We hear two significant scripture lessons today in which the protagonist moves forward into a challenging future without hesitating, to do the work to which they have been called. Elijah’s call to Elisha is not coercive but it is absolute: he throws his own mantle, the symbol of his authority as a prophet of God, over Elisha’s head. While Elisha does return to bid farewell to his family, his acceptance of the call is absolute. He sacrifices his oxen and provides a feast for the people before he moves on. There is no hand-wringing or whining.
Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem and gets on with his journey. He has a lot of work to do on the way to his destiny, which is a cross of suffering, and Jesus clearly knows that in this section of Luke’s gospel. While his let the dead bury the dead sounds curt and abrupt, there is truth in what Jesus says. If we hang around fretting about what to do with what has passed away, we risk losing our selves and our future.
In what way does our faith in Jesus invite us to let go of past patterns of church life – the things we used to think were absolutely meet and right – and move forward into new life, so we can do the work of God in our time? I am not speaking about abandoning the foundational tenets of our faith here. God is God. Jesus is the Son of God. There is still a Holy Spirit who inspires us. We continue to believe in the resurrection of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins. We still observe the standards of Episcopal governance and use the Creeds and Bible.
At the same time, faith and the church must always be changing, because those things which do not change are dead. There are many, many things that we used to do in church that do not seem to matter much any longer. It has been a long time since women were obliged to cover their heads in church: if you want to wear a hat, that is terrific, but it is not a cultural mandate. Neither do most men wear hats and ties every Sunday. In 1967, when the law stated otherwise in most places, the policy of the Episcopal Church respecting the termination of a pregnancy was that an abortion was allowable to protect the mental or physical health of the woman. Since 1973, we allow our members to remarry after experiencing divorce, instead of punishing them by expelling them from the church or depriving them of communion. Since 1979, we admit all baptized people to the communion table, instead of making them wait until they are confirmed/demanding that they be Episcopalian. We do not expend a lot of energy looking into people’s intimate life when we invite them into a sacramental life. These pastoral and cultural changes have an impact on faith, because they teach us that our faith can expand its definition of what is meet and right. These changes impact our understanding of the way the church can choose to embrace humane generosity for the sake of fragile and vulnerable humanity.
Instead of thinking that civilization has begun to disintegrate or that our personal spiritual beliefs are threatened as the church labors to speak to those who live in the 21st century, I wonder if we might choose to look on changes as steps in turning our eyes toward what God needs us to do. How do our lives, our words, our actions reflect the majesty of God, who loved us enough to be willing to die for our sake? (REPEAT THAT).
What is the role of the Church? It is to bring people into a relationship with God. It is not to stand as a barrier between people and God. It is not to sustain the status quo. The Good News is that God loves each of us immeasurably – that each person matters – and that in our brokenness and sin, we need God all the more, because the Love of God heals and saves us.
This week, we celebrate the 196th anniversary of the beginning of St Stephen’s. As we move closer to our parish bicentennial in 2026, we will spend more time reflecting on the blessings that have brought us to the present time. I invite you to consider setting your hearts on Jerusalem, friends, that heavenly city where God is revealed to all peoples. Look toward the future, look toward what we can do for and with God in Harrisburg. Look ahead with anticipation and joy, knowing that God is always with us and cherishes us with all our idiosyncrasies and frailties. And do not allow the anxiety around and within us to determine our actions.