Today’s readings (2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14, Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62) are hard readings – readings which sit uncomfortably with the world in which we live – a world which is designed to mollycoddle and protect the individual as sacrosanct.
In 1957 Thomas Merton said:
‘The inner basic metaphysical defilement of fallen man is his profound and illusory conviction that he is a god and that the universe is centred on him…….we seek what we may call relative omnipotence: the power to have everything we want, to enjoy everything we desire, to demand that all our wishes be satisfied and our will should never be frustrated or opposed.”
We have just witnessed a number of events highlighting this issue:
The forced resignation of Mark McInnes allegedly for his inappropriate behaviour (and it appears that his actions were unacceptable), but it baffles me that it took the board so long to catch on to what was going on, if as reported, all the staff knew. Perhaps they acted because his behaviour was about to impact on the company and they moved to preserve self – individually and corporately.
The bloodless coup in Canberra. It was a political coup, no different from all those we abhor in other countries – the move of individual will, not the democratic will of the people – but somehow no blood makes it ok – (duh!) It was, as one commentator said, all about parliamentarians moving to protect their jobs, it was about disloyalty and the Ides of March, it was about self – political and individual power. As one Parliamentarian noted at a function to me; ‘If any politician says they are not in it for power, they are lying.”
(Interesting aside here – women played a prominent role in both these events – there was one women on the DJ’S board and our new prime minister who played a key role in the coup is a woman – so much for a softer more gentler world. Interesting, because one of the key players in the suffragette movement, Dorothy Day, spoke of this danger in 1917.)
The dismissal of General McChrystal by President Obama for allegedly saying ‘not nice’ things about him and his political advisors. Perhaps the forum in which it was said may have been more suitable but what was said is said everyday in the halls of the military power brokers and no-one is sacked. It was about protecting image and self – once again individually and corporately – from the prophetic words of one who would know the truth. From personal experience I am glad the powers to be in this country were not as sensitive or I would now be cooling my heels in some out of the way establishment because of comments I have made directly to those in power in our military!
Saying the Uncomfortable Word:
Elisha takes on the mantle of Elijah – not something I would have done to quickly – if the story of Elijah and his run in with the rulers of society are anything to go by. Here was a man who, empowered by God and the Spirit, spoke up about the ways of the world – the accepted values and mores of his society – and was hounded almost to his death by those in charge. In last weeks reading Jezeebel vows to kill him! Elisha, his loyal follower, puts his hand up to take on the very same role.
We first meet Elisha when Elijah sees him plowing in the field. He walks up to him and throws his mantle, his outer cloak, over him including Elisha in his world as his disciple. Elisha followed his master everywhere. He witnessed Elijah do amazing things. He heard him denounce kings at the peril of his own life. Things he could not even imagine doing on his own.
But the day finally came for Elijah to leave him. His master asked him what last thing he could do for him before he left. Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” Elijah’s shoes were big ones to fill and Elisha needed all the help he could get.
Elijah says to do so Elisha must witness his leaving. He does so and he picks up the mantle. He parts the waters with it just like his master did. He begins to lead. He takes on the responsibility of Elijah and went on to be just as outspoken and critical of his society as his master was.
We are challenged to pick up the mantle of Jesus our master and do the same.
Recently I heard a theological scholar comment that the strength of the Anglican Church is that it listens to society and follows its lead. To support his argument he quoted issues such as slavery, women priests, human rights, abortion, and rights for gay people, refugees and more. I was astounded that he thought that was a strength. How did it come to this, that the church has been reduced to being a follower of society’s values and not an upholder of the core values of the Christian faith, which include these and more, and have done so since Jesus was born, delivered the Sermon on the Mount and died for every single human being?
Paul, in Galatians, says simply, we are to be counter-cultural – to live at odds with the values of our world.
If the values noted in the events of this week, and highlighted by Merton, are the world’s values, then they are not for us. One of the most disturbing developments over the last 20 years has been this move to values (used in every conversation, press release and corporate mission statement like salt – just to sound more palatable), not to mention values based education. NRL and the AFL, as did David Jones, has values about inclusivity and even their senior players can’t get it right.
Whose values and why are they important? What are the values of society and where do we see them?
Paul says its not only secular values but also religious values we need to challenge by counter cultural living. I had a conversation with a senior student this week about this (she presented a typed A4 page of questions for me to answer – wonderful stuff) – how, in her perception, the so-called values of the church simply don’t add up in reality. Is the church now obsolete? Our kids see this stuff and challenge us. How do we answer?
In the case in Galatians it is not just about circumcision, which is the sign of the Jewish people as God’s chosen, but of maintaining all that is involved with being that people, the law and ritual, which no longer applies. Jesus has turned that culture on its head and asks his followers to live by one countercultural concept – love – love for God which reveals itself in faith and love or compassion for the neighbour – it is not all about me and my desires.
Being a Living Sacrifice:
In the Gospel reading Jesus ups the ante. A would be follower hesitates because he pleads to be let bury his father. The man does NOT mean that his father has died already and that he needs a day or two to make funeral arrangements. He is saying that he has a duty as a son to care for his father in old age, to see that he has what he needs while he’s alive and that he gets an honorable burial once he does die. And Jesus tells this man to “follow me, and let the dead bury the dead.” Jesus instructs a man to abandon his family and the values of his society. How counter cultural is that?
It is about becoming a living sacrifice, relinquishing our desires for our self only, instead taking on responsibility for the world, not of the world. It is not that the man’s wish is evil, or selfish or unusual – he was fulfilling the cultural values of his society. Jesus says simply, by reason of your faith and your desire to follow me – all has changed. You have become a member of the kingdom of God, a kingdom with different values – values that place God and those created in his image (people, places and things) before what society says are your rights.
So What Now?
Somebody has said that the reason why people dismiss Christianity (and for that matter all major faiths) is, not that it is too easy, a cop out, but that it is too hard. Simple yes – love God and neighbour – but too hard and they give up before they start.
When we say at the end of the Eucharist :
we offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Send us out in the power of your Spirit
to live and work to your praise and glory,
we are saying, it is no longer about me, it is about the Other and others.
I walk away from my culturally and religiously embedded values and rights and commit myself solely to the values and responsibilities of the Kingdom.