Scripture for this Sunday: 1 Kings 19.15-16,19-21; Psalm 16; Galatians 5.1,13-25; Luke 9.51-62
Yogi Berra was a baseball coach in the USA who was famous for odd little sayings, such as, “It ain’t over until it’s over,” and, “It’s like déja vu all over again.” He once said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” He also said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up some place else.”
After the referendum fork in the road, we don’t know where we’re going, especially those of us feeling (irrationally, because nothing has changed yet) marooned in Europe. A lady, leaving church on Sunday chirped brightly, “We woke on Friday to find that we won! Isn’t it wonderful?” And then, as an afterthought directed at those of us resident in the EU: “Oh, you’ll be all right.”
We really do not know at this point who has really won what, nor whether anyone will be “all right.” We do live in a different world from the one we inhabited on Thursday – or, at least, a different Europe. So what do we do? Shuffle around trying not to look our Spanish neighbours in the eye as they wonder about us as citizens of a nation that has just (narrowly) rejected the Europe in which they, too, live? On Friday, I was on a train in England between Sheffield and Derby. The very nice lady with the refreshment trolley had a distinctly non-native accent. I felt embarrassed – as though I should apologise. How must it feel to live in a country where half the population has apparently voted to leave the EU because of immigrants? Uncertain? Unwelcome? Scared?
The Apostle Paul, writing to the Galatians had relevant words of advice: to become like slaves to one another, to remember to love our neighbours as ourselves. In words more painfully appropriate, he said: “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and our own bishops, have urged us not to bite one another, but to apply Christian values to our journey on the road ahead. We need to pull ourselves above feeling hurt, or triumphal, and seek to embody the spirit of Ubuntu as described by Desmond Tutu: “My humanity is inextricably bound up, in yours; we belong in a bundle of life.”
The readings this week focus on being good followers of the path of life that leads to God. Sometimes, being a follower feels like being on the back seat of a tandem bicycle. We have to keep pedalling, trusting that the one steering won’t go off the road – or if they do, that we can be agents of healing, not recrimination.
In Luke’s gospel, James and John lose track of their purpose in a way that is very much relevant to us. Jesus had just sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. Now they want to call fire down on Samaria, reminiscent of the prophet Elijah. But that was not their purpose, and Jesus told them so: they were there to bring life, not death. And they were to continue on the path of following Jesus, even though for them that was full of uncertainty. In this passage, Jesus reminds us to stay focused on our purpose, on what we are here for.
Paul steered us towards fruit of the Spirit to nourish us along the path of life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. He might have added that hope, an essential element of faith, is ours to give and receive. When we uplift those other fruits of the Spirit and diligently try to apply them in our lives, and support one another, hope will be something that we make, not just something that we receive.
“The future ain’t what it used to be,” said Yogi Berra. It never was. It never is, actually. Keep the faith.