IN this evening’s first lesson, the prophet Elijah turns to the people of Israel, who are dividing their loyalties between the LordGod and Baal, he asks them ‘How long will you go on limping with two opinions?’ They are to follow the Lordtheir God, or to turn away from him and follow Baal. There is no possibility of compromise, it is a simple choice. Elijah is not particularly bothered that he is the only prophet of God left, while against him stand the prophets of Baal and Asherah, the divine couple of the Levant. It doesn’t matter that Elijah is in a minority, that the people of Israel are hedging their bets, that Ahab and Jezebel are hostile towards him. He trusts in God, and that is enough. Truth, it would seem, is not decided by a majority vote. Elijah does not simply go along with the ways of the world; he does not bow to pressure from authority, he does not turn away, he remains faithful, he trusts in God, and Elijah the Tishbite receives his reward.
In this evening’s second Lesson, Our Lord gives us a vision of how the church is to be: how we are to remain in Him. Jesus is the true vine, we are the branches, tended by God the Father, the vine-dresser. We are to be united with him, in our prayer, in our study of His word, in our reception of the Sacraments: fed by him, with him, so that we may become what he is. And in this we will bear fruit: in loving God, and being loved by Him, we will share that love with others and our lives will be transformed, for God’s glory and through God’s grace. This is a process rather than an event, it is like the growth of a vine, and its flowering, and bearing fruit. So the Church is to be drawn ever deeper into the mystery of God’s love.
Jesus commands us to love one another as He has loved us. He has shown this in washing his disciples’ feet, he will show it when He suffers and dies for the sake of all humanity, and we are fed by Him and with Him in Holy Communion. We are to live lives of self-giving, sacrificial love, in service of one another. We lay down our lives for God’s glory to find life in all its fullness, and to live in the expectation of everlasting life. It is a lot to ask, and yet we are to do it gladly, for the sake of Him who died for us. Our relationship to one another and to God is to be profoundly different from that found in the first lesson: we are friends. When Jesus speaks to His disciples, he tells them that they are chosen by Him, and appointed by Him, to go and bear fruit that should abide. We see that now, here, nearly two thousand years later – rooted in Christ, close to Him, abiding in Him, the church is to continue to bear fruit through staying close to Him, obeying his commandments, studying the Bible, being fed and nurtured by the sacraments.
When the world tells us that we should approve of a redefinition of marriage to include homosexuals, that we should have female bishops, so that the church may reflect the ways of the world, we should perhaps read on to verses 18 and 19, just after our second lesson ended, to see that for two thousand years those in power and authority have hated the Christian faith for all it stands for, they have sought to undermine it, to destroy it, to infiltrate it, and fashion it after their own designs: like the prophets of Baal and Asherah, like Ahad and Jezebel, to turn it away from the truth, to wrestle it from its apostolic foundations. We should turn away from the devices and desires of the world and remember that the Church exists to give glory to God and to conform the world to His will.
It is a difficult and a dangerous calling, we are to lay down our lives in God’s service that the world may believe and trust in the God who loves us, who died and rose again for us. As the disciples hear that they are to lay down their lives, one of them is about to betray Him, another to deny Him, and yet they are loved, this is what forgiveness means – a love which transforms lives, which takes Peter and makes him turn from scared denier into a fearless leader of the Apostolic band. It isn’t about political games or power, the obsessions of many within the modern-day church, but of fashioning our lives after the One who loves us, that the world may believe – that the good news of Jesus Christ may spread, that all may believe and trust in Him, and in Him alone.
Many people would rather have a lie-in on a Sunday morning than fulfil their baptism by coming to be fed at God’s altar. They would rather visit a temple of Mammon, to make themselves feel better through retail therapy than seek the love and forgiveness of God. Any excuse rather than find the greatest free gift that has ever been given. So we, the body of Christ must try in all that we are, all that we say, all that we do, to embody this self-giving love, to fashion our lives after Him who loved us, to welcome people to the family of faith. If we abide in Jesus, if we stay close to him, and reject the ways of the world we will bear fruit and thereby give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory dominion, and power, now and forever.