Focus is our Focus.
First Reading 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Psalm Psalm 16
Second Reading Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Gospel Luke 9:51-62
“You will show me the path of life; * in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.” - Ps 16:11
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Lord said to St. Paul’s, “Go into the city of Macon, and gather my people. Honor the dignity of every human being, who are all created in my image. Pour out my grace by sharing your abundance. Give shelter to the homeless. Create places where they may dwell, and I will dwell with them and with you forever.”
I do not know if God is calling us to this mission. I do not profess the prophetic prowess of Elijah. It may be what God asks of us. We do have building and housing in our DNA. It is part of our story. We worship in the shadow of our community’s works. The monument of mission that is St. Paul Apartments and Village lies just down the hill, yet towers over us. Perhaps we are called to journey with and serve our homeless brothers and sisters in Macon. The need is certainly clear and present.
God does not seem to speak to us today as directly as God spoke to Elijah. We consult scripture, tradition, and reason to figure out God’s purpose for us. We discern as a community what God would have us do, and our next faithful step. Whatever our communal call, the example of Elijah demonstrates the focus necessary to serve God’s will. However, we cannot fully appreciate Elijah’s actions heard today without some background.
A faithful servant, the prophet Elijah had been preserved through drought, raised the dead, confronted the king, and killed the priests of Baal. God sent fire and rain at Elijah’s request. None of this seemed to have any effect on his prophetic mission. The king still hates Elijah, and continues to worship the pagan gods of his wife Jezebel. And Jezebel has sworn to get revenge for what Elijah did to her priests. Elijah was fed up, and walks away from the struggle. He doesn’t want to do the hard and thankless and seemingly useless things God asks him to do. He doesn’t want to be God’s prophet anymore. He goes into the wilderness and asks to die.
But God won’t leave him alone. God does not argue with Elijah, or tell him it will all be ok, or give him a “win one for the Gipper” speech. He meets an angry and weary Elijah on the mountain, and allows him to retire. But first, he has to recruit and teach his replacement, Elisha. Despite his frustration, Elijah never denies his relationship and dependence on God. Tired but trusting, Elijah never loses focus on God. He has only one response to his new orders ... “So he set out from there ... ” and pursued the mission! As the people of St. Paul’s discern and receive our marching orders, perhaps housing the homeless, perhaps something else, what will be our response?
Jesus declares to us that the response to mission requires laser focus. Jesus himself is focused on mission, and “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Along the way, Jesus’ mission is to offer the way of salvation beyond Israel, to all of humanity. When he is rejected by the foreign Samaritans, James and John suggest they “command fire to come down from heaven” to consume the unbelievers. Jesus quickly rebukes them. The mission is not to destroy, but to build up, to offer forgiveness and grace, to love no matter what. One along the way offers to follow, but Jesus warns the mission requires endurance and suffering. Jesus bids others to follow, but they are concerned with settling affairs, burying parents, and saying farewell. The mission requires laser focus. “Let the dead bury the dead.” Those who are not sharing in the new life in Christ are already dead. You cannot put your hand to the plow, the mission at hand, and look back. The mission requires focus.
Elijah called Elisha to follow, and was discouraged by his request to go home to handle affairs, yet allowed this distraction. Jesus’ call is more demanding. The life of discipleship is not a part-time or momentary commitment, but a life-changing shift in direction and priorities in which human needs and wants become subservient to the call of our Lord. The Christian journey does not demand we reject our responsibilities to family and vocation, but encourages us to see those needs in the light of our faith and through the lens of our deepening commitment to Christ. To those who convert and become disciples, Jesus offers positive instructions on discipleship; to those who resist the prophetic call, he tells parables of rejection. Not all are ready to accept and pursue the mission, yet we all continue to be invited.
Paul is focused on the mission, and calls us to participate. He reminds us God has provided the ‘Fruits of the Spirit’ ... all we need to focus on doing kingdom building work. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” Our spiritual tool belt is full!
Paul also warns us against distractions ... “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” This is quite a list. Perhaps today Paul might be more specific ... putting others down to lift ourselves up, harmful gossip, social media mudslinging, polarizing politics, labeling and dividing and excluding, destroying another’s dignity. No part of our life in Christ includes these things.
Christ has set us free. It is not a freedom from ... we are not free from entanglements or duty, temptation, distraction, or suffering. It is a freedom to ... we are free to live in the Spirit. We are also free to resist or to give in to distractions. Freedom demands a choice. The choice to live in Christ requires focus.
Our freedom is also a freedom for ... freedom is not the opportunity to pursue our own interests, but to serve others ... freedom for loving our neighbor as ourself, and sharing the cornucopia of fruits of the Spirit. We are free to give our lives in service to God. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to focus on mission. As we discern our specific mission, we continue to live Christ’s mission, to be reconciled to God and each other. Let us focus on God, and live by the Spirit. ‘Let us also be guided by the Spirit.’ Amen.