Sunday Sermon - Call and Response
Rev Dr Sam Cappleman
The common theme which seems to underpin each of today’s readings is that of Call and Response.
In the OT reading from Kings we have the call and response of Elisha to succeed Elijah as prophet. Elijah throws his cloak over Elisha, a sign and symbol of a prophet’s rights, and Elisha, as a servant receives the power which had been endued to Elijah. The cloak/mantle was in the process of being passed from the master to the servant, who in turn would become the master himself.
In the reading from Galatians we have Paul exhorting the hearers to live by the Spirit and live out their lives focused on Christ rather than the ways of the world, their old sinful natures.
In the gospel too we see different people being called and responding to that call.
Chapter 11 in the gospel of Luke is a pivotal chapter, a hinge point in the gospel. Up to now we have heard about the Galilean ministry of Jesus but from this point on this ministry is left behind as Jesus resolutely sets His face to Jerusalem and begins the journey that will lead him along the path of the cross and resurrection and ultimately to heaven. Jesus too has a call and He too needs to respond.
We all know the hostilities there were between the Jews and the Samaritans, hostilities that were deep rooted and historic. So it’s perhaps not surprising that the reception for Jesus and His disciples is similarly hostile.
But what is surprising is that normally the route from where Jesus was (probably the area of Mt Tabor in the Southern part of Galilee) to Jerusalem would have normally skirted around Samaria to avoid potential conflicts. It’s around 100 miles and Samaria was directly between Galilee and Jerusalem but routes to the east or west could easily have been taken.
Why did Jesus go through Samaria? We don’t know but one reason could be that Jesus came for all people and by going through the region which was openly hostile to the Jews and to Jesus Himself, Jesus demonstrates that His mission is to these people too.
There is no sense of Jesus wanting retribution, indeed, Jesus rebukes His disciples when they want to call down fire to destroy the Samaritans.
It’s also noticeable that the Samaritans did not necessarily understand Jesus’ mission or receive Him openly, they react with hostility, even though the Saviour was among them.
There is also a parallel with the time when Jesus starts His ministry in the Synagogue at Nazareth, when He is handed the scroll and begins to teach that ‘Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’. On hearing this, the people in the synagogue wanted to kill Him by throwing Him off a cliff. Not exactly an encouraging start to His ministry. But He did not give up and remained faithful to the call.
In the same way, as He sets off resolutely to Jerusalem, He meets with opposition. And in the same way He refuses to be deflected from His mission.
And as He sets off he meets with three different men, all of whom He seemingly speaks to very bluntly and doesn’t exactly point a rosy picture of discipleship.
The first who wants to follow Him, Jesus points out that he may be letting himself in for a homeless existence.
The second, who Jesus invites to follow Him, asks that he should be allowed to bury his father first, a critical duty in any Jewish household, to which Jesus relies, let the dead bury their dead
The third just wanted to go and say goodbye to his family to which Jesus replies that anyone that looks back is not fit for service in the Kingdom of God
It’s probably very easy to read too much into each of these encounters but each would seem to have an important message. Above all, Jesus seems to be indicating that the call to commitment and our response needs to take place in the context of our normal daily lives, whoever we are, Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles or whoever.
Jesus calls us to follow Him in the context of our daily lives, not as an escape from them.
To the first man who He replies to saying that the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head He would seem to be saying that following Christ is to open ourselves up to a life of possibilities. The old certainties and securities may no longer be there.
It’s a challenge to look forward to the possibilities and riches of Christ rather than look backward to the certainties and securities of the material world.
To the second, who asks to go an bury His father, Jesus indeed may be making a statement about the relative importance of Jewish rituals in the new Kingdom of God, a Kingdom based not on rituals or rules but love and grace.
What He more certainly is saying is that the new ways of God’s Kingdom are not necessarily our ways or the ways of life we have been brought up believing. He’s not showing necessarily any lack of compassion but underlying the importance of being open to the ways and precepts of the New Kingdom which His journey to Jerusalem will herald in.
To the third, He underlines the importance of single mindedness in following Christ. Ploughing took concentration; if you looked back you went off line. Part of ploughing was not just guiding the plough, but guiding the animal pulling the plough.
To look back meant to take your eye of the important task in hand.
Together these stories underline the imperative of being single minded and dedicated in our following of Jesus, being open to new possibilities in our lives and in the way we see and do things. Perhaps letting go of old certainties and securities as we step out in faith, empowered by the Spirit to respond to the call Jesus makes to each of us to resolutely set our face to Jerusalem.