; a sense of absolute loneliness, or something he can’t quite put his finger on; and behind both of those, a wordless realization that what is happening and going to work itself inevitably through is of such huge importance that nobody can begin, or ever will be able, to know just what that is. All this lasts about eight seconds, and then it’s gone—and Jesus is back with the next person and their questions.

But eight seconds is absolutely long enough to see, feel, and decide things and, there and then, make your mind up. We get moments like this—perhaps not quite as big, of course, but we can see purposes and outcomes and likelihoods, even though we can’t see the future (and that’s a mercy!). And it’s at eight-second moments like this that we probably do most of our deciding—not the weighing of things, the sifting of our possible options, but the knowing. “Is that how it’s all going, then? Is this what I want? Or isn’t it?” We could say that we make up our mind, but actually, our mind seems to be almost made up for us.

That’s an amazing thought. It sounds as though we’re destined in some way—and part of us really doesn’t like that kind of idea, because we value our free will and decision-making ability so much. “Nobody’s going to tell me what to do or how everything is going to work out!”

That’s absolutely fine—absolutely right—on one level, the level where you are thinking, selecting, comparing, filing and so on, because that is you and yours, and you have every right to all that. But at the deepest level—which we hardly ever come into direct contact with—there is this seeing and knowing, something like Jesus had that Wednesday afternoon. And the only word you can really use for it is “destiny,” which we really don’t like to hear because, as I said, it seems to go against everything we’ve ever believed in.

But it isn’t fatalism. Fatalism means you can’t do anything about something. The train is running downhill and everything is out of control, with impending fatalities. The only thing you can do is jump or stay on board, and you’ll be killed either way! Destiny is not like that at all, or else life would be unbearable.

Destiny is about there being a set purpose for our existence and a set purpose for everything. The feeling of destiny doesn’t take away one molecule of our free will, and yet it is there for sure. I actually think it is the way we glimpse the workings of divine providence in a tangible way—and, for me, it cuts through all those awful Yes-But-What-Ifs that our reasoning throws up when we mere mortals try to get our arrogant heads around how God is managing the whole of everything.

That moment Jesus had that Wednesday afternoon was not an exercise in logical deduction. He just knew, but of course he was God. We sense that there is a meaning and purpose to everything, and at times we get that sense of an underlying destiny very strongly. Rather than running away from it or telling ourselves that there’s nothing of the kind, we would do better to embrace it, and then a few seconds later decide for ourselves what we are going to do for the rest of the day because of it. It’s a bit like a push and a nudge; when push comes to shove, it’s over to us. Embrace destiny and providence, and make your mind up.

If I had to write horoscopes, they would always go like this: Sagittarius—“You will meet some ups and downs, but everything is in fact working out the way that it is meant to.” Leo—“Ditto.” Capricorn—“Ditto.” Horoscopes are fatalistic. Providence is destiny. People who write horoscopes might protest that they are simply pointing out likelihoods and that it’s good to be armed in advance. But I have a sneaking suspicion that horoscopes leave people not only thinking it’s all set out in the stars but also musing, “I don’t have to do anything about it myself,” which is a lovely thought.

But destiny and providence are not like that at all. They’re invitations. “Come to me, all of you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Those are amazing words! They are all about destiny of the providence kind. Most of us hear them and say to ourselves, “Oh, I know those words. I remember that wonderful sermon on them by soand-so, what was it, twenty-nine years ago. Those words are just lovely; I could hear them over and over.” But we are actually meant to do something with them—own them, embrace them, try them out, and let them make a difference to us, not just soliloquize. We are meant to make up our minds to come unto God—or, if you prefer, to come unto God and make up our minds.

Jesus set his face steadfastly to go up to Jerusalem. This word “steadfast” smacks of tin soldiers and Nelson’s sailors at Trafalgar, but it is a great word about making up your mind and knowing where you are going. The word for “steadfast” that is used in the gospel is sterizo; notice just how close that is to our word “sterile,” meaning absolutely germ-free. The germs—as far as we are concerned at the moment—are things like nagging doubts and bacterial egos.

“Sterile,” of course, can have other, not-so-good meanings, such as “barren,” “empty,” even “impotent.” And bacteria are not only beneficial (think of yogurt!) but essential. One of the things about making up our minds—a good thing to do—is that it can make us fairly hard and fast— sterile—and closed to other points of view. Then we fall into dogmatism, into believing that our point of view is the one true view.

So please note that moment for Jesus as he set his face steadfastly—note it, warm to it, and identify with it. You and I can’t decide right now that we will make up our minds once and for all at this very moment. (Well, we can, but it’s unrealistic to do so.) Setting one’s face steadfastly is far more about letting an impulse or your intuition help you make your mind up. It’s destiny, the providential push and nudge. It will come for sure, when it is right, and you will know it; but the point is for you to go with it that little bit more every time it comes, and make it steadfast and “sterilized” in the best sense of the word.

And don’t forget: when you do make your mind up, you can then just get on with your life, and all that it is and can be. Amen.

Rev. Julian Duckworth