A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum is a musical inspired by the farces of the ancient Roman playwright Plautus. It tells the bawdy story of a slave named Pseudolus and his attempts to win his freedom by helping his young master woo the girl next door. The plot displays puns, slamming doors, cases of mistaken identity, and satirical comments on social class. The musical's original 1962 Broadway run won several Tony Awards; and the original lead, Zero Mostel, also starred in the successful film.
The title is derived from a line used by vaudeville comedians to begin a story: “A funny thing happened on the way to the theater.” Numerous individuals writing stories on a variety of topics have repeated that line. Most recently, someone wrote of the NBA Finals, “A funny thing happened on the way to that destiny.” Another sportswriter penned an article about the US Open, “A funny thing happened on his way to oblivion.” There is the TV program “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House.” Finally, someone recently blogged, “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Sainthood.”
Obviously, one can repurpose comedy to fit any topic involving sports, politics and religion. So, let me move to my second point and explain how my sermon title addresses our passage.
Luke’s Gospel is a narrative of the human life of Jesus and the message of the Son of God. It began with an introduction in chapter 4, and moved into an account of his mission in chapters 5 through 9. In those chapters, Luke showed how the Church originated in the life and work of Jesus. Now, his story takes up the great journey to Jerusalem that led him out of history and into the heavenly sphere. This journey is also the journey of the Church, which accompanies Jesus on his way to God.
Our opening verse, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” – introduces the journey and defines it in terms of its destination. Jerusalem is not a mere geographical spot. The city marked the journey’s end where Jesus was received up, an expression that referred to his ascension. Thus, his journey is to a geographical spot and a symbol of its heavenly fulfillment beyond every reality.
Although Luke mentioned this journey repeatedly through the next ten chapters, he never indicated that Jesus arrived. At a point when it seemed appropriate to announce his arrival, Luke simply stated that Jesus entered the Temple. The journey seems incomplete.
A funny thing happened. Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem, and he never arrived. He simply entered the Temple. … You may say, “Well, the Temple is in Jerusalem. It’s implied he reached Jerusalem.” True. Yet, the more important point of verse 51 is not what Jesus was determined to accomplish – he set his face to go to Jerusalem, but what God was going to accomplish – When the days drew near for him to be taken up. Jesus accepted the event and its destination in order to return to his heavenly Father.
Now, within our passage are a number of people – Jesus’ messengers, the Samaritans and others. So, for my third point, people, we will examine the people in our passage and in our pews (or chairs, in this case).
Jesus sent the messengers ahead to prepare the way. To prepare the way for what? For his exodus-ascension. However, unlike John the Baptist, who also prepared the way for the Messiah, the disciples could not embrace the apocalyptic judgment upon the Samaritans who did not receive him. The fire associated with the Messiah’s coming would have its place, but not here and now. That transforming, sanctifying, empowering fire of the Holy Spirit would come upon the Church after Jesus’ Ascension. Jesus rebuked the messengers for their desire to destroy the Samaritans, and then they moved on.
As they moved on, anonymous figures emerged as types of persons who considered following Jesus on his journey. Those who wish to join Jesus must disengage themselves from any earthly home, from former responsibilities and from past relationships. To proclaim the kingdom of God, one must live in a manner befitting the kingdom and bid farewell to the past.
Setting out on the journey to Jerusalem and the Ascension, Jesus demonstrated a singular detachment from earthly matters. The first people who followed him on his journey had to reflect that detachment and the way of life.
What about people who follow Jesus on his journey today? What about us? Do we reflect that detachment and way of life? Do our lives demonstrate a singular detachment from earthly matters? Do we disengage from our earthly homes, former responsibilities and past relationships to follow Jesus? Do I live in a manner befitting the kingdom of God in order to proclaim it? Is following Jesus any easier or tougher for us than it was for the first People of the Way?
Following Jesus today is no easier for us than it was for the first People of the Way. Personally speaking, I do not always live in a manner befitting the kingdom. Selfishness and self-serving interests tempt me constantly. I am engaged to home, duties and relationships. In short, I am spiritually lazy.
Experience tells me to prescribe something to counter spiritual laziness – the five P’s of Prayer: Passage, Place, Posture, Presence and Passage. All these P’s, Al will put in a podcast so you can listen to them later.
Passage. Depending on the circumstances, choose a Scripture passage. Slowly read it several times until a word or phrase rises to the surface.
Place. Choose a place where you will not be disturbed. It may be in your home or a quiet church.
Posture. Find a sturdy comfortable chair that will allow you to sit upright. Posture is important. Do not slouch or lie down.
Presence. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Start there and gradually increase your prayer time to 25 minutes. Close your eyes so you are not distracted. Be present to God as He is present to you. Thoughts, feelings, physical discomforts and audible distractions will occur. Stand firm in the stream and let these distractions flow by as flotsam and jetsam go downstream.
Passage. When you get distracted, return to the passage and refocus. When your minutes have passed, close your meditation by reciting aloud The Lord’s Prayer.
Because Jesus loves you, try this for 25 minutes a day for the next 30-some years – the lifespan of Jesus. I guarantee you a deeper, richer, fuller, more intimate relationship with our Triune God. If it does not work, you can return it for your old relationship with God.
Friends, this summer, as we journey to various destinations throughout the world, funny things will happen. Life will pull us in every direction of the compass. That is why it is necessary for us to set our faces like Jesus and follow him – for only Jesus, Father and Spirit will provide true direction to our heavenly home. As we encounter uncounted individuals seeking direction, prescribe to them our Five P’s of Prayer and a relationship with the Three Persons of the Trinity. And when you do, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 Eugene LaVerdiere, Luke (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, Inc. 1986), 138ff. This accounts for the majority of this section.