Some of you may have watched live TV last Sunday as Nic Walenda spent 22 minutes walking on a two-inch cable across the Grand Canyon. I could not watch it. I have a thing about heights and it is getting worse as I age. If I am sitting in a movie and they have a dramatic scene or a battle that involves heights, even though I keep telling myself that it is only a movie, my hands go clammy and I start to sweat. I don’t do anything over 6 feet because gravity is a law and I believe that you should always obey the law. Plus I’m a coward.
So before Nic walked across the 1,500 ft. deep canyon, with no tether and no net, he was interviewed. He said that he felt it was his destiny to do it. I might say psychosis but he called it destiny. He was confident and he was prepared. When I heard this interview it made me wonder what the Church would be like if all of us were that confident and prepared to live into our callings, to fulfill our destiny. St. Peter in his second epistle exhorts all Christians to be diligent to make our calling and election sure and so I think it is a holy goal to become confident and prepared in our calling. Today’s lessons point us in the right direction.
The passages that we have in front of us today, in the Old Testament lesson and in the Gospel, are remarkably similar. In 1st Kings we see Elijah calling Elisha and in Luke we see Jesus clarifying His call to His disciples. In both cases the response expected was to be without reservation. I see in these narratives a pattern that perhaps we can look for in our own lives.
First is the call itself. It is so important to be clear about that because that sets stage for all that follows. Elisha was out plowing in a field when Elijah walked by and threw his mantle or cloak over him. This is where we get the term “passing the mantle” when authority is being transferred from one person to another. The call came from the Master to the servant, not the other way around. In the same way Jesus said to His disciples in John 15, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”
There is great comfort in knowing that God chose us, as it says in Ephesians, even before the foundations of the world. He adopts us into His family and since it is His idea, His initiative, we know, as St. Paul said, that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until that day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6). He chose us so we can be assured that nothing can separate us from His love (Rom 8:38).
There is a psychological phenomenon called “the imposter syndrome.” It happens to intelligent, successful people who are unable to internalize their success. They credit their accomplishments to luck or being in the right time at the right place and they feel like a fraud, undeserving of their position and salary. They secretly fear that if anyone finds out that they don’t have a clue what they are doing, they will be fired and disgraced.
I believe that there is a spiritual version of this that many suffer from. Even though they are fruit-bearing followers of Christ, they feel like a fraud. They know their own demons and they secretly fear that if anyone found out the evil thoughts and desires of their hearts that they would be labeled a hypocrite or a non-Christian. The way to stop those condemning inner voices is to remember that Christ chose you, you did not choose Him and what you are doing is responding to His call. You are not making claims that you are perfect or that you have arrived. You are simply saying “Yes” to Him because He has called.
The next step I see in the pattern before us is that after the call comes the challenge. The call places a fork in the road and as Yogi Berra once said, “When you come to the fork in the road, take it.” At least that’s what we want to do. But in reality we cannot. We must make an either/or decision. When the Bishop called me and told me that he wanted me to quit my job and go to seminary, how would he have reacted if I said, “I will do that Bishop but first I want to get a lucrative job and become a millionaire so that I don’t have to worry about money while I am in seminary.” Most likely I would have never been sent to seminary. “Yeah Elijah I want to follow you but first let me say goodbye to my parent.” “That’s okay, maybe you need to go think about it.” “Yeah Jesus I want to follow you but let me first go back and say farewell.” “That’s okay, if you start looking back you shouldn’t have made the commitment in the first place.”
Challenges come to us in many forms. I have always been confused by the testimonies that I have heard in churches or on TV of someone whose life was a total mess but once they came to Jesus then everything in their life turned into a blessing. That is so far from my experience that I wondered if we were talking about the same Jesus.
Look at the life of St. Paul before his conversion. He had a place of dignity and respect. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees, schooled by one of the wisest men in the world. He would be given the seat of honor at a banquet. Then he became a follower of Christ and he was arrested, beaten, stoned and left for dead, shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, exposed to hunger and cold and spent the last part of his life chained between two soldiers before he was executed. I guess St. Paul just didn’t have enough faith.
God of course does not send us these challenges to torment us but He does use them to test us and even to strengthen us. I have a passion for edged weapons and I used to get a couple of monthly magazines that had great articles on the making of knives and swords. Part of the process of making a good edged weapon is called tempering. This is where the steel is placed in heat because the heat rearranges the molecular structure of the metal to make it both strong and flexible. Otherwise the metal is too hard and brittle to be of good use. In Romans 5 St. Paul says, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that sufferings produce endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope…” So if you are facing challenges, don’t take them as a sign that God has abandoned you, rather understand that He is tempering you, it is a part of being called.
The third part of the call pattern is commitment. This is done in a dramatic way with Elisha. He not only accepts the call from Elijah but he takes the animals with which he was plowing and he sacrifices them to God. There was no going back. Jesus said that if we put our hand to the plow and look back we are not fit for the kingdom of God.
We are often told that we should never burn our bridges, but that is not true in the kingdom of God. Our commitment is to be total and complete. Why? First of all because Jesus’ commitment to us was total and complete. “He who was without sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). But secondly because without a total commitment the door is left open to compromise and from a spiritual perspective, compromise is a deadly disease.
In our Bible Study we have been reading through the One Year Bible. Last week the readings included the story of King Jehu who created a clever sting to rid that land of Baal worship. He called for a solemn assembly of all who worshipped Baal pretending that he was going to offer a great sacrifice. He declared that to miss the assembly would result in death. Jehu even had special robes given to all the ones who worshipped Baal and once he had them marked and all in one place, he killed them and destroyed their temple, converting it into a public toilet. This was recorded in the Book of Kings as pleasing to God but his commitment was not total which opened the door to compromise. The text says, “In this way Jehu destroyed every trace of Baal worship from Israel. He did not however destroy the gold calves at Bethel and Dan, with which Jeroboam had caused Israel to sin… Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord…with all his heart” (1 Kings 10:25-31). We read over and over again in the Old Testament of the people of Israel declaring allegiance to the One True God but also clinging to the pagan gods as a kind of backup plan. If YHWH does not bless the herds and the crops maybe this or that god will. They stand as an eternal warning to the Church not to compromise, to have no plan B.
That is the one thing I will give to Nic Walenda, as insane as I think he was to walk across the Grand Canyon. He was all in. There was no plan B. As I mentioned earlier, he refused a net or a tether and so it was literally either do or die. Nic is a Christian and he said that he knew where he was going if he fell. Yeah, me too 1,500 feet straight down into the Colorado River! But of course he meant by that that he knew was going to heaven.
But let’s give this some perspective. If Nic Walenda was willing to put it all on the line, to not have a plan B, all for fulfilling a dream of walking across the Grand Canyon, then it is not too much of Jesus to ask us to put our hands to the plow and not look back so that we can inherit the kingdom of God. It may sound like an impossible demand but we must always remember that the Lord never gives us a command without also giving us the grace to obey His command. Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit to empower us for that purpose. St Paul said in Galatians that we are to live by the Spirit so that we do not live to gratify the desires of the flesh. And the benefits to our lives of living by the Spirit are amazing. This is especially true when compared to what we reap in our lives when we follow the world, the flesh and the devil, in spite of the promises they make to give you a better life.
The false promises of the world, the flesh and the devil remind me of those commercials that promise to relieve you of pain or help your depression or help you lose weight. It all sounds great until you listen to the disclaimers and warnings. This is an actual disclaimer after a promised miracle cure.
Some side effects can be serious. The following symptoms are uncommon, but if you experience any of them, call your doctor immediately: * leg pain or swelling * shortness of breath * coughing up blood * cough that doesn’t go away (here is my favorite warning)* blue-grey color or darkening around mouth or nails * dizziness * fainting * blurred vision * temporary confusion * slow or difficult speech * loss of memory or ability to concentrate * hallucinating (seeing things or hearing voices that do not exist) * extreme tiredness * seizures * weakness, numbness, heaviness, or tingling in arms or legs * floppiness or loss of muscle tone * lack of energy * increased or rapid heart beat * irregular heart beat * chest pain or tightness * excessive sweating * fever, sore throat, chills, cough, and other signs of infection * rash * hives * itching * swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, eyes, hands, feet, or ankles * wheezing * difficulty breathing or swallowing * hoarseness. Well sign me up!
The flesh says that you should not take your religion too seriously otherwise you will not have fun in life. But after promising fun, St. Paul gives us their list of warnings. “…impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger quarrels, dissentions, factions….” We want those things in our lives about as much as we want the symptoms on the commercial.
What does the Lord promise if we will live in the Spirit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. I know that I would welcome those side affects in my life and I am certain that you would too.
So Christ has called each of us. When answer that call we will face some challenges but we will be able to meet them with full commitment to Him.
Job said after all said and done, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” That is where we need to be also. Jesus asks us to put our hands to the plow and not look back. It is good for us, as we answer that call us to look around and see if we have any oxen that we need to BBQ first. We can be certain that any sacrifices we are called to make will more than be rewarded by having fruits of the Spirit in our daily lives. So what do you say? You fire up grill and I’ll bring the beer. Amen.