The Oasis

Writings from the ministry team

for your refreshment

 

 

Sermon  - Mike Brooke -26 Jun 16 – Following Jesus

 

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21, Galatians 5:1 and 13-25  & Luke 9:51-62

 

 

Here’s a challenging word for you: commitment.  It strikes me that, like nostalgia, commitment seems not to be what it used to be.  Is it that young people in today’s world are immersed in the impermanent?  No-one seems to expect to have a job for life any more.  Even those old favourites for stability – the armed forces, the church and the civil service no longer guarantee any longevity to one’s working life.  That reminds me of an advert that I spotted when I was about 16 years old – it read ‘Just failed your O Levels – don’t worry apply for a job in the Civil Service’!  You wouldn’t see anything like that these days!

 

Commitment is what our gospel reading is addressing.  Jesus is on his way south towards Jerusalem and is being accompanied on his journey by the usual crowds.  They avoid a hostile reception by some townsfolk in Samaria.  After which Jesus gives the sons of Zebedee a severe telling off for their outrageous suggestion of a calling down a heavenly air strike on the place.  Then he’s approached by some men who want to talk to him as they walk (yes, men can do that, as well as women!).  Perhaps they’re a bit star-struck and want to impress him or, hopefully, their motives are sincere.

 

One says ‘I’ll follow, wherever you go.’  His resolve is tested by Jesus reminding the man that he, Jesus, doesn’t own property, has no money and relies on goodwill for a bed for the night.  The implication is that anyone who follows Jesus will have to live that sort of life; the implied question is ‘Could you do that as well?’

 

To another man, whose response to the invitation is conditional, Jesus’ answer perhaps seems harsh.  ‘Let the dead bury the dead – you need to focus on the mission – telling folks about God’s love,’ he tells him.  And the third example in Luke’s account could be taken as an even more insensitive response.  This man just wants to go home to say goodbye before he hits the road.  This time Jesus uses an agricultural analogy.  ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’

 

That latter put down could be seen as having a double meaning.  Not only in looking back to the old life, before saying goodbye to it, but also that a ploughman who doesn’t concentrate on looking ahead will not plough a very straight furrow.  So commitment to the cause, as well as to the task is what Jesus wants. 

 

And the ploughing analogy is perhaps drawn from the historical book of Kings and the biography of the prophet Elijah that we find there.  The part of his life that we heard about this afternoon was approaching the end.  Elijah had just been through a really bad patch.  He’d fled south into the desert, away from the death threat issued by King Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel.  Not only that, but he was running away from the mission and tasks given to him by God.  Elijah had even tried to commit suicide.

 

But now he’d turned away from, that is repented of, his self-driven agenda and submitted his life back to God.  That resulted in Elijah being directed to return to the dangerous north and anoint two kings; they would eventually overthrow the evil Ahab and Jezebel.  He’s also told to find his successor as the national prophet - a young man called Elisha.  God even gives him a destination to put into his Satnav – Abel Meholah – a town in the fertile Jordan valley about halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. 

 

Once there, Elijah finds Elisha ploughing a field with his 24 horsepower tractor.  The fact that the family could put 12 pairs of oxen to work spoke volumes of their wealth. 

And the technique for such a huge train of beasts was that one man would lead each pair.  As the man in charge Elisha was working the last pair, from where he could supervise all the rest.  His eyes would have been firmly looking ahead.

 

Elijah goes up to the young man and signals his intention to take him on as his apprentice and eventual successor by putting his outer garment on his shoulders.  Literally allowing Elisha to take up his mantle.  But the lad’s response is the same conditional reply that Jesus received from one of those men walking with him about 800 years later.  ‘OK, but hang on until I’ve said good bye to my family.’  That seems perfectly reasonable doesn’t it?  After all Elisha was giving up his earthly inheritance, which may have been considerable. 

 

Elijah’s reaction is interesting.  Is his self-doubt still ruling him?  He appears to tell Elisha that he’s got it wrong.  Perhaps he misunderstood what God told him to do?  OK – go back – I got it wrong, he says. 

 

Now, the historian that wrote the book of Kings doesn’t tell us much about Elisha’s motives in what followed.  What we do know was that he made an extravagant and generous gesture. 

He killed two of his oxen and cooked them on a fire made out of the plough, and then he got all the locals round to share the feast.  Was it because of guilt in not accepting Elijah’s mantle without condition?  Or was a symbolic surrender of his earthly wealth? Whatever the motive he did go and follow Elijah and became his successor as the prophet of Israel.  In some respects Elisha was like his predecessor, though not as uncompromising or dramatic and he had more gentleness to his personality.  Much of Elisha’s work over the following 50 years was done through 11 miracles, which are all described in the second part of the book of Kings.  Most of them were prompted by mercy and compassion. 

 

Going back to the gospel and the responses of Jesus to hopeful followers; those we heard today add to others found elsewhere in the gospels and they all give out the same message.  It’s one of priorities; it’s one of commitment.  If you want to follow Jesus, not just on the road, but throughout your life, then the mission has got to be your priority over all other things.  It doesn’t mean that you cannot stay with your family, or bury your father or own a house.  What it means is that all those things can be part of your new life in Jesus, but they must not be your top priorities. 

After you choose to follow him, you have to try to be like him and to love him before all others.  In doing that then your Christian faith will grow and mature.  And if you want a good reason for that then you need look no further than the end of our second reading.  Paul tells the folks in the churches of the region of Galatia that they must also follow Jesus unconditionally.  That way, he writes, lies true freedom from the burdens and guilt of selfish living.  For when Jesus left this world he promised to send the Holy Spirit to help us live the right way, the way that God designed us to live: in love and harmony.  But there’s a bonus; Paul calls it the fruit of the spirit.

 

This fruit is like no other.  Unlike a strawberry or an apple, an orange or a melon, it doesn’t have just one flavour to sweeten our lives – it has nine.  And what are they?  Well, they’re love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Now isn’t that worth having to make your life truly fruitful?  So as we follow Jesus let’s not hesitate in our response to his direction and invitation, let’s remember that we need to keep in step and in our mission and ministry, let’s take up his mantle.  Or as Paul wrote, ‘Since we live by the Spirit, let’s keep in step with the Spirit’.