A Lifetime of Service
3rd Sunday after Epiphany
A Lifetime of Service
1. Jesus commands it
2. Jesus inspires it
3. Jesus empowers it
Text: 1 Kings 19:19-21
Could you do it? Could you be like Elisha? Like Paul and Barnabas? Like Peter, Andrew, James, and John? Could you drop everything to follow the Lord?
As the four fishermen in the gospel today dropped their nets to follow Jesus they also left behind their careers, their livelihood, and everything they were comfortable with in life. As Paul, Barnabas, and company set sail from Antioch they embarked on a missionary trip of unforeseen troubles, disasters, and persecutions. Everything else in their life was put on hold for that trip. As Elisha watched his oxen sizzling as steaks over the fire burning with his own plowing equipment, he might as well have been watching $100 bills burning because his income source was gone.
Could you do it? Could you be like these men and dedicate yourself to A Lifetime of Service?
Well guess what! You don’t have a choice, because Jesus commands it. The great news though is that Jesus also inspires it and empowers it! You can and will live A Lifetime of Service.
We aren’t told it in 1 Kings, but it would appear as though Elisha had no idea what was about to happen. He was out plowing his fields, driving the last out of twelve pairs of oxen. Suddenly Elijah appeared out of nowhere.
Elijah was legendary in Israel. This was the prophet who was miraculously fed by ravens. This was the prophet who defeated the 450 prophets of the false gods Baal and Asherah. Everyone knew about Elijah. And even if you had never met Elijah before, you knew him when you saw him because of his special cloak.
It must have been a surprise when Elijah showed up. More surprising to Elisha was that he was suddenly wearing Elijah’s famous mantle, or cloak. This cloak was the symbol of his prophetic office. It’s the historic and biblical background for the stole that I wear, the symbol of an ordained pastor (and why Vicar Hoff doesn’t wear a stole).
Surprised as he may have been, Elisha knew immediately what it meant. He knew that he had been called by God to follow in Elijah’s footsteps. He knew that he had been called by God to A Lifetime of Service. So he asked if he could kiss his father and mother and say goodbye, and then he set out to follow Elijah.
Could you do it? Could you kiss your mother and father goodbye, leave everything behind, and follow the Lord with A Lifetime of Service?
Equally surprising to Elisha’s calling is that Jesus has called you. He has called you to A Lifetime of Service! In fact, he doesn’t just ask, but Jesus commands A Lifetime of Service. Jesus once said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus also teaches us to let our lights shine in the world, to season this world with our Christian saltiness, to bear good fruits of faith, to love our neighbors as ourselves. With these words and more, Jesus commands A Lifetime of Service.
I have a different kind of calling. I have been called by God through you, the church, to serve full time in the ministry of preaching and teaching. Many of our teachers have the same full time calling for the ministry of teaching. Jake has a full time calling in the ministry of preaching and teaching for one year as a vicar. God-willing he will receive the calling as a pastor in a year and a half. This calling that we pastors and teachers have is more along the lines of Elisha, Paul and Barnabas, and the fishermen disciples from the gospel today.
This is different than your calling. God has not called you to a lifetime of service as a pastor or teacher. But yet, God has still called you to A Lifetime of Service. God has called you to let your light shine at work. God has called you to look for opportunities to share your faith. God has called you to help those in need, to love even the undeserving, to give of your time and talents to help his church grow, and so much more.
You might be in sales. You might be in retail. You might be employed by the government. You might be unemployed. You might be a full time mommy. You might be retired. Whatever you do and wherever you are, God has called you to A Lifetime of Service. In fact, Jesus even commands it.
The question is, are we as willing to serve the Lord as Elisha was? What he was about to do was by no means easy. His predecessor Elijah was hated by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. He was on the run for his life. At one point he felt like he was the only believer left in all of Israel. Yet Elisha willingly followed Elijah to serve.
Are we as willing? How many times have you finished a conversation with someone and thought, “You know, I probably could have shared my faith there and invited that person to church”? How many times have you regretted what you have done or said and knew you could have been more loving? How many times have we indulged in our own passions and cravings because doing that feels better or is easier than doing it God’s way?
Jesus has commanded us to serve him every moment of every day of our lives. We don’t have to be doing church work to serve him. We can live Christian lives of love in everything we do. Yet shamefully we aren’t always so willing or eager. We don’t always jump up to serve as quickly as Elisha or Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Sometimes we just don’t want to do it at all.
So what is it that made Elisha leave? Why would he want to leave his father and mother behind? Many commentators suggest that if he had at least 12 pair of oxen (24 total) that Elisha was probably also a wealthy man. Why would Elisha want to leave behind all his possessions? Why would Elisha cut all ties with his former life? Once he slaughtered the oxen and burned his plowing equipment, there was no turning back.
Why would he want to fight an uphill battle with Elijah? Why would he want to become an enemy of Ahab and Jezebel too? Why would he want to bring on so much opposition as a servant of the Lord? Why would he want to live such a difficult life filled with challenges and persecution?
There’s only one possible answer. Elisha knew whom he was serving. It wasn’t Elijah the famous prophet. Elisha would be serving the Lord. Perhaps we can find a clue in Elisha’s name. Elisha means God is salvation. Elisha left behind all his earthly things to be a servant of the God Most High who was going to bring salvation to Israel and to all the ends of the earth. And that’s why we serve too. We lead A Lifetime of Service because Jesus inspires it.
God commands us to serve with unfaltering hearts of love. That is something we fall so far short of with our weak and feeble hearts. We become distracted and follow worldly things. We become apathetic and lose our passion for serving the Lord. But Jesus never failed to be a servant of the Lord. He had compassion on the sick and helpless. He stooped to wash his disciples’ feet. He curbed his power when his enemies tortured him. He even asked for forgiveness for his enemies while he hung from the cross. Jesus lived a perfect life of service for us.
The crowning gem of that lifetime of service was his suffering and death. Not once was Jesus deterred from following through with God’s promise of salvation. He allowed his friend to betray him. He allowed the Jews to accuse him. He allowed the Romans to beat him. He kept silent as he was led to the slaughter. He willingly was nailed to a cross. He held and hid his divine power as he bled and died.
All this he did in ultimate service and devotion and love for you and for me. We should be the ones serving him for all the great and wonderful things he does for us. Yet because we sinned and failed, he came to serve us and sacrifice his life and pay for his sins.
Brothers and sisters, it is that service and salvation of the Lord that inspires us to live a life of service in return. “We love because he first loved us.” We serve because he first served us.
Jesus, who lived and died for me, fills me with a joy that makes me want to let my light shine out in the world. Jesus who took away all my guilt gives me such peace of mind that I can’t wait to share that peace with someone else. Jesus who gave up everything, even himself, to serve me makes me want to spend every ounce of my time, talents, and treasures in service to him.
You may not be a fulltime prophet like Elisha. You may not be an apostle like Peter, Andrew, James, John, or Paul. You may not be a pastor like I am or like Jake is soon to be. Yet no matter what each of us does, we all joyfully lead A Lifetime of Service because Jesus inspires it.
After Elisha left his family and fortune behind, there must have been moments of uncertainty. At the very least, he must have felt some fear and anxiety trying to fill the big sandals of his predecessor Elijah. Elijah had done some amazing things. God had performed some incredible miracles for Elijah and through Elijah. How could Elisha continue to serve?
Yet Elisha was also empowered and encouraged by the Lord along the way. He was a witness to Elijah being carried off to heaven in chariots of fire. He received the blessing of a double-portion of Elijah’s strength as a prophet. And he was continually strengthened and encouraged along the way as God allowed him to be a part of many other miracles too, including the raising of a boy from the dead. The Lord encouraged and empowered Elisha during his lifetime of service.
We too can lead A Lifetime of Service because Jesus empowers it. He has not left us to fend for ourselves in this dark world of sin. He has not left us to fight for ourselves against all our many enemies. Jesus reminds us that all authority in heaven and on earth belongs to him. Jesus reminds us that surely he is with us always, even to the end of the age.
He also empowers us as we are witnesses to miracles on a regular basis. We witness miracles as he adopts people into his family through baptism. We witness miracles as we see stony and sinful hearts changed by the power of God’s Word. We witness miracles as more and more people join our ranks at Christ the King to serve Jesus and reach out with his good news to this community. We witness miracles as God continues to preserve our lives in this world as he guides us to our heavenly home.
A Lifetime of Service might seem intimidating at first. But then we realize that the God who was with Elijah, Elisha, and the apostles is also with us. Jesus empowers us to serve!
As the apostle Paul sat in prison once more, he knew that his life was likely about to end. So Paul wrote to the young pastor Timothy to encourage him to continue in his faithful service to the Lord. Here’s what Paul wrote: “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord . . . But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace . . . I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed.”
Could you do it? Could you leave behind everything like Elisha to serve the Lord? Absolutely! In fact, we do it every day! Every day we leave behind our old sinful ways. Every day we flee from the temptations and traps of the devil. Every day we remember the one in whom we believe—the one who has saved us and called us to live a holy life. Every day we wake up with the joy of Jesus in our hearts and every day we fall asleep with the cross of Christ before our closing eyes.
Pastors, teachers, salespeople, office workers, city workers, the self-employed, the unemployed, the stay at home parents, the retired, and everyone else in between—we all joyfully serve Jesus each and every day in everything we do. Not with a spirit of timidity, but with a spirit of power, of love and of self discipline.
What a joy to lead A Lifetime of Service because Jesus inspires it and Jesus empowers it!
Posted on January 22, 2012, in Church, Sermons and tagged 1 Kings, 1 Kings 19, Andrew, Barnabas, Church, Elijah, Elisha, James John, Paul, Peter, Sermons, Serve, Service, Serving. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.