6 Pentecost, Year C
The Rev. Elizabeth A. B. Tesi
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Elisha receives word that he is called to be a prophet, and responds by burning the family oxen- the tool that made his life possible. He had no other choice but to go forward and to serve God. Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem, and nothing can entice him to deviate from his mission- serving God is the only thing on his mind. However, a quick straw poll around the office this past week revealed that none of us, when we first began considering serving the church, went and crashed the family car. Following God's way in your life seems to lead to grand upheaval. Isn't it an odd reading for a Sunday?
Jesus is not comforting today, either. Dare I say he's almost cantankerous in today's reading? He has "set his face towards Jerusalem", and yet he seems to lament his mobile lifestyle. He has nowhere safe to lay down and rest, and it seems he is tired. Yet he tells us that 'No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God."
I can't speak for you, but readings like these make me want to curl up under my desk with a blanket and take a nap. I hear these read from the pulpit, and my first thought is, "Wow, what a bunch of workaholics! There's no way I can keep up with them. I'm doomed!" I wonder about these readings occuring now, during the summer, during Ordinary time. They don't seem to "fit" together. They call for extraordinary action, at a time when most of us plan vacation. This seems rather counter-productive to idea of a restful Sabbath.
Today, we all know chores that must happen every day regardless. We must eat, sleep, brush our teeth. Most of us cannot just take a 24 hour break from our live's duties. We wish there were more hours in a week, not fewer. Perhaps the readings call us to action, so we may find new ways to follow God's path in a busy life. Elisha utterly severed ties to his former life. Jesus strides with determination on this mission. They both make a clear decision and take decisive action towards the goal of service to God.
Here's my problem. It would seem that is what Elisha and Jesus are calling us to- a life where we make it impossible to turn back from the duties we take on, where there is no rest and no place to put our feet up. And in fact, if we desire rest or to take a break, we are not truly committed, and we disappoint God, ourself.
That thought would make me feel very depressed, from the depths of my nice shady hammock. I love the idea of serving God with joy, but my fear of failure, and worse, my fear that God will reject me when I inevitably fail would suck all the joy out. We cannot serve God with joy when we are constantly fearing our rejection.
Let's look a little more at Elisha and Jesus. Elisha is personally called by Elijah, the famous prophet, an announcement of which he joyously gives thanks. I wonder if he might have been hoping for this to happen? He certainly doesn't act surprised. He sacrifices his father's oxen in a classic thank offering- a slaughter of animals. True, he has destroyed his father's oxen. He was probably financially dependent on his father for support at this time, but they still have 11 other yoke of oxen. This is not as if I went to Connecticut and crashed my Dad's new Prius. That would destroy his ability to earn a livelihood (and might get me written out of the will!). Elisha's burning of the oxen is more like if I donated my parents' HD TV to the local Salvation Army. They'd be annoyed. (Really annoyed!) But it wouldn't destroy their life. Elisha, makes a clear gesture that demonstrates his joyful undertaking of the life of a prophet. For him, Sabbath moments and thanksgiving to God are expressed in that active joy. What if... our dedication to God was grounded in joy, instead of rejection and fear?
So now, how about Jesus? Jesus strides towards Jerusalem, longing for a safe place to lay down and rest. And he is so determined, but also so exhausted. And yet, we know from the rest of the gospel that Jesus celebrated Sabbath and often went by himself to rest. We also know that he achieved his goal. Jesus already suffered through all the fears of divine rejection, and through his death and resurrection it was proven that God's love knows no bounds. Simply put, God calls us with joy, to follow his ways in love without fear of rejection. At the end of the day, I am glad that we have a God who understands how it is to be human,and who can have compassion. What if... we looked at our own lives, complete with exhaustion and fear, with compassion?
Elisha show us that God's work can be thankfully, eagerly received. We can be empowered, excited, enlivened, by the work we do for the grace of God. The life of Jesus proves to us that it is O.K. to be tired and fearful. God is full of compassion and kindness towards us. My prayer for us, as we enter this next week when many of us have a chance for a July 4 day off, is that we have time to rest, time to be joy-filled, time to know God's grace in the middle of our busy lives.