Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: 2 Kings 2:1–2, 6–14; Galatians 5:1, 13–25 & Luke 9:51–62
One news story that’s captured a lot of attention in this past week has been that involving controversial Collingwood footballer Jordan De Goey. I use the term controversial to describe De Goey, because of several incidents that have occurred off the football field during his football career thus far, that have been the subject of much media scrutiny, and have also been at the centre of a number of courtroom proceedings against him. His most recent indiscretion, if I can refer to it in this way, came during a recent mid-season trip to Bali, while Collingwood had a 12 day break courtesy of the bye round.
Social media footage emerged of De Goey at a Bali nightclub drinking alcohol and mimicking a sex act, while also tugging at a woman’s bikini top in an attempt to display her breast. To be fair to De Goey, the woman at the centre of this activity has since come out on social media to defend him, and to say there was nothing in the incident at all. Nonetheless, much criticism has been levelled at De Goey for disrespecting women, which is a central theme of the previous incidents he has been involved in which were the subject of legal proceedings against him.
He has also been accused of unprofessional behaviour by many commentators in the AFL world, and has also been criticised for poor judgement not just in going to Bali in the mid-season, but in going to a nightclub where he has obviously put himself in a situation that attracts potential trouble.
But I would like to pick up on a comment made by a football commentator on one of the Monday night football shows, who described De Goey’s actions as selfish. He made this comment in the context that he believed De Goey had placed both the Collingwood Football Club, and his teammates, in an embarrassing and difficult position. When De Goey failed to turn up to training on Monday, it was left to several of his teammates, and club officials, to face the media throng that had gathered, and to answer the questions which the media were firing at them. So this commentator felt that it was quite selfish of De Goey to not consider how his actions might affect not just the football club, but also his teammates.
Today’s readings from the Bible provide us with some insight into the character trait of selfishness. Let’s first begin with our last reading this morning, from the Gospel of Luke. However before I do, let me provide a brief backdrop to the situation described in today’s reading.
Prior to this scenario, Jesus had given the twelve apostles power and authority to heal sickness and cast out demons, and he had sent them out to start their ministry of proclaiming the Gospel. On their return, the apostles had been arguing among themselves about which of them was the greatest. So when a Samaritan village refuses entry to Jesus, on account of him being a Jew, the apostles James and John, who are feeling invincible because of the power and authority Jesus has given them, ask Jesus if he wants them to destroy the village with fire from heaven. They wish to use this power they have been given to highlight their own importance.
In contrast to this, we have the story of Elijah and Elisha in the reading from the Second Book of Kings. Elijah is about to be taken up into heaven by God, and so he asks his student (Elisha) what he can do for Elisha before that time comes. Elisha answers that he would like to inherit a double share of Elijah’s spirit. Now on face value, this too may seem like quite a selfish request. It seems as though he is asking to have twice the power that Elijah has. But to put it in context, according to Jewish custom, the firstborn son would receive a double portion of the father’s inheritance. Elisha was asking to be Elijah’s successor, or heir, the one who would continue Elijah’s work as leader of the prophets. But the decision to grant this request was not Elijah’s but God’s. God granted Elisha’s request because Elisha’s motives were pure. His main goal was not to be better or more powerful than Elijah, but to accomplish more for God.
Let’s then go to the reading from Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. In the opening verse Paul says, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Paul is saying that Jesus came to set us free—not free to do whatever we want, because that would lead us back into slavery to our selfish desires. Rather, thanks to Jesus, we are now free and able to do what was impossible before—to live unselfishly.