Homebodies On The Move
Who loves a Bible text they know they can’t live up to? I know I do!
Not really, obviously.
Grappling with scriptures that detail and point out my greatest roadblocks in discipleship tends to make me depressed.
But I have learned over the years that those are exactly the texts that I need to pay the most attention to.
So if you’ve ever had the same problem, come along with me and we’ll try to drill down into how to hear our scriptures today.
At first it’s a bit confusing, because Jesus tells his disciples not go back even to bury their parents, much less go back and say goodbye to the folks at home, but Elisha does exactly that and it seems to be no problem.
Hold that thought, we’ll come back and untangle that in a minute.
But regardless of the methodology, the basic elements of the stories are the same.
When God’s call comes, you drop everything to say yes.
You get on the road and follow your spiritual teacher, whether it’s Elijah or Jesus.
These stories are about travel, more specifically travel for the sake of ministry.
And here’s my painful confession: I hate to travel.
I am a total homebody.
In fact, I think I may be the only millennial in North America for whom world travel is not a number one bucket list dream.
Statistics show that millennials travel more than any other U.S. demographic—damn the student loans and full speed ahead!
Not me. I like being at home. I like my routine.
Of course when I’ve had the opportunity to take trips, both domestic and international, I’ve been profoundly grateful and enjoyed them.
And enjoyed even more sighing in relief when I walk back through my own front door and am at home.
I’m finally starting to feel a bit more at home in Saint Louis, and it’s wonderful. I’ve got my apartment all set up just the way I like it, and it’s my haven.
I even go home for lunch most days—that’s the whole reason I looked for an apartment so close to Emmanuel!
I’ll take simple creature comforts like a book and a pot of hot tea on my sofa on a rainy afternoon over any ordeal of TSA security lines, unfortunate surprises at Air BnBs, and waiting in line at tourist sites only to be mowed down by selfie-seeking fellow travelers.
So I own my homebody-ness. But then here comes Jesus barging in to tear everything up, and it’s not just him—he follows Elijah’s example of invading someone’s well-run and comfortable life with abrupt orders to get out of the armchair and out on the road.
What’s a girl to do?
Of course I’m not saying that Elijah or Jesus are saying literal, physical travel is a necessity for fruitful ministry—although it often is.
The metaphorical point is here is about flexibility, lightness of being, alertness to the shifting winds of the Spirit, and readiness to sacrifice what we knew and loved when it becomes clear that we are needed for the sake of the Kingdom.
That’s the hard part.
And I am mindful that the same things that make me a literal homebody—love of comfort, of routine, of having my own space that I’m in charge of that’s quiet and safe and just how I like it—make me run the very real risk of being a spiritual homebody.
“Comfortable, routine, quiet, safe, and with everything just-so,” are never words that anyone would choose to describe discipleship. Dang it.
Remember how we thought that what Elisha did and what Jesus commanded are two different things?
Jesus said, “You can’t go back and do any last minute things before setting off for ministry, you have to come right now,” whereas it appears that Elisha did exactly that, going back to slaughter and cook the oxen to feed the people.
Well, first of all, notice that this is an emphatic farewell gesture from Elisha.
He’s killed and served the tools of his trade, the means of his economic survival.
He is no longer a farmer because he just burned up his oxen and equipment.
It’s actually a very literal burning of his bridges.
Cooking them up and serving them to the people was his farewell gift. He won’t be back.
“Take care, everybody, I’m out. Goodbye to you and to the old life.”
So even though Elisha is drawing such a firm line in the sand between his old life and his new life, Jesus prohibits even that.
He says come follow him immediately. As my mom used to say, “Not in five minutes, now.”
And one way of reading these two texts in conjunction with one another is to see Luke as a deliberate escalation from 1 Kings.
The author of 1 Kings was saying, “These are serious times and you can’t fool around,” and the author of Luke was saying, “Yeah, those were serious times and Elijah is one of our inspirations, but following Jesus is such a big deal that you don’t even have time to go back and burn your bridges. Get moving!”
Being the literal homebody that I am and worrying about being a spiritual homebody as well, I looked for people around me this week who could inspire me.
And I found three—one group of people serving where the church’s grace has been scant and slow, one person who died, and one person who no one would think was capable of ministry.
The first people who came to mind is the group of Emmanuel parishioners marching in the Saint Louis Pride Parade at this very hour.
Our diocese has a group walking in solidarity and support of the LGBTQ+ community in our city, and Emmanuel has the largest single parish delegation participating.
What a beautiful witness to the gospel of God’s universal and unbounded love. As Bishop Curry says, “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”
And our fellow parishioners heard Jesus’ call to get out on the road and follow him, which they did in an incredibly literal and important way today.
They left home—their comfortable, beautiful church that we’re all enjoying this morning—and followed the call to discipleship out on the road, in the community, outside our building.
What an inspiration and gift they are to us in this ministry of justice.
The next gospel traveler I noticed this week was Nan Rimbach. I had the honor of officiating her funeral on Thursday, and I had the blessing of her being one of the very first pastoral calls I did at Emmanuel, when I’d been on board only two weeks.
And although Nan in her last years had limitations both physical and otherwise, she spoke to me of her faith in God and how God would care for her.
She struck me as a woman who was neither surprised by nor afraid of the onset of death.
She was ready to answer the call when it came.
And that’s exactly what she did.
She died loving God and loving this church, and we got to celebrate her life and spirit on Thursday, a spirit eager and willing to answer the urgent call to leave everything for the sake of the gospel, up to and including her earthly body.
And the third witness to me this week was a parishioner who suffers from Alzheimer’s who came by the church.
She was in some distress because her disease was causing her to feel like she had urgent work to do at the church, and she couldn’t seem to remember what it was or how to do it, nor understand that her days of the type of church work she used to do are behind her.
But let me tell you, she did gospel work in this building that day.
She joined us for the noon Eucharist on Wednesday, and at that service, in lieu of a formal homily, the preacher poses a discussion question for the congregation to talk over.
And I had some stupid, high-falutin’ question about the respective historical contributions of the Eastern Church and the Western Church.
With this parishioner sitting next to me, I realized how ridiculous and pedantic the question was.
So instead I asked, “What do you love about the church? Where do you find holiness?”
Various folks weighed in with their answers, and she hadn’t said anything.
So I turned to her and said, “What do you love about the church?”
And she said, “Being here.”
I’ll tell you where I saw holiness in the church that day, and it was in the woman sitting right next to me.
It was so meaningful to me to see that when so many of her formerly easy cognitive capabilities had been chipped away, at rock bottom her deepest priority remained intact and urgent for her: to come to the church and serve.
She heard the voice of Jesus calling her to come to the church and serve, and come to the church and serve she did.
Maybe not in the way she used to or the way she thought she was supposed to, but I’ll tell you right now that she served my heart and spirit that day. The several times during the service she reached over and put her hand on my back or my shoulder, I knew I felt the touch of a saint.
I do worry about being a homebody spiritually because I’m a homebody physically.
I do worry that I am addicted to my comfortable ways and my control and my assumptions.
I see Elisha’s example and hear Jesus’ call to move, to go, to respond, to act.
And then I realize that the examples and the call are not just in the scriptures.
They’re right here in this church all around me.
So I ask you: how is God calling you to leave home?
How are you being asked to give up what is normal and familiar for the sake of new life in the gospel?
Thank you for being my teachers in how to take on that challenge.
May God grant that we inspire one another every day to live out Jesus’ command: “As for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
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