Sources: Mrs Armitage; Queen of the Road as well as Galatians 5: 13-14 and 22-25, 1 Kings 19: 19-21 and Luke 9: 51-62.
What is God calling you to today? And how are you going to respond? These are the questions our readings today invite us to think about.
So we have the story of the great prophet Elijah, who has recently defeated the prophets of Baal and who has met God in the still small voice following wind, earthquake and fire, calling his successor as God told him to. He simply throws his cloak over Elisha as he is ploughing. Elisha responds immediately. He asks to say goodbye to his family. Elijah agrees, a bit reluctantly. That phrase What have I done to you? Is a bit obscure but probably means something like Go ahead, if you must. I’m not stopping you. So Elisha goes, but not out of a lack of commitment. He burns the tools of his trade, his means of livelihood, feasts his family and neighbours, and goes straight back to Elijah to be his servant. We should do that too when God calls!
It seems Jesus has this story in mind as he answers a couple of would be followers. You need to ready to be homeless when you follow me, he says. Following me is even more urgent than your primary family duties such as burying your parents. Don’t even take time to say goodbye. You need to respond to me even more eagerly than Elisha responded to Elijah is the sense in which I understand it. Discipleship is not an optional extra – it replaces all our other priorities. It takes everything we have, everything we are.
We shouldn’t be afraid – in another place Jesus says that whatever we give up for him will be returned to us multiplied. We will be provided for. But we have to take the leap of faith that costs us everything.
It’s a leap of faith into a life of servanthood. Elisha doesn’t big himself up at becoming Elijah’s heir. He becomes his servant, his attendant, his pupil. It’s a humble role. (And, actually, he is always in Elijah’s shadow; never reaches the greatness of his master).
In the first part of our gospel story, Jesus shows the disciples what he expects of them. When they are insulted, they are not to react. They are not to call down fire from heaven to destroy those who reject them. They are not to punish. They are not to do anything. They simply move on to somewhere where they are welcome. That takes a lot of forbearance! No temper tantrums. And a limited sense of their own significance. They are to be the servants of the community, not its judges.
More of that from Paul, writing to some of the earliest Christian communities as they try to live the gospel. Don’t use the freedom your call gives you for self indulgence, he says. Serve one another humbly in love. Do not ‘bite and devour’ each other. We didn’t read it, but he lists the things to be left behind – some of them obviously immoral acts but including things we are all prey to – hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfishness, factions, envy………..And he follows them with a list of the things we should grow in ourselves – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness (this church’s aim for the year), goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. When we are called, it is to everyday work on ourselves and well as to changing the world.
God is calling each of us today to be God’s servants. And we are to respond immediately, without thought of self, and without thought of the cost to our sense of self importance.
Does that all sound too much to ask? Why would we want to pay that kind of price?
It’s because of the beauty of Jesus, the beauty of the Kingdom, the beauty of the freedom that is ours as servants of his.
Think of Mrs Armitage. She inherits a not-very-exciting car. It doesn’t work very well. Bits fall off all the time. Yet it takes her out into the beauty of the countryside, to new companions, to the excitement of becoming a bike rider. When we answer God’s call, as not very exciting people whose bits tend to fall off all the time, it’s a call to adventure, to relationship, to transformation.
Just as Mrs Armitage was unfazed at losing things that are generally needed to make a car go, we could learn not to be anxious about leaving things behind. What have you left behind in your life as a disciple?
Here are some thoughts about things that might give us freedom if we leave them behind:
Resentment – giving up thinking about, nursing, polishing up wrongs done to us, giving up ‘confessing other people’s sins’. Now there’s a thought! What would we think about instead? What life is like for that other person? What motivates them? Thinking of the gospel story, what’s going on with the Samaritans, what the long long story really is, that they cold-shoulder a group going up to Jerusalem.
Silly habits. Always doing things the same way. Going to the same places. Sitting in the same seats. Carrying the same attitudes. How about doing something differently? How about walking in someone else’s shoes for an hour or two, a day or two? How about going somewhere new? About exchanging an old task for a new on that needs learning?
Clinging. Being over-dependent on particular people responding to us in particular ways. Needing reassurance. Needing to be looked after. We DO depend on each other, but that should be a shifting mutual thing. We need to be awake, alert and learning all the time.
Elijah called Elisha to leave home and profession behind. Jesus called his would be followers to leave home comforts, duty, family, behind. Paul asks us to leave selfish habits behind. Buddhists call all of this non-attachment.
So, I invite you to leave behind whatever sense of helplessness, or self importance, or anxiety or reluctance as we come to this table today, as we face the days ahead, as you move ahead as a church into a new, more self reliant phase.
Grasp the freedom that life with Jesus brings. Be excited by the journey you are on with him. Be free, and learn to take joy in serving him with all your heart.
Revd. Maggie Hindley
Sermon given 26th May 2016