Lectionary 13C + Sunday, June 30, 2019
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Mass
Texts: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

Watch Here (Minute 22:00)

In the name of Jesus. AMEN.

Our world presents different ways to follow someone. You can follow someone on facebook, Instagram, twitter. You can follow a blog or follow a podcast, you can follow a sports team, an author, a singer, a movie star.

For the most part, many of these ways of “following” is easy. With just one touch of a screen it’s possible to follow anyone around the world on social media. Tune into the right channel and you can watch the sports team of your choice, or the series or the movie of your choosing.

What it means today to follow someone, is for the most part the passive reception of content (ideas, opinions, entertainment) that someone else puts out. Someone else does the heavy lifting – the thinking, the creating, the producing. To follow, is to simply absorb what others are doing.

Our scriptures today present us with the question: “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” “What does following Jesus look like?”

In our First Reading, we read about this bizarre and awkward interaction between Elijah and Elisha. Elijah has received from the Lord the command to go and anoint Elisha as his successor.  Elijah, the great prophet, had a lot of strengths, but subtlety was not one of them. Elijah saw Elisha, behind a yoke of 12 oxen, and when Elisha walked by, Elijah threw the mantle over his shoulders. Surprisingly, Elisha accepts the mantle. He asks only that he first go back and say good-bye to his parents, which frustrates Elijah, who questions Elisha’s willingness to follow, and do the hard work of faith.

In the Gospel reading, we find three interactions between Jesus and would be followers.  Each in their own way, reveal that following Jesus is not about some passive, glamorous, sit-back-and-enjoy-the-ride kind of trip. Following Jesus will be costly, it will not be easy, it will be more difficult than they can imagine. Said Jesus, “No one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Again, the question: What does it mean for us today to follow Jesus?

I invite you to consider that question for a moment. What does it mean for you, to follow Jesus? What does it mean for you, to live your life, in Christ?

From our Second Reading today, we find an interesting proposal about what it means to follow Jesus.

From Galatians we learn that following is not about geography – following Jesus does not necessarily mean a literal “follow the leader” down the path to new adventures, though sometimes that’s the case. My own story of faith includes following the Spirit from Iowa to Philadelphia for seminary and then to Massachusetts for my two calls to parish ministry.

Instead, from Galatians, I believe that for most people, we learn that to follow Jesus, is about turning. To follow is to turn IN PLACE.  To follow Christ is to TURN FROM the works of the flesh and to TURN TOWARDS the fruit of the spirit.  And this turning, can be done in place.

Galatians 5:19-21 offers a list of the works of the flesh. I’m not going to read this list, because we confront these works, this list, every day.  You don’t have to look very far into the world, or very far into our life together as Trinity Church, or even very far into each of our human hearts, to see the works of the flesh.

The works of the flesh, Paul described, are those actions of sin that damage human community and the planet earth. To follow Jesus, is not to see flesh as bad, we are an incarnational people, we do not seek to follow Christ into an escape pod to leave earth. To follow Christ is to TURN FROM the works of sin that damage community and destroy earth.

Turning from sin, we TURN TOWARDS the Spirit in order to bear fruit. In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit, and this list I will read. This is the fruit are called to bear as we follow Christ: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

To follow Jesus on the path of discipleship, is to turn from the works of the flesh, to turn from sin with its passions and desires, and to live instead in the Spirit, producing the Fruit of the Spirit.

This turning is personal.

Each of us in invited to are look at our own hearts, and our own lives, and the relationships we have in our lives. The Lutheran concept of vocation, teaches that each of us follows Christ when we demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in the relationships of our lives. We follow Christ, as we honor the relationships.

We follow Christ when we choose with our ACTIONS to be: a loving spouse, a joyful employee, a peaceful neighbor, a patient friend, a generous citizen, a kind grandparent/uncle/aunt/ family member, a faithful disciple, a gentle leader, and a self-controlled volunteer.

Without even leaving our home, or workplace, or church, we follow Christ as we turn from the works of the flesh, and turn towards the Spirit to bear fruit in the relationships, the callings, the vocations, of our daily lives.

This turning is also public. 

This turning from death to life is sometimes forced upon us, like Elijah casting the mantle on Elisha, by the changes and chances of life. Commenting on today’s scriptures, Pastor Daniel Reunn offered powerful examples of what this turning looks like publicly.

  • Pastor Ruen pointed to the work of Candace Lightner … On May 3, 1980, Candace’s13-year-old daughter, Cari, was killed in a car accident involving a drunk driver. Cari was walking on the sidewalk when a drunk driver, passed out, his car careened off the road, struck Cari – sending her body flying 125 feet through the air.  In response to the tragedy, the mantle cast upon her against her will, Candace Lightner, founded M.A.D.D. – (Mothers Against Drunk Driving).  A.D.D.’s website claims that since its founding in 1980, drunk driving deaths have been cut in half.  The website claims 30,000 young lives have been saved through the passage of the 21 minimum drinking age law; and since its founding M.A.D.D. claims its work has saved 380,000 lives and counting.  This is what following Jesus looks like.  In the turning from drunkenness, carousing, licentiousness, that kills – people are turning to life.  People are alive today, because of this work.
  • Pastor Ruen pointed to the work of Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi … In response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerann, they created the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Black Lives Matter is an affirmation of Black folks’ humanity, in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise by state-sanctioned violence … Some might say, but don’t all live matter?  The answer is of course, all lives matter, but the reality for people of color in this country, is that public policies, public actions, and public attitudes reinforce the attitude that Black Lives, or Brown Lives, or Immigrant Lives, or Refugee Lives DO NOT MATTER, or that that they MATTER LESS … If we believe ALL LIVES MATTER, than we must act in a way of respect, dignity, equality, and fairness for all. … The Black Lives Matter movement, is an act of discipleship, a turning from sin, as it identifies, exposes, and names racism that insidiously persists today, not overtly in people, but covertly in systems and structures.  Turning from the works of the flesh: racism, we turn towards the fruit of loving, generous, and kind racial equality, justice, and understanding.  This is discipleship. This is what it means to follow Jesus Christ today.

In both personal and public ways, we are called to follow Jesus Christ today. To TURN, to turn from the works of the flesh to turn towards the fruit of the Spirit. That may be a geographical following, but absolutely it is a turning in place, right here and right now.

But, as the scriptures today remind us, following Jesus is not easy work. Commenting on today’s scripture, theologian Melinda Quivick points out, “To live in the ways of the prophet is to devote oneself to a pattern of life, an orientation, that threatens what is familiar.”

It’s not easy in this world … to choose PEACE and PATIENCE.

It’s difficult at times in this world … to demonstrate SELF-CONTROL.

It can seem impossible at times … to find JOY.

But, this turning to Christ is NOT about pious, polite, or political correct behavior. This turning to Christ, is the continual work of turning from death to life, from turning from sin to turning to life lived in Christ through faith as a gift of the Holy Spirit.It is about turning from the shallowness and fleetingness of so much of what we wrap ourselves in and believe is so important, and turning instead into the deep, whole, and healthy life of Christ.

The Good News today, is that Christ does not call us to punish us … Christ does not call us in order to abandon us, forsake us, or desert us. Christ calls us to save us, to heal us, to lead us into life.

Christ calls us on the dynamic, difficult, and daring path of life. Life that is the fullness of salvation God has poured out upon, and for, ALL PEOPLES, LANGUAGES, TRIBES of the earth.   We are called today to follow, to turn, out of the waters of baptism, fed on our journeys by bread and cup, to be the body of Christ’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control in the world.

May the Holy Spirit grant you the faith, to follow Christ. May the Holy Spirit fill you with faith, to turn from the works of the flesh, and to bear fruit of the Spirit. May the Holy Spirit turn you to Christ, and give you the eyes of faith to see, that turning to Christ is all the ways we turn towards our neighbors in love, relationship, and peace.

Thanks be to God