Texts: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
Raymundo was a skinny little kid, maybe seven years old when I first laid eyes on him. His grandmother brought him to church because he lived in her home with his sister and dad. Raymundo’s mom wasn’t in the picture consistently. She was in and out of prison because of drug addiction and lived mostly in halfway houses.
Raymundo relied on his grandmother because his dad worked long hours. He did his with his kids on Sunday afternoons, working on the car with Raymundo. Or taking him to a ball game.
The car. We didn’t see Raymundo and his grandmother every Sunday because sometimes the car ran and sometimes it didn’t. Raymundo’s dad had a truck to get to work and it needed to be operational so it had first priority. The family car was second in line when it came to repairs.
Raymundo grew into an intense wiry twelve year old; it was time for him to start confirmation class. I wasn’t sure he’d come every Wednesday. His transportation was still pretty unreliable, his grandmother was working evenings then. And Raymundo helped watch his younger sister.
There were other kids with better circumstances who missed confirmation pretty regularly. But Raymundo made it work. I found out that some days he walked several miles to get to class. After that I made sure he got a ride home.
Raymundo wasn’t the best student in the class. Like many of his peers, he hadn’t really discovered who he was and what he really wanted to do yet. And like the others, learning about religion wasn’t exactly at the top of his list.
But he came. Every week. And whenever I needed help with projects around the church Raymundo was always among the first to volunteer. He was a good kid. A young person with the will to serve. He grew into a tall and lanky young man and moved on, becoming an independent young adult. Every now and then he’d come by to check on how I was doing.
Maybe it was because of that that I finally I realized something about Raymundo. A lot of his motivation for making it regularly to confirmation was because he thought I needed him. And God bless him, he was right. Just by showing up, Raymundo gave me hope as a teacher of the Christian faith. His presence supported my dream that something I said or did might somehow, eventually form young people who chose the way of faith in God.
Elijah needed some support too. He’d been prophesying to people who weren’t really very interested. There were lots of prophets around then, just not many prophets who were committed to God’s word which could be…damning and demanding. Every king had a retinue of professional prophets telling them just exactly the soothing words they wanted to hear.
Common people on the street also preferred to gather around prophets whose visions of the world agreed with their own. Life is hard enough without having to listen to God calling you out too. After a lot of scuffles, not enough appreciative listening, and way too much bloodshed Elijah was one tired and discouraged prophet; he offered to resign.
But God said Elijah wasn’t done. There was some important anointing to be accomplished. A new king to be set apart Aram, and a new king set apart for Israel. And after that – O happy day! An apprentice to take on Elijah’s mantle of prophetic authority.
Elisha was that apprentice. And this is his call story. He was a strong young man, with a good farming business. Twelve oxen is a lot of power and a lot of capital. And Elisha gave it all up.
It’s safe to say that Elisha didn’t know what he didn’t know. But Elisha was also a young man of faith, willing to commit himself completely. He responded instinctively to Elijah’s signal to follow and serve. His request to return to his family and kiss them farewell was evidence of his strong personal sense of duty and honor. Elijah’s permission was given, “Go back again…” but with the reminder to remember his call to take over as God’s prophet, and not to get distracted, “…for what have I done to you?” From that time on Elisha’s life was changed.
Galatians and Luke are also about God’s call to faithful living. Paul instructed his community to know thoroughly the law of love toward others. To commit themselves to it. To be changed by it. Compassion isn’t inherent, and people cannot be forced to act with compassion. It must be cultivated.
Luke tells the story of the disciples offering to punish a Samaritan village for not receiving Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Somehow commanding heavenly fire to come down on people seems to fail the test of love. Thank God, Jesus rebuked them.
Jesus was headed to Jerusalem, toward the death that gives life. It was an urgent mission and he was not distracted by anything. He warned his disciples to be clear-eyed about everything that might divert them from going with him.
Following Jesus means thinking of this life as only a part of a longer more amazing journey. No home here is forever. Live as lightly as Jesus, always ready to move at God’s call. Committing your life to Jesus means beginning now, even though there always will be plenty of reasons to put it off until a more convenient time. Following Jesus means constantly looking forward because hope is a straight path toward God’s kingdom. Even on the way to the cross Jesus was still teaching and forming his disciples.
We have entered the long season of teaching after the fanfare of Easter, the strong spiritual updraft of the Day of Pentecost, and the mystery of the Holy Trinity. This used to be called Ordinary Time in our church calendar. And maybe that makes sense. Discipleship turns out to be less about hoopla than about just showing up faithfully day after day and week after week.
The gospel makes us into a community with a mission. We’re set free to serve God. To do as Jesus did: living with compassion toward anyone in need. This is how you live the spiritual life. It’s ordinary stuff. But the fruit of this life we have in Jesus? -It’s uncommonly sweet, and more abundant than words can tell. Amen.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.