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Sermon for Sunday 26 June 2106

FIRST READING 1 Kings 19:9b-21

9bAnd behold, the word of the Lord came to {Elijah}, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 11And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 15And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 19So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. 20And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.


PSALM Psalm 16

1Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you; I have said to the Lord, “You are my Lord, my good above all other.” 2All my delight is upon the godly that are in the land, upon those who are noble among the people. 3But those who run after other gods shall have their troubles multiplied. 4Their libations of blood I will not offer, nor take the names of their gods upon my lips. 5O Lord, you are my portion and my cup; it is you who uphold my lot. 6My boundaries enclose a pleasant land; indeed, I have a goodly heritage. 7I will bless the Lord who gives me counsel; my heart teaches me, night after night. 8I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand I shall not fall. 9My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices; my body also shall rest in hope. 10For you will not abandon me to the grave, nor let your holy one see the Pit. 11You will show me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.


SECOND READING Galatians 5:1, 13-25

1For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. 13For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. 16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.


GOSPEL Luke 9:51-62

51When the days drew near for {Jesus} to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55But he turned and rebuked them. 56And they went on to another village. 57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”


Beverly Masek is a Native American living in Alaska. Beverly was born and raised in Anvik, a very small village in the interior of Alaska with a population of about seventy people. Anvik is also one of the sites on the legendary Iditarod trail. For those not familiar with the Iditarod, it’s a dog sled race where one person runs through blizzards, ice and wilderness for as much as 16 days with wind-chill temperatures reaching -100ºF. The race has a ceremonial start in Anchorage and runs 1029 miles to the village of Nome on the Bearing Sea. For the duration of the race, the competitor is all alone, just the musher and their dogs, and they cannot receive any help or they will be disqualified. It’s an astounding test of human courage and strength.
When Beverly was only twelve years old, she said, “Someday I’m going to do the Iditarod.” She made this announcement even though she didn’t own a single dog or a sled. All she had was a dream. Each year Beverly watched as one after another Iditarod musher entered her small town to the ringing of the town bell. Whether it was one in the morning or five in the afternoon, there was always someone there to ring the bell and greet the weary Iditarod racer. And Beverly thought, “Someday I’d like to hear the bell ring for me.” And she was right! They did indeed ring the bell for Beverly. In fact, they’ve rung it more than once. Beverly has successfully completed the Iditarod run four times!
Beverly was interviewed on TV and during that interview she said, “I have to feed the dogs. I lift the dogs (many weighing seventy or eighty pounds) and I weigh only one hundred pounds. You have to be able to take care of the dogs and provide for them year round, it’s a commitment of many years. I’m now in my eighth generation of breeding my own dogs. Sometimes we run into an icy trail or fresh snow and sometimes it’s about forty degrees below zero out there and I still have to take care of the dogs. There are times when I feel like I don’t know if I can continue, but I have to trust the Lord to help me because every mile, as we get farther into the race, I get more tired and have to rely on my dogs completely. But then again, there always is that shining light at the end when I focus on reaching my goal.” Beverly’s story is a good example of one of the basic facts of any successful person: One of the secrets to success in life is simply to keep on keeping on.
Harry Jamieson was a legendary hardware salesman back in the 1940s. When he was asked how many calls he would make on a prospect before giving up, he replied, “It depends which one of us dies first.” Jamieson is reputed to have called on one prospect 125 times before getting an order. Another prospect caved in after a mere 40 calls. He explained, “I cannot help buying from you; your persistence has paralyzed my resistance.”
In our gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus said to a certain man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (9:62) This bring us to another fact: One of the great secrets of success in life is that of perseverance. People often fail because they quit too soon. They give up before they have a chance to realize success.
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, was one person who discovered that success comes from not giving up. Here are some excerpts from his diary:
Sunday, A.M., May 5 Preached in St. Anne’s. Was asked not to come back anymore.
Sunday, P.M., May 5 Preached in St. John’s. Deacons said, “Get out and stay out.”
Sunday, A.M., May 12 Preached in St. Jude’s. Can’t go back there, either. Sunday, A.M., May 19 Preached in St. Somebody Else’s. Deacons called special meeting and said I couldn’t return. Sunday, P.M., May 19 Preached on street. Kicked off street. Sunday, A.M., May 26 Preached in meadow. Chased out of meadow as bull was turned loose during service. Sunday, A.M., June 2, Preached out at the edge of town. Kicked off the highway. Sunday, P.M., June 2 Afternoon, preached in a pasture. Ten thousand people came out to hear me. One thing we can say from his diary; John Wesley was a man who wouldn’t give in or give up.
Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” One of the secrets of a successful life is to simply persevere. We saw this in the Vietnam conflict. Although immeasurably more powerful than North Vietnam, no matter what military or political tactics, short of nuclear weapons, it tried, our government could never impose its will on the North Vietnamese. Even the most intense bombing in the history of the world brought only a tenuous ceasefire that was more often violated than observed.
The North Vietnamese succeeded merely by standing fast and waiting. They wouldn’t budge. They persevered, knowing that eventually we would tire of our losses. Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back . . .” Good things can happen when we hang in there and refuse to be defeated. My dad had a somewhat crude way of rephrasing this. Dad would say, “sometimes a person is just too stupid to fail.” My dad didn’t mean this to be derogatory, it was actually a compliment. He was saying that there are some people who don’t even entertain the notion of failure.
In the military we had another way of saying the same thing; failure isn’t an option.” There are some things in this life that are so important than anything less that complete success can’t be considered. With the really important issues of life, we can’t cut our losses and run, we can’t accept that “it’s good enough for government work.” There are some things that require the persistence needed for nothing less than complete success. This is particularly true when our cause is just and our goals are lofty. Now, I guess we do need to recognize that there are some situations and some people who ought to give up and quit.
There was a story in the newspapers not too long ago about a robber in Virginia Beach, Va. who ought to be looking for another line of work. This inept criminal walked into the Life Savings Bank and demanded cash. The tellers handed over the loot, but they also slipped in an explosive dye pack with the money. This dye pack burns at about 400 degrees when activated. This poor unsuspecting robber stuffed the loot down the front of his pants and was out the door before he realized something was wrong.
Witnesses say they saw “an explosion taking place inside his pants. He was seen hopping and jumping around,” police spokesman Mike Carey said. The suspect stripped to his boxer shorts and left his smoldering pants behind. Police confiscated the charred pants but had not yet caught the robber when the story hit the papers. “He’s probably sitting around with an ice pack in his lap,” said Carey, who speculated the man could be easily identified by bright red dye in the area of his lap. There is a fellow who ought to call it quits. He wasn’t suited for his line of work.
And then there are those times when a wise person knows when to cut their losses. However, if your cause is just and your goals are lofty, that’s a different matter. Notice that Jesus said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” If the kingdom of God is our goal, then we should never look back. We need to hang in there. We should never quit regardless of the circumstances. A lifelong marriage is like that.
June is traditionally the month in which many young men and women head for the altar. Young people need to know that the most important factor in a successful marriage is a commitment that this is for keeps. A man tells about visiting friends when they received a telephone call from their recently married daughter. After several tense minutes on the phone, the mother told the father to pick up the extension. The newlyweds had had their first big fight. A few moments later the father came back to where his friends were waiting. He tersely explained, “She said she wanted to come home.” “What did you tell her?” his friends asked. “I told her she was home,” her father explained.
That father made a very good point. One of the popular songs in weddings today is titled, I Will Be Here, by Steven Curtis Chapman. The song is a simple declaration by Chapman that no matter what their marriage goes through, he will be there for his wife. Sadly, Chapman was inspired to write this song for his wife after he learned that his own parents were divorcing.
As Chapman says, “Seeing the pain of my parents’ divorce caused Mary Beth and I to ask ourselves how we could prevent this in our marriage. We spent many hours together in prayer and through that process came to understand that to love and forgive unconditionally on a daily basis is the only way a marriage can last.” “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” The imagery of someone plowing with an animal is vivid, isn’t it? The plowman must concentrate on the furrow before him, guiding the plow with one hand while goading the oxen with the other. Looking away even for a moment would result in a crooked furrow. Whatever you do, says Jesus, don’t look back. But let me revise this a bit by saying that after all God has done for us, in reality, a lifelong commitment is what we owe to God. This is the message of this verse.
Commitment to Christ and to His people isn’t to be taken halfheartedly. As they were walking along the road, a man said to [Jesus], “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” You see the problem these people were suffering from was excuses.
How many people do you know that has an excuse for not doing anything? It’s too hot, it’s too cold, I’m tired, it’s my day off, that’s someone else’s problem, someone else will do it, I’m not qualified, they’ll laugh at me, they won’t listen to me and so on and so on. I know a man who, because of excuses will never accomplish a thing. He always has an excuse.
This man is young but anytime work needs to be done all I ever hear is excuses. Excuses about how he was raised, his lack of intellectual capacity, his lack of the proper education, his health, it’s too far to walk, it’s raining, it’s hot, it’s cold. I think you get the idea. However, when this individual occasionally does puts his mind to it, I’ve seen him accomplish some pretty amazing things! If it’s important enough to him, or he’s desperate enough, it’s amazing how persistent he can be at accomplishing something. Excuses will get us nowhere, and truth be told, that’s all they are excuses. But when it’s important and when we put our minds to achieving the goal, amazing things can be accomplished, even in the face of some pretty trying circumstances.
In the early days of the church, countless people lost their lives as martyrs for Christ. Rather than weakening the Christian community, however, the stories of these suffering believers drew multitudes of people to the faith. One of these early martyrs was a young mother named Vibia Perpetua. Perpetua had an infant son to care for at the time, but no records exist of her husband. He may have died young, or he may have abandoned her after she converted. Both were common practices in those days.
Perpetua, a native of North Africa, was just twenty years old when she was imprisoned for giving her life to Christ. Fortunately, Perpetua was imprisoned with five other Christians. This small band of believers continued to worship God and uplift one another throughout this ordeal. They all remained strong in their faith, confident that they were doing God’s will. Perpetua reported that the suffering she experienced in prison only brought her closer to God, and increased her joy and peace. Twice, Perpetua’s father came to the jail and begged her to renounce her faith. He was from a noble, well-connected family, and he could have assured her freedom if she had cooperated. Though it broke her heart to refuse him, she held fast.
The day before they were executed, this tiny band of Christians gathered together and had an agape meal, an honored tradition in the early Church. Then, each of the believers was thrown in the arena with a wild animal. Most of the believers were gored to death, but the crowd protested at the sight of Perpetua’s body covered in bloody wounds, so she was removed from the arena and beheaded by a soldier. Somehow they thought this was more humane than death at the mercy of an animal. We may think the story of Perpetua had a tragic, senseless ending, but it was examples of a steadfast faith like Perpetua’s that inspired generations of believers after her.
You and I will probably never have our lives physically threatened because we follow Jesus, but doesn’t the example of Perpetua stand as a rebuke to the tepid lives many live as followers of Jesus? “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” One of the great secrets of success in life is that of perseverance.
This is true whether you are running an Iditarod race or teaching a kindergarten class in Sunday School. Perseverance is particularly important when our cause is just and our goals are lofty. There is no loftier goal than that of serving Christ. Beverly Masek ran alone through blizzards for 1,029 miles to win a dogsled race. Martin Luther had his life threatened unless he recanted and John Wesley was run off several times for preaching the gospel. The question we need to be asking ourselves is, how far will we go for Christ? Amen

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