Now 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.
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 2:1-2, 6-14
1 I cry aloud to God; •
I cry aloud to God and he will hear me.
2 In the day of my trouble I have sought the Lord; •
by night my hand is stretched out and does not tire;
my soul refuses comfort.
11 I will remember the works of the Lord •
and call to mind your wonders of old time.
12 I will meditate on all your works •
and ponder your mighty deeds.
13 Your way, O God, is holy; •
who is so great a god as our God?
14 You are the God who worked wonders •
and declared your power among the peoples.
15 With a mighty arm you redeemed your people, •
the children of Jacob and Joseph.
16 The waters saw you, O God;
the waters saw you and were afraid; •
the depths also were troubled.
17 The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; •
your arrows flashed on every side;
18 The voice of your thunder was in the whirlwind;
your lightnings lit up the ground; •
the earth trembled and shook.
19 Your way was in the sea, and your paths in the great waters, •
but your footsteps were not known.
20 You led your people like sheep •
by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
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.
By contrast, 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 5:1, 13–25
When the days drew near for him 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 towards 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.
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 plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
Sermon on Sixth Sunday of Trinity
“For freedom Christ has set us free.” I think we need to examine this verse from the Paul’s letter today. The questions we must address are – What is the freedom we claim? From what are we set free? How has Christ done this for us?
Last week I observed that Christ had freed us from the tyranny of the faceless mass of humanity to be free for the other person who happens into our gaze. We need to observe with care all who enter our field of vision, and treat them as we would wish to be treated, in other words “loving others as we would love ourselves.” This freedom is not a carefree existence. This freedom is a life of care, to meet each Other for themselves, not to get in the way, but to free them up as well as being free for ourselves.
This freedom is not just a being free from, what Paul is here calling the yoke of sin, but a being free for. This is an important distinction. In Christ we are free. Our freedom places us in a region of responsibility for all our decisions. We are, Paul says, actually free from the tyranny of “the world” with its sinful nature or what the philosopher calls “the they”. “They” no longer control us. Can’t we understand this description of freedom today? Don’t we really want to be able to make our own minds up to do what is right and good, to show love to all within our ‘seeing’ as Jesus tells us?
Here in this passage of Galatians, Paul is describing the Christian life in terms that we do not really understand today. Paul sets out the fruits of the religious life as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Such behaviour is good in itself, as Paul says, “there is no law against” any of this sort of behaviour, is there? Why don’t we just act this way naturally? Wouldn’t life be much simpler? It would be a life free to do what is good, not just a life free from the tyranny of the ‘they’ and consequent ‘sin’.
These fruits of the Spirit nourish all; they are not purely selfish. If I should share any particular fruit by merely showing myself in the world, won’t others benefit? For instance, who could be harmed by generosity? Who would not benefit from my kindness? Would anyone be injured in any way by my self-control? Each one of these fruits of the spirit is a gift to those around us, perhaps even those unknown to us. Isn’t this true freedom – to act in this positive way through the whole of life?
Compare this mode of behaviour with “the works of the flesh” as Paul calls them – “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing.” None of these benefit anyone else, do they? How can anger or quarrels free anyone from anything for another? All of these worldly ways of behaving are self-centred and self-embroiling, aren’t they? They don’t benefit the community or any individual, and, in contrast to the fruits of the spirit, they are contrary to any law of moral behaviour. How can enmity be lawful, after all? It seems to stir up the sort of thing that happened between the Russian and English football fans two weeks ago. Enmity has also been at the heart of many of the fears which drove the isolationist vote on Thursday. Enmity can not be helpful to free any person for freedom.
Does any one of these worldly behaviours, these works of the flesh free anyone up for freedom? Are these worldly behaviours characteristic of freedom at all? They contrast very decidedly against the behaviour of someone in Christ, someone who shows any of the gifts of the Spirit. Those with enmity are diametrically opposed to the person whose gift is peace. Enemies prickle at each other – they stab each other with insults at the very least. These worldly people do nothing for the sake of the other, do they? In contrast what do the peace-makers do? What can those with peace in their hearts accomplish? They don’t do anything just for themselves, because the Other is the focus for their lives. They seek to pacify the world because they know all will benefit, and they know that the Kingdom will come thereby. How does the world benefit from jealousy, anger, and dissension, to name just a few of those worldly behaviours Paul decries?
Does idolatry free anyone for freedom? Idol worshippers are chained to their gods. The greedy are tied to their bags of gold because they see everything in terms of that effigy. Everything in their world relates to the graven image of fiscal profit. Worshipping of the golden calf can lead to being yoked to money, a religion which is a slavery not freedom. Even christianity can chain us in the same way, if we are not careful sharing the gifts of the spirit, and by that I do not mean a miserly eking out of the distribution. Rather our care–full sharing is generosity in its most outrageous forms, like the man in the market square who promised a fair wage to all who worked for him, and he gave that wage to both those who worked their eight hours and those who only worked one hour. That is outrageous, isn’t it? Who would be so generous in this sinful world. Surely, in this worldly world the least money paid out would be the best. After all greed is the very essence of today’s capitalist world. Such extraordinary generosity of the parable hurts no one. That is the generosity of the righteous – the outrageous giving of gifts which have come our way.
This generosity is a freedom no one has in the worldly world, where no one makes a choice for God – or the Good as the philosopher would say. We need to look at all our actions with reference to God and the Good, don’t we? When we do, we find that we are driven into a realm of freedom from all slavery, a realm where the Other is the focus, this realm characterised by the freedom to do.
That realm is where Christ and we dwell together. Nothing else becomes the focus for attention – with Christ before us, nothing can get in the way of the great commandment. Instead of the law – to love God and one another – being a burden we are free to … – we will live in a way that shows we are free to love in freedom. That law which Christ gave us is a joy, it is perfect freedom. Nothing constrains our actions. That gift of generosity, for instance, strips everything away from us so that we are free. That fruit of peace makes us offer the best to our neighbour. That fruit of self-control allows us to act in the world without selfish interest. The joy of the law of love sets us apart from the world in a way the ‘they’ will never understand. I think we should rejoice in being so different from the world for the sake of God, being free for freedom just as Paul tells us because Christ has saved humanity.