2 Kings 2:1-2,6-14, Psalm 77, Gal 5:1,13-25, Luke 9:51-62
Love, joy, peace. Patience, kindness, generosity. Faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. These are the fruits of the Spirit. These are what God the Holy Spirit wants to produce in us, to bring to fruition in us, to display on the branches of our lives for all the world to see. These are the fruits for the healing of the nations. Love, joy, peace. Patience, kindness, generosity. Faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
These are what we want. Well, sort of. These are what the world wants. Kind of. We go chasing other things, we fix on the works of the flesh, we run our economy by the satisfaction of the desires of the flesh, our advertising keeps pushing the demands of the flesh, and when we find ourselves unsatisfied, or sick, or polluted, or in conflict, or at war, then we ask, what happened to love, joy, and peace, and where is that patience, kindness, and generosity, and how can I be faithful, and gentle, and self-controlled. God wants you to have them, but you can’t have them at the same time that you’re keeping the works of the flesh, so you have to ask how much do you really want the fruits of the Spirit, how much will you give for them? How much cost will you pay
or them? How much of yourself will you clear away to give room for the fruits to grow in you?
There is an urgency to this. There is a crisis here. You have to make some judgments. You have decisions here, and choices to make. And you have to keep repeating those choices. The flesh is natural and powerful, it keeps coming back, it keeps rising up, it keeps on pressing its case. It’s just part of the natural world. God does not desire that you flee from the natural world, God wants you in it, and so you cannot escape from its advertisements and the claims it makes, its pressure and attraction, its urgency.
Jesus says the choice is all or nothing. One road or the other. Not both—all or nothing. Strange to say, it isn’t black or white. Nothing is black or white. The roads are side by side; they cross a single landscape; they take the same gap between the hills, they can even merge for a stretch, and then you have to watch the signs and pay attention and choose again the one you want. It is not black or white. You can’t go about it legalistically. The legalistic solution is rejected by the Apostle Paul in the previous chapters of Galatians. As if what God wants for us is submission to a code of law that tells us what to do and not to do. That may feel safe, but Paul says that that is its own kind of slavery. Do not submit to a yoke of slavery. For freedom Christ has set us free. Freedom means it is not black and white. Freedom means you have to keep on choosing (your life is not all programmed for you), you have to keep deciding, and that is the reason for the constant urgency.
Do you sense that urgency in the gospel? And yet that it is not black and white? Jesus says that to follow him, the normal patterns just don’t count. It is one of the Ten Commandments to honor your father and your mother. Twice here Jesus suggests ignoring that law. If you honor your father, and your father has just died, your very first obligation is to bury him. "Lord, I will follow you, but first let me go and bury my father." That guy thought he was proving himself worthy of Jesus’ kingdom. But it’s not about worthiness, it’s about being open to the urgency. If a tidal wave were coming, if a volcano were erupting, you would run, you would flee, you would save your own life and let your father’s body be numbered with all the other casualties. "Let the dead bury the dead." It’s that urgent.
"I will follow you, but let me first go home and wish my family peace, honoring my father and my mother." But don’t you see how all or nothing is your loyalty? How bad do you want to live by the Spirit? How much do you still want to give to the life of the flesh, which quite naturally ends in death?
Jesus makes it a crisis here. Sometimes it’s the crisis of desperation. Most often it is far more subtle. You have to make the judgment in terms of where the choice will lead. Often it just feels like a guess. That’s the risk of freedom. It may look good, it may look bad, so will it lead to love, joy, and peace? Well, to get there, does it require faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? When is love love, and when is love just lust? Here’s the test: does it require faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? And is it expressed by patience and kindness and generosity? If you keep working these nine nouns, if you keep intermixing these nine characteristics, if you keep cross-breeding these nine fruit trees, you will develop a life that has a share in the kingdom of God. And the crisis will become an opportunity.
So often we respond to urgency with impatience. It’s natural to respond to the crisis with fear, and then we cover that fear with anger. So often when we have to make judgments we get judgmental. The disciples felt that urgency and they wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans. Jesus rebukes them. They thought they were serving God but they were in their flesh. It is natural. It is always with us. It is what nations do. If you don’t respond to the opposition by being stronger, you end up just a sitting duck. Like Jesus, hanging his weary head upon the cross. If we feel we’re in a crisis, then love, joy, and peace are counter-intuitive. They have to come from the Holy Spirit, they cannot come from natural human initiative. They take the miracle of God in you. This miracle is what the Holy Spirit offers you, and wants to make in you. Do you want it?
All you need to do is ask for it. That’s all. Honest. No other practices or disciplines, just asking. Like Elisha. Just ask for it. It’s as simple as every day, just saying two things: I confess my works of the flesh, and I ask for the fruits of the Spirit. I call it a double portion of God’s Spirit, the first portion of the Spirit is the Spirit of humility and grace, to be able to confess your sins and accept the forgiveness, to clear out the space, and the second portion of the Spirit is the Spirit of new life tenderly growing in that cleared out space. It’s a double portion of the Spirit for the double duty that you do every day, by simply saying, O Lord, I confess my flesh, and O Lord, give me your Spirit.
God wants you to enjoy the fruits of the Spirit. The flesh in us doubts that we can really live this way. Notice he doesn’t say the evil in us. He says the flesh. The skin. The meat on your bones. Your hormones and your nerves. Your stomach. Your allergies. Your headaches. Your credit card debt. Your need to go out and party on a Friday night. Can I have fun and still have self-control? Can I be funny and smart and still be kindly and gentle? Yes, you can. Can you love without lust? Can you have joy without indulgence? Can you have peace without surrendering?
Yes, you can. The Lord Jesus shows you the way, so follow him; the Holy Spirit empowers you, so clear yourself inside, and the community of Jesus will support you. We’re on this road together. A couple of us are strutting, but most of us are limping. We are limping to Zion. When you wander off the road, we will come and get you. When I take the wrong turn, you will nudge me back. Endlessly. Even tackle me and drag me back. No matter how many times.
And we help each other see. We are prophets for each other. Not so much Elijah, as Elisha to each other. "Father, father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen." To see the true power of God in the very midst of an apparently powerless situation. To see the Kingdom of God that is already here and here among us and all we need to do is receive it.
How do you know that you are acting within the Kingdom of God? Not by following some new set of laws, but when you feel free. And not a freedom of self-indulgence, but the freedom to practice love, joy, and peace, and the freedom to indulge in patience, kindness, and generosity, and the freedom to exercise the power of faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. Our horses are love, joy and peace, our chariots are patience and kindness and generosity, and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control is the mantel we put on whenever we come together here.
Copyright © 2010, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.