So the United Kingdom went to the polls last Thursday. And Brexit happened—52% of British voters chose to leave the European Union. Then the online search engine Google reported a surge in the UK of questions about the EU—what it is, what the vote was about, who was eligible to vote, and what it means to leave or remain in the EU. By then the Prime Minister had gone on national TV, and announced he would step down after 6 years on the job, while stock markets across the world plummeted as investors scrambled for safety. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 600 points, and gold climbed $100 an ounce. (Investors typically buy gold in times of panic.) The British pound fell more than 10% to $1.33. And although the opposition was basking in their success, it seems many voters were having second thoughts about what they had just done. It appears few of their leaders were truly concerned the vote would turn out the way it did. Suddenly, the unthinkable happened, and its implications began to slowly settle across the land. It seems no one had an idea what was supposed to happen next.
Sometimes having a plan is wise, especially if you’re advocating a catastrophic change to the status quo. Sometimes fear of the unknown can be a powerful motivator. It can also be more exciting than the boredom of stability and prosperity. But when the dust settles, we still need answers to the big questions. What does this all mean? What were we hoping to accomplish? Where are we headed? What is all this going to cost us?
When I was 12, I thought I had a clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. I can say now that I was pretty darn close, except for the part about being a parish priest in a small town in Virginia, give or take. But when I set foot on the road that was to take me to my rightful place in the world and in God’s plan, a lot of things happened for which I was woefully unprepared. Sometimes I was overwhelmed, and wished things had gone differently. But how would anyone know at age 12 how their life turns out? The British royal family perhaps, but we’ve all witnessed some truly outrageous royal disasters over the years. So in the end, and often only in the end, do we really figure out what’s going on, who we really are, and what we really value. Honestly, no one ever starts out on the journey of life hoping one day to crash and burn, maybe suicide bombers and kamikaze pilots. But we all typically desire success and happiness, the achievement of our goals, the fulfillment of our dreams. And only in hindsight do we come to know our own strengths and weaknesses, the integrity of our convictions, our determination to succeed, our openness to compromise, our non-negotiables, and our point of breaking. We often don’t discover our true selves until much later in life, when there isn’t much we can do to alter the past, when all we have left is the present, and as much of the future as we are willing to embrace and transform. But we gain wisdom largely from experience. So when we are young, we sit and watch, we listen and receive instruction, we stumble and struggle until we are confident we can go it ourselves. But the truly wise know their own limits. In contrast, fools will rush forward without a careful plan. Life can be a truly exciting adventure, but few of us ever get a second chance.
Jesus was on the road to Jerusalem with his disciples. He had spoken a few times before of what lay ahead—rejection by their religious leaders, suffering and death at the hands of the Romans, and after three days he would rise again. No one understood what he meant. They just knew they wanted to walk with him, hear him speak, see him perform mighty deeds. They may never have imagined they would share his fate. They listened politely when he spoke about being rejected, and being made to suffer and die. It would all change when they realized he was asking so much more of them.
In the time of the prophet Elijah, an air of mystery often enveloped the prophet’s life. Prophets were held in great esteem by the people, although they often tangled with the rich and the powerful. They spoke with authority, and commanded attention. Some of them performed mighty signs and wonders. And the truly prominent among them were often surrounded by devotees, disciples, and crowds of curious onlookers. So when the prophet Elijah threw his cloak over Elisha’s shoulders, a gesture that seems a bit strange given he was plowing a field with twelve yoke of oxen, Elisha knew it was a summons to assist the prophet in his work. But Elisha may have had plans, if not for the rest of his life, at least the rest of the day. “Let me go do this other thing first,” he said. “Let me say goodbye to my parents.” Elijah seemed unconcerned, “Whatever.” But it was a turning point in Elisha’s life. There would be no going back.
Some years ago, I proposed to the people of this parish a plan for the future. I truly didn’t know what it would cost in time and resources and goodwill to make it happen. I could have just served my six years as pastor and moved on. Sometimes I still wonder what if. If God had a different plan, he would surely drop me a hint. I had no burning desire to accomplish anything extraordinary. So I prayed and listened and talked to people. And with the help of many of you, we have put together a plan, and forged ahead to bring to fulfillment a vision for St. John the Evangelist church. The plan continues to come together. We have raised an extraordinary sum of money in pledges, which is an overwhelming success in the face of those still unsure. And in the coming days the Building Committee will be seriously considering what happens next, whether or not we move forward, the steps we would take, what it will cost us when we do. It’s nothing like Brexit, I don’t think. At least we aren’t walking blindly into the unknown. We have a plan, and we are constantly updating the plan. I trust God has walked with us much of our journey thus far. I am confident God continues to lead us forward.
Those who expressed a desire to follow Jesus in the gospel we read today were not terribly lacking in their trust or confidence in Jesus. They just thought their plans could come before his plans. They imagined the perks of discipleship—the celebrity, the job offers, the groupies. They especially didn’t think their priorities would conflict with Jesus’ priorities. But he was demanding more of them. “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God deserves our full attention, all our energy, and much of our resources. To look back to what was left behind means to rely on the assurances of the past, the people and the things that we have always depended on. If all we hope to attain are our own priorities, then we will demand proven and tangible assurances. But if we are working for the kingdom, we need to trust that God will decisively bring his own plans to fulfillment. “Follow me,” he says. We can rely on God’s plan. So get ready for the ride of your lives.
Rolo B Castillo © 2016