2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Luke 9:51-62
Ordinary 13C; Proper 8
The point of no return looms over both the reading from 2 Kings and Luke’s Gospel.
Elijah is about to be taken up to heaven. Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem. Big changes are afoot and there is no turning back from being taken up — in a whirlwind or on the cross. The question for Elisha and for disciples of Jesus is: Will they go the distance with those they profess to follow?
Elisha repeats, “As surely as the Lordlives and as you live, I will not leave you.” Elisha remains steadfast, never leaving Elijah, receiving that double portion of Elijah’s spirit and taking on his prophetic mantle. The would-be followers of Jesus in Luke don’t exhibit such tenacity and loyalty.
Jesus warns the first one who steps up and proclaims, “I will follow you wherever you go.” He says: Don’t count on lush accommodations, an easy life or much worldly comfort. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Are you sure you mean what you say? The life of discipleship requires sacrifice and a willingness to forego much of what others value the most — stability, security and status.
Jesus calls the second person in this story saying, “Follow me.” This would-be disciple gives a qualified “yes” to Jesus’ invitation. It is a “yes, but” rather than a “yes, and.” He says, “I will go, but first …” Something other than Jesus takes priority. Apparently, this person doesn’t realize the urgency of the time. Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem. This is the point of decision. It is now or never. Even burying the dead, a dutiful, important, familial obligation must be jettisoned in order to be faithful God in this context. The third encounter has another person stepping out in faith saying, “I will follow you, Lord.” Again, however, there is a “but.” A “but first …” Another loyalty other than loyalty to the Lord takes precedence, even if briefly. “But first let me say farewell to my family.” Surely, that’s allowable, right? Jesus’s answer reveals that, no, this is a real come-to-Jesus-moment and it is now or never.
There is an unmistakable urgency about these texts. An urgency that ought to cause us to pause. An urgency of decision and action that ought to compel us to consider our own willingness (or not), to face forward, follow Jesus and go to Jerusalem. What are our “but firsts” when it comes to following Jesus? What are the limits we place on our loyalty to God? The boundaries we put on our service to Christ?
The direction of these texts is relentlessly forward, future and uncompromising. Elijah will be taken up. Jesus will go to Jerusalem. Altering the course of the story isn’t possible, the only variable is whether we will participate in God’s sure plans. As one who likes to debate possibilities, weigh the pros and cons and deliberate alternatives, I find the unequivocal nature of Jesus’ call unsettling. I’d welcome a little more room to work, a little more time to consider the invitation. Hedge my bets. Get my affairs in order. But… Jesus says that the time is now; are you in or not?
We are in a time in history when the time isnow for Christians to face forward and follow Jesus to Jerusalem with no stops or U-turns. There is an urgency of decision and action in this season when the world churns with evil rhetoric and hateful acts. False teachers abound and excuses not to follow the One who died on the cross proliferate. We have a long list of “but firsts” when what Jesus demands is: Act now.
Take up the prophet’s mantel, trust the gift of the Spirit given to you and act now. Act now on behalf of the living dead forced to reside in refugee camps and under bridges. Act now on behalf of not only your blood kin but all those welcomed into the kin-dom of God. Act now for those without a place to lay their heads or a hope for a future. There is no time to waste for those on the cusp of being crushed. There is no turning back on the way to Jerusalem. Jesus will be crucified for the sake of the world, for us, for all. Will we face forward and go with him?
If we answer yes, we need to know that worldly security, stability and status must be subservient to service to and sacrifice for the Lord. Nothing can come before our loyalty to God. Nothing. No “yes, buts” allowed. Are we prepared for that level of commitment to Jesus Christ?
Last night, I went to see the documentary “Emanuel” and once again I found myself astounded at the faith of the Emanuel nine and their families. Not all of the family members expressed the forgiveness that went around the world 48 hours after the shootings. Some said that they had not, at this point could not, forgive. Others continue to pray for their loved one’s murderer. Each detailed the importance of their Christianity, their church, their faith in facing the horrendous hurt inflicted upon them by a white supremacist. The grace, mercy and love revealed in not only their words, but their lives, stands in stark contrast to the evil and hate beset upon them that June night. Their loyalty to the Lord is unwavering even in the face of the terror of Jerusalem.
The documentary is powerful. The response to it last night in the theater was powerful, too. Sheer sustained silence. After the lights came up, no one moved. No one spoke. Eventually, silently, we filed out. As we left the building I looked up. A full rainbow encompassed the theater. Many of us stood still, our faces skyward. Others pointed and lingered. I have no idea how many of my fellow moviegoers know the symbolism of the rainbow — that it represents God’s promise to never again destroy the earth, that it reveals hope after utter destruction and devastation, that it means life will ultimately triumph due to God’s mercy and grace. That rainbow, to me, bore witness to the faith of the Emanuel nine. They were executed while studying the Word of God, having welcomed a young, white man into their fellowship, choosing to follow Jesus, not knowing that that night their loyalty to their Lord would cost them their lives.
We never know what following Jesus will require of us — not really, not in detail. We do know that saying yes to Jesus means that nothing comes before our Lord, that deciding to follow is urgent, that when we commit to Christ we give ourselves totally to him, that God’s salvation story will not be thwarted, and we are blessedly, graciously invited to participate in it.
Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem. The time to decide if we will follow him is now.
- What are we tempted to put before our loyalty to Jesus?
- When have we said, “Yes, Lord, but …”?
- Why do you think Jesus warns his would-be follower that the Son of Man has no place to lay his head? What do you think he is trying to convey?
- Have you ever “taken up the mantle” of some work? Handed the mantle of ministry to someone else?
- What is the significance of Jesus being rejected by the village of Samaritans? Where else in Luke do we encounter Samaritans?
- How do we move forward into the work God calls us to do, no matter how challenging? What is the faithful balance between remembering and/or honoring the past and looking ahead to God’s plan for the future?
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