Weekly Preaching: June 30, 2019

June 20th, 2019

2 Kings 2:1-14 provides us with one of the more touching scenes in Scripture. Elisha, attached to Elijah since that moment when he was out plowing and unexpectedly had a mantle thrown over him (1 Kings 19). He abruptly left his oxen right out in the field, like Jesus’s fishermen to come, and traipsed off after Elijah, so he very understandably and zealously refuses to let Elijah get away from him. Twice he reiterates, “I will not leave you” even after Elijah’s strange movements indicate he preferred to go off and die alone. In an unforgettable scene at the end of Fellowship of the Ring, Samwise Gamgee jumps in the water, not knowing how to swim. Barely surviving, he explains, “I made a promise, Mr. Frodo. Don’t you leave him, Samwise Gamgee, and I don’t mean to.”

The text says this happens “When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind…” Today we think, What? Imagine back then, when death was quite simply the end and we had no thoughts of eternal life! Elisha, humbled, in awe, grieving, asks humorously and, again understandably, for a “double share” of Elijah’s power. He’ll need it; and if you count, Elisha’s miracles exactly double Elijah’s (16 to 8!).

Elijah leaves this earth in… a whirlwind? In a chariot of fire? The mantle Elijah had thrown on Elisha when they first met was the mantle draped over Elisha’s shoulders as Elijah departed. Did it fit? Was it too big? A virtuous approach to preaching here could be to speak of the importance of mentors. Who are the wise sages who know you in depth and speak to the holy in you, who rouse you from the stupor of your complacency? I can tell of my mentor, God's astonishingly great gift to me, Father Roland Murphy, who was far more than a professor and doctoral advisor to me. Who is or has been your mentor? Might you be a mentor to someone? 

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Galatians 5:1, 13-25 arrives in the lectionary as if timed to stake out what freedom is (and isn’t) as we ramp into July 4. The text does not say You are free! So freely choose God! or God gives you freedom and hopes you’ll choose good instead of sin. No, it’s that Christ sets us free, implying we are (as Augustine, Luther, Wesley, Barth, all the great theologians have clarified) most assuredly not free. Our wills are bound and shackled, to sin, self, world. Our only hope is to be liberated by the miracle of God’s Spirit. Once free, it’s not so we might do as we wish, but so we might then bind ourselves freely and joyfully to God, to do God’s bidding. As Wesley put it, "My life is no longer my own."

Paul’s words, genius or inspired, recognize that a battle is being waged in the soul. Do we even notice any longer? Flesh vs. Spirit (which isn’t visible vs. invisible/“spiritual”) — flesh being idolatry, jealousy, anger, dissension versus the Spirit, which is tangible, real life as motivated by God’s Spirit.

The “fruit of the Spirit” is one of those shining moments in Scripture we could ponder forever. People ask What is God’s will? Galatians 5:22 could keep you occupied every minute for decades. Jesus said “You will know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16), and “My Father is glorified when you bear fruit... I have said these things so my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:8).

Thomas Merton said “a tree gives glory to God by being a tree.” Am I like a tree? My life is not my own: I depend on the sun, the rain, the grace and power of God which I do not control, but only soak up as precious gifts. I live in the light, but my roots go down deep where it is dark. Perhaps I need not fear the darkness? What is growing on my branches? Am I bearing fruit? Or am I just some driftwood that used to be a tree?

Holiness is not a matter of gritting your teeth and trying diligently to do what God requires. We may grit our teeth, and we do try hard, but we are not able to do what God wants of us. We alone are not capable of the life God wants for us. A changed life is the gift of God's Spirit. Paul described this new life, the life for which we were made, as “the fruit of the Spirit.” Not “the fruit of my good intentions,” but the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”

Not only are these not against the law, they are not the law! Paul does not say, “You must be joyful, patient, faithful.” Rather, if we just calm down and let the Spirit work within us, we discover to our delightful surprise traces of joy, peace, gentleness in our lives — all gifts, all the work of God in us. These nine (love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) are what trees look like when giving glory to God, swayed only by the wind of the Spirit, watered by the grace of Baptism.

I wonder if the preacher might lift up a story, a face, a short biographical sketch of someone who lives such a fruitful life. Whom do you know in your world or in history who has been loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle? Notice how a joyful person is also a patient person, the kind person is peaceful. They feed off one another, depend on one another.

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Luke 9:51-62. Luke’s overall plot is in evidence here. “When the days drew near for him to be taken up...” As we see in Luke's second volume, Acts, the climax of Jesus’ work is his ascension when he leaves the church behind to be his Body. He turns his face to Jerusalem. In the first half of his ministry, Jesus is an actor, in control, impressive, striding across the stage of history; but then in part 2, he is increasingly passive, acted upon, headed to die. He is “handed over.”

The Samaritans irritate the disciples, so they wish to bring down fire: very Elijah-like! They are overly or inappropriately zealous, which is distinct from those who have good intentions but aren’t really ready to follow Jesus (we have very important things  to do that keep us from Jesus). We clergy do, the people we preach to do. It's good cause for much mercy, but we must remember that we are already the disciples Jesus longs for! Foxes have holes, we have our homes, etc. Let the dead bury their dead.

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