Sermon preached at Merredin Uniting Church on 28 February 2021. A challenge to find our freedom in following Jesus.
When I was in 2nd year of university … and really struggling to get to grips with what I needed to do with my life … I had made a real mess of it by that time … I went to see a movie called “Kelly’s Heroes”.
I don’t remember much about the movie – Donald Sutherland starred and it was something about a crazy tank battalion who had a plan to rob a bank or something. But something stayed with me from that movie – it helped me make up my mind then about my life and it has often been a help in shaping my life since then.
It was a song by The Mike Curb Congregation called “Burning Bridges”. It tells of how we are often confused by our own thoughts and by the advice of well meaning friends. The singer – convinced of the rightness of what must be done, decides that the only way to still the confusion is to burn the bridges … to press on forward, in conviction.
We see something of this in Elijah’s call to Elisha and we see it always in the challenge to Christian discipleship. Elisha was a wealthy farmer. He plowed his fields with twelve pairs of oxen. One day, while he is plowing, the prophet Elijah comes up to him and throws his cloak about him. To us this might seem a strange action but it was in fact part of the ancient covenant-making ritual. Elijah gives Elisha his outer garment – he is calling Elisha into a covenant relationship with him. He is calling Elisha to follow him.
Elisha understands this – he says, “first let me go and kiss my father and mother goodbye.”
But the call that Elijah makes is also a call to discipleship. And that is about leaving all and following, no matter the cost.
Luke tells a similar story about some whom Jesus called to follow – one man wanted first to bury his father, another wanted to go back and say goodbye to his family. Jesus makes it plain – if I call you to follow me, then you follow – you cannot also have things on your own terms – even to wait the burial of your father, or to say farewell to your family. Once you have set your hand to the plow there is no turning back.
Elijah’s response is that if you must first go and kiss your father and mother goodbye, then forget it – go back, for I can then do nothing with you.
Elisha does go back – but he goes to slaughter the oxen and to use his plows as fuel to cook the meat which he then gives to all the people. Then he goes with Elijah.
And we know from the subsequent story that he never leaves Elijah again … he follows him everywhere, even when Elijah sends him away.
Elisha is convinced of the rightness of his conviction to follow Elijah. He burns his plows and slaughters his cattle. There is no more turning back. He leaves himself no option, he is committed. He can now only follow because there is nowhere else to go.
When Jesus calls us, it is the same thing. Exactly the same thing, although we would prefer it not to be. We would prefer to have most of the stuff of our life carry on unchanged. We would prefer to put the things that might inconvenience our following of Jesus on hold, so that we can get back to it if needs be. We would rather hire out our plows and cattle – it makes much more sense.
But following Jesus is not about making sense. It is about a conviction that allows no option to turn back. Discipleship understands that things will not always be quite so clear as when we are first called and so it cuts out the option to go back to plowing.
Following Jesus is about understanding who He is. He is not just an option in life. He is not just one of the choices to follow – He is the only choice.
Dammit though, we don’t like to be so restricted …
we want options!
But Jesus doesn’t give us any.
And yet He understands our preference for options. He knows we want them. He knows we want choices. But He also knows that every choice we have will dilute our relationship with Him and keep us from the full potential of who we are as His disciples.
So He asks His disciples …
“Who do the crowds say that I am?
What choices have they made?”
They answer …
“Some say John the Baptist, others that you are Elijah, still others say that you are one of the prophets of long ago come back to life”.
The crowds made their choices ….
But you, says Jesus …
“Who do you say that I am?
What choices have you made?”
“You are the Christ of God.” says Peter …
And Jesus wants him to clearly understand what that means … that means that I, the Christ of God must suffer, be rejected and die so that I may rise again on the third day.
It also means that you must follow me – that you must deny yourself and take up your cross daily.
The world doesn’t know much about discipleship anymore. We live by choices and personal preferences. Absolute commitment is unknown. In marriage, in faith, in life.
But the Bible calls us to follow the Lord with everything
Burn the bridges, burn the plows – there’s no turning back anymore!
If you want to keep any other options open you will lose your life because every other option leads to death.
And you, here in this church in Merredin, Western Australia … who do you say that Jesus is?
Would you prefer to have some other options?
Your job, your farm, your children, your money, your wife, your husband, your security ….
Would you rather just hire yourself out to Jesus, as required, and simply keep on with the rest of your life as usual?
Indeed, what good would it be for your family if you were living only for Jesus?
BUT, you see, to make Jesus Lord of your life is to FIND your life. It is to find your job, your marriage, your children and all those other things. As they find second place, so your life becomes truly fulfilled.
Whoever loses his life for my sake will surely save it, says Jesus.
The best life comes when you follow Jesus. Your job, marriage, life, and relationships will all be the best possible when you have chosen to follow Jesus with all your heart and soul and body. Following Jesus is not a constrained, boring life. It does not tie you up in laws and stop your fun.
The life in Christ is a life that has no compromise in faith and trust in God and so to ensure that those other options are closed, it seems to burn the bridges and plows of the alternative life.
Until we burn the bridges of this boring alternative life, we will not fully be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Until we take up that cross at every compromise, we will always be creating soft options .. and will always be taking them.
And we will never know Jesus as the Christ of God. And our lives will be just one day after another until we die.
Jesus will always then just be a useful choice and a fairly suitable model for life.
But He is so more than that!
And He wants so much more for us.
PRAY WITH ME
Lord God, You call us all to follow you.
But this is really hard for me.
I have so many commitments, and so much depends on me.
I am not sure that I can do it.
I can give it a go but I already know that out of my own strength, weakness and preferences, that I will surely fail.
So I turn to you ..
As you call me to follow. So give me strength to go.
As you lead me, help me keep my eyes fixed on you.
When I stumble, hold me up.
If I fail, forgive me and call me again.
You are the Lord of life ..
You do not call me to difficulty but to freedom
The difficulty comes from my resistance. I know that.
Help me to be free in you, to follow you and so to find my true life in you.