May I speak in the Name of Creator, Saviour and Spirit in the Name of Love. Amen
Today I want us to reflect again on the subject of going forwards together with Christ. Each of us is on a journey with God and together we are His Body, His church family of St Chad and St Mark. Together we are on the “Way” - the road with Christ, just as the disciples were in our Gospel reading, as Jesus sets off on the Way, the road to Jerusalem and His death and Resurrection. We travel together, as a community, as a church family with our Lord and we build His kingdom of Love, healing and justice as we progress with Him. Sometimes the vision, the call we answer together,shifts and changes, as God the Holy Spirit leads us forwards to new challenges to growth together. Our readings are both concerned with change, about going forwards and not looking back. How do these narratives relate to us? And in a week of momentous, historical change in our nation, I ask the question what does God want from us – how does He want us to be? As followers of our Lord, what is He calling us to do especially in our wider communities and as members of our nation? What is our role as a community, a Christ-centred, Christ-loving family, as we move forwards together?
Let's first examine our readings starting with the Old Testament extract from 1 Kings. First God tells Elijah to return to near Damascus in Syria – if you remember last week's reading – Elijah is a long way south in the southern country of Judah near Beersheva. He fled from Israel and Queen Jezebel's death sentence upon him. Now Elijah, having passed through despair and hopelessness and having heard God's voice in the silence, is instructed by God in where to go and what he needs to do - and Elijah is ready. So he has a long journey ahead of him. God tells Elijah to anoint Hazael as King of Syria. And to anoint Jehu as king over Israel. In the historical context, God is asking Elijah to appoint kings who will go on to produce revolutionary change in Israel's history. And he needs to appoint Elisha as his successor. Long journies to travel, difficult and dangerous change to set in motion and his prophetic successor to find, call and train. Plenty of quite frightening change and challenge for Elijah.
Elijah eventually locates Elisha – who is ploughing when the prophet arrives. Elijah throws his mantle or cloak over Elisha's shoulders. This is a sign of calling because Elijah's cloak is of rich fur and only worn by kings and prophets – a symbol of the Israelite's chief prophet. Elisha asks to say goodbye to his family and friends first. Elijah agrees – concerned about what he's done to Elisha – in appointing the man as his successor. Elisha goes off and kills the oxen for the feast – his leaving do, if you like; he even uses the plough parts to build the fire to cook the meat. This is a symbolic action to show he has left his old life and cares behind. After the celebration Elisha sets out and follows Elijah. And he doesn't look back.
In our Gospel reading from Luke 9 Jesus sets out on the road to Jerusalem. This marks a crucial point in Jesus' ministry when he begins to journey towards His death and Resurrection and He sets off resolutely, with determination. When the Samaritans reject Him Jesus doesn't stick around – He moves quickly on to the next village to find hospitality. As our extract says “His face was set towards Jerusalem”.
While they are travelling Jesus is stopped on three occasions by people who each wish to be His follower. His response to the first is that, if he goes wherever Jesus does – he will be a nomad because the Son of Man has no real home. The other two men need to do final things at home but Jesus tells them to follow Him and proclaim the Kingdom of God. Basically, Jesus is saying “Don't look back” perhaps as Elisha did when he symbolically destroyed his oxen and ploughs for the feast, they too needed to act symbolically to leave behind their precious ways of life. To let go maybe?
Here at St Chad and St Mark we've been getting used to changes since Ray joined us around nine months ago. I feel that the Holy Spirit is moving us forwards, God is working in our community, in each one of us. It's not just “a new broom sweeps clean” - I don't think it's just changes Ray and we have established – there's more to it. What kind of changes in us can I see – with my partial, blinkered sight? I can see and feel more love, greater acceptance of each other, understanding, kindness. More openness, more joy. Why? Ray's leadership, yes, but I think it's about lots of prayer, it's about willingness to serve, it's about listening to God more. And an increased focus on our Lord. And it's letting go and allowing the Holy Spirit to work. Letting go, letting be, accepting, loving and being loved and feeling the love of God and of each other.
So what are the challenges Christ calls us to ? At the risk of sounding repetitive I'd say more of the same. More love, more service and even greater adoration and love for our Saviour, our friend. Actual changes – God knows; loving and supporting the people around us who are the most vulnerable. Building Christ's Kingdom of Love here and wherever we live and work. Being lamps of hope in our church and in our various communities, light, lamps through whom Jesus can radiate. A t-Light left burning at night in a darkened room is a delicate little flame but the light it gives can illuminate the room to banish fears, bring a sense of peace and welcome silence. And Christ's love and light shining through each of us and shining and burning at the heart of our community, together, here, is the greatest power on earth.
At present you and I have an immediate challenge to meet and one likely to continue to dominate the life of our communities and our nation for years to come. For several months we've experienced “Project Fear from the Remain side and the government and “Project hate” from the Leave side in the EU referendum debate. It's been unpleasant to say the least. And now we have huge change. Uncertainty caused by seismic change. Turbulence, shock, division. Divided nation. These are some of the words I've heard over the last two days from politicians, reporters and from ordinary people. The nation has spoken, the people have decided to leave the EU. Maybe it's a good decision, perhaps it's a bad choice. The EU certainly needs reforming. But I didn't like the tone of the campaign. Whatever our individual feelings concerning sovereignty, EU immigration or membership of the Union, there seemed to be unhealthy emphases on ordinary people's fears and the problems actually created by government adversity cuts and gross underfunding for services in some areas like the North East, like parts of our West Midlands. And in the middle of this campaign, a neo-Nazi terrorist gunned down one of our most passionately humane MP's, Jo Cox.
So, in this time of change we, you and I have a role and a new challenge to meet. Our communities at present are divided, our nation is divided. Our job as Christ's disciples, is to be a presence and if necessary, a voice in our communities, on-line and nationally. To be lights, lamps through which Jesus can bring His love and peace – healing, forgiveness, acceptance of difference, kindness, tolerance.
On our journey with Christ as a community, we move forwards, together. Like Elisha and like Jesus, we set our faces towards building His Kingdom of Love. And we don't look back – we let go of things past and let God's Spirit do His new thing, however He wants to work in us and through us, here at St Chad and St Mark. And as Christ's disciples, we act as His lights, in our communities, in our nation. What kind of people do we want our nation to be? You and I know the answer to this question – kind, just, tolerant, an open-hearted nation. With our Lord's help and guidance let's you and I be the love and light needed to help us all move forwards together.
I want us to pray St Francis' prayer together. Let's be quiet for a moment and as I read Francis' words we can pray them together to God.
Lord, make us an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is discord, vision.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master,
grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.