Elisha and Elijah were two OT prophets; strange and mysterious men who strode the stage of the northern part of Israel in the 9thcentury BC. They railed against corruption and decadence; they pleaded with the people and the kings of the day not to abandon God. Elijah is said to have called down fire from heaven on the false prophets of Baal (a pagan God) and at the end of his life he was said to have ascended to heaven on a chariot of fire. Elisha performed many miracles of healing. These giants of Hebrew scripture are in the background of our gospel reading today.
Many of the people of Jesus’ time thought of Jesus as a giant like the prophets, a hero, a miracle worker, someone who stood up to the religious leaders of the day, someone who made them feel strong, someone who inspired them. People often asked Jesus – are you Elijah? But Jesus wasn’t interested in hero worship, he wasn’t interested in people following him for the hype and the excitement.
At the beginning of our gospel passage Jesus and the disciples are in Samaria; the Jews and the Samaritans were pretty hostile too each other and it is no surprise the Samaritans do not welcome Jesus.
So James and John, wanting to be heroes, suggest that they could rain down fire on the people (reminiscent of the prophet Elijah who did just that). James and John, the wannabe prophets. This puts Jesus in a pretty grumpy mood. His followers just don’t get it, they want to be heroes without the hard work, they want him to be a hero.
Then an innocent soul comes alongside Jesus as he walks and says I will follow you wherever you go. Jesus does not give any words of welcome or encouragement – rather he says – foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, I have nowhere to lay my head. A rather sad and lonely Jesus comes through – I have nowhere to call my own, no house I can retreat to. And he implies that anyone who is to follow him will also be on the road, always seeking new people and new places to hear the message, never laying down his or her head.
Following me is about your whole life, the way you live and think and pray, the choices you make.
David Lose says of this passage:
“Does Jesus make a noticeable difference in our lives?
Does the grace, mercy, and love of God made incarnate in Jesus trump our plans and shape our lives, or do we shape our faith to fit the lives we’ve already planned?” 
He doesn’t mean the over simplified idea that God has a “plan” for our lives; but he is asking does our faith mould our lives; are there choices we make and things we do differently because we are people of faith? or do we shape our faith to fit the lives we’ve already planned?
Over the next 3 weeks we are going to be hearing from fellow parishioners in the Telling Our stories series. They will share something of their life story and share with us that very question – how has faith shaped their lives and their choices. Sometimes faith can be gentle and supportive; other times faith can be like the Jesus of today’s account – harsh and in your face. What does it mean to each of us to be a follower of Jesus? As we listen to their stories we will be encouraged to reflect on our own stories.
Back with our gospel story – another poor soul says he wants to follow Jesus but wants to bury his father first; a reasonable request one might think but Jesus says rather callously – let the dead bury the dead. Seize the moment; there is no time to lose; life is here, now.
A final person echoes the Elisha story we heard this morning from the Book of Kings – let me first say goodbye to my loved ones.
Elisha is permitted to do this by Elijah. But Jesus says no – even the great Elisha is not a model here. Do not look back. Tough words for us. Listen over the next few weeks to see how our fellow pilgrims in the faith look at how faith shapes their lives, in the tough moments and the good moments. They are not speaking to us as ‘experts’ but as followers on the same road as us.
In our readings over the next weeks we will continue to accompany Jesus through the eyes of the gospel writer Luke. We will be hearing about the Samaritans again with the famous parable of the “good Samaritan” appearing in two weeks time. The disciples Mary and Martha will argue about whether it is better to serve Jesus or to sit at his feet and listen. There will be encouragement to give up our possessions; stories of healing and of the lost being found. All of these readings in this season of “ordinary” time are there to form us as followers of Jesus.
And also in the next few weeks we will do some work on our parish review as outlined last week for us by Archdeacon Sarah Moss.
She explained the process of survey and workshops. We have an opportunity here to take stock and ask each other how we are doing as a community of faith. How well are we supporting each other as followers of Jesus? And what are we doing collectively to live out that faith. Does our worship empower us for ministry in God’s world? Then when we have reflected on our answers to the surveys we will look at what we want to focus our energies on as a faith community over the next couple of years. What are we being called to let go of? What do we seek in our future together?
While we are doing that we also have other programmes and workshops coming up – your WH lists them – work on anti discrimination; work on climate change; some evening sessions with our resident theologians Susan and John; and of course music and concerts galore. There is lots to choose from in this season – we don’t expect you to do everything but hope you will find something to stretch and challenge you.
Jesus lays out a challenge today – he said this is who I am, follow me or not, take it or leave it. You don’t get to be heroes and call down fire on your enemies. Instead: don’t look back, move forward.