“Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus” – 06-30-13 – Proper 8 – Cycle C

Listen to the sermon here:

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

“Let me first go to say good-by to my family,” said Elisha to Elijah. “That is fine,” said Elijah to Elisha.

“Let me first go to bury my father,” said someone who wanted to follow Jesus. “No,” said Jesus. “Let the dead bury the dead, while you go and tell about God’s kingdom.”

A difference; yes, a difference. Elijah, in 1 Kings 19, was desperate and wanted to die. He had followed God’s instructions to him, the prophet of the Lord God. God told Elijah exactly what to do with a fire contest. This is an exciting contest. The prophets of Baal were up against the prophet of the Lord God. All of this was directed by God. Elijah explained the rules of this contest in detail.

The prophets of Baal shall go first. Elijah would wait as long as necessary for the four hundred fifty prophets of Baal to attempt to win this contest. Then Elijah would try to accomplish the same feat. This is it. The prophets of Baal shall kill a bull. They shall cut it into pieces. They shall lay wood for a fire and lay the pieces of meat on the wood. They shall pray to Baal to start a fire in the wood to cook the meat.

The four hundred fifty prophets of Baal went to work. The wood is ready. The meat is ready. Praying starts. Dancing is added. Nothing happens. Nothing. They start cutting themselves which was part of their worship style. Nothing. Nothing. According to scripture, this endeavor continued through morning and afternoon. They have no success and stop.

Now it is Elijah’s turn. Elijah builds the altar of the Lord with twelve stones representing the twelve sons of Jacob whose name became Israel; so, therefore the twelve stones represent the twelve tribes of Israel. After preparing the wood and the meat, Elijah asked his people to pour water – lots and lots of water – on the wood and the meat. Before they began pouring water they dug a ditch around this pile so as to catch the water. A mystery to me is that this was a time of drought. Somehow God provided enough water for drenching the wood and the meat.

Now, Elijah prays a simple prayer. “Our Lord, you are the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. Now, prove that you are the God of this nation, and that I, your servant, have done this at your command. Please answer me, so these people will know that you are the Lord God, and that you will turn their hearts back to you.” The Lord immediately sent fire which not only burned the meat and the wood but also the stones and the water in the ditch!” The people gathered to watch, bowed down and shouted, “The Lord is God! The Lord is God!” Not only did Elijah’s God accomplish this task, but apparently, God told Elijah to have all the false prophets of Baal killed. That was done.

At that time, the king of Israel was Ahab and the queen was Jezebel. Jezebel worshiped Baal. She was not happy to say the least. She was out to kill Elijah. He fled into the desert. There he hid and would not eat. He just slept. Finally God sent an angel to bring food and water to Elijah with orders to eat and drink. Elijah ate and promptly fell asleep again. Again the angel brought food and water with the orders to stay awake and to start walking. He walked forty days and came to Mount Sinai, the mountain of God. There was a cave. Elijah went into the cave. You may remember that God called to Elijah to come out of the cave so that God could appear to Elijah.

First Elijah complained to God. Then a strong wind came. God was not in the wind. An earthquake happened. God was not in the earthquake. A fire appeared. God was not in the fire. Then came a gentle breeze or a gentle whisper or, as we read in the King James Version, a still, small voice. All of this before Elijah actually came from the cave. But when this still small voice came, Elijah went to the mouth of the cave all the while covering his face with his coat.

Then God told Elijah what he should do before he “retires” as a prophet. Elijah shall anoint a certain person to be king for Aram and a certain person to be king for Israel. Aram was a kingdom northeast of Israel. Elijah shall also inform a person named Elisha that he shall be the successor of Elijah. Elisha shall first be an apprentice of Elijah. Elisha was eager to begin this apprenticeship but he asked permission to return to his family to set things in order, including doing the right thing with the plow and the oxen which he was using in a field when Elijah found him. Elijah said, “Yes, go do what you must do and then come to me.” This is not the end of the story. You may want to find it at the beginning of 2 Kings.

For now we are moving through the centuries to the time of Jesus when he walked on earth. Jesus was gathering followers to be part of the Kingdom of God on earth. Jesus is slowly progressing toward Jerusalem to meet his death on the cross. He is in Samaria, inviting people to follow him. There were bad feelings between the Samaritans and the people in Judea. Samaritans had “mixed blood” while the Judeans felt that they had pure blood. Jerusalem is located in Judea. The Samaritans would not follow Jesus to Jerusalem.

A similarity in this story of Jesus from Luke 9 and the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 19, is fire. When the disciples of Jesus, James and John, saw the refusal of the Samaritans to follow Jesus, they asked Jesus if they should call fire from heaven on these Samaritans. This reminds us of the fire that Elijah called from God at God’s instructions against the followers of the god Baal. Does Jesus say, “Yes, call down fire?” No, Jesus does not give permission to destroy the Samaritans. Instead, Jesus just keeps moving with his face set on Jerusalem.

As Jesus and his followers made their way, someone said he wanted to follow Jesus. Jesus replied by naming the hardship of doing this such as having no place to lay his head. Jesus said, “The Son of Man [meaning himself] has no place to lay his head even though foxes and birds have a home.” We are not told what the man decided.

Another man asked to follow Jesus but first he wanted to go to bury his father. Do you know Jesus’ reply? Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead. Anyone who starts plowing and keeps looking back isn’t worth a thing to God’s kingdom!” Another person also wanted to follow but he wanted to say good-by to his family. Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Did you catch the contrast with Elijah centuries before? Elijah agreed that Elisha could return to his family to take care of matters before coming to follow Elijah. Not so with Jesus. Jesus’ role at this time is to get to Jerusalem at the God-appointed time.

The whole purpose is to establish the Kingdom of God on earth. We believe that the Kingdom of God is here on earth but it is not yet complete. The complete Kingdom of God will be when Jesus brings that perfect Kingdom at his second coming.

What does Paul say about the earthly Kingdom of God? It is freedom. This freedom means being free to love and care for each other. Paul says, “Live by the Spirit and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Desires of the flesh includes being overly concerned with eating. It includes drinking too much, using drugs that change our personalities, wearing scanty clothing, being focused on sexual behavior. Paul gives a definite list of “desires of the flesh” in Galatians chapter 5.

Then right here in Galatians 5 is Paul’s list of the “Fruits of the Spirit.” This means that if we are focused on things of God, on goodness, on selfless love instead of desires of the flesh, we will find that we have these nine “Fruits of the Spirit.” As Paul lists them, they are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

How do we stay focused on God so that we will have these qualities? We pray, we think about this concern constantly, every minute. We think before we speak. We remember that we shall love our neighbor as partnership with loving God. This is self-discipline. But self-discipline only goes so far. At some point we will realize that we ourselves are rather helpless to change our thinking and our behavior. When we arrive at that point, we find ourselves saying to God that we are helpless; we can’t do this; we are failures in this attempt to be part of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Do you know what happens then? God is just waiting for us to make that confession; to reach that point where we know we cannot survive in the Kingdom without God’s help. The wonderful love of God flows around us and in us.

Psalm 16 has these precious words:
“Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord, my good above all other.’ ”

The Psalmist suggests that we can also look to other people who are already in the Kingdom on earth. We read, “All my delight is in the godly that are in the land, upon those who are noble among the people.”

The Psalmist continues, “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 God is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Amen