Sunday, June 26, 2016

Phil Kniss and Moriah Hurst: Sermon and response for Moriah's installation

Installation service: Sermon and Response
On the occasion of the installation of Moriah Hurst as
Associate Pastor for Children, Youth, and Families

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

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I love having a prescribed lectionary to preach from,
    even on a special occasion like a pastoral installation.
    Or like last Sunday, when we were all thinking about Orlando,
        and we needed scripture to speak to us.
    I appreciated having lectionary texts last week,
        to listen for what the scripture wanted to say.
        And think I heard something worth sharing.

That’s the benefit of following a schedule of readings,
    not tied to topics or current events, but to a calendar.
    I’m not so tempted to decide first what I want to say,
        and then dig around for scripture to back me up,
        to reinforce what I would have said anyway.
    Instead, I go to the assigned texts and listen with an open heart.

So this week, I read the stories from 1 Kings and Luke,
    looking for a word that might speak to us, and to Moriah,
    on the occasion of celebrating her call to ministry among us.
And, as often happens, it was staring me in the face,
    as if I chose the text for the occasion.

So in I Kings we have a story of a young person being called to ministry,
    to replace someone who had served long and well in the same role.
    See any parallels?

But there things that don’t parallel our situation.
    For example, when the prophet Elisha was called to replace Elijah,
        it was up to Elijah to name his own successor.

Clearly, that’s not the way we do things around here.
    We liked Ross well enough,
        but when he exited, we didn’t give him that much power.

But there is one parallel in this story I want to highlight.
    I want to point out something I see in the heart of Elisha,
        which I also see in Moriah,
        and which I commend to all of us,
        as a good way to approach work in the kingdom of God.

One thing I have learned about Moriah,
    in the short time I’ve known her,
    is that she is not half-hearted.
She’s all in.
    When she listens, she listens fully.
    When she speaks, she speaks honestly.
    When she expresses emotion, she expresses it freely.
    When she laughs, she laughs heartily.
    When she wants to build a relationship with people,
        especially young people,
        she won’t just meet them halfway.
        She’ll go the extra mile.

I imagine that’s how someone might have described Elisha.
    At least, reading this story, that’s what I see in this young man.

Elisha knew Elijah, of course. Everyone knew Elijah.
    Elijah had a well-known reputation for standing up to power,
        and often paying the price for it.
        He was on the run for much of his career,
            often with a price on his head.
            His was not an easy or desirable calling.

By contrast, Elisha was a farmer.
    Living comfortably at home, with mom and dad.
        Plowing straight rows.
        Plowing a predictable path,
            literally and figuratively,
            for his crops and his future.

Elijah then shows up and throws his mantle over his shoulder.
    Elisha knew what this symbolic act meant.
        It meant he was now being called to be prophet to the powerful.
        The burden that was on Elijah was now on his shoulders.

It’s hard to imagine any more radical, more life-altering call.
    From plowing on the home farm,
        to roaming the land and confronting kings and armies.
    I think I might have wanted to take some time to contemplate,
        pull together a discernment group,
        and make sure I knew what I was getting into.

Elisha just dropped the reins,
    left plow and oxen standing in the field,
    and started walking after Elijah.
But then he said to Elijah,
    “Let me go say good-bye to Mom and Dad,
        then I’ll pack up and go with you.”
Elijah obliged. Said he would wait.

But what Elisha did next is astounding.
    He took his two oxen and plow,
        and went back to the house.
        But he didn’t just say to his parents, “see ya later!”

    He slaughtered the pair of oxen, and butchered them.
        He took his wooden plow and equipment
            and chopped them up and burned them.
        And over the fire, he cooked the meat,
            and fed the meat to all the household and townspeople.
        Had a public going-away feast,
            comprised of the very things, that up to that moment,
            he depended on daily, for his livelihood.

    There was no turning back.
    Elisha heard the call, and decided to go all in.

Now I’m the kind of person who likes to have a Plan B.
    And I have to say, I think there’s wisdom in that.

Those oxen and plow that Elisha just did away with
    were his perfect Plan B.

What if he found out he didn’t have what it took
    to be a bold prophet to kings and queens?
    What if he realized his mistake six months from now?
    It’d be awfully nice to have a plow and pair of oxen waiting for him.

Obviously, his family and farm were going nowhere.
    They would take him back anytime.

But, whoops. Too late for that.
    Elisha just obliterated Plan B.

This is even more foolhardy than this morning’s other story,
    of James and John walking away from their fishing boats
        when Jesus called them,
        leaving their father Zebedee holding the nets.
    At least they didn’t sink their boats and cut up their nets.
    If they changed their mind later on,
        they could go back to their father and go fishing again.
    Which, as a matter of fact, they did one time,
        in a moment of discouragement after Jesus’ death.

Moriah, you didn’t cut all connections to your past ministry,
    and I’m glad you didn’t,
    that’s still part of who you are.
    But I do admire your courage in saying goodbye to your parents,
        and goodbye to a life you enjoyed in Australia,
        and picking up and moving half-way around the world.
    I think you can find a kindred spirit in Elisha.

But you know,
    that’s really what we’re all expected to do as disciples of Jesus,
        when we are called into service,
            as we all are.
    We are called by God, in Christ, to go all in.
        Not halfway in. All in.

When Jesus was moving about in ministry,
    he seemed quite concerned about the prospect
    of attracting half-hearted disciples along the way.
    So he actively pushed people away who wanted to follow,
        if he detected too much attachment to the status quo.
    Did you hear that shocking Gospel reading from Luke 9?

Someone comes up to Jesus and says,
    “I will follow you wherever you go.”
    Ah! What every rabbi wants to hear.
But Jesus answers, “Foxes at least have a hole in ground.
    Follow me, and you won’t even have that!”

When Jesus invites someone else to follow him,
    and the man says, “Yes, but first let me go bury my father,”
    Jesus gives him the cold shoulder.
        “Let the dead bury their own dead.”
    What’s with that??

When a third person says, “I’ll follow you,
    but first let me go home and say goodbye to my family.”
    Jesus replies,
        “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back
            is fit for the kingdom of God.”

There’s only one conclusion I can draw from these stories.
    When God calls us, and we hear that call accurately,
        and others confirm that call,
        there is nothing more important than obedience to the call.
        Not personal security.
        Not self-fulfillment.
        Not the expectations of others.
        Not protecting other people from disappointment.
    When God calls us,
        when Jesus invites us to be disciples,
        we are expected to go all in for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
            All in!
    All our energy, all our time, all our relationships.
        All our talents, all our money,
            all we have and all we are.
            That’s all God wants. Everything.

That is the Gospel message we heard this morning in Luke 9.
    And it’s the message in every other Gospel.
        We can’t avoid it.
        We can’t water it down.
        We can’t reinterpret it to make it more comfortable.
    It keeps coming back to us in different words, in different shapes.
        “Take up your cross and follow me.”
        “Everyone who holds onto their life will lose it.”
        “Forsake all, if you want to be my disciple.”

Now, having said all this, let me hasten to add,
    I am sharing this as an important message to all of us.
        Not just to Moriah.
    I don’t want her, and I don’t want you,
        to draw the wrong conclusion here.
    This is not in reference to Moriah’s employment
        as a pastor at Park View Mennonite.
    She is not being asked to sacrifice every other part of her life,
        in order to fulfill her rather extensive job description.
    She has a life beyond her employment contract.

    What she doesn’t have,
        is a life beyond her call as a disciple of Jesus.
        That call covers everything, and is everything—
            for her,
            for me,
            for you, and you, and you.

    Jesus is not interested in half-hearted workers for the kingdom.

    I believe that, in Moriah,
        we have a whole-hearted disciple,
            and a whole-hearted worker for God’s kingdom,
        and we have someone who will encourage us to be the same.

    Yes, Moriah will hold back something of herself,
        in doing her job at Park View.
    She will guard her life outside her work at the church.
        And we should insist that she do so,
            that she keeps Sabbath, even if not on Sunday,
            that she cares for herself,
            that she nurtures other interests and relationships.
    But I hope and pray, Moriah,
        that you are also graced with the fortitude
        shown by prophet Elisha and the first disciples of Jesus,
            who were called to go all in for God’s mission . . .
                all in . . . without setting up a Plan B.

    We pray God’s rich blessing on your ministry among us.

—Phil Kniss, June 26, 2016

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