Third Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 8

Track 1: Called up Higher

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Galatians 5:1,13-25
Luke 9:51-62

The day the disciples feared had come. Their leader and teacher would be leaving them. In the case of Elijah, his departure would bring about a great test of faith for Elisha. Elijah had prepared his disciple for this time, but his greater concern was answering the call from God to a higher ministry.

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.   (2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-8)

Notice that Elijah, at this point, did not encourage Elisha to follow him. It was up to Elisha to determine what  was going on. By faith, Elisha knew that his teacher was departing, but he was not sure what that would mean. He would not allow Elijah to depart without his blessing.

The company of prophets was full of skeptics and unbelievers. At this point, God separated Elijah and Elisha from them:

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.   (2 Kings 2:6-8)

Elisha had proven himself by his loyalty and belief:

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.   (2 Kings 2:9-12)

Elisha no longer had Elijah. He now  needed to rely solely on God alone. On the other hand, the company of prophets dud bit believe Elisha’s account of what happened. They insisted on sending out search parties to look for him.

As disciples, if we seek the truths of God, we must be open to seeing and believing the Acts that God is doing, no matter how strange to us they may seem.

Elijah was translated directly to heaven. From there he still inspired and taught the prophets of God. John the Baptist was a prime example. The father of John the Baptist was given this prophecy by an angle of the Lord:

You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”   (Luke 1:24-27)

Jesus had often spoked to his disciples about his departure from this world, but they did not understand him. His earthly ministry was coming  to a close. Now he needed to concentrate more on the heavenly calling of his ministry: his cross, resurrection, and bodily ascension into heaven. Reading from Luke:

When the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.   (Luke 9:51-56)

Jesus’ face was set toward Jerusalem. Nothing was going to deter him from what he must do, not even concerns from his disciples. The disciples of Jesus would soon have to learn a new way to understand their calling:

The Prophet Jeremiah wrote about this:

This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more.   (Jeremiah 31:33-34)

Jesus explained as he was departing this world:

I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.   (John 14:25-26)

The Apostle Paul writes about the new disciple that is led directly by God through his Spirit:

Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.   (Galatians 5:16-25)

Are we part of the new disciples who are lead by God alone? It is not to have a mentor, but mentor’s can fail us. We need a direct relationship with God. As Elisha, we need to be open to God. As the disciples of Jesus, we need to understand that Jesus is still with us in the Holy Spirit. All we need do is the exercise our faith and believe in what God is doing today. When our work is done we will be called up on high. All of us have a high calling. It begins not in the future. It starts now.


Track 2: Do Not Look Back

1 Kings 19:15-16,19-21
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1,13-25
Luke 9:51-62

In today’s Old Testament reading we have the example of a calling of God to Elisha. It was made through the Prophet Elijah. What is remarkable is that Elisha realized the great sacrifice he would be making, but was willing to drop what he was doing ahd join Elijah almost immediately:

So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.   (1 Kings 19:19-21)

This was true of the disciples of Jesus as well. They left everything to follow him. The disciples would soon discover that their commitment to Jesus would be tested along the way.

Jesus called others to follow him as well. Some of them professed that they were willing to do so, but not immediately:

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  (Luke 9:57-62)

The initial test of discipleship is soon followed by another test. There is a second test. When things become difficult, are disciples willing to follow through on their commitment? Some of Jesus’ disciples did leave him.

Jesus said:

“If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit them if they gain the whole world but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.   (Luke 9:23-26)

Persecution is what turns many away. Persecution is part of our calling. Jesus said:

I have said this to you so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution, but take courage: I have conquered the world!   (John 16:33)

How many of us are willing to pass the second test today? It is clear that many Christians have fallen away. Some have looked back to former times when things were better. Though prosperity is preached in many churches, it often fails to become a reality. Jesus did not declare that all his disciples would be wealthy:

“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”   ()

If we are to become true disciples, with staying power, perhaps we need to look at other ways in winch God may bless us. The psalmist wrote:

I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
my heart teaches me, night after night.

I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
my body also shall rest in hope.

For you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor let your holy one see the Pit.

You will show me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.   (Psalm 16:7-11)

To see this kind of blessing, we need to look ahead, by faith, and not back to the past. The Apostle Paul wrote that the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, ahd joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).

God has so much to give us and show us. But he has not forgotten about our daily needs. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the gentiles who seek all these things, and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.   (Matthew 6:31-33)

The children of Israel complained in the wilderness:

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and ate our fill of bread, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Many in this generation never entered God’s rest. Is that to be us?  Will we look back and missed what God has for us? The Apostle Paul wrote:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal, but I press on to lay hold of that for which Christ has laid hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider that I have laid hold of it, but one thing I have laid hold of: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal, toward the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 3:12-14)

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Filed under homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon development, Year C

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