Sermon 26 June 2016

Sermon for Sunday 26 June 2016, Westbourne Church

Trinity 5    1 Kgs 19:15-16,19-end;    Gal 5:1,13-25    Luke 9:51-end

The prophet Elijah lived at an important time in the development of the nation of ancient Israel. He lived in the 9th century BC, just before the great prophets of Isaiah and Jeremiah and their chums, a time when the disparate tribes of the children of Abraham were beginning to come together in an organised way to become a nation under a monarch with a single identity.  As we see from today’s reading the prophets played an important part in that.  Just like England in the first millennium each people had its king and for the forming nation of Israel Elijah is the link for now between the tribes. Here he anoints two kings.  It is his function to do that.  In this country the Archbishop of Canterbury crowns and anoints the monarch.  In the words of the vicar of Bray, “kings are by God appointed.” It is not so much to do with political identity or authority as spiritual identity and authority and relationship. The king will die and possibly at the hands of a usurper but his successor will carry the same stamp. In the language we are reading the mantle will be passed on, and the mantle of God’s touch. 

Elijah was also on the lookout for his own successor. He sees and “threw his mantle” over Elisha. The biblical image of the mantle or cloak is that character is assumed with office or faith.  In the NT healing encounters with Jesus the subject sometimes throws off his mantle to accept the healing. We are used to a person having authority on appointment or election and that authority being relinquished at the end of a term of office.

We have probably thought much about democracy this week. We may have argued about what it is and how it is able or not to deliver the goods of freedom, common good and direction.  The great flaw is of course that the whole gets what the majority wants and that is not necessarily what the whole needs.  To some extent that is tempered by a parliamentary system but then that gets blown up by things like referenda. We may have seen democracy at work this week and we may have not.  

St. Paul offers some words of warning about freedom. We have heard a lot in recent months about freedom of speech, especially from those who seem to want to exercise no care in how they speak. Again, a problem of democracy is that everyone has the same right, everyone may say what he or she wishes. We hope that that is tempered by the responsibilities of citizenship. “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” is a tremendously important direction.  If we do not love in that way, we forfeit our freedom. That is the point of the Jewish law that Paul mentions and Jesus is the fulfilment of. The Law keeps the wheels on the rails.  That in our human make up which is its energy and drive could easily run away without the parameters of loving our neighbour with a love bound in a law. We know it makes utter sense to drive on one side of the road and let others coming in the opposite direction pass by easily but it does not work without a law. We know that the love of a family needs the support of law too, especially when that love is challenged by humanity.

Luke tells us that Jesus “set his face” to go to Jerusalem.  It is a solemn act of determination, a gritting of teeth, a grasping of purpose, an understanding that what lies ahead is not going to be easy. Even those encountered on a brief stop realise that this man is not to be trifled with, he is not for them, even though he has been complimentary about them, he is set on a path ahead which brooks no wavering. 

It is infectious.  Some he meets are enthralled by it.  He warns that the way will not be easy and reading back through history we know just how uneasy. He asks someone else and he is willing but tied to the dead, the things of the past.  What matters are the things of the future.  The dead are dead, let them be.  The past is gone, let it go. Look ahead, “go and proclaim the Kingdom of God.” There isn’t even time to say goodbye, even that will delay the redeeming of the world.

We find ourselves with a task to reconcile.  Getting on after a decision you disagree with the others about is hard.  But, the past is the past. Proclaim the Kingdom of God which values all and celebrates a love which undergirds everything we do.

© 2016 Frank Wright


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