Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sermon; 6 Pentecost/Proper 8; 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 & Luke 9:51-62

Do you remember what I asked you to do with the Old Testament and gospel lessons during Ordinary Time?  I asked you to listen for the connections between the two.  In these lessons for today, we have two call stories and two vastly different responses – one where the disciple is allowed to return home to say goodbye and one where a prospective disciple is not.  What’s the connection between these two stories?

In the gospel, Jesus begins the journey to Jerusalem, and a variety of people are given the chance to follow him and become disciples.  But before they join, they want to finish some necessary business at home.  One wants to bury his father, and another doesn’t want to leave without saying goodbye.  These are certainly reasonable requests.

But in this scene, we get one of the harsher images of Jesus.  “Let the dead bury their own dead,” he says; and, “No one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Is Jesus really telling us to be that harsh, that uncaring towards people we love?  Is Jesus really saying that unless we give up everything we have, both material goods and family bonds, we are not fit to proclaim the gospel or be a disciple?  Because if that is the case, then I am failing miserably.

Contrast Jesus’ response with the calling of Elisha.  Elijah is told to anoint Elisha as prophet in his place; and he does so by basically throwing his mantle over him.  Elisha runs after Elijah and says, “Let me kiss my parents goodbye, and then I will follow you.”

Elijah responds, “Go back; for what have I done to you?”

Elisha returns, says goodbye, and then takes time to sacrifice his oxen before finally following Elijah.

If you’re like me, you hear, “for what have I done to you?” as a defensive statement.  Someone responds harshly to you and you respond, “What have I done to you?”  Or you snap at your spouse after a hard day and they respond, “What have I done to you?”

But what if we don’t read this as a defensive statement?  I think this needs to be read as a positive offensive statement designed to get Elisha to think about all that Elijah has done, and all that this new call entails.

In various stories, Elijah is associated with God’s abundance.  He was fed by ravens while on the run from King Ahab.  He was fed by angels.  He ensured the widow of Zarephath and her son had food throughout the drought.

“What have I done to you?” then becomes a challenge for Elisha to examine how Elijah has affected him, and how he might respond in kind.  Elijah lived into God’s abundance and Elisha showed his belief in that abundance by slaughtering his oxen and feeding the people.

How does this connect to the gospel where Jesus says, “Let the dead bury their dead,” and, “No one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God?”

Think about what we have seen from Jesus to this point.  We have seen him heal a demoniac, forgive a sinner, raise a dead man to life and heal a Gentile slave.  What all of these events have in common is that they focus on life.  The sick slave was physically healed and returned to normal life.  The dead man was raised to life.  The sinful woman was given a new life in the eyes of God through the forgiveness of her sins.  And the demoniac had his mental health restored, thereby giving him a new, sane life.

Today Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem.  He is on a new path, a new journey.  He knows how that will end up, but if he doesn’t keep focused on Jerusalem, he very well could get sidetracked.

What has Jesus done to you?  He has shown you stories of forgiveness, healing and life; and he is showing you that a disciple’s journey might very well lead to a cross, and he is inviting you to participate with him.

The man who wanted to bury his father was unable to see life.  And while dealing with death is necessary, we can’t live there.  At some point we need to see Jesus as life giving and move forward.

The man who wanted to say goodbye also missed something from Jesus.  He missed the journey that draws us closer to God.  The problem with looking back is that we get distracted by either “We’ve never done it that way,” or, “We’ve always done it this way.”  If we continually look back, then we are continually looking for ways to make today more like yesterday.  Jesus is doing a new thing; do you not perceive it?  We can’t perceive new things if we are continually looking backward.

“What have I done to you?” Elijah asked Elisha.  And Elisha went and followed Elijah’s example of living into God’s abundance.

“What have I done to you?” Jesus asks his would-be disciples, and they are not willing or able to follow his example of giving new life or making a long journey to unite themselves with God.

What has Jesus done to you?  I think your answer indicates whether you will live into God’s abundance, or whether you will continually look back for the way things used to be.



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