This was the second in a five-week assignment with the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches.
This was the message for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, 25 June 1999. The Scriptures from the New Common Lectionary were 1 Kings 19: 9 – 14, Galatians 3: 23 – 29, Luke 9: 18 – 24. And yes, I have used the story about my brothers and sister many times. This would be the first time I related it to the Gospel reading.
I am the oldest of four children. When I graduated from high school in 1968, I immediately moved to Kirksville, Missouri, where I started (actually continued) my college studies. In 1980, when circumstances required it, I moved back to Memphis. In doing so, I surprised a lot of people who were not aware that Terry, Tim, and Tracey Mitchell had an older brother. Often times, when I would show up at a place with my brothers, the comment made was "You mean there’s another one!"
This response was often in surprise because no one expected there to be an older Mitchell brother. But I don’t think it was that type of response the disciples gave when Jesus asked them who people thought he was. I think that response was one more of resignation than surprise, "Oh yes, he is another prophet."
This apparent apathy from the general population also brought concern from other sources. When John the Baptist was in jail, he sent a message to Jesus. (Matthew 11: 2 – 3)
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him,” Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"
The people of Israel at that time were looking for a Messiah, one who could lead them out of their troubles. But the message Jesus brought to the people of Israel was not necessarily the message the people wanted to hear.
We often get confused when what we are looking for gets lost in the daily routine. Remember the last time you couldn’t find the house keys. The harder you tried to find them, the more frustrated you became. Consider Elijah. He is in a cave at the Mount of Horeb, having escaped Jezebel and the men hunting him down. Yet, when the Lord asks him why is there, his reply is one of confusion and depression. For all his work as a prophet, the people of Israel still left God for the gods of Baal. So God told him to stand on the mountain as He passed by. Yet though there was a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, the Lord did not pass by.
Can you imagine what it was like when after the wind, the earthquake, and the fire, there was nothing but silence? To the writers of the Old Testament, the wind, earthquake, and fire were all signs of God; yet, in this passage, God was not in those signs. The message in the passage from 1 Kings is very clear. If our lives are not in focus when God is near, we can still miss him as he passes by.
The message that Jesus was trying to tell his disciples was very much the same message. Do not be looking for the apparent signs of fire, wind, and earthquakes but look around you at what is happening. As Jesus pointed out to John the Baptist,
…Go and tell John what you hear and see; the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me. (Matthew 11: 4 – 6)
To Paul, the message was clear. Paul wrote in Galatians that the law had been our disciplinarian, our guide and protector. In the context of what Paul wrote, a disciplinarian was not a teacher but a slave who guarded and supervised children. Having accepted Christ through faith, we are no longer limited by the law but given a freedom through our faith in Jesus Christ. Through this freedom, we have the capabilities of going beyond the obvious. Our protection is still there but with a freedom never before known.
Therein lays our problem. We are used to the law and cannot see the freedom that Jesus offers. But we must realize what faith means and what it requires. Faith is a trust and it requires a complete commitment from us.
Are we prepared to follow Christ as He asked his followers? Turn with me to Mark 8: 34 – 38.
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. (Mark 8: 34 – 38)
This offer to follow Jesus offers us applies no matter who we are or what we are or who we would be. This message and offer was far different from anything the prophets might have said or done. It was also a message never given in the synagogue and it was accompanied by actions which showed there was a power behind the words. But instead of gloom, it was a message of hope and joy and a vision for the future.
What Paul wrote in Galatians, those verses that inspired Hymn #548 was the same message. When we come to Christ in faith, we all are one. This is not a statement of conformity but rather a statement that we are all in agreement about what we want our lives to be. The confusion that reined in the time of Jesus, the confusion that Elijah felt exits no longer when we allow Jesus to enter into our hearts.
We tell each other that Jesus loves us but do we show that love to others? Do we allow the Grace of Jesus Christ that is in our hearts, that warming of our souls, to be felt by others?
Today Jesus asks us the same questions he asked the disciples on the road to Caesarea Philippi: "But who do YOU say that I am?" (Mark 8: 29)