God’s Plan is a hip-hop song that was written and performed by the Canadian rapper, Drake. Now if you don’t know who Drake is, you can ask your teenage children or teenage grandchildren, or even ask your 20-40 something children or grandchildren, I’m certain 99 percent of them can tell you who he is and about the song, God’s Plan. The lyrics of the song cover several important themes in Drake’s life. These issues range from his fame to his wealth, to the enemies around him wishing “a lot of bad things” on him. Drake uses the song to talk about his successful journey through the music industry and how he has been able to surmount all the obstacles placed in his way by his enemies/haters and move from grace to grace. We live in a world where obstacles are consistently placed in the way of people for all different kinds of reasons. Some people get obstacles placed in the way because they are African American, some people get obstacles placed in the way because they are Hispanic, some people get obstacles placed in the way because they are women, some people get obstacles placed in the way because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity and gender expression. Some people get obstacles placed in the way because of their religion, some people get obstacles placed in the way because of their socio-economic status, whatever the reason obstacles are placed in the way, today’s gospel text is call for us to follow Jesus and set our face. Our face must be set toward moving each other, moving our communities, moving our nation, and even moving the world to a place, where through the love of God, it is transformed into a place where everyone is seen and treated as what they are, people made in the image of God and deserving love and respect. We have been called to set our face toward racial reconciliation, and I believe that today’s gospel texts give us a road map how to get there.
Jesus begins to make his way to Jerusalem and on his way, he decides to stop by a Samaritan village. But when they learn that he has set his face toward Jerusalem, they rebuff him and want nothing to do with him. As you all know, the Samaritans and the Jewish people during this time don’t have the best relationship. They don’t like to have dealing with each other and don’t recognize the legitimacy of each other. There is a great deal of hurt and trauma (elaborate and examples). So, when Jesus shows up, there is a distrust. Too often, when we go to places that have been damaged by the trauma of racism, we expect that people should be happy because the dominant culture is now showing up with a helping hand. But this text shows us that the work of reconciliation is more than just showing up, but it requires a right frame of heart and mind to be able to deal with the raw pain and truth that racism and all the other isms have inflicted upon people. As you can see, his disciples become enraged when this Samaritan village refuses to receive Jesus. Can you hear them thinking, how dare these people rebuff him and we went out of our way to come to them! We should not be here amongst them anyway! We are here to help them and why are they not welcoming us here. While they were willing to go to this Samaritan village, their hearts and minds were not in a place to listen as to how they could be a healing presence. They become angry and ask Jesus should they call down fire upon them like Elijah did in Hebrew scriptures.
But Jesus rebukes them. Jesus understands the history and the trauma that has been done and knows that the reconciliation that needs to take place amongst the Jewish people and the Samaritans is not just a one-time show, but one that requires the bridging of trauma and true heartfelt actions of penitence and reparation to repair the damage. There will be people who will get discouraged by the reactions they receive in this work of racial reconciliation, maybe you didn’t receive the response you were looking for because there is deep work to be done in exposing the trauma and hurt of racism. Maybe you’ve been discouraged by those who were partners with you in this work and because their efforts in engaging in racial reconciliation did not turn out the way they envisioned it was supposed to go, they’ve become like the disciples James and John and just want to call fire down and burn the whole thing down. I don’t know where you stand at this moment when it comes to this work of racial reconciliation but let me encourage you in this moment not to be discouraged by all that you see going on around you, but to keep your face set toward Jerusalem.
As the text continues, and Jesus continues his journey, he encounters several people who are motivated and encouraged to follow him, but they can never make the full commitment because there is always something else that they must do. One had to bury his father and the other wanted to bid his family farewell before following him, which honestly are legitimate requests. I don’t think any one of us would reject these requests if they were made to us. They are valid reasons. You know, the same kind of valid reasons we can come up with why we ought not to lean in heavily to the work of racial reconciliation: we don’t want to make anyone upset; this may offend some people, it may make them uncomfortable, people may complain, are we really making a difference, there other issues to deal with as well, this may cause people to leave. All these are legitimate reasons to pump the breaks at times on the work of racial reconciliation and yet Jesus does not give us an option out, but he doubles down and tells us “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” To put I in the words of master Yoda, there is no try, its either do or do not. Or to quote the hip legend Big Daddy Kane, ain’t no half stepping. I know that’s not good English, but its good preaching.
Can you keep your face set toward Jerusalem, can you stay focused and set toward doing the work of racial reconciliation even when it hurts and has some twists and turns along the way? I pray we will be able to say Yes. In the words of the Yes lord, medley of the Church of God in Christ, I hope we will say yes to this important work that God has called us to do.
Rev. Antonio Baxter