During the early months of the COVID pandemic the confirmation class was meeting weekly online. In our tradition, confirmation is a two-year program for 13 to 14 year-olds—in that age range. By the time I started meeting the confirmands again in person it had been about two years of connecting online.
I remember the time a young confirmand walked through the doors of the church to attend the first in person class in over two years. My eyes were level at a certain height on the door frame, as I expected him to be as tall as I had remembered him two years ago. Was I shocked when he came through the door, I had to elevate my sight a good foot-and-a-half, it seemed. He had grown so much like a weed in the time I hadn’t seen him!
I marvelled once again at how much people change. But not just physically. And not just youth. There are various dimensions of our lives—mental, social, emotional, psychological, spiritual—that also change over time.
Hasidic Jews tell the story of a rabbi’s son who began leaving the synagogue during morning prayers to wander in the woods. The boy loved being alone in the forest. His father was concerned—not simply because the boy neglected his prayers, but because the woods were wild and dangerous in the mountains where they lived. One day he asked his son, “Why do you go out there alone in the forest? I notice you’ve been doing it a lot lately.”
The boy replied, “I go into the woods to find God.”
“Ah, that’s wonderful,” replied his dad. “I’m glad you are searching for God. But you know you don’t have to go anywhere special to find the Holy One, Blessed Be His Name. God is the same everywhere!”
“Yes,” answered the boy, “but I’m not.”
God might be the same everywhere, but the boy knew there was something different about him out in the wilds. Perhaps, stripped of things familiar, he was more vulnerable, more open and receptive?
We receive two texts again this day—again from 1 Kings and from the Gospel of Luke. And we meet various characters, who are challenged in a similar way, I find.
The challenge that Elisha—in the 1 Kings text—and the nameless people on the road with Jesus—in the Gospel text—the challenge they faced was to acknowledge the change happening within them. Indeed, from the Gospel text they were called to follow Jesus in a new direction or to listen to Jesus in a new way. Their hearts were pulling them to grow and mature and try something new.
In this Gospel text, we often first react to Jesus’ saying that “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” We often get stuck in the past. The nameless person wants to go back and say goodbye to their family. They offer their obedience, but only on that condition. The question we are left with at the end is, ‘Will they follow?’
At the same time I don’t believe Jesus means that we should ignore our history, deny our attachments, shrug off our relationships, reject the past. There’s enough throughout scripture to suggest otherwise: The fourth commandment to love and honour your parents, the Wisdom writings that admonish the people to care for their elderly, and the Epistles of St Paul who preaches love for parents.
No, this isn’t about the past. But neither is it about the future. “No one who puts their hand to the plow …” Jesus says. He doesn’t talk about looking forward. He doesn’t talk about how to make straight rows. Just put your hand to the plow, what is right before you now. What grounds you in the present moment, right here.
Neither the past nor the future are the central issues in this Gospel. The problem is right now. What Jesus and Elijah both address to the nameless person and Elisha respectively is their unawareness that they are, and have been, changing. That they have changed, themselves.
Sometimes when we take a break from our spiritual disciplines, when we’ve been away from habits and practices that have in the past fed us and enriched us, it’s hard to go back. But the reason it is hard to go back—back to church, back to a prayer discipline, back to any kind of exercise that some part of us says is good—the reason it is difficult is because we resist, refuse or deny that we have changed in the meantime. Who you are when you come back to it is different.
And perhaps it is time for a different direction or more importantly a new way of responding, of being, in relationship with ourselves, with others, in creation and with God:
A different place and a different time of day to pray.
A different way of relating with others in the church and serving others—listening more, accepting more, risking more.
A different way of understanding scripture and a new image to hold of God so we can trust more deeply.
We only have to look around us, in nature, as the boy did going into the forest to find God. We only have to look around us in the wild, and especially at this time of year, to see the life growing all around us. It is a law of nature to change. Nothing remains static; nothing in creation stays the same, if it has life. The same is true for us, living in this reality, this world that God created and God so loved.
God is. God was. And God will be forevermore. And everywhere. Despite where we go to find God, God is already there. Despite how we are changed by the invitation of divine love and life to follow, God is already with us. Jesus goes before us into an uncertain and unknown future. God’s ever-presence can hold us and accompanies us into the changes of our lives. Always has.
 Cited in Beldon C. Lane. The Great Conversation: Nature and the Care of the Soul (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019) p.2
 1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21; Luke 9:51-62
 Luke 9:62
 Deuteronomy 5:16; Exodus 20:12; Proverbs 20:20; 23:22; Ephesians 6:1-24; 1 Timothy 5:8
 Ram Dass, Polishing the Mirror: How to Live from your Spiritual Heart (Boulder Colorado: Sounds True Inc., 2014), p.146