Sunday, 26 June 2016

Mentoring, Commitment and Fruits of the Spirit

1 Kings 19:15,16,19-21
Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

Galatians 5:1,13-25
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
The Works of the Flesh
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The Fruit of the Spirit
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Luke 9:51-62
A Samaritan Village Refuses to Receive Jesus
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
Would-Be Followers of Jesus
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
These seem like harsh words from Jesus:
“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Most days, we are not fit for the kingdom.
Because most days, our commitment to the cause of the Kingdom of God wavers.
We look back.
We wonder: what if?
It is human to put our hand to the plough - and look back.
What are we to make of these words of Jesus that condemn our often half hearted commitment?

Let's look, first of all at the other readings in our Lectionary this morning.

I love the stories of the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
Their stories in 1 and 2 Kings are very visual and very dramatic.
Most of us can probably recall lots of the things that happened to Elijah and Elisha, perhaps from stories told to us in Sunday School.
Like the story of the widow, whose jar of oil and flour never ran out.
Or whose son died and Elijah brought back to life.
We recall stories of Elijah calling down fire, taunting the prophets of Baal.
Or fleeing God and being fed by Ravens.
Meeting God, not in the earthquake,wind or fire, but in the still, small, voice.
Being caught up in a cloud of fire and passing on the mantle to Elisha.
The stories of Elijah and of Elisha have often spoken to me at significant times in life, when God was prompting me, nudging me into something new.
So I'm always pleased but also a little bit wary, when Elijah or Elisha pop up in daily devotions or in the Sunday readings.

In our reading in 1Kings this morning,  we see Elijah preparing for the time when he must pass on the mantle of Prophet - a role he has held reluctantly, a role he has often felt unprepared for and overwhelmed by.
Elijah does as God asks - he casts his mantle on Elisha.
But he expects Elisha to carry on with his life until the time comes for him to take over.
As we read in the text, Elisha was having none of that.
If he has to take on the role of a prophet, he is going to make sure that he learns all he can before the mantle is his.
So he quickly wraps up his affairs and goes after Elijah so that he can walk alongside the prophet and learn firsthand, the tasks that one day will be his.
How much sense does that make.
How much easier is it to do something if we have watched someone else do it.
We can read up on things.
We can listen to instructions.
But, when we get to actually see someone do something, even do it with them, we learn so much more.
That's what Jesus did with his disciples.
He called them to follow him and then he journeyed with them.
Sure he taught them.
He told them stories.
He challenged them.
But, for the most part, he simply showed them how to be disciples.
He invited them to be part of his life.
He journeyed with them.
And they learned to initiate him.
I think that's a really important model for Jesus' followers to use today.
Before we teach people about faith.
Before we give them all the information we think they might need.
Why don't we invite them to journey with us.
To learn about faith from us?
Not by what we say - but by what we do.
That's quite a scary thought, isn't it?
That we might mentor others into faith.
That others might learn by seeing what we do, how to follow Jesus.

The apostle Paul, writing to the Galatians encourages them to live by the Spirit.
He reminds them that the whole law is summed up in the command: love your neighbour as yourself and that if we live by the Spirit, others will be able to see the love that we have.
the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Those are the things that will convince others to walk as we do, to embrace the faith that we have - because they see the fruits of the Spirit in our lives - the love, the joy, the peace, the patience, the kindness, the generosity, the faithfulness, the gentleness and the self control.

Aren't those the very things that we long to see more of in the world today.
When everything around us is shifting.
When we can't see a way forward or a way out of the mess we're in, locally or globally.
When nothing seems to make any sense.
What if, instead of focussing on uncertainty, we concentrated on showing love, on being patient and kind, on bringing joy and peace, on being generous and faithful and gentle.
What if, as followers of Jesus, these were the tasks to which we turned our attention - cultivating the fruits of the Spirit.
It may sound idealistic but growing these fruits cannot help but change the world.
In the light of that, Jesus harsh words perhaps make more sense.
Of course Jesus knows we will waver.
Of course he knows that, even when we are fully committed, we will look back.
But it is the focus of our commitment that Jesus wants us to be clear about.
To what are we committed?
Doing good?
Making a difference?
Showing compassion?
Loving others?
All good and commendable.
But what about love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?
Commitment to these, fruits of the Spirit, is a goal worth pursuing, a goal that, even in our wavering, will bring lasting change in us and in our world

Our texts today, Elisha preparing to take on the mantle of Elijah, Jesus confronting folk with the commitment discipleship requires and Paul listing the fruits of the Spirit are texts that challenge us to think about our commitment, to think about the example we set and to think about how we can grow in the fruits of the Spirit.

Maybe we have come to church today looking for comfort?
Looking for respite or escape from all that the world has thrown at us this week?
But here we find that the gospel throws these hard texts our way and forces us to confront  all that ails the world, all that ails our weary spirits  - with the gospel of love?
Today, we find in these texts, not comfort - but a call.
A call to be prophets.
A call to be bearers of hope.
A call to lay aside our tiredness and step up to the challenges God lays before us - to bring healing and reconciliation, to bring love and restore peace - to share the fruits of the Spirt, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in every corner of the world.
Let us put our hand to the plough. And not look back. 
For the glory of God.