Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 30 June 2019.
The interesting thing about the story of the translation or assumption of Elijah into heaven is the story that is less told and certainly is less dramatic.
It does not have the pizzazz of Elijah’s confrontations with Ahab’s high-handedness or Jezebel and her alien cult with its priests and worship on the high places.
It is about Elisha and his ministry as a prophet in Israel. First of all, knowing that he was about to leave his life on earth, Elijah gave Elisha every opportunity to return to his old life, but Elisha steadfastly refused.
Instead he wanted a double portion of the spirit that was in Elijah. No small or mealy-mouthed measures here. And indeed this is what he got. But first he would have to continue with Elijah until the very end. No sloping off with a promise of a greater ministry in his pocket. Elisha would have to stay the course however long it lasted and continue to be watchful and attentive.
But the next thing is that when Elisha did enter his ministry as a prophet in Israel it was a very different kind of ministry to that of Elijah.
No fireworks or rousing speeches here; no grand confrontations to excite the commentariat of the time. Rather this was a ministry to the people and the homes of Israel, the healing of the sick and the recovery of lost farm tools.
To many, if it was less dramatic than that of Elijah then Elisha’s ministry must be less important. But this was not so, it was only a different ministry in a different time and under different circumstances. Only God could say which was the more important and reward it accordingly.
So we should not look for the same kinds of success or marks of distinction. And yet it is important to see that discipleship can lead is unto dramatic events but it does not have to and whether ministries are openly recognized or not does not change their significance in the eyes of God.
But then our lessons from the New Testament complement what is shown in the Old Testament prophets.
Writing to the church in Galatia, Paul was comparing law with freedom, and the flesh with the spirit.
Paul sees a distinct contrast and indeed tension between the two.
The law would define what was required and it would penalize any breach or failure to observe its detailed and intrusive demands. It would condemn but could never praise or commend. It may restrain evil impulses but could never promote good or godly motives or actions.
It would never be able to nurture the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, patience or self-control. These are works of the Holy Spirit within the human heart and the law can do nothing to cultivate them.
But equally, while the Holy Spirit may convict, He will never condemn. That is not what He does and this is something only the law and the legalistic can do.
So there is an important difference between condemnation and conviction. Condemnation reduces a person to self-rejection, darkness, depression, and the sense that there is never and can never be any kind of recovery.
But conviction is different and is definitely quieter. It is however more insistent and penetrating. It does not go away, it is there when we stop our own desperate activity and give the Lord space and time to speak to us. Being gentle does not rob it of its strength or authority.
The voice of the Holy Spirit does not need spiritual fireworks in order to draw our attention.
But there is another distinction between the flesh and the spirit.
It is about law and freedom; the life in the Spirit and the demands of self. The life that God leads us into in our discipleship is about our faith in Him and worship of Him, while loving one another as He has loved us and loving our neighbours as we love ourselves. It is about following His life as we live our own.
The self is that which demands to be fed, satisfied, enhanced over and above the other person. It is the competition to be first with the best and the most, the demand for status and recognition and the satisfaction of every kind of appetite.
It is the instinct for survival taken beyond itself into competition for its own sake. The demand to lord it over others, purely for one’s own pride and self-satisfaction.
And so in the gospel Jesus speaks about the costs of discipleship. We can make no claims or demands and we are warned not look back on and regret our original commitment to Him.
The life of self will be redefined by the life of Jesus, rather than by what is around us or how we feel, even about ourselves.
There will be new priorities and perspectives. The One whose word created the world and all in it still owned nothing except his own clothes. Both His crib at birth and His cross at death were borrowed.
He had was no home and yet He was welcomed in other peoples’ homes, even when He was ready to sleep under the stars. But His ministry was never about the demands of self. It was always about the demands of God and the needs of others.