June 26, 2016
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14, Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20, Galatians 5:1,13-25, Luke 9:51-62
Swing low, sweet chariot! Great hymn based on our reading from 2 Kings where Elisha cries out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” Clearly this is an indescribable prophetic vision that can only be described in fantastic language. Though we may not have prophetic visions, we do have to use this kind of language when we are trying to describe that which is beyond language: when a 9th grader gets his first romantic kiss he might say, along with Carole King, “I feel the earth move under my feet, I feel the sky tumbling down.” Everyone knows no such thing has happened yet the boy’s experience is quite real.
Old Testament Prophets possessed by the Spirit experience life from a place above the rational mind. They are not irrational, like someone having a psychotic breakdown, but they are trans-rational, or meta-rational.
How else could they be when their minds and hearts are invaded by the Spirit of Creator God? They see the whole world as God’s unified domain, so even the ordinary moments of life, like crossing a river or eating a meal are so much more than they appear to be. Because of their unified vision of reality they are even willing to risk their very lives in confronting the Powers that Be.
Recently in our readings we saw Elijah confront Ahab and Jezebel, the evil king and queen of Israel. We remember the Prophet Nathan telling King David to his face that his adultery with Bathsheba is an offense to Almighty God.
They don’t do that on your own strength but only under the power and direction of God’s Spirit. Because our normal state of mind is to be trapped in the illusion that we are disconnected from God we see such people as quite odd. But what should really scare us is that on the Day of Pentecost Peter says it is God’s will that we also become odd by being also filled with the Spirit: quoting the prophet Joel, he says, “In the last days God declares that I will pour out my Spirit on…who: just the monks and nuns, on the junior and senior warden?
No…I will pour out my Spirit on ALL FLESH: young and old, women and men, slave and free.
Because the Spirit has been poured into our hearts, it makes perfect sense for Paul to tell us in Galatians to live by the Spirit. But Paul also warn the Galatians that there will always be the temptation to ignore the Spirit in us and to become captive, instead, to this thing called “the Flesh” or “the desires of the Flesh”?
First, we must be clear that he is not referring to the human skin, muscle, and bone of our bodies. Certain teachers have shown up throughout Christian history spreading a heresy that says the body is bad, so people must be ashamed of their body.
But the Bible reminds us that at the creation God said to us: you– body, mind, soul, and strength–are very good.
Flesh for Paul is not the human body, but a supra-human power that incites desires in us to live as if we have no need of God; to live as if the creature has no need of being connected to the creator, thus destroying communities and individuals around the world.
Take a simple example: Scientists and farmers tell us that honey bees across the land are in trouble. Something is disrupting their ability to thrive. There is uncertainty as to what that something is, but we do know that the health of the bee colony depends on each bee following the instincts placed in it by God: Worker bees, drones, and the Queen all have their roles to play.
But what happens if each bee starts listening to some Frank Sinatra songs and decides to “do it my way”, and leave behind the silly mythology about God and instincts that limit the bee’s freedom?
What happens is that when bees disconnect from God the bee and the colony fall apart.
The Flesh is the name Paul gives to that supra-human power that makes us to want to live as if we had no need of God.
Now the typical religious response to people caught by this power is to say, “we need to make people follow the law and crack down on the lawbreakers. We need to post the Ten Commandments in every room of the church and school and then people will be able to know what is right and to do it. But this is exactly what Paul tells us not to do. In the previous chapter he says “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law…. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came…. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian.” Galatians 3:23-25
The answer to the Desires of the Flesh is not more law, which only makes matters worse, but resting in, trusting in, the power of Holy Spirit.
Only when we are reconnected with the source and ground of Being can we move our world toward health and wholeness, letting the Spirit produce in us her fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Paul simply want us, as the church, and the letter is addressed not to individuals but to the church, to keep letting go of our old world view that enslaves us to the powers, and to keep believing in the word of God and saying yes to the Spirit, because this is the real world ever since the death and resurrection of Christ.
Remember the last time you bought a car: You’re so excited to finally have a car that will be reliable and safe, and once you’ve filled out all the paperwork the salesman hands you the keys and says, “Enjoy!”
So you open the door, put the key in the ignition, slip the transmission into neutral, then get out, shut the door and walk to the back and roll up your sleeves and start pushing the car? The bee and car images were suggested in a simple yet profound little book by Major Ian Thomas called, The Indwelling Life of Christ: All of Him in All of Me
This is living in our own power, doing exactly what we did as kids when we’d push toy cars around the living room. But now in Christ we have a source of power that is far greater and far more intelligent than we could ever make on our own.
To be a spiritual person does not mean spending all day in church or serving the poor: it means you are open to Spirit working in and through you in whatever you’re doing. Therefore, washing dishes open to Christ produces the fruit of the Spirit, while working at church on your own power, closed to Christ, produces the works of the Flesh.
The life of faith is getting up every morning and saying “yes” to Christ to work through us again, to provide the power and direction we need, not to do our will, but to do God’s will through us. And then at night we say, thanks for leading our way, and we say, “sorry for the many times we fell back into our old story and started pushing the car.
And please notice that even Jesus’ intimate apostles, James and John, can get it wrong when they want to blow up a Samaritan city for not showing them hospitality. Jesus rightly nicknames them sons of thunder, and he rightly rebukes them, but then he says, “Follow me.”
So the opposite of faith is not doubt, for as Rob Bell says “faith and doubt make good dance partners.” The opposite of faith is believing that we are not and do not need to be connected to the wisdom, mercy, power, and guidance of Christ Jesus.
Faith is our moment by moment openness to the Spirit of Christ living in us and through us, producing the fruit of New Creation: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
This is not as vivid an image as the chariot of fire, but it is just as powerful as we live by the Spirit.