Fox Creek February 2020

More on Elijah and Jesus

Janet and Louis, two colleagues on the PRCL responded to my First Impressions on Luke 9:51-62.

This post is my reply; a Second Impression, if you like.

My thanks to Janet and Louis for some good thinking. The piece from me was certainly underdeveloped...  “a tad disjointed,” Janet said!


My theological underpinning here is

1. The sense that Jesus points us to a new consciousness, or way of being, that is beyond what we normally experience.  He called that Kingdom of God.

2. Living like Jesus would live, opens us to glimpses of that new consciousness.

3. To be fully human... to live to our best potential... is to commit to living in a way that opens us more, as a person and as a species, to that vision of the Kingdom of God.

I think this is to describe in specifically Christian words, what many other people also say from other religious or philosophical perspectives. As people, as human beings, we become aware that there is something, some way of being, that is just beyond our ability to grasp fully and hold on to. We sense it is a better, healthier, more whole way of being human.

That's the context I am in when I meet Jesus' words in Luke 9 this week. 

I am also seeking to communicate this conscious to my congregation. I'm doing it from a position where I don't understand it very well myself; I'm not there. I have not arrived. I'm like DT Niles said, a blind beggar showing other blind beggars where there is bread.

What I am less tentative about, is that this deeper consciousness is real and powerful. I have begun to experience it. There is a conversion, maybe more a long growing up, which is taking me into a place of life changing compassion. It is a place which shames me when I remember earlier sincere attempts at discipleship. I'm not talking about those embarrassing and shameful time when I fell short of what I believed and aspired to. I'm talking about the things I held as true and obvious, and thought were appropriate, and even loving, and the will of God.  And I was blind. I want to share my discovery that life is much more profound, deeper, and more love filled than I ever thought.

It seems to me that Luke and 2 Kings combine this week to illustrate an aspect of what this deeper appreciation of what Kingdom of God means.  Preaching it, and communicating it is hard.  There is so much context, and there are so many biblical stories to bring together (many forgotten, or never heard, by some folk in the congregation) that if I am only a tad disjointed, Janet, that will be an achievement! (Said with a smile.)

What do I understand about Kingdom, religion, and faith?

I understand that much of what we do in life is religious but not "of the kingdom." We bind (religare) ourselves into a belief system, we submit ourselves to its discipline, and live according to its precepts. We do this  to explain, control and manage the world, and keep at bay our fear of dying. The fear of dying in particular, which is the ultimate loss of control, can lead to fanatical responses quite at odds with the ideals of the kingdom.  Fear is ruling us then, not the ideals of the kingdom.

Personally, I am aware I was unconsciously driven by fear and control concerns, and probably still am at times, although the loving and compassionate family in which I grew up,  acted as an antidote to most of the fanaticism that I could have stepped into.

What I see is that living the Jesus way, or according to the ideals of the kingdom, has the effect of enhancing much which we hold dear, even if we have been driven (unconsciously) more by the need to order our world and make it safe, rather than a ove of Jesus' way.  I think Bill Loader's comment on the text explains this for me.

This... can make sense as a call to radical compassion which may challenge all other calls to caring. Mostly it will generate all that caring in family which is so central, but love remains and sometimes it must break established priorities. Less dramatically, but just as relevant, people’s dedication to ‘family values’ frequently blinds them to real caring and at worst inspires hate and discrimination. (My italics)

What I get from Bill is the sense that living according to Kingdom ideals, Jesus' way, leads us towards much that we hold dear; strong healthy family, stable society, less poverty...  (All of this is in the context of the inscrutable factors of probability, entropy and natural disaster that operate in the world, so there is not a mathematical formula here that means we do "this" and get that in "return.")

But all this benefit  is a by-product of living the Jesus way. Living according to precepts like  Family-First (Australian in-joke, here), or my country right or wrong, or keep the law, does not lead to, or cause, the kingdom of God.  Rather, what good we have in our families and nations has come from living what we have understood of the kingdom of God, even if we have been unconscious of that, or called it something else. It has been a product of Compassion, which is Divine Mercy, or Divinely-Inspired Mercy.

Growing and becoming more conscious of aspects of Jesus' way, we become more Mercy-Full. Bill  goes on to say that " Less dramatically, but just as relevant, people’s dedication to ‘family values’ frequently blinds them to real caring and at worst inspires hate and discrimination." But dedication to 'family values' etc as a cause of goodness, makes them into an idol. They cease being a 'by-product' of Kingdom, and a blessing, and can become a destructive, un-mercy-full curse.

It's in this context I read in Luke 9 about people approaching Jesus, wishing to be disciples and follow him. He points out to them the radical call he is making.  All that we hope for, all that is good, is by product, not cause.

People have houses, says Jesus. Even animals have holes and nests, but kingdom-seeking people are ready to give that all up for the cause.  A home is a blessing, indeed, but kingdom-seeking people recongise it is a blessing and not a right, nor is a house "caused" by living for the kingdom. God blesses the righteous and sinners alike. Matthew 5:45 (You note this is the very opposite of the heresy of prosperity theology.)  

Family is also to be seen in the light of Jesus' radical calling, he says. It is a blessing. In our modern context, safe and stable family is pretty much regarded as 'a human right.' Certainly its absence or presence can profoundly affect our person and our actions! But, in Jesus' eyes, it is not the "be all and end all." It does not command authority over everything else. Only Jesus’ call to live for the Kingdom has that authority.

There will be times when obligations emanating from our family will be profoundly at odds with the ethics and compassion of Jesus.  In Australia, groups which loudly appeal to family values have a high probability of being groups well described by some of Bill's words: "blind... to real caring and at worst inspiring  ... hate and discrimination." (You'll note I have rephrased his words slightly.)

Is not looking after my Father living the way Jesus would live? Is not making a stable and safe home, if I have children, living the way Jesus would live?  Of course!  But there is  a distinction, all the same. I see that distinction through the lense of "ultimate motivation".  Am I living to save myself, my family, and my world, or am I living because I long for what God is, or calls me to: kingdom of God? 

There is a consciousness, a new consciousness, that lets me see that my personal discipleship earlier in life, sincere though it was, costly though it was, was about more making my world safe, than it was about seeking Kingdom of God.

There was some question about how I used the word "religion” in my First Impression. I would say that Jesus is calling me out of mere religion, or past and beyond religion, to consciousness of a new possibility.  He is calling me to longing for, and devotion to God, rather than obedience to a tradition.  Do you get my sense of gentle longing, almost desire for a loved one, as distinct from a harder, almost legal, satisfaction of requirements?  That's part of the change of consciousness which is on offer.

In Luke 9, and elsewhere of course, Jesus is calling me to see that sometimes the Divine Love calls me to abandon what seems absolutely basic and unchallengeable about life and society.  Samaritans deserve fire from heaven.  This knowledge came with mother's milk. Elijah should have wiped out the third fifty men, and more. (2 Kings 1)  This is not true, says Jesus. The kingdom calls us to more than that.

In Australia,  one Family First politician is currently saying, we should not provide a Parenting Allowance, (some income support for working mums (or dads) taking leave while the baby is young), because then some women might go and get pregnant and have a late term abortion simply to get the baby benefit. Because one Samaritan king received the punishment of God centuries ago, all Samaritans are wrong....

The Samaritan issue in the readings is foundationally important to Jesus' message. Tribe and nation are basic to our survival. It is out of tribe that we have evolved.   Jesus will sometimes call me to abandon what seems absolutely basic and unchallengeable about life and society. Tribe seems absolutely basic and unchallengeable about life and society.

I am keenly aware of this, living in a nation which was founded on the dispossession and oppression of Aboriginal people. I grew up in a locality where there were no aboriginal folk left... except for stolen children in  a few white families, and I grew up with liberal parents who abhored prejudicial attitudes about anything. So I was well disposed to aboriginal folk; I read the Bony novels,  read Idriess' Outlaws of the Leopolds, and despite all their authors' paternalism held aboriginal people in high regard.

But twenty miles across the range from us were market gardeners, not one of whom I ever met, who were Greek and Italian. They were never mentioned at home, they were not part of our lives.  Meeting Greek and Italian kids at University was a shock. I discovered, to my horror, a deep racism within me toward Greek and Italian people. It pulls at me today and I must always be on guard for it.  These people, according to the deep tribalism of my childhood, and despite the best efforts of mother's milk, are inferior, different, bad. There is nothing reasonable about this, no reason for it- they just are. They are my Samaritans.

Of course, once I actually began to work with aboriginal people, I discovered the depths of the black/white tribalism. It too, was there within me. It now lurks to sabotage my relationships with Sudanese people, as I work with them.

There is one difference this time around. I know. I have seen my pre-judice, and I can be judicious, if you like.  In my work though, I meet with people who are avowedly not racist.  Some of their best friends are Aboriginals. They love Sudanese and Aboriginal people. They would be offended it I told them they were being racist.

But when they speak, black people are "they." Black people are different. I recognise in the folk with whom I work, the same mantras and attitudes that were once my own, and which would at one level be so much more comfortable to live within, and which I have not got rid of, and perhaps never will.

It strikes me as hugely important that before Jesus calls people to discipleship, he confronts them with Samaritans. Who are our Samaritans? If we do not seek them out, and change our way of living, then we risk our discipleship being religion which is self-serving, not religion which is liberating.

I still don't know how I  will pull all this together into a concise sermon!  But as Janet suggests, it may involve starting with Elijah. Perhaps I will start with owning up to my Samaritans and inviting people to find their own... then I will talk about Elijah.  What is clear to me is that to really pick up Elijah's mantle, which is Jesus mantle, I can’t be a Samaritan hater.  To be one of the people of John 14:12 and do even more than Jesus, having a double meausure of his Spirit even!?, I have to be one with all people. I can't be a Samaritan hater.

Andrew Prior

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