Sunday’s Sermon: To Be or Not to Be a Follower

Texts: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 and Luke 9:51-62

  • Kids love playing “following” games – Simon Says, Follow the Leader, Red Light/Green Light – all those games in which one person is designated as the leader and everyone else has to do whatever the leader says.
    • Games appeal to our innate yearning for direction
    • Yearning morphs as we grow older –> from the simplicity of childhood games to the powerful impact of mentors that we find throughout our lives
      • People who help us find that direction
      • People who help us develop who we are
        • Develop personality
        • Build up strengths
        • Discover gifts
        • These are the people that lead us as we make decisions about who we are and who we’re going to be.
          • Describe Charlene –> balancing intellectual and nurturing, faith in the “real world”
    • Whether we’re talking about those fun-filled hours we spent as children or the meaningful moments we spend with mentors as we grow older, these interactions all have one thing in common: we make the choice to follow. –> not something that’s forced on us
      • Have you ever tried forcing a child to play a game that they don’t want to play?
      • Other side: imagine how ineffective a forced mentor relationship would be
      • Following = sometimes easy, sometimes not-so-easy
      • Faith = no different –> Even though it’s sometimes difficult, as Christians, we make the decision each and every day to follow Christ.
    • Today’s Scriptures give us a chance to explore what it means to follow and how it is that we follow. –> find 3 components in passages
      • Devotion
      • Determination
      • Decision
  • See devotion in …
    • Way James and John respond to the Samaritans’ reaction to Jesus in gospel reading
      • At this point … As Jesus and disciples travel to Jerusalem, they enter Samaritan village –> must’ve been either obvious or stated that Jesus and his disciples were headed to Jerusalem –> rejected because of theological hostilities between Jews and Samaritans
        • And this rejection really rubs James and John the wrong way. I mean, they’ve devoted every waking moment, every breath, every everything to this Jesus-man for the last few years of their lives, and here he is being rejected by mere Samaritans. It was offensive. It was hurtful. And it was something they weren’t about to tolerate.
        • Response: Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?[1] –> They’re so devoted that they jump to the most extreme defense of their Savior.
          • Power and commitment in that devotion, distorted and misapplied though it may have been
    • Turning to OT, also see fervent devotion in Elisha’s relationship with Elijah
      • Again and again, Elijah tried to get Elisha to leave him – God would send Elijah somewhere, and Elijah would encourage Elisha to stay behind
      • Elisha’s unwavering response: As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.[2] –> Elisha’s pledging to do more than just hang around Elijah.
        • Heb. “leave” (“I will not leave you”) = desert – emotional quality to this, steadfastness to this –> “Desert” is quite the loaded word. It’s powerful. It’s evocative. It doesn’t leave any wiggle room. Either you’re all-in or you’re not. By using this word in his response, Elisha represents that emotional connection that we feel with mentors – that adoration and that devotion.
  • Determination also key in what it means to follow
    • See it in Elijah/Elisha story
      • Text: When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” [Elijah] responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” –> Elijah said it straight-out: “You have asked a hard thing” … and yet despite that difficulty, Elisha still had the tenacity and the determination to ask.
        • Elisha had been with Elijah through a good portion of his prophetic ministry –> Elisha knew how Elijah operated/what “the job” entailed –> knew that his life as a prophet was going to be challenging … but he still had the determination to ask, to follow.
    • Determination = important because in truth, sometimes following is difficult
      • Trials
      • Doubts
      • Countercultural aspect –> Jesus’ challenge to be in the world but not of the world[3]
      • Let’s be honest. Even though we get an incredible amount of purpose and fulfillment and peace from following Christ, sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes it takes that degree of determination to challenge so many things that our culture claims are important: power, notoriety, material possessions.
        • Jesus warns us of this time and again
          • Just a few verses ahead of today’s text – first foretells his own death [4]
          • Warns against self-righteousness
          • Warns against rigid interpretation & legalism of Pharisees[5]
        • Scholar: Partnership with Jesus in his mission will require rugged commitment. … To be a Christ-follower is to walk the way of Jesus regardless of the outcome.[6]
          • “Rugged commitment”
            • Not “easy journey”
            • Not “carefree journey”
            • Not “painless journey”
            • This is the kind of journey that requires determination if you’re going to travel it to the end.
  • Final key to following = decision –> Bottom line: You can be extraordinarily devoted and at determined as possible, but if you don’t make the actual decision to follow, what’s the point?
    • What Jesus is trying to get across to those who approach him –> got to fully commit to the decision
      • Sem. professor: Faith can be expressed and experienced in a variety of ways, but there comes a time in each one’s journey when it is necessary to clearly and unequivocally declare the depth of that commitment. God’s place in our lives is neither a matter of convenience nor something that can be taken for granted or assumed.[7] –> Those who approached Jesus as the end of today’s New Testament passage had reached that point – that time in their journeys when they needed to declare the depth of their commitment.
        • Some of them thought that they were ready, but Jesus wasn’t so sure. –> see this in his responses to their declarations
          • Those who wish to follow: “Jesus, Jesus … I’m gonna follow!”
          • Jesus: That’s great … but what about this hang-up that I know you have?
          • Now, I know his responses come across as harsh in this section: “Let the dead bury the dead” … “You can’t even go say goodbye to your family.” But we have to look between the lines here. Jesus isn’t telling us that in order to follow, we have to completely abandon those we love. Jesus is simply making sure that when we say we’ve made the decision to follow, that following truly is our priority.
            • Is there something distracting us?
            • Are our hearts divided?
            • Sem. Professor: Adopting a life of discipleship cannot be a part-time or momentary commitment. It is a life-changing shift in direction and priorities, in which our human needs and wants become subservient to the call of our Lord.[8]
    • OT passage: Elisha’s decision – this life-changing shift –  = palpable
      • Text: [Elisha] picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.[9] –> It doesn’t get much more decisive than that! Elisha picked up Elijah’s fallen cloak, rolled it up, and struck the river just as Elijah had done. By literally taking up that mantle and mirroring Elijah’s earlier actions, Elisha is assuming his role as God’s prophet. Once he’s struck the river and parted the water, there’s no going back.
  • So you may be sitting there saying, “I am devoted. I am determined. And I’ve made the decision to follow. I understand what it means to follow … so what’s the next step?”
    • Next step: reflecting “following” in our attitudes and actions
      • And I can’t tell you what that looks like because it’s going to look different in everyone’s life
        • Interact with different people
        • Encounter different situations
        • Experience different environments
        • WWJD movement –> lanyard
      • And sometimes we’re not even going to know what it looks like before it happens. Think about it. On the morning that Elijah and Elisha set out, do you think Elisha knew that his day was going to include watching his mentor ride up to heaven in a chariot of fire? Somehow I doubt it! On the morning that Jesus and the disciples headed toward Jerusalem via Samaria, do you think the disciples had any idea what lessons were in store for them that day … let alone that the journey they were on would end at the foot of a cross? Of course not. But when Elisha woke up, and when the disciples woke up, they made a conscious decision to follow – whatever that was going to look like! – because they were devoted and determined to serve the Lord their God. Amen.

[1] Lk 9:54.

[2] 2 Kgs 2:2, 4.

[3] 1 Cor 1:28.

[4] Lk 9:42-45.

[5] Lk 11:37-12:12.

[6] Elaine A. Heath. “Proper 8 (Sunday between June 26 and July 2 Inclusive): Luke 9:51-62 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 190.

[7] Richard J. Shaffer, Jr. “Proper 8 (Sunday between June 26 and July 2 Inclusive): Luke 9:51-62 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year C, vol. 3. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 190.

[8] Shaffer, 190.

[9] 2 Kgs 2:13-14.

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