This is a sermon that I gave at Walker Valley United Methodist Church for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost (1 July 2001). The Scriptures for this Sunday were 2 Kings 2: 1 – 2, 6 – 14, Galatians 5: 1, 13 – 25, and Luke 9: 51 – 62.
One of the songs by Crosby, Stills, and Nash opens with the line “the cost of freedom in buried in the ground.” It always seems interesting to me that each year that we celebrate our country’s independence, we often forget what this day is all about, why it was that we fought the War of Independence and what it took to gain victory. And even today, as we celebrate 225 years of independence, there are still those who feel that we do not have enough freedom and those who feel that we have too much freedom.
There are those in this country today who would tell us that we have too many freedoms and that we need to pull back and let others control what we say and do. There are those who argue just the opposite, that we do not have enough freedom to say and think and act in whatever manner we wish to choose. Still others are afraid to act, for fear of stepping on the freedoms of others.
For me, freedom is that moment when we have to face what is in front of us and take actions for ourselves. It is not unlike the moment that Elisha faced on the banks of the Jordan that day that read about in the Old Testament reading this morning or that moment when Jesus said to his followers to “Follow me.”
In each case, be it Elisha or the two followers, the moment of freedom required a choice, it required that they take action. And for a moment, each person was not immediately prepared to accept that freedom.
It can be a frightening thing to have to go out on one’s own and to do the things that others have done for you. In Elisha’s case, it was the acceptance of the role that Elijah had played. Elijah was afraid of the change. Elijah was Elisha’s mentor, prophet, teacher, and father-in-the faith. But now it was time for Elisha to move on and take charge of the ministry entrusted to him. Yet, he was afraid to do so. As the student, there was degree of comfort and a manner of protection. But as the prophet, there was no comfort, there was no protection.
It is easy to understand Elisha’s response, of not wanting to let Elijah go. Fear makes it easy to cling to the past or to familiar traditions. But that is why faith becomes so strong. While fear would have us cling to the past, faith has us look to the future.
What Elisha was most afraid of was that God would leave him, that he wouldn’t be there. In verse 14, Elisha cries out in despair and loneliness, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” And God answered with a sign of divine presence, the parting of the Jordan River so that Elisha could return home. In effect, God said to Elisha, “I never left. Life goes on. Elijah’s journey may have ended but your journey continues.”
Similarly, it is easy to understand the responses of the two individuals when Jesus asked them to follow him. It is one thing to listen to the words of the Gospel; it is an entirely different thing to follow them and carry them out. Jesus’ command to “Follow Him” means that we must walk the same path.
It means that we have to recognize that there is a purpose to life and that part of that purpose is for us to do God’s work here on earth. To follow Christ also means that we must make a commitment. The Gospel reading for today makes it clear that Jesus was committed to go into Jerusalem. As it stated in verse 51, he “set his face” firmly on that goal. It has been made clear to us countless number of times that Jesus was a person of commitment. Telling those that wish to follow him that they must give up everything was to say that they must make a commitment. In asking us to make a commitment, to choosing the path that He walked, Jesus challenges us to reach our full potential in a world that accepts mediocrity.
In writing to the Galatians, Paul spoke of freedom as a liberation of the soul. Paul pointed out that we have a choice in what we want to do, that we have a certain amount of freedom in what we say and do. And whatever it is that we do, we have to recognize the consequences of our actions. If we chose to follow the desires of our heart, we have to be prepared to accept the consequences of our actions. But if we choose to follow Christ, we not only gain liberation from sin and its domination over our lives, we gain salvation through Christ and gain the Spirit that can take us to better things.
At times, we are like Elisha, afraid to let go and letting others do our thinking for us. At times, we are like the disciples, asked to make a commitment but not willing to pay the price, not willing to truly accept the cost of freedom. What we have to realize is that God will be with us. Over and over again, we find that God has given us more that we ever thought. That is called God’s grace. The true cost of freedom is both free and beyond value when you realized that how we gained God’s grace.