By virtue of our Baptism, we are disciples of Jesus Christ. The question that I pose today is: How are we doing? How are we doing as disciples?
Are we as persistently loyal as Elisha was? He was Elijah’s protégé. Elisha knew that it was his destiny to continue Elijah’s ministry.
Elijah, Elisha, and the prophets – they ALL – knew that Elijah was going to be taken up to God. The prophets in Bethel and Jericho asked Elisha - "Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?" And every time, he replied– "Yes, I know."
Every time Elijah said, “Stay here, please, for the Lord has sent me on” to the next place, Elisha sworw his allegiance to God and to Elijah and refused to go away.
In Elisha’s persistence in staying with Elijah and asking him for an elder son’s inheritance, he was persitently loyal to continuing Elijah’s prophetic mission.
In 1st Kings, chapter 19, we learn something about Elijah’s mantle and Elisha’s call to be his disciple. Elisha was plowing a field when “Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him.” When Elijah was taken up in the whirlwind, his mantle fell to the ground and Elisha picked it up.
In today’s Gospel, we heard Jesus challenge three people who declared their desire to follow Jesus. In the exchange with these people, we learn about three other characteristics of discipleship: A willingness to take risks, a willingness to make a commitment, and the ability to focus.
I can imagine the enthusiasm of the first person’s declaration of “I will go wherever you go!” But Jesus replied –"Foxes have caves and birds have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." Before today, I did not quite understand what that meant. But in my study for preparing this sermon, I found a commentary, written by Dr. Mikael Parsons of Baylor University, that explains it well.
He said -- "To follow Jesus, the Son of Man who -- unlike "foxes" and "birds of heaven" – 'has nowhere to lay his head' .. is to embark on a journey that may involve alienation..." Jesus was saying that there was no guarantee of shelter – “nowhere to lay his head” and that one may be rejected. Remember, at the beginning of this account the people in the Samaritan village already refused to receive him. When we make the choices that demonstrate our devotion to Christ, we may experience rejection. To be a disciple means that we need take risks, to step outside of our comfort zone.
In the other two exchanges, Jesus points out the need to make a commitment and to focus on the mission to “go and proclaim the kingdom of God." One way to understand the response of “let the dead bury the dead” is to look at it as an illustration of the need to not be distracted by events over which one has no control.
Jesus said, "He who puts his hand on the plow and keeps looking back, is not fit for the kingdom of God." The phrase about “He who puts his hand on the plow" was a saying that was very familiar to the people of the time. The plowman who does not focus on what is ahead runs the risk of cutting a crooked or shallow furrow.
Disciples need to focus on the mission of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God means that all people are restored "to union with God and with one another…"
According to our Catechism, the mission of the Church is to do just that – “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” (BCP, 855) Furthermore, “The duty of all Christians is to follow Christ; to come together week by week for corporate worship; and to work, pray, and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.” (BCP, 856)
So far, I’ve talked only about what’s required of us disciples. Commitment, focus, persistence, risk, rejection. It sounds like the life of a disciple is hard. But we can to look to St. Paul for words of hope and encouragement.
Throughout his letters, Paul talks about the Spirit-filled life – life in Christ. In his letter to the Galatians, he says that when we choose life in the Spirit, we reap the fruits of the Spirit – "22love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control."
And with these fruits, we are nourished and encouraged to continue committing our lives to Christ. It becomes easier to stay engaged, to focus and be persistent in the mission. These fruits strengthen us to take the risks and suffer rejection.
Iranaeus of Lyon, a bishop of the 2nd century, described life in the Spirit in this way: “For the glory of God is the human person fully alive; ----- and life consists of beholding God. -----For the vision of God which is made by means of the creation, gives life to all the living in the earth, ----- much more does the revelation of the Father, which comes through the Word, ---- give life to those who see God.”
The Glory of God is found in us as we keep our vision of God in front of us. When we remember that all of creation is a gift from God, we can see God wherever we go. With that vision, we can fulfill the mission that God had given to each of us – to be his disciple.
When we renew our Baptismal vows, we answer every examination of commitment with: "I will, with God's help. "
Well, can we be faithful disciples?
Yes, we can with God's help.