1 Kings 19:16-16,19-21
Why It Is Important To Look Forward - Pastor John Roberts
First a few notes about the details of today’s readings.
In the first reading, we hear about certain responsibilities Jewish prophets had.
Although the prophets appear in scripture at the same time as the political leaders of the Jewish nation – both
the judges and the kings – it is the job of the prophet to speak on God’s behalf, not the politicians.
In fact, the prophets had the job of anointing the judges and the kings.
This also meant that when there were false prophets, very often there were also evil kings.
And it was also the job of the prophet to choose and train the prophet who would come after.
That’s what’s happening in the first reading today.
Some notes about the second reading may also help us.
This is a discussion about freedom, law, slavery, spirit and love.
These days, we often define freedom as the ability to make our own decisions; our own choices.
We even have a theological term which seems to back this up.
We talk about “freedom of the will.”
But Paul ties the freedom of the Christian to our response to one single commandment;
a single “commitment” if you will – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Living in freedom means living as God intends all of humanity to live –
in loving relationship with one another.
Living in the Spirit of Christ means love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Finally, some notes on the Gospel reading.
This story takes place when Jesus decides to leave his ministry in Galilee and move on to his final destination.
He sets his face to go to Jerusalem.
To do this, he and his followers must travel through Samaria.
You may remember that Jesus’ home in Nazareth as well as the “home base”
of his ministry in Capernaum is in the northern part of the Holy Land commonly known as Galilee.
The southern part of the Holy Land is known as Judea.
But in-between the two, there is this area called Samaria.
Samaria, the city, had at one time been the capitol of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, the home of the 10 tribes, which had been “lost” when it was conquered by the Assyrians.
But the Samaritans, who had married non-Jews, had their own scriptures which were different from the scriptures of the Jews and they claimed that the true House of God was in Samaria, not Jerusalem.
This is why the Jews hated the Samaritans.
You may also remember that in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has good things to say about Samaritans.
When Jesus heals 10 lepers, Luke points out that the only one who gives thanks is the Samaritan leper.
And in Luke, Jesus tells the parable about the Good Samaritan.
In today’s Gospel, James and John, the “sons of thunder” want to call down fire from heaven (lightening)
to destroy the Samaritan town which had not welcomed them.
They thought, because of their Jewishness, that the Samaritans had rejected Jesus.
But Jesus dismisses this because his face is set toward Jerusalem.
All of this is interesting and somewhat important to understanding what God wants us to hear today.
But more than all of this, God wants us to consider what it means to be a disciple.
And to get you thinking about this central theme, I want to ask you a question I once saw on a bumper sticker:
“If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”
When Elijah cast his mantle on Elisha, Elisha wanted to first kiss his parents goodbye.
Listen to what Elijah answered him, “Go back again - - what have I done to you?”
What have I done to you? Think about what you're about to do, Elisha.
Elijah was giving Elisha the freedom to make a commitment.
And Elisha made his commitment in a very distinct way.
He went and slaughtered the oxen he had been using to support his former
life, gave the boiled meat to the people, and followed Elijah.
There was no turning back now.
His former means of making a living were gone.
He could only go forward from that point on.
When someone approached Jesus saying, “I will follow you wherever you go,” Jesus, like Elijah
had to point out that there would be no looking back for a disciple.
“The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” he said.
And he might as well have said, “you won’t have a comfortable home either, if you want to follow me.”
To another who wanted to bury his father; and to another who wanted to return home to say his goodbyes,
Jesus briskly tells them to let go of their past for the sake of the kingdom of God.
After all, if one is plowing a field looking backwards, the furrows will all be crooked.
Jesus is telling all those disciples that from that moment on, they will be pilgrims;
no, more than pilgrims, they will be nomads.
They will have no idea what lies ahead. But forward they must go.
Whether it is in our own lives or in the institutions we create,
constantly looking at the past instead of moving forward with determination, can only lead to worry,
fear and depression.
Companies that are constantly looking at last quarter’s profits instead
of looking forward to the next new product or the next new medical breakthrough
or the next new innovation will always end up going under.
Apple succeeds because they look forward.
An individual who drives a car or rides a bicycle or even walks forward while looking backward…..
well, you know what will happen.
And when our own congregation constantly remembers the “good old days” of the past instead of looking forward to the new opportunities to live out the Gospel for the sake of others,
we will only keep wondering why no one comes anymore.
When we look to the past, we can either remember the good things (which we often attribute to our own work)
or the bad things; and forget that God has already forgiven us for those mistakes.
When we hear Jesus talk about being “fit for the Kingdom of God,” we are so tempted
to wonder just what we need to do to make ourselves good disciples.
What rules should we live by?
What choices should we make to make the Kingdom of God happen in our midst?
When in reality, there is nothing we can do to make the kingdom of God emerge among us - -
that’s what Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection.
This discipleship is not about gaining God’s favor, it is about living out the love which we have
found so fully in that death and resurrection of Jesus.
We live forward.
We live in the confidence that our own place in the Kingdom of God has already been accomplished.
Now we live to love, just as God has loved us in Jesus.
God’s way moves forward towards new life rather than looking backward for self-justification or for regret.
We have become God’s own children through our baptism.
God’s children are forgiven and forgiving.
God’s children have been won through Jesus’ sacrifice and therefore, we freely sacrifice and give for others.
God’s children do not fear death but see beyond death.
Just as the ancient farmer who plows looking backward is rewarded with bent furrows and poor harvests,
when we live our lives looking backward, we also have poor results in our lives.
God has given us the gift of living forward, without regret,
to find new ways, to look for new possibilities, to touch new lives, and to love new loves.
It’s time to live like we hope.
It’s time to live in Christ’s freedom. It’s time to say
yes to God, yes to ourselves, and yes to our future.