June 26, 2016
Text: I Kings 19:15-16, 19-21
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
With God Before UsWhat does it mean to follow Jesus? We could study and talk and discuss the depth of thatquestion our whole lives. We can make it complicated- or we can keep it simple- to follow Jesussimply means to keep Jesus before us- to have our eyes on him- to know where he is- and keepclose and live in his presence. To live with God before us means to have the power of God beforeus; the finished work of the cross and the power of the resurrection leading us through whateverwe may experience in life. If God is for us- who can be against us? PrayOne of my professors at Iowa State was known for his quotes. One of his most frequent ones wasthis: “no wind is favorable unless you know what port you are going.”Do you know where you are going? Do you know where you want to be? There are times ineveryone’s life where you dream of having a certain job, meet that certain someone, achievegoals-have children. And then there are those time that you find yourself praying to God with allyour heart for a healing of a loved one or yourself, being free from debt, seeking comfort in themidst of a loss-forgiveness for a wrong done, peace in times of chaos- and you wonder how youwill ever find the way to get through it.We need a guide- someone who has been there before- someone who not only knows the way,but is the way. We need to trust and follow Jesus- and if we do that- everything will be okay- nomatter what happens.The Psalmist wrote: “I have set the Lord always before me; because God is at my right hand, Ishall not be shaken.”It sounds easy to say and do- standing here in the pulpit this morning. But I know fromexperience – as well as you do- that it is hard in the trenches of life- hard in the middle of thenight- hard anytime. But it really is that simple- yet hard for us to do. Follow Jesus- “trust Him”the writer of Proverbs tells us- “and he will make your paths straight.”One day, a man came up to Jesus and told him: “I will follow you wherever you go.” And yet, weare not told his name, nor have we heard anything of him since. Even Peter, a devoted disciple ofJesus who Jesus himself called “the rock” told Jesus that he would never deny him or fall away”yet he denied knowing Jesus not once, but three times only a few hours later.Some people decide in a moment of emotion to follow Jesus, only to have their enthusiasm fadewhen the “urgent” things of life come. “Follow me” Jesus said to one. “let me bury my fatherfirst- and then I will follow you.” the man said. Sounds like a reasonable request doesn’t it?- andyet Jesus told him to let the dead bury the dead! Why would He say such a thing? I think he was
saying: “if you are going to follow me- start now- not later.” He knew there would always besome excuse- some “thing” that might be considered more important at the moment- that –ifallowed- would prevent us from following Him.Others did not receive Jesus-because “his face was set toward Jerusalem.” They knew that meanttrouble- and wanted no part of that. They at least understood in part what following Jesus meant-and fear prevented them from following Jesus.One day, God told the prophet Elijah to anoint Elisha to be prophet. And so Elijah went- andfound Elisha at work- plowing a field with oxen. Without saying a word, Elijah threw his mantleover him and immediately Elisha understood it to be God calling him- claiming his life to be hisservant. With excitement, he ran after Elijah to ask him if he could first let his father and motherknow where he was going- and kiss them goodbye before following him. But Elisha then wentback to his oxen, and in a bold act of commitment for all to see- in the middle of the field- in theexact place he was called, slayed his oxen there in the furrow, and cooked the meat on a firemade from his plow-gave the meat to those in the field, and then left to follow Elijah as hisservant.There will probably never be a convenient time to follow Jesus-but following him is what we arecalled to do and his timing is always perfect. With God before us- leading us- why would wedoubt? Why would we turn and go our own way? Because that is our sinful nature. We justconfessed that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves- but the good news is- if weconfess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from allunrighteousness. Through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross, Jesus has set us free from thepower of sin to control us.And yet, the sad thing is, we still do not always live in that truth, but return to bondage. “Like adog returns to his vomit, so fools repeat their folly” the proverb puts it. It is just too easy to slipback into old habits-even while knowing it is wrong and a sin.You can almost hear the frustration in Paul’s voice as he wrote to the church at Galatia- “forfreedom Christ has set us free!” Christ has not set us free for us to go back to our old sinfulways! You who were once a slave to sin serving self- have been set free to serve God and others.When you are tempted to go back to your old ways of thinking and doing and acting- stand firm!Do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.We read of the Israelites as they were being led through the wilderness to the Promised Land asfree men and women after being slaves in Egypt for generations- and every day they could seeGod’s presence- leading them by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. But when thejourney became difficult, they began to grumble and think they were better off as slaves inEgypt. And we wonder why- how could they?But are we any better? We are often blind to our own faults.
Some who have spent years in prison don’t know how to live on the outside. They have becomeinstitutionalized. Even though they had dreamed of being free, they have gotten used to being inprison- and although the physical chains were gone, inside, they are still prisoners.I understand that in India, trainers often chain elephants when they are young to a stake. At firstthey fight it-trying to get free- until they give up and submit to the chains. Years later when theyhave grown into a strong adult, they can still be held captive by a small stake in the ground-convinced they cannot get free.God has set us free from the power of sin. It is an amazing gift. What you do with your freedomwill affect not only yourself, but everyone around you. But that freedom is not a ticket to doanything you want-but the power to do what you should.Is there anything this morning that you know God has called you to do but have put it off toolong? Perhaps there is someone you need to forgive- someone you need to share a word ofencouragement with- someone who needs to know they are loved by God and you.Jesus said the law can be summed up in this: “You shall love the Lord your God with all yourheart, soul, and mind- and your neighbor as yourself.” That is not always an easy thing to do- butthat is what we have been set free to do. In fact, it is impossible to do on our own strength- butwe have been given a promise- “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”May we live our lives with the same confession of faith the Psalmist spoke of when he said: “Ihave set the Lord always before me; because God is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”Amen. Go in peace and serve the Lord.