Freedom. It certainly feels to me like the weekend to be dealing with that idea.
My kids and I have been watching the BBC for days. They are talking about lots of things I care about in accents that make me feel right at home.
And the idea of freedom runs through all that we have been hearing on the BBC these last few days.
Scottish freedom to be their own nation.
Britain’s freedom to leave Europe.
Scots’ freedom to stay in Europe.
The European’s freedom to cross borders.
A citizen’s freedom to find work, to be safe and to live well.
Freedom. It’s a hot topic in this country’s current election too, is it not? Freedom from big government.
Freedom from outside threat.
Freedom from inside threat.
Freedom from establishment politics.
Freedom to find work, to be safe and to live well.
That idea of freedom is in the life blood of this country. I can relate – it’s in the life blood of my own. Freedom from a King (or Queen or a ruling class) who serve their own interests. Freedom to live under a government that doesn’t oppress. Freedom to know that the inalienable right to a safe and prosperous way of being for all is prioritized and privileged and protected.
Elijah knows a thing or two about the role of the King. He is called by God and given the unenviable task of reminding the kings, queens, and those who rule and hold the power the contents of their job description and how very important it is that they comply. Theirs is a job description filed away in the law of the people as given to Moses.
“One of your own community”, it, says, “you may set as king over you….he must not acquire many horses for himself,… and he must not acquire many wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; also silver and gold he must not acquire in great quantity for himself. 18When he has taken the throne of his kingdom, he shall have a copy of this law written for him…. 19It shall remain with him and he shall read in it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, diligently observing all the words of this law and these statutes, 20neither exalting himself above other members of the community nor turning aside from the commandment, either to the right or to the left.”1
The law to which this job description refers made it very clear that God’s people, including the king of the time, were to worship and follow God. A God who loves God’s people and who provides through God provision, and through the tenets of this law, a place of peace and abundance for those who live in the land. Those living in the land are to steward the land making special provision for the weak and vulnerable and are to make a place of hospitality and welcome for any who come.
Elijah was needed however because the kings, and their queens and the ruling classes, well they forgot their job. They saw threat everywhere they looked instead of trusting in God’s way and they abused their power to accumulate the things they thought they needed to keep them safe. They forgot the people to whom they were bound. They forgot God.
Elijah is one in a series of God’s prophets who go up against corrupt kings. It’s worth noting that we are in the 2nd book of kings – 2 whole books worth of kings spanning 400 years who were chosen and anointed to take care of the people in God’s name but who more often than not ended up using that power to take what they wanted, and who ended up abusing their role.
Elijah’s story here in 2nd Kings harkens back to the story of another king. That Egyptian pharaoh who oppressed all of God’s people and their prophet leader Moses who in turn led them through the wilderness and across the sea into freedom. Elisha, the one who sees God’s action in Elijah’s life as dramatically and a clearly as he saw that fiery chariot and horse in today’s story is the one who will carry on in Elijah’s way just as Joshua did for Moses.
Luke writes about Jesus as the new Moses. Jesus is the one who comes to teach the people what a life that is free from the oppressions of the time looks like: a life where those suffering are cared for, the brokenhearted are comforted, and the hungry are fed. And Jesus comes to remind the religious leaders of the day just who they answer to – the God of love and promise - and what their leadership should look like – ie. one that is not self-serving but is instead committed to the care of the people.
But Jesus also trains up a new generation of leaders – his disciples - who will carry on in his way after he is gone. To these disciples he makes it clear throughout the gospel that the job they have is to teach folks to love their neighbors by, well by loving their neighbors. You see Jesus’s mission goes beyond that of Elijah’s. He is not here to just correct kings (and queens.) – the ruling classes. He is here to invite everyman (and woman) into this way. Everyone, you and me are invited to set their face on God, invited into a life that demonstrates God’s desire for creation and helps God people see and know a God who loves then.
But he warns us in this story today that it’s a way that will demand life be turned upside down. The ordinary tasks of life will be dramatically affected. The things that normally take precedence will be less important. We will be asked to give of ourselves in significant ways and respond in ways that are not the norm in our world.
And I think this is what Paul is getting at when he says in that letter to the church at Galatia – a new generation of Jesus followers - that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. This way of Christ, this way of God, involves a freedom from the rules that we have learned to play by. We are free Paul explains to listen and to love instead of vilifying and attacking other. We are free to not close ourselves off from others, not to assume the worse, but to speak and to respond to all creation, even the parts that we don’t understand, with gentleness, and patience and love, with joy, with generosity, with faithfulness, and with some self-control.
You see, nothing, nothing, no earthly ruler, no drawbridges or fences, no amount of wealth or power can overcome these things. They always win the day. These are the ways that bring peace and hope and promise, they remind us who we are and whose we are even in the most desperate of circumstances. They are the simply, honestly, the way to everlasting life. They bring peace.
Give me a double measure of your Spirit Elisha asks his mentor Elijah. That’s not for me to do Elijah tells him, trust in the vision that God will give you. So he does and he sees a God that is beyond the ways of this world and in the power of that vision he goes on to lead in faithful and important ways.
It is striking to me that 75% of British voters under 25 voted to stay in relationship with their European neighbors. I wonder what these young people see that others didn’t or could no longer see. I wonder what our young people see that years of making our way in a world that prefers to gravitate to enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, and factions has convinced us to give up on.
I wonder what those graduates that we are celebrating today and their cohort see. What is their vision of freedom? What is their vision of what God wants? What do they have to teach us about how we get there? It seems to me, based on everything we have read today, that if we were to consistently and authentically invite them into conversation, if we were to consistently and authentically spend time with them in all kindness, gentleness, patience and love, in all joy, faithfulness and with some self-control we might we see through them and with them a God who goes before all of us. A God of Love and Promise and Peace who wants so very dearly to set us free. Free not from each other bur for each other and for a peace. Amen.