Our Reader Christine gave this sermon on Sunday 26 June – Anniversary Sunday – the day on which we celebrate Sunday School and the place of children in our church family. Here it is for you again:
Two weeks ago, I spoke of my calling to Reader Ministry and last week Father Shaun talked about his calling to ordination. We had not conferred it was just coincidence.
Everyone experiences their own particular way of calling and when reading the passages today we can’t help but see the connection to the message of calling in each one of them.
Elijah at this particular point in 1 Kings is in hiding, he is fearful for his life if he returns to Israel, because he had defeated the prophets of Baal and Jezebel has more or less told him that he would face the same fate as they had should he be caught.
During Elijah’s time, The Kingdom of Judah and The Kingdom of Israel were separate states, so Elijah had gone into hiding in the wilderness of Judea, where the Lord speaks him a number of times. Remember the sound of sheer silence after the earthquake, wind and fire. Then God speaks firmly to Elijah telling him to return to the wilderness of Damascus, which lies just beyond Israel and anoint Hazael, Jehu and basically choose Elisha, as his replacement or in our terms perhaps as an apprentice, preparing him to take over Elijah’s job, which he subsequently did.
Paul on the other hand is not particularly fearful of his life being taken, but he is understandably unsure how the Apostles and the people in Jerusalem would react if they met him face to face, because of his reputation as a persecutor of the church of God.
However, because of his experience of seeing Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul feels compelled to proclaim God’s grace among the Gentiles without having discussed this with the Apostle or in fact any human being. It’s God, revealing his Son Jesus, to Paul which gives him the motivation to proclaim the Gospel and the Spirit of God who gives him the words to say.
It’s curious that Paul also goes back to Damascus, like Elijah, but it takes Paul 3 years, before he feels safe to venture towards Jerusalem and even then, he doesn’t actually present himself to the Apostles. He meets only James, Jesus’ brother, before again venturing out to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. It’s a shame we don’t know how that engagement went, but we can only assume that James gave his blessing for Paul to continue the work he had begun.
Two very different men, with similar backgrounds and different skills. One before Jesus was born and one after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Both chosen for a particular task and exercising leadership. Both giving their lives to be role models for the glory of God in the communities they served.
Which reminds me of when I worked in school. One of the first questions asked of the year 7s in their initial English lessons, as a way of introducing them to writing an essay, was to answer the question: Who has been your role model?
As you can imagine we used to get quite a few colourful and unusual role models, from Superman to pop idols, but most of all it was their parents or grandparents and occasionally top athletes who had inspired them or given them set values.
However, to us as Christians, Jesus is the ultimate role model. He leads by teaching and healing with mercy and love, but in today’s Gospel he seems quite harsh.
He has set his face towards Jerusalem to what he knows is going to be his biggest challenge yet and he doesn’t want to be diverted or distracted.
At least three people offer to follow him and he basically turns them away, or does he? Is he trying to explain to them the commitment they would undertake by following him and the change it could make to their lives?
The first man seems a bit impulsive and may be a bit idealistic too. He’s not fully thought through what he is saying. He really doesn’t understand the commitment he would be making to follow Jesus. In his answer Jesus is basically telling the man that by following him it would mean giving up the home comforts he has probably enjoyed and being prepared to ‘rough it’ requiring a form of self-denial.
The second one is more difficult to understand, because we all have commitments to family and God doesn’t want us to deny family, but the indication here is that the man wanted to stay to arrange the funeral for his father, but Jesus won’t let him do even this and is basically saying if you want to follow me you need to come now. However, by not physically following Jesus this shouldn’t stop the man from proclaiming the kingdom of God within his own family and to his community.
The third one is similar to the second, but it’s a bit like putting a foot in one world and keeping the door open in another in case it doesn’t work out. So, he wants to say goodbye to his friends and family and explain what he’s planning to do, in case he has to make a hasty return.
I think sometimes Jesus and Luke can often exaggerate for the sake of emphasis. The emphasis here being on the call of the kingdom which is so urgent that it’s like running out of a burning building. You don’t stop for anything. Jesus, to our eyes, is being a bit unreasonable, but if we stop to do just one last thing, we get distracted and never get there. Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem and that is his main objective, to complete the mission he has been sent on.
To follow Jesus, we know, can be a challenge as we may have to make changes in our lives. It requires commitment and dedication. However, he does give us the skills and opportunities to spread his Gospel in our communities, through our witness in Church, Sunday School, Messy Church and our many social events. All of which are mission opportunities and by being role models to those around us.
Some of us may face difficulties as we seek to exercise our calling, but with God’s guidance love and support we can be prepared to change things in our world and our lives.
Elijah made many changes through his prophesies; he didn’t lose faith even when he faced being hunted down and possibly killed.
Paul changed his way of life, letting go the prejudices of his past life even though he knew he could face imprisonment and persecution.
Jesus taught us how to live our lives and accepted death for us all giving his life as a sacrifice.
Everyone is called not necessarily to be leaders like Elijah, Paul and church ministers, but to be witnesses to the glory of God and to be known as followers of Christ to those around them.
Every one of us, is and are known as followers of Jesus Christ.
Every one of us, are heirs to the Kingdom of God.
Our church is a community of followers, who have all been called by God to be witnesses to the Gospel in our homes, work and community.
Let us pray:
Lord, we come to your awesome presence from the shadows into your radiance. By the blood we may enter your brightness. Search us, try us, consume all our darkness. As we gaze on your kingly brightness so, our faces display your likeness. Ever changing from glory to glory, mirrored here may our lives tell your story through Jesus Christ our Lord.