Ordinary time week 5: The harder roads

As a consummate American, I am seduced by contentment. I look forward to the end of my day where I can sit and rest while taking shortcuts through my daily responsibilities to get there. While I want to do things to stay in shape and be healthy, I do so begrudgingly because of the discomfort it brings me. Though I know getting up early in the morning to have quiet time with God is best, I don’t because I hate waking up early.

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In so many ways, I avoid the harder roads of life. Yet, as I read through the scripture this week I find an opposing message at work. Jesus lived his life in such a way to run head-long into suffering and shame because he knew this was the right path. In short, Christ would do whatever it took to show people who God really is. In the Gospels this meant “setting his face” towards the cross. When folks would want to follow him on that path, he made them count the costs.

This was going to be difficult, and they needed to know it. It would mean certain death for many while bringing struggle to others.

To follow Jesus meant to abandon the wants and desires of their culture and political system. Follow Jesus meant a new set of values, a renewed worldview, fresh eyes.

But to get these things, they would have to suffer with Jesus. They had to take his road.

This week we will focus on the harder road that Jesus asks us to walk. And, I think you will be surprised the places this road will take you. Join us this week as we reflect on these scriptures.

Luke 9:51-62

As the time drew near for him to ascend to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. He sent messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to prepare for his arrival. But the people of the village did not welcome Jesus because he was on his way to Jerusalem. When James and John saw this, they said to Jesus, “Lord, should we call down fire from heaven to burn them up?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. So they went on to another village.

As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, “I will follow you wherever you go.” But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” He said to another person, “Come, follow me.” The man agreed, but he said, “Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.”

But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.” Another said, “Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.” But Jesus told him, “Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God.”

1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

Then the Lord told him, “Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. Then anoint Jehu grandson of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet.

So Elijah went and found Elisha son of Shaphat plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team. Elijah went over to him and threw his cloak across his shoulders and then walked away. Elisha left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, “First let me go and kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you!”

Elijah replied, “Go on back, but think about what I have done to you.”

So Elisha returned to his oxen and slaughtered them. He used the wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the townspeople, and they all ate. Then he went with Elijah as his assistant.

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.”

But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!” So they went down together to Bethel.

Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to the Jordan River.” But again Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together.

Fifty men from the group of prophets also went and watched from a distance as Elijah and Elisha stopped beside the Jordan River. Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!

When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.” And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”

“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”

As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.

Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.

Psalm 16

Keep me safe, O God,
for I have come to you for refuge.

I said to the Lord, “You are my Master!
Every good thing I have comes from you.”

The godly people in the land
are my true heroes!
I take pleasure in them!

Troubles multiply for those who chase after other gods.
I will not take part in their sacrifices of blood
or even speak the names of their gods.

Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
You guard all that is mine.

The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
What a wonderful inheritance!

I will bless the Lord who guides me;
even at night my heart instructs me.

I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.

For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.

You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.

Galatians 5:1, 13-25

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.

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