The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost - 27 June 2010

I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1,13-25
Saint Luke 9:51-62


        Elijah and Elisha

When does God move into our lives with a call for action?  Where and when does that happen?  In the readings for today we meet several who are called for just such service – prophets, kings, disciples, and others.  The wonder of this is where such a call to service happens.  Although Isaiah is called to service with a vision of God in a temple filled with glory and smoke, Elisha has a prophet’s cloak thrown over his shoulders in the middle of a muddy field, and Jesus sees his on-going call as he travels with his disciples.  Perhaps, as we read through these lessons, and study their import, we can mull over the call that God is giving to us here and now.  Where will you be sent, and what will you be sent to do?

I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

The LORD said to Elijah, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place."

So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." Then Elijah said to him, "Go back again; for what have I done to you?" He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

In the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures we move from the Elijah Cycle to the Elisha Cycle, with the call of Elisha when Elijah casts his mantle over the shoulders of the new prophet.  The call is not given directly to Elisha, but rather God indicates the call in a directive to Elijah.  What follows then are a series of symbolic actions with 12 yoke of oxen (symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel), Elijah’s gesture with his mantle, and a subsequent offering of the oxen, finishing in a communion meal with “the people”.  These all represent temple sacrifices and rituals that are here done in the countryside apart from the temple.  Elijah, and now Elisha, is operating in extreme conditions, and so these activities announce that God and God’s word in the prophets still is active with or without the Temple.  Incidentally, in the initial paragraph, Elijah is directed to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel.  This particular Israelite King is depicted in the Black Obelisk, a stele memorializing tribute brought to Shalmaneser III (King of Assyria, 859 – 824 BCE).

The Black Obelisk showing Jehu kneeling

Breaking open I Kings
1.    What do you do for a living?  How did you make decisions about what you would do for living?
2.    How is your life going?
3.    What do you feel called to do?

Psalm 16 Conserva me, Domine

Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; *
I have said to the LORD, "You are my Lord, my good above all other."

All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, *
upon those who are noble among the people.

But those who run after other gods *
shall have their troubles multiplied.

Their libations of blood I will not offer, *
nor take the names of their gods upon my lips.

O LORD, YOU are my portion and my cup; *
it is you who uphold my lot.

My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; *
indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

I will bless the LORD who gives me counsel; *
my heart teaches me, night after night.

I have set the LORD always before me; *
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; *
my body also shall rest in hope.

For you will not abandon me to the grave, *
nor let your holy one see the Pit.

You will show me the path of life; *
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

This is a psalm of supplication, not unlike the prayers we might offer as we go to bed each evening.  It is also a psalm of confidence in following Yahweh, the God of Israel.  The author distinguishes himself from “those who run after other gods,” and numbers himself among the faithful. This contrast might indicate that the psalm was either written or reworked during the period following the Babylonian Exile – with its sharp contrasts of those who follow, and those who are influenced by the culture surrounding them.  Such a situation might also explain the comments on death – perhaps a metaphor for a society and culture that has been decimated by conquest and exile.  For those who are interested, libations are offerings of either food or drink that are poured out upon the ground.  Such offerings were common throughout the Ancient Near East.  Another note:  “the Pit” refers to Sheol, the Hebrew place for the dead. 

Breaking open Psalm 16
1.     The psalm speaks of “running after other gods”.  What interrupts your relationship with God?
2.     How does God give you counsel?  What do you ask?
3.     What is your path of life?

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.

Icon of the Paraclete

In Galatians we have an on-going treatment of the theme of freedom in Christ, in which Paul addresses the tension between self-indulgence and faithfulness, with a sub-theme of how Christians treat the Law.  This theme is present in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Corinthians as well.  As a way of focusing on this tension, Paul asks us to view life “in the flesh” or “in the Spirit”, and then produces one of his typical lists cataloguing what is meant by life in the flesh, or life in the Spirit.  It is this “life in the Spirit” that is the reality of participating in the Passion of Christ and in the Resurrection.

Breaking open Galatians:
  1. What does freedom mean to you? 
  2. What kind of freedom do you practice in  your religious life?
  3. Are you spiritual?  What is your spiritual life like?

Saint Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

He set his face toward Jerusalem

In the Gospel for today we are challenged with the radical nature of God’s call to us.  Jesus is lifted up as the example par excellence of those who have been called.  That he “sets his face toward Jerusalem” gives us a sense of Jesus’ resolve in the matter, so that the concerns of the Samaritans and the disciples are of no concern.  The questions that do arise are all about the urgency of the call.  Elisha wants to say good-bye to his parents.  A disciple wants to go bury his father.  Jesus’ sense of urgency is that these matters will/should take care of themselves.  There is no looking back.   

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Why does Jesus “set his face toward” Jerusalem?  What happens in Jerusalem?
  2. Why are the disciples are angry with the Samaritans
  3. Some complain that they have other things to do.  What interrupts your mission to the world?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


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