Will You Follow?
“As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
These are words of assurance from the Prophet Elisha to the Prophet Elijah in this coming Sunday’s lectionary readings. When Elijah’s time had come to be taken up Elisha accompanied him despite the grave risks of the journey. He followed him all the way. As a reward he received the blessing of the gift of Elijah’s Mantle, his prayer shawl. Elisha takes it up and it empowers him to become a great prophet in his own right, building on the teachings he learned as Elijah’s disciple.
I’ve been reflecting on this story this week as I’ve visited some of our parishioners. A couple are in physical rehab centers following injuries and illness. Despite the pain of surgeries and recovery, there was so much to learn from them about the history of this parish and their part in bringing us to today. Sitting a while with our elders is a sure way to learn a great deal of hard-earned wisdom… a true blessing, a mantle if you will. Spending a little time in the presence of such knowledge will impart the gift of knowledge like a Mantle… just as it did when Elisha continued to follow Elijah.
Jesus also makes a demand from us in this week’s readings. Do we choose to follow him or do we make excuses to delay? His rather harsh (to our modern ears) reply to excuses for delay is that “No one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
To plow a straight row, you have to keep your eyes forward on a single point on the horizon. If you allow your eyes to drift, the blade of your plow will drift toward the point you are now looking at and you will go crooked. If you look back over your shoulder the drift becomes even worse.
This is not to say we should not learn from our mistakes. Rather, what Jesus is saying is that our eyes ought to be focused on what is most important and unmovable… and as Christians that point toward which we labor on our row must always be God. Just as Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, we must take up our plows and crosses and set our faces toward HIM or else we will surely go crooked.
Love God, love our neighbor… all our neighbors: our sick neighbors, our homeless neighbors, our elderly neighbors who can’t make it here anymore, our immigrant neighbors, our imprisoned neighbor, our hungry neighbors, and even that neighbor whose habits are annoying. If we persist in all that, we’ll plow a straight row.
This Independence Day we give thanks for the freedoms with which we have been endued as citizens of this great nation. But before the hotdogs and fireworks, take some time to be present to those among us who are struggling. I recommend starting with our own sisters and brothers on the parish prayer list. Chances are you’ll receive a great gift of wisdom in spending time with those who’ve experienced so much; a mantle of wisdom. Following Jesus Christ means being the beloved community, first to one another and then to the world. The world learns of the love of God through the love we bear for one another and the world, showing them the set destination point of Christ so that they may plow straight as well.
Love one another.