Sunday, 23 June 2013

Little Stories of the Freedom to Serve.

Lectionary Readings for June 30: 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21, Psalm 16, Gal 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62
Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

These readings feel like a grouping of short vignettes, so that's how I've looked at them.

1 Kings-This is the story of Elijah naming Elisha as his successor. It is notable that Elisha is found out in the field working alongside his farm workers. This suggests that although he is a man of means, he is not above doing the same work as those in his employ. When Elijah calls him, he first goes and puts his affairs in order, saying goodbye to his parents (getting their blessing?), symbolically burning his plough, cooking his oxen, and giving the meat to the people. An amazing attitude for a public servant!Even if Elijah was well-known, Elisha gave up a comfortable life to serve others.

Psalm 16. A psalm attributed to David offering praise and thankfulness to God. A bit of odd trivia distracts me in verse 10. "You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will your holy one see decay." Is this one of the verses that led to some religious orders (Middle Ages I think) claiming the bodies of saints didn't rot? There was a great deal of excitement around the idea that certain corpses mummified instead of rotting. (Strange stuff, but interesting to read how various traditions and odd beliefs get started and persist. Last year I read a book called; Rag and Bone, that was all about the obsession people have had over the years with relics. Perhaps there is a good caution in this history about how we interpret any one verse!) I'm not sure why this Psalm is included today-the other passages speak of the giving up of self for others. Does anyone else see a connection I'm missing?

Galations 5: A beautiful and well known passage that speaks to the purpose of freedom in Christ. A reminder that true freedom is not narcissistic, but concerned with others. Freedom should be defined by the fruit of the Spirit-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (I think sometimes in the church we've made these into "doormat" qualities, These qualities should not make us into pushovers, but into strong, calm, and capable people. Sometimes the courage to speak up and address an issue at it's beginning may feel harsh, but in the long run it is often the gentler and more helpful course.) The emphasis on service to others is a strong parallel piece to read alongside the story of Elisha's calling.

Luke 9. Here are two stories. Luke 9:54 is a favourite of mine because of the reaction of 9 year old campers at Camp Valaqua one summer when I was a chaplain and talking about this. I paraphrased the disciples words into something like; "Jesus, do you want us to turn around and blast them!" The kids all roared with laughter-it sounded video-gamish to them. It also, however, showed that the disciples were testing out their power, wanting to force people to see things their way. The kids understood the attraction! Power corrupts, even power that starts out good can quickly become self-serving. Jesus is disgusted with John and James, tells them so, and they peaceably proceed to the next village. Again, a small story that shows freedom and power used in service to others, not to put them down (even when they may have deserved it!)

In the following verses, Jesus teaches his disciples, telling them that the road he walks will be difficult. He has power, he is on the side of right, but he will not be coercive. He will have " no place to lay his head."

There is an interesting bit in verses 61-62. Elisha was allowed to go back and say goodbye to his parents, and get rid of his possessions. Here Jesus refers to both family and the plough in a different way. Elisha, however, was clearly leaving his old life behind. Are these people Jesus speaks to trying to cling to the old?

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