Sermon: Proper 8 RCL C – “Influence”

Shot of Jesus standing with his hand outstretched on a bare landscape

Peppermint Patty is talking to Charlie Brown and says, “Guess what, Chuck? The first day of school, and I got sent to the principal’s office. It was your fault, Chuck.”

Surprised, Charlie Brown responds, “My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?”

To which she declares, “You’re my friend, aren’t you, Chuck? Then you should have been a better influence on me.”

Influence.  Merriam-Webster has multiple definitions for influence with the first summing up the rest: “the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways.”  That can apply to everything from how gravity affects an object in motion to how—like in the case of Peppermint Patty—a person can have influence over another, for good or bad.  So, who influences us and the lives we live?

I told you that while I was in Italy I saw some absolutely remarkable places and works of art and everywhere there were people trying to take the perfect picture of what they were seeing.  In addition to the tourist, such as myself, there were also the “social media influencers” who were not trying to take the perfect picture of what they were seeing, instead, they were trying to take the perfect picture of themselves.  

What are social media influencers?  These are individuals who build up large numbers of followers on social media platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and all the rest.  Once you get a large enough following, then you can start making large money by throwing your support behind products and travel locations and so on, and by having advertisers.  For example, Khaby Lame is now number one on TikTok and he has almost 150 million people following his antics.  If you’re trying to sell “Boudreaux’s Beauty and Hunting” products, then you can quickly advertise your latest product to 150 million people simply by placing an ad on Lame’s internet feed.  Last year he earned about $6 million for his efforts.  That’s not bad work for someone who less than two years ago was a machinist just learning to speak English.  Now, I did not see him while in Italy, but I did see many wannabes.

Generally, it would be two girls but occasionally it would be a combination.  One of the girls, all dolled up would stand in the middle of a piazza with a gorgeous fountain or building (even the Vatican) in the background, then she would go about striking ridiculous poses while the other clicked away.  They would then run together, review the photos, and, if satisfied, switch places, repeat, and then dash off to the next exotic locale.  What’s interesting is that if you were to see those photos online, you would not be seeing the real world.  Why?  Because with the proper angle, cropping, and photoshopping, you can edit out the masses of people that were around you, you can cover up the blemish on your nose, the smell that can at times almost be seen is lost, and in the end, it appears that you had all of Rome to your beautiful sexy self.  We, on the receiving end of all their efforts, think to ourselves, “I’ve got to go there and see that!  And by the way, where did he get that fantastic hat?  I’ve got to have it!”  Social media influencers and we are influenced.

Back to Merriam-Webster, influence is “the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways.”  Some would like to argue that there is a difference between power and influence: power is the ability to command or force, whereas influence involves a more democratic approach, but the truth is, if someone can influence you, then they have power over you.  Why?  Because you are no longer thinking for yourself.  You are allowing them to do all the heavy lifting while you just go along for the ride.

In our lesson from First Kings, Elijah has been up on the mountain of the Lord.  He’s just discovered the voice of the Lord, not in the wind or an earthquake or a fire, but in a whisper and now the Lord is giving him instructions, the last of which is, “anoint Elisha… as prophet in your place.”

Elijah sets out and does as the Lord commanded and he finds Elisha.  We are told, “There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of [Elisha], and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’ Then Elijah said to him, ‘Go back again; for what have I done to you?’”  There is no indication that Elijah and Elisha knew each other prior to these events, but Elijah’s mantle, his cloak would have been an indicator to Elisha as to who this person was.  How so?

There are several instances throughout the Old Testament that the mantle of the prophet would have been distinctive and made of animal skin, and we see it again in the New Testament with John the Baptist: “John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist.”  Elisha would have known that Elijah was the prophet of God and by having the mantle placed upon him, would have known that he had been chosen as an apprentice.  In recognizing this, Elisha ran to Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.”  To which Elijah responds, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?”  Elijah is saying, “Go think for yourself.  I have no power over you.  I am not trying to influence you to do one thing or another.  I am only a messenger.  You must decide how you will respond.  How it is you will live.”

Elisha did just that and when he reached his conclusion, which does not seem to have taken long, he took his livelihood (his oxen) and slaughtered them, then used the plow and yoke as fuel for the fire to cook them.  He then gave away the food and “set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.”

Elisha’s response—“Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.”—sounds similar to the responses that so many were giving Jesus when he was calling them—“Let me say goodbye.”  “Let me bury my father.”—but the difference was sincerity.  Those who were speaking to Jesus never really intended to follow him.  They were being influenced by all that was going on around them and answering without really thinking.  They were like a grain of wheat sown on rocky ground.  They sprang up quickly but had no roots, so when the heat came, they withered.  On the other hand, Elisha heard the call of God and when he understood what it meant, without hesitation and without holding anything back, he followed.

If I tell you that you must do ABC and you must not do XYZ otherwise you’ll go to hell, then I am simply trying to influence you by fear.  If I tell you that if you get it all right and live a certain kind of life, you will be allowed entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, then I am only trying to influence you by offering you a reward.  Either way, by observing your life from the outside, it may appear that my work was successful, but really all we’ve done is cropped and photoshopped your life, because if we pull back from the closely arranged photo, all the mess, garbage, smells, etc are all still there.

Elijah, placing his mantle upon Elisha, was not Elijah saying to Elisha, “Follow me.”  It was Elijah saying to Elisha, “Follow God.”  In order to accomplish this calling, Elisha had to do more than where the prophet’s mantle, he had to think for himself, to decide for himself how he would live.  That decision was whether or not to be transformed, by following God, into a new creation.

When Jesus says to us, “Follow me,” he is asking nothing less, therefore, like Elisha, we must count the cost, willing to sacrifice our life for the life he will lead us into.  God is not interested in influencing us.  God’s desire is our transformation.

Today, Jesus places his mantle upon you.

Let us pray: Father of love, hear our prayer. Help us to know Your Will and to do it with courage and faith. Accept the offering of ourselves, all our thoughts, words, deeds, and sufferings. May our lives be spent giving You glory. Give us the strength to follow Your call, so that Your Truth may live in our hearts and bring peace to us and to those we meet, for we believe in Your Love. Amen.

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