All In

I Kings 15-16, 19-21;
Luke 9:51-62    
 
I first met Ren at a summer music program. We were both playing in the orchestra, me on the French horn, and Ren on the flute. Ren was serious about music; all he wanted to do was apply to music school, get a degree, and play. His father, however, was serious about Ren being a success. He was a chemist, an immigrant who had worked hard to make it in a new land. He thought Ren should become a pharmacist.
 
I met up with Ren again in college, we were both in the double degree program, where you get two degrees, one in music and one in liberal arts, in five years. I ended up dropping the music degree early on, but Ren pursued both degrees for the full five years music for himself, and chemistry for his dad.
 
But in his last semester, Ren dropped out of the final class he needed for his chemistry degree. He didn’t even bother to replace it with a class that could have fulfilled a different major, so that he could still graduate with the liberal arts degree as well as the music degree. The message was clear: Ren was shutting the door on everything but one life he wanted to live – music. He was like the poker player who bets it all on one hand: he was ‘all in.’
 
I thought of that story because today’s scriptures are about being ‘all in.’ Take our first lesson—It’s the story of how the powerful prophet Elijah followed God’s command to name his successor, Elisha. Biblical scholar Matt Skinner points out that when Elisha follows the prophet Elijah. He doesn’t just leave his family and go live with Elijah. He actually destroys the means of his former life—he sacrifices the oxen who ploughed his fields and burns his farm equipment. Like Ren, Elisha made it so he couldn’t return to his other life path even if he wanted to. Elisha was “all in.”
 

Jesus is “all in,” tooOur Gospel lesson picks up at a crucial juncture in Luke’s narrative. It begins with the words, “When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face toward Jerusalem.” It’s a new timestamp: Jesus’ days of teaching and healing in Galilee over. The time has come for Jesus to head to Jerusalem. Jesus has a new purpose as well as destination:

The phrase ‘taken up’ is Luke’s short hand for referring to Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension.

Jesus is done with getting other people on board; he now is focused on fulfilling his mission.
 
Perhaps this explains Jesus’ seeming impatience for would-be followers who don’t seem to be ‘all in.’ One guy says to him, “I will follow you wherever you go,” and Jesus puts him off, citing how following him isn’t a life of comfort. Two others who want to follow Jesus just want a few moments to wrap things up at home. But Jesus seems to accept no less than total commitment. Jesus’ words here can seem harsh. Even if he was ‘all in,’ can he blame his followers for not being quite there yet?

Where is the gracious patience that we usually associate with our Lord?

 

Perhaps Jesus wanted companions in his passionate engagement of his mission. Or, maybe he was simply describing how it is when you are ‘all in.’ When you are completely committed to something, it can cause discomfort. You sacrifice things for the larger goal. You have sleepless nights, as if you had nowhere to lay your head. Commitment can cause conflict in the family and division in the workplace.
 
The point is that there needs to be a vision compelling enough to make you want to be ‘all in.’ You only bet all your chips if you think you’ll win. In Ren’s case, he’d win if he just focused on making music, because that is all he wanted. For Elisha, he’d seen what God could do through Elijah, and trusted that God would work powerfully through him, too.
 

Today is our annual meeting here at Epiphany, and the question that arises to my mind is, 

  • Do we have a mission that is compelling enough for us to be ‘all in’? 
  • Do we have something that we want to see happen here at Epiphany, that we will do whatever we can to see it come to fruition?
 

I think back to my first tour through the two campuses of Epiphany back in October as a candidate for this call. I saw the evidence of multiple ministries for children and families:

  • A well-kept pre-school
  • An imaginative space to engage children in Paradise Park
  • The playground at Austin, right outside the worship space,
  • And its many ball fields.
  • The Unfinished Space, lined with shelves full of scores from musicals.
 

I saw evidence of the many ministries of service:

  • The pantry, the prom dresses, the exercise balls and choir room.
  • The flags denoting countries with whom Epiphany shares a mission partnership.
 
We are so blessed with resources and with strong lay leadership that has made these ministries happen over the years.
 

And, of course, I saw evidence of a lively worship life, with three outstanding, varied spaces for worship:

  • Far Hills
  • Austin
  • The Outdoor Chapel
 
And, the live streaming equipment at both campuses to include those worshipping at home or on the go.
 
But where do we stand now, a decade after a congregational split, and two years after the onset of a pandemic?
 

Where do we stand in this current era,

  • where families are busier than ever,
  • where volunteers are harder to come by
  • Where Sunday morning is no longer a timeslot reserved for church?
 
Where do we stand in our ability to connect in this culture to people who are still longing for a place to belong and to grow in the Christian faith?

 

I see the vision that has animated Epiphany for years as this:

A place where people are so full of faith that it spills out into the world around them, touching children and families, connecting people from around the world, transforming lives.
 
Many things have changed in the past decade in our society and in the church. Things need to be different here at Epiphany, too.
 
But, I am thinking that Epiphany’s old vision, that faith that spills out to others, is still compelling. 
 
It’s compelling enough for me to be ‘all in.’
 

I believe that if we focus on fueling our faith with prayer and bible study and small groups, our faith will spill out in new ways and re-energize old ministries. If we prioritize children and young people, we will draw in new families who desire a place where their children can be nurtured and belong. 

 

And, I believe that if we take the time to examine our church structures, our finances, and our ways of engaging people and raising up leaders, that we will make the organizational changes necessary for our faith in Jesus to grow in us…and beyond us.
 
Every once and awhile, I look up Ren to see what he’s been doing. He now teaches at a conservatory in New York and gigs all around the city. He’s living the dream.
 
I still admire his act of courage to pursue whole-heartedly his vision for his life.
 
And Elisha? Well, Elisha became a prophet even greater than his teacher Elijah. 
 
It seems to me that being ‘all in’ is a risk, but also absolutely worth it.
 

To me it’s a compelling vision:

Epiphany is a place where people are so full of faith that it spills out into the world around them, transforming lives.
 
Is it compelling to you?
 
Are you ready to be ‘all in’?
 

Let’s follow the vision that our Lord Jesus gives us, together.


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