I have decided to follow Jesus

My farewell sermon to the Parish of Three Harbours

Proper 13 texts

I have decided to follow Jesus

I have decided to follow Jesus

I have decided to follow Jesus

No turning back, no turning back

We are where we are today because we have each chosen and promised to walk by faith. Our readings today are all about new, exciting and even dangerous adventures, and God’s presence with us. They are fantastic and poignant writings. We may have wanted something gentle for today, like being raised up on eagle’s wings, or led by the Shepherd, but here we are. Instead, in a way that sort of reflects our past four years, we are being pushed forward in our walk of faith, embracing the challenges as we always do.

We have jumped around a bit in Elijah’s story in the past couple of weeks. We meet him today at the end of his ministry and the end of his life and he is with his young disciple, Elisha, and Elisha just can’t say goodbye. He is overcome with his grief, knowing that the time has come to say goodbye to his master. Elijah wants to go on alone. He doesn’t want to prolong this goodbye. Perhaps leaving it all behind is hard enough, without having to face his young disciple in his last moments as well. But Elisha knows he cannot continue without something from his master. He may not know what it is, yet, only that he can not leave Elijah.

I don’t expect to see any chariots or whirlwinds today, but there are two images from this encounter to carry with us.

The last thing Elisha does is to pick up his master’s mantle, or cape, the familiar garment of Elijah’s position as a prophet. As I was sharing in some reflection on these readings, someone asked, “Well, you are passing the mantle on to someone else, aren’t you?” implying the new rector. I thought about that. No, I am not passing the mantle on to someone else. At the end of this service, I am passing the mantle back to where it belongs…to you. You have been here long before me, and you will be here long after I or your next rector is gone. The ministry of this parish is your work, not as volunteers, but as disciples. Since we are saying goodbye today, let’s say goodbye to that v-word…volunteer. You aren’t volunteers. You are disciples! You have a ministry, each and every one of you. Take the mantle and be on your way.

Listen again to Elijah’s words to Elisha. “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” To the very end, Elijah, like John the Baptist, acknowledges God’s power and points Elisha to God. In every thing we do, every person we visit, every dollar we raise, every fundraiser we hold, every time we worship, every meeting we hold, we are to point each other and those around us to Jesus Christ. The gifts of God are not ours to give or to conserve, only to use. As people of faith, we always acknowledge that this is God’s world and God’s law rules it, a law of justice and peace.

Today, as we are to do every day, we turn to God who is the centre of our life together, and to God’s Word as our compass. The Spirit put us on the same path for a time, and now we are changing paths again. Take every step with prayer, move together in unity and honour one another as children of God, seeing the face of Christ in one another and in everyone you meet.

And Paul tells the Galatians and us what that looks like. A community living and guided by the Spirit practices “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Strive for these things, in all things. Like Elisha asked for himself, my prayer for you is to inherit a double portion of the Spirit, so that God’s fruit may be born in Antigonish, Bayfield and Country Harbour.

The world behind me, the cross before me

The world behind me, the cross before me

The world behind me, the cross before me

No turning back, no turning back

“Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem”. This phrase, “set his face” is unique to Luke. It means that Jesus was resolute, walking to the fullness of his destiny. And today, Jesus is inviting you to join him.

Others, we read today, wanted to join him but had other business to take care of first. Jesus’ words are harsh, there is no doubt, “let the dead bury their dead”. Perhaps he knew something of this man’s story that we don’t. His responses to these seemingly reasonable requests remind us that we are always looking for justifiable excuses to put off our full discipleship and to not walk the road to the cross. What we have is too comfortable.

When we are taking a new step in our journey, there are things that we must leave behind in order to move on. Resentments are something that must be left behind. There have been times in my life here that I have been hurt, and there have been times when I have hurt you. If we are going to take our paths, we need to leave those resentments behind…today.

We also have to leave behind our identity of poverty. When I arrived we had been receiving diocesan grants for over 40 years. We don’t need them anymore! They weren’t taken from us-we don’t need them! We are Newfoundland, people! We have moved from being a have-not to a have. Celebrate that, and start living like it!

Though none go with me, still I will follow

Though none go with me, still I will follow

Though none go with me, still I will follow

No turning back, no turning back

The song is, of course, the words of Jesus, but we know this isn’t true. We are not alone, and neither was Jesus.

We are bound together through the love of God, faith in Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.

However, setting our faces towards our destiny means making difficult choices. And we can make those choices knowing that we are never alone.

These words from the prophet Jeremiah have carried me through 12 Churches, I don’t know how many apartments, over a dozen jobs and I don’t know how many miles.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart…(Jeremiah 29:11-13)

Seek God, lean on the Spirit to move you, and live as redeemed people through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

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