Sermon Options: June 26, 2022

April 5th, 2019


1 KINGS 19:15-16, 19-21

I wonder why more little boys aren't named Elijah. His spiritual commitment towers above the wickedness of his day. Emerging from out of nowhere, he single-handedly (or so he thinks) confronts Queen Jezebel, whose very name is synonymous with wickedness. In a day when pagan idolatry was rampant among God's people, Elijah was the catalyst God used to demonstrate who really was the Supreme God.

As so often happens after a time of spiritual conquest, Elijah is completely drained—spiritually, physically, and emotionally. He runs from Jezebel, who has promised to take vengeance upon his life. He gets to the point of wishing he could just die. It may be hard for us to imagine the contrast between Mount Carmel and the cave in Horeb but implicitly we know that it is in the times of fatigue that come from intense spiritual struggle that even God's choice servants are subject to depression. Some great Christian leaders have struggled against "the black curtain."

I. God Had a New Challenge for Elijah
As the text opens for this Sunday, we see God issuing a new challenge to Elijah. God has demonstrated compassion in sending an angel to provide food and drink for his weary ambassador. Out of the experience of having a "still small voice" speak to him, God issues a new challenge to Elijah. Elijah probably would have been just as happy to have God say to him, "You've done a great work. You are the only one who is still serving me. But, since Jezebel is still on your case, I'll let you retire and to back to Tishbe and enjoy your retirement." God reminds Elijah that there is still—and will always be—a believing remnant (a curious omission from the lectionary text) and tells him that he has a new challenge for him.

Isn't it true that our need is not to retire or retreat or give up as much as it is for something new to devote our energies to?

II. The Call of Elisha
Elijah's commission involved anointing new leadership—kingly leadership for Aram and Israel and spiritual leadership for Israel in the person of Elisha. As God corrected Elijah's understanding of the remnant, he also let Elijah know that he was not indispensable. There would be a successor to his ministry.

When Elijah comes upon his young protégé, he finds him in the community field plowing behind one of twelve oxen. He threw his cloak around him in an act symbolic of anointing. As Elijah appears on the scene without any prior reference, this is the first time we read the name Elisha. I believe that confirms that God is more interested in our present devotion to him than he is in our past or our credentials.

The prophet's background is not nearly as important as his availability to be God's spokesperson. Elisha wanted to have the opportunity to bid adieu to his family, a reasonable request, which Elijah did not dispute. Jesus rebuked a young man who made a similar request because it was seen as putting off discipleship. Elisha demonstrates his earnest desire to follow the prophet by sacrificing the oxen and using his plow equipment as the fire with which the oxen would be prepared.

Elisha was burning his bridges behind him quite literally. His discipleship was one that left no escape hatch. Elijah wanted to escape the responsibilities God had given him. Elisha made sure any temptation to turn back from following God would be done away with. What fires have you lit lately? (Mark A. Johnson)


GALATIANS 5:1, 13-25

There is a whole new life to which Christians have been called, as different from the old life as night is from day, Paul says. And he wants the Galatians to know that they are not living in the transcendent freedom of that life yet. Nor have they realized that the goal of that freedom is to be bound to one another in love. So he has given them checklists, to show them specifically and beyond any doubt how they were not yet living the life to which they had been called, or the life they claimed to be living.

We do not know exactly what they did with these lists. So we may as well look at them with ourselves and our own experience in the church in mind.

I. List #1: Works of the Flesh
At first glance Paul's list of "works of the flesh" (v. 19) might look pretty foreign to us. We're not "fornicators" or "licentious." Somebody might have an uncle who goes "carousing," but we don't do that stuff. The list doesn't really seem to apply to us.

But let's look a little closer, to be certain. Almost hidden there in the middle of the list is "quarrels." He is not talking about knife fights. Is there anyone who hasn't had a simple quarrel in their family in the last month? Then there was that finance committee meeting with the capital funds expenditures debate. Could that be a little "dissension" or "strife" breaking out? Is there still someone who hasn't found themselves in the list? How about the sweet elderly widow, who feels some "envy" of her friends who still have husbands. If anyone is still out there, we might wonder if they have felt any "anger" lately. Not even righteous anger? Yes? That is "anger." All you need to find is one thing and you are on the list. There are many more than Galatians on it—everyone's life is in that list.

It is a list of things we do that are a degradation and abuse of physical, mental, and emotional power. It is characterized by self-righteousness, selfishness, judgmentalism, manipulation, intellectualism, and intentionally muscling one's way through life by force. There is a biting viciousness about its atmosphere that even animals do not have, unless they are sick.

II. List #2: Fruit of the Spirit
Surely we are on this list. We try to be "kind"; but you cannot be a fool, of course. I feel such "gentleness" and "peace" in church, until I get upset. She is getting better at handling her problems with "patience" and he cannot feel really "joyful" with so much hunger and crime. We are working on all this, going to groups, therapy, reading self-help books.

No. There is nothing in Paul about working on it. "The fruit of the Spirit" (v. 22) just automatically blossoms and comes to fruition, like fruit on a tree, in a transformed life. Better ask ourselves the question: Are these things growing in my life, day after day, more and more?

Let's not make a spectacle of this very personal question because that encourages the real danger here: people might try to disguise their symptoms (the things on list 1), to appear to be on list 2. This leaves no room for real help and we can get caught in the wrong list then by denial, which makes you a sorcerer in your own life, always conjuring to keep the dark side hidden and under control.

III. Getting on the Escape List
How do we get from one list to the other? Not by anything we do, or by anything we don't do. We cannot work our way from list 1 to list 2. The things on list 2 are not the opposite of those on list 1. You do not become loving by not being jealous, for example. There is no way out of list 1 through our efforts. There is no way out of the grave. Crucifixion is absolute.

There is a way to be transplanted from one list to the other. You just die to the first and are reborn in the second. It is doable. But not by you. It is a miracle of God's doing. As we vividly see the difference between the lists, we could well want to put our whole hope on God's power to do this. The Pearl is the possibility of ending up on that other list. We could pray that the Spirit takes over our life, so the old life is literally gone.

Oh, but do we even lift up this greatest of all the promises, of transformation and a whole new life in our churches anymore? Or are we just another hard-working self-help group? Poetic and not practical, some say. If we lived and moved and breathed out of list 2, we'd be wiped out, like lambs among wolves—we'd have no power! True, except for the power to naturally bear all the fruit of the Spirit. (Kathleen Peterson)


LUKE 9:51-62

Every Christian's desire should be to follow Jesus. Unfortunately, few believers seriously consider what following Jesus really means. In Luke 9:51-62, Jesus' words and actions shed light on the high expectations he holds for all those who truly seek to be obedient to him. In particular, Christ reveals three qualities necessary to be counted as a faithful disciple.

I. A Consistent Purpose
The time had come for Jesus to begin the journey to Jerusalem (9:51); a journey that would seemingly conclude in a cruel death on a Roman cross. He had tried to prepare his disciples, telling them that he would suffer this execution but would be raised on the third day. In fact, he said the coming events "must" take place (v. 22) and that it "is going to" happen (v. 44). This truth and Jesus' foreknowledge of it demonstrates the sovereignty of God in the life of Christ.

God had one plan for his Son: to die on the cross for the sins of all who will believe. Jesus willingly submitted and allowed God's will to unfold. In the same way, God has a consistent purpose for our lives: to follow his Son and to share him with others. Every ministry, activity, and thought should reflect this goal. When Christians lose sight of the example Christ gave, they sidetrack God's purpose. Consistently pursuing this mission is the first step down the path of discipleship.

II. A Christ-Centered Perspective
The second quality necessary to be a faithful follower is having a Christ-centered perspective. In the spring of 1996, a group of Montana outlaws known as the "Freemen" held local, state, and federal law enforcement officials at bay for almost three months. They established their own government, threatened to kill the local judge and sheriff, and stole private property—all in the name of Christ.

When the disciples went ahead of Jesus into Samaria to find a place to spend the night and were rejected, they asked Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to destroy them (v. 54). Jesus rebuked them because they did not understand his perspective: Love your enemies, pray for those who mistreat you, turn the other cheek, and on and on (6:27-31). Maybe some of those same Samaritans would come to believe in Jesus through the evangelism of the early church (see Acts 8:1, 4-25; 9:31; 15:3). Christ was on his way to die for humankind, and yet they wanted to kill the very ones for whom he would shed his blood.

When human "obstacles" seem to prevent us from accomplishing God's will, a Christ-centered perspective enables one to view them with love and compassion rather than hatred and anger. Allowing Jesus to change hearts and lives rather than resorting to worldly means requires his point of view. Seeing the lost through the eyes of Christ refocuses the true follower on a Christ-centered perspective.

III. A Considerable Price
As Jesus and his disciples walked down the road, three people had the opportunity to follow the Lord. However, each individual offered an excuse to delay their compliance. Why did Jesus respond so harshly toward their procrastination? He was attempting to disclose a third quality about discipleship: the first priority must always be obedience to him.

When a person accepts Jesus as Savior and Lord, a radical shift in priorities should occur so that following him becomes the primary objective. One's relationships, job, social life—all diminish in comparison to the quest of loyalty to Christ. As mature Christians know, placing Christ at the top ensures that every other concern will fall into its rightful place.

To be a true follower, Jesus demands that we recognize a consistent purpose, reorient our thinking to a Christ-centered perspective, and pay the considerable price of placing obedience to him as our top priority. Most Christians claim to follow Jesus. But when you seriously consider the requirements, one wonders how pleased he is with the response. (Craig C. Christina)

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