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Monthly Archives: June 2016
On Friday afternoon, I was near the high school office and there was a small group of recent graduates there. Two of the boys were wearing their hats, which is against the school rules. When I asked them to remove their hats they looked at me with a touch of, “we aren’t students here anymore, we don’t have to follow the rules” in their expressions. Being rather congenial individuals they did remove their hats. Over the years there have been many who immediately do something they were not allowed to do as some sort of proof that they are free of school and its rules!
Rather than continuing with Elijah today, we join the church in Galatia reading letters from Paul. Paul had been in correspondence with them for quite a while. There were issues in the church with the false teaching that salvation could only be achieved through first believing, and then performing acts to qualify. In the first 4 chapters of Galatians we read of Paul trying to beat it into their heads that we are saved by faith alone, and not works; that there is no human action needed to add to Christ’s sacrifice in order for us to receive salvation. In his notes on Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Scott Hoezee equates this part of Galatians with saying, “Don’t just do something, stand there!”(“Proper 8Ccenter For Excellence In Preaching”)
In today’s reading Paul almost seems to be saying the opposite. “Don’t just stand there, do something!” (“Proper 8Ccenter For Excellence In Preaching”) He moved on to explain that we are now free of the law, by which he is referring to the complex series of religious laws called the Torah, but that being free of the law doesn’t mean that we are free to do anything we want with no limitations. The fact that my Mother’s residen
ce has a soft ice-cream machine that is in operation 24 hours/day would allow me to eat ice-cream cones continuously, but that would not be correct use of that freedom as it would end up making me sick. When, through Christ, we were freed, we were not freed from something, but we were freed to something. We are freed to, “through love become slaves to one another.” Paul sets up a comparison between the law, and freedom in the Spirit as our potential guides for living. The law may be characterized as being; a dictator, demanding, condemning, and unable to grant freedom. While the Spirit is the source of the power to cope with desires of flesh and it signals liberation. (Cousar)
I guess the overall theme or question of today would be, “Just what is freedom?” If we were prisoners, freedom would be having the gate opened and walking out. In North America, we talk a lot about our freedom. In theory we are all free to get an education, find a home, work, play, form groups, and speak out about things we feel are important. We are free to meet here today and we are free to go as a group to a public park and have a picnic. Freedom, however, is not a guarantee of an easy ride, it is not necessarily our ticket to continual joy and celebration. When the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt they sang songs and danced with joy, but then they went on an epic 40 year journey full of frustrations, challenges, and years of uncertainty.
Paul said, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence. Live by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (Gal 5:16) Just what is this flesh to which Paul refers? Sarkos, or flesh, is an interesting term which Paul uses as the foil to the Spirit. Flesh is, of course, the stuff on our bones, but in the New Testament, the expression ‘desire of the flesh’ is often used to refer to making decisions according to our self-interest, deciding in favor of human action, or our base animal nature.
Paul gives two lists in this letter. First he lists the things that we should not be doing despite our freedom. These things, the works of the flesh, reproduce themselves almost slavishly, like addictions and the flesh is passive and powerless. Paul lists: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like these.” (5:20)
Unlike the works of the flesh which reproduce themselves, the fruit of the Spirit may be cultivated and grow and flourish. The Spirit is active, it is power. The fruit of the spirit is Love. It doesn’t say fruits of the spirit are, and then make a list, but rather the fruit of the spirit is love, and then continues with eight more terms all of which can be wrapped up in the first word. The following things both go into love and come forward from love; joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
A world, or a nation freed from all law would be anarchy, a frightening prospect. But the idea of living in a world with no laws is only scary only if you assume that it also means everyone being perfectly self-indulgent, thinking only of themselves with no thought to the effects of their actions on others. When a prisoner is released they are free to go and live well and build decent honest lives for themselves. They are equally free to go out and reoffend and get themselves thrown right back in prison (Nettleton). “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (Gal 5:1) Live in the Spirit.
Malala Yousefzai is a young woman from Pakistan with an amazing story. Growing up, she attended the school her father ran. When the Taliban took control she was worried that they would force the closure of the school which educated girls and boys. At 12 years of age, she began to write a blog for the BBC under an assumed name. Later the Pakistan parliament awarded her a prize for her work and that brought her name forward.
“When she was 14, Malala and her family learned that the Taliban had issued a death threat against her. Though Malala was frightened for the safety of her father—an anti-Taliban activist—she and her family initially felt that the fundamentalist group would not actually harm a child.
On October 9, 2012, on her way home from school, a man boarded the bus Malala was riding in and demanded to know which girl was Malala. When her friends looked toward Malala, her location was given away. The gunman fired at her, hitting Malala in the left side of her head; the bullet then traveled down her neck. Two other girls were also injured in the attack. The shooting left Malala in critical condition, so she was flown to a military hospital in Peshawar. A portion of her skull was removed to treat her swelling brain. To receive further care, she was transferred to Birmingham, England.
Despite the Taliban’s threats, Yousafzai remains a staunch advocate for the power of education.” (http://www.biography.com/people/malala-yousazai)
Think for a moment about this statement I found this week. Half of the world is redoing their kitchens while the other half are starving. (Don Delilla)
We are free to redo our kitchens, but we are also freed so that through love we may work to feed those who are starving. It doesn’t mean we can’t do things for ourselves, but rather than letting those things consume us, we need to rely on the Spirit and focus our lives on the fruit.
Hoezee, Scott. “Proper 8Ccenter For Excellence In Preaching”. Cep.calvinseminary.edu. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 June 2016.
Nettleton, Nathan. “Laughing Bird Working Ahead”. Laughingbird.net. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 June 2016.
“Malala Yousefzai”. Biography.com. N.p., 2016. Web. 26 June 2016.
Let’s review the events that precede today’s Elijah story. Elijah was a prophet of God, and like other prophets was not bringing the messages Ahab, king of Israel, wanted to hear. Ahab wanted approval for the Baal worship which he and most of Israel had adopted from his wife Jezebel; but they brought warnings. The warnings went unheeded and eventually, God brought a drought on the land. Ahab ordered that all prophets of the God of Israel be rounded up and killed. Elijah ran and escaped, ending up in the home of a widow and her son all of whom were fed by God. After a time, God sent Elijah back to Ahab. As he was coming close he ran into Obadiah, a close advisor of Ahab who remained faithful to God. Obadiah had great news to share. Not only had Elijah escape the killing, but Obadiah had managed to hide away 100 other prophets of God! Even though the people of Israel were not faithful, Elijah was not alone in his faith in God.
Following that, there was the scene on Mt. Carmel where he challenged the prophets of Baal and God sent a consuming fire to show his presence and his power. The people acknowledged God as their god and king, and at Elijah’s order set about to capture and kill all of the prophets of Baal who were present. Then Elijah called on God to send rain, and boy did it rain! Both Ahab, in his chariot, and Elijah, on foot, headed back at high speed for Jezreel where today’s story begins just as they were shaking off the rain.
When Ahab told Jezebel that Elijah had all the prophets of Baal put to death, she was furious and cursed him, saying that he would be dead in 24 hours. Despite God’s great display of power on Mt Carmel, and grace in ending the drought with fresh rain, Elijah was terrified and ran for his life. The primal survival instinct kicked in and he was off. He ran to Judah, the kingdom ruled by Jehoshaphat, when he got as far as Beersheba he left his servant behind. After one more day’s journey, he couldn’t go any further! He sat down under a broom tree, a big tree which is almost always pictured all alone on a barren plain, and he prayed to God saying, “I’m no better than my ancestors.” and asked God to end his life. He must have been exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and feeling like a failure. He went to sleep with no intention of doing anything more and was woken by an angel with food and drink ready for him, a cake baked on a stone and a jar of water, just what he had asked from the widow of Zarephath, and which God had continued to provide for them.
After eating, He didn’t do anything else, like hiding for instance, but went back to sleep. When he was woken a second time he was not only fed but told that he would need food to sustain him for his journey. Remember, Elijah was planning to lay there until he died, but he didn’t seem to have batted an eye at the statement that he will be on a journey. The writer doesn’t give any indication that he received directions for this journey. It was almost as if a sleepwalker set out and, with no further food, walked south for 40 days and nights until he arrived at Mt Horeb. He spent the night in a cave, possibly the one in which Moses had stayed and met God. There. at the end of his flight from Jezebel’s anger, Elijah met God.
God asked why Elijah was there. Elijah poured out his story of service, feelings of isolation and failure and God told him to go out on the mountain because he would pass by. From inside the cave, where he had stayed, Elijah observed a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, but God was not in any of those. It wasn’t until silence fell that Elijah wrapped his face in his cloak and stepped out. Once again God asked Elijah why he was there and Elijah replied just as he had before. This great display of power, the events at Mt Carmel, and the 40 days of testing on his journey had done nothing to shift Elijah’s state of mind, and yet when God told him to return and head to Damascus he set out without questions.
Today is Aboriginal Sunday and I want to tell you about a friend of mine. Hugh Akagi is the chief of the Schoodic Band of the Passamaquoddy nation. He lives in St Stephen. In the year 2013, there were approximately 300 known Passamaquoddy people residing in New Brunswick. Hugh was elected as chief in 1998 and is the great grandson of a Passamaquoddy hereditary chief, John Nicholas. There is no question that Hugh is an indigenous person, and yet, when he is in New Brunswick he is not recognized as one. He used to joke that when he drove from the US into Canada he felt himself becoming invisible. It is a neat image, but not funny by any stretch!
“Traditionally, the Passamaquoddy lived seasonally on both sides of what is now the international border (Canada/USA) and traveled freely from place to place. They are recognized as Indigenous Peoples by the United States government, but the Canadian government has denied their Indigenous Rights under Canadian law. The Government of Canada does not recognize the Passamaquoddy Peoples as Indians, entitled to be registered under the Indian Act. Neither Canada nor the Province of New Brunswick recognize Passamaquoddy Aboriginal Rights nor Aboriginal Title to land.” ((“Passamaquoddy Recognition: Background Information”) The nation and band have continued to work for recognition in Canada. In a letter to the NGO Committee of the United Nations, he stated, “As Native people we will continue to practice our traditions and culture and we will defend to the end our right to exist and we will resist any attempt to separate us from our homeland, our ancestors and our heritage.” (“Passamaquoddy Recognition: Background Information”). Given the lack of change on this issue, it is reasonable to assume that Hugh has had some “Elijah moments” over the years, but the band continues to work for recognition.
At Mt Carmel, “Elijah had won, but it hadn’t brought him peace.” ((Miller) Somehow he felt that he had failed at his life’s work and he was despairing and ready for it all to end. One component of depression is not being able to see the future, not looking forward to anything, no way forward, no way out. Elijah so no way forward so he sat down ready to die. But even though he couldn’t see a way, he trusted God. He asked God to let him die, but when God had other plans he moved on, not seeing the way himself but letting God direct him.
We all have times in our lives when we are tired, discouraged, when we can only see the walls that hem us in. No matter what our problems are or have been, no matter how loud and chaotic our lives become, God is present and has plans for us. Elijah took the long journey back to Israel, to the wilderness of Damascus, anointed the next kings of Judah and Israel, and passed on his ministry to a successor. Hugh is still fighting for recognition for his people. We may need to take breaks, to hide in a cave for a little while sometimes, but we also need to maintain hope and trust in God.
We may not know the way forward for us, but Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the light…” (John 14:6) Follow him!
Miller, Dr. Susan. “June”. Churchofscotland.org.uk. N.p., 2016. Web. 21 June 2016.
“Passamaquoddy Recognition: Background Information”. Newbrunswick.quaker.ca. N.p., 2016. Web. 18 June 2016.
I have posted my list of possible hymns from the PCC Book of Praise for June 19, 2016. We are having communion this week so there are some communion hymns included.