All In

All In

All In ……….. June 26, 2022 ………..3rd Sunday after Pentecost

2 Kings 2: 1-14; Luke 9: 51-62 ……….. Rev. Susan Taylor

So, I’m a bit of a TV nerd, and one of the few shows I watch on a regular basis is “Jeopardy!”  While I haven’t been as avid a fan since the devastating loss of Alex Trebek, I was among the millions of viewers who tuned in a few years back to watch James Holzhauer, a professional sports gambler from Nevada, during his record breaking run on the game show.  Among his innovative strategies, it was not unusual for him to go “all in” on the Daily Doubles, where he could wager all the money he had already accrued on a single question, most of which he answered correctly.

The term “All In” is thought to have been derived from the world of gambling, with which has been Holzhauer has been intimately involved.  In the game of poker, particularly Texas Hold’em, it refers to the moment when a player—whether out of bravado, recklessness, or desperation—bets all of his or her chips on a single hand, and either wins big or loses everything in a flash. And that is what Holzhauer did, mostly with huge dividends.  In more general usage, it means that a person is simply generally enthusiastic or fully committed.

Or to put it another way….

A pig and a chicken were walking down the road. As they passed a church, they notice that a potluck charity breakfast was under way. Caught up in the spirit of the event, the pig suggested to the chicken that they each make a contribution.

“Great Idea!” the chicken cried. “Let’s offer them ham and eggs!”

The pig contemplated the chicken’s suggestion. “Easy for you to say.” said the pig. “For you, that’s a small contribution, but for me, it’s a total commitment!

In our scripture readings this morning, it’s a case of potential contributions versus total commitment. Elijah is about to be taken up to heaven.// Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem//. Big changes are afoot and there is no turning back from being taken up – in a whirlwind/ or on the cross. The question for Elisha and for disciples of Jesus is: Will they go the distance with those they profess to follow?  Who is going to be “all in”?

To put our Old Testament scripture in context, prior to this morning’s readings, Elijah facilitated a dramatic demonstration of God’s power against the prophets of Baal in the return of rain after a long drought.  While an impressive display of God’s sovereignty, it angered Queen Jezebel to the point that she was determined to exact revenge against Elijah. Afraid for his life, the prophet fled into the wilderness. There, he was refreshed by an angel and prepared for a forty-day journey to Mount Horeb. Upon reaching his destination, Elijah confessed that he believed himself to be the only faithful prophet remaining. Not content with his excuses, God told Elijah to go back home, anoint a couple kings and then call Elisha to succeed him as prophet. He would not be alone.

Elijah obeyed God’s word and found Elisha, a farmer, who was plowing with a pair of oxen at the time. Elijah put his cloak around him—a sign that Elijah’s responsibilities would fall on Elisha, and immediately, Elisha left his oxen and ran after the prophet. Elisha asked only to say goodbye to his family and then would return to Elijah. Elisha went back, slaughtered his oxen and burnt his equipment, gave the meat to his people, then followed Elijah as his servant. Elisha responded to the call immediately and completely.  He removed himself from his former life—essentially hosting a farewell celebration and leaving himself no option to return to his farming roots.

And so Elisha followed Elijah, as a disciple would follow his master, which indeed he was.   In fact, he seemed to love Elijah like he would a father. He refused to leave the prophet before Elijah was taken into heaven, despite Elijah’s telling Elisha to remain behind. Elisha repeats, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” Elisha remains steadfast, never leaving Elijah, and ultimately receiving that double portion of Elijah’s spirit and taking on his prophetic mantle. Elijah was, in the words of James Holzhauer, “All in”.

In contrast, the would-be followers of Jesus in Luke don’t exhibit such tenacity and loyalty. As he is walking the road to Jerusalem, several potential disciples approach Jesus and ask to follow.  The first one who steps up and proclaims, “I will follow you wherever you go.” In response, Jesus warns: Don’t count on lush accommodations, an easy life or much worldly comfort. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. Are you sure you mean what you say?”  The life of discipleship requires sacrifice and a willingness to forego much of what others value the most – stability, security and status. Jesus wanted his would-be disciples to be “all-in”.  Unfortunately, this one was not

To the second person in this story, Jesus calls out, saying, “Follow me.” This would-be disciple responds with a yes, but it is a qualified “yes” to Jesus’ invitation. It is a “yes, but” rather than a “yes, and.” He says, “I will go, but first …” Something other than Jesus takes priority. Apparently, this person doesn’t realize the urgency of the time. Jesus need him, and he needs him now. Jesus is on the way to cross. This is the point of decision. It is now or never. Even burying the dead, a dutiful, important, familial obligation/ must be jettisoned in order to be faithful God in this context.  The third encounter has another person stepping out in faith saying, “I will follow you, Lord, but….” Again, there is the ubiquitous “but.” A “but first …” Another loyalty other than loyalty to the Lord takes precedence, even if briefly. “But first let me say farewell to my family.” Surely, that’s allowable, right? Jesus’s answer reveals that, no, this is a real come-to-Jesus-moment and it is now or never. It’s “all in”, right now, or not at all.

Does it seem to you as it seems to me, that there is an unmistakable urgency about these texts? If so, then I wonder what that says to us in this day and age. Maybe it’s a reminder that when God issues the call to discipleship, the time is now.  Perhaps God has work for us to do that can’t wait until social obligations are fulfilled. It could be as simple as making a visit to an elderly friend or acquaintance sooner rather than later.  It could mean not postponing reconciliation with an estranged friend or family member.  To be realistic, how many of us have put off until tomorrow what we could and should do today, only to discover that tomorrow never comes, and then come to regret that decision?

It seems that the direction of these texts is relentlessly forward/, future/ and uncompromising. Elijah will be taken up. Jesus will go to Jerusalem. Altering the course of the story isn’t possible; it isn’t going to happen. The only variable is whether they –or we- will participate in God’s sure plans. I have to admit, personally, as one who likes to overthink the possibilities, weigh the pros and cons and deliberate alternatives, I find the unequivocal nature of Jesus’ call in this passage, rather unsettling. I’d welcome a little more room to work, a little more time to consider the invitation. Hedge my bets. Get my affairs in order. But… Jesus says that the time is now; he is asking, are you “all in” – or not?

Jesus words are a reminder that the call to discipleship is a whole hearted call. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, says “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”  Bonhoeffer too, was “all-in” for the gospel, as he spent the latter years of his life in a Nazi prison camp, incarcerated for standing up to Hitler’s regime on the basis of his understanding of the Christian faith.

So what does it mean to be “all-in”?  Let me tell you a story about a little boy, whose family was involved in a serious traffic accident. Mike, the younger of the two brothers involved, was badly injured and needed a blood transfusion. Mike’s big brother Danny, who was only eight years old, had the same blood type as his younger brother. So the dad sat down with Danny, and carefully explained to him why this blood transfusion was needed and how wonderful it would be for his little brother.  After a few moments of silence, Danny responded by saying, “Yes, Daddy, I’ll give my blood to Mike so he can get well.”

At the hospital, a pint of blood was drawn from Danny’s veins. Only after the needle was removed, did Danny turn to his father with tears rolling down his cheeks, and ask, “Daddy, when do I die?”

The father suddenly realized with a shock that Danny had misunderstood his explanation about giving blood.  Danny thought he was giving all his blood to save his little brother. He thought he would die after the transfusion was over.  Yet he still agreed to help his little brother. He was willing to die so his little brother might live. Danny was “all-in”. 

So the question for us is: are we “all-in”?  Are we willing to give of our time, our resources, to give our very selves to the work of the kingdom when we the Holy Spirit nudges us?  To answer the call to serve Christ in our world NOW rather than later?  To make choices that may not be easy, but are the right choices, even if they may lead us into places we don’t think we want to go?  Are you “all-in” for Jesus?  Remember, Christ went “all-in” for you.  Can you do the same for him? I challenge you to keep this in mind this week.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.