6th Sunday after Pentecost
June 30, 2013
Luke 9: 51-62 and 1 Kings19: 15-21
“When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
Wait a second. We are only in the 9th chapter of Luke’s Gospel, and we’ve only begun to get a sense of Jesus’ ministry. He’s managed to offend a lot of the people who are the most expectant of the Messiah, by stepping all over their rules and regulations. Those rules are what held the world together for those diligent religious people, and they were certain that keeping the faith by following the rules is what would bring the Messiah. But Jesus has let compassion trump all the rules. And although we may have been distracted by the miracles of healing and raising the dead and forgiving the sins of people on the wrong side of the law, Jesus hasn’t. His mission is never far from his mind, and everything he does is a step toward accomplishing his task. And so the narrative in Luke’s Gospel goes into Slow Motion, in a way, so that the next twenty-some chapters will talk about the teachings and events on that trip to his confrontation with death and then his resurrection.
So this morning we are talking about what it takes to follow Jesus. His disciples are offended for him when certain Samaritans won’t let him travel through their town. They seem always ready to mix it up, and they certainly are feeling the power of being with the Lord or Heaven and Earth. When someone asks to come along, Jesus seems to discourage him with the simplest vision of a life spent camping out and couch surfing. And when he invites someone to join up, the man has family obligations to fulfill first, and gets left behind.
So does this story mean that unless you are willing to drop everything and do mission work, you are not following Jesus? It’s a scary question, as we are so ready to fit Jesus into the life we’ve chosen rather than choosing a life that Jesus calls us into. What else is possible? How else would we live?
This weekend I am attending a retirement party for my friend and mentor Terry Moe. He was my internship supervisor and his congregation in NE Portland had mentored 14 interns before me. They had already started a store-front spiritual community when I came to work there, and it continued until just a few years ago. The idea was to step outside of the traditional church building and church language to share our longing for a deeper connection with people and the world and invite people into community who would never step into a church building. Pastor Moe called it pre-catechetical, meaning that you didn’t have to be a Christian to be part of a community that cared about people and wanted to change the world into something more compassionate and kind. We shared stories of our hurts and hopes, we prayed together for each other, we connected with others in the community who were working to effect change for prisoners, broken families, neighborhoods affected by meth houses. It was the beginning of a longer journey to use the shrinking resources of fading traditional Lutheran and Presbyterian congregations to birth something new and vital that none of us who grew up in church could ever imagine. I am pretty sure that where that path ended was never clear to Pastor Moe as he prayed to trust the Spirit’s longing for the new, as he encouraged the young seminarians who came to work beside him, and as he boldly asked the congregation to use its treasure to foster something they could never really call their own. As I look back on the journey of Redeemer Lutheran Church to become the Leaven Community and Salt & Light Lutheran Church this month, I am amazed. In the ten years I have known this congregation, it has died and been resurrected. No one really knew what God had in mind for that ministry, but Terry Moe was able to hold the hope and create the space for it to bloom.
I know what that death and resurrection of life can look like; I’ve been through it a few times. I know that most of you have been through it, too. When all the possibilities that you imagined are lost, you have to just keep following Jesus, trusting that resurrection is certain.
The other story we have before us today has been my inspiration when I can’t imagine what will come next. Elisha was ready when the call came to follow the great prophet Elijah. Grabbing the mantle, the sign of the prophet’s power, he runs to say goodbye to his old life. His family obligations are dismissed with a kiss, his part in the family business becomes the food for the party he throws for his friends and associates. What courage it takes to BBQ the remnants of the life you’ve lived to follow a life that will never be secure or predictable.
God loves us no matter how faithful we are, no matter how we spend our money or how often we pray. Jesus asks us to give it all to be his disciples, and we give so little. Our hearts are so concerned with so many other things than hearing God’s call to follow. Letting go of what we know and trust is so hard. But our call is to “put our hand to the plow” with Jesus, trusting that whatever lies ahead is in God’s loving power to accomplish, and never looking back. That is what is at the center of Christian life. That is what makes it possible to live every day. What is Jesus calling you to do or be? How will you answer?