Sermon for the Third Sunday After Pentecost — June 26, 2022

Texts: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
All right everyone. Seat belts buckled low and tight across your laps? All carry-on items stowed safely under your seats? Crash helmets in place? Plenty of liquids? Are we ready? Summer is taking off. Right. Now.
Who could be blamed for not being quite ready though? After all, it was early spring just last week with cold winds, clouds, and fits of rain. Classic June-uary. How can we be ready so suddenly? Worse still, the fourth of July is a week from Monday. Which means summer is half over, right?
What’s that you say? We should have known? We live here after all, it’s true. But still…
Who is ever ready for life, really? Pregnancy lasts nine months but a newborn still arrives unexpectedly AND without instructions! A teenager is a student driver for months but what parent is ever ready for the day when their sixteen year old comes home from the DMV with a license? We are people who, when someone comes to the end of life in their ninth decade or later, are likely to write an obituary saying that they “died unexpectedly”.
Now consider Elisha’s unexpected visit from Elijah. He was minding his own business one day, plowing his considerably extensive acreage when out of nowhere a cloak dropped over him. Did he realize at that moment that he was going to have to slaughter a dozen oxen, throw a feast for the whole town, and leave it all behind?
To Elisha’s credit he did latch on to what was happening. Probably he knew of Elijah’s prophetic deeds, since it’s clear that Elisha was a faithful God-believing Jew. So there it was – Elijah retiring, God calling… Elisha asked permission to honor his parents with a farewell kiss.
Elijah granted the request, reminding Elisha to return and follow knowing full well that the cloak was a summons. Elisha’s old life of farming was over. He was headed into a new life as an intern prophet. But he’d soon take it all on: prophecy, king-anointing, calling down heavenly chariots of fire, and other duties as directed by God.
Elisha is a story of call and response. He was like Elijah, only better. Elisha’s obedience led him to long public service in Israel, earning him a place in the Book of Kings. Mostly for summoning armies in Israel’s defense. It was a rare talent among the prophets.
Although, Elisha is also remembered for his repertoire of divine talents. He put salt in some unhealthy, undrinkable water and made it safe. He took a pot of toxic stew and cleansed it with flour. He helped a widow pay her debts, he fed a hundred men with twenty barley loaves. Elisha healed and resuscitated, and he was clairvoyant.
Elisha was faithful to God and to the king. But there is one thing that Elisha didn’t do. He was not ready to question Israel’s practice of restoring honor through blood revenge.
Luke’s gospel is another call story, told in multiple encounters. Jesus hears God’s call to go to Jerusalem. Along the way he encounters both resistance and enthusiasm for his mission.
The first rest stop for Jesus was a village of the Samaritans. But they closed their doors to him. The reason is given clearly. Jesus was going to Jerusalem, on his way to the cross and his willing death. The Samaritan were not ready to support Jesus on that path.
This offended the disciples who offered to destroy the villagers with heavenly fire for Jesus’s sake. It was an ambitious nod to one of Elisha’s powers; restoring honor with bloodshed. But. So. Wrong. Jesus admonished them. Called through they were, the disciples were still not entirely ready to follow Jesus’s way either. The only blood that would be shed was his own.
Next Jesus was approached by a prospective follower who doesn’t even get named. Maybe that’s because a lot of people come to Jesus with this offer: “I will follow you wherever you go.” It’s nice, but really, who is ever ready to follow Jesus to his end on the cross?
Jesus replied cryptically. Earth’s creatures have resting places. Not so the Son of Man. Are you ready to follow this Messiah who has no plan to stop or to seek safety until he is at home in God?
In the next encounter Jesus took the initiative with the familiar words, “Follow me.” The man’s reply is affirmative. But it comes with conditions. He’s got a father to bury. But when will that happen? The man’s response left open the possibility that he needed to stay home until his father reached the natural end of his life….at some future point.
I’ll be there in minute. An hour, max. A month? Next year? I’ll get back to you soon, really. Jesus knows this isn’t a commitment to him, which is to God’s reign. It’s a commitment to the ordinary reign of death instead. A sign of un-readiness for the kind of life Jesus is offering.
There’s one more encounter on this unready road. Another sincere offer: “I will follow you, but let me first say farewell…” Jesus told this ambitious one the hard truth too. You can’t go straight ahead while looking backward. The reign of God is not a place of regret or half-heartedness. It’s all or nothing.
So there it is. Five for five with people who are not ready for Jesus. So perhaps it’s more appropriate to ask, who is ever ready for Jesus?
All our following is going to be imperfect. It’s true. But that’s no reason to give up the effort. No wonder Paul wrote all those encouraging but corrective letters. Did you just enslave yourself to sin again by loving yourself more than anyone around you? Really? Let the blood that Jesus shed for sin be enough already! Listen to the Spirit! Turn from sin. Embrace freedom in God.  
Is it really so impossible? Can leopards change their spots? Well. Remember how a Samaritan village said “no” to Jesus? In the next chapter Jesus told a story that begins: A man was going from Jerusalem down to Jericho when he fell among thieves who beat and robbed him. A passing Samaritan saw him and stopped to help… One Samaritan village wasn’t ready. But Jesus knew that wasn’t the end of the story. For them or for us.

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