High Standards

Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder

Trinity Church
Waltham, Massachusetts
June 30, 2013 – Pentecost VI

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:13-25, Luke 9:51-62

From the Old Testament:
Then he took hold of his own clothes and rent them in two pieces. And he took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.

From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

And from the Gospel of St. Luke:
Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.

This coming week we will be celebrating our nation’s birthday on July 4th and it’s also a time to remember the brave men and women that defend our nation and our freedoms on a daily basis around the world. Many come back with a loss of limb or other physical or mental illness. And then let us remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice; our prayers and gratefulness go out to them and their families.

In 2011, when Osama bin Laden was killed, we heard a lot about Delta force and our military’s Special Forces. Each branch of the military has Special Forces such as the Army Green Berets and the Navy SEALS. These very special brave men are tasked with six primary missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, hostage rescue, and counter-terrorism. Each recruit requires intensive training in a wide variety of subjects and techniques, not to mention mental fortitude and physical ability far beyond most people’s capabilities. Less than 20% are able to complete the course; it is that rigorous.

There is some talk of allowing women to enlist in this very elite fighting force. There was an article back in January of this year that quoted Adm. William McRawen, the commander of U.S. special operations, who stated that he expects to see women in the elite commando forces now that the Pentagon is allowing them to serve in combat. In fact, he said he was “fully supportive” of the decision to lift the ban on women in combat.

He went on to say that, “What we don’t want to do is say, if you want to become a SEAL, then we’re going to have a female standard and a male standard.” “We’ve always had a standard and I guarantee you, there will be [the same] standard.”

We have seen in recent years in youth sports where all the children will receive a trophy regardless of whether their team won or not, so that no child’s feelings would be hurt. So the standard is lowered or eliminated. How do we teach our children to compete, “to be all they can be,” or how to deal with defeat, if we don’t have winners and losers? Think how this would go over in professional sports: we wouldn’t need the World Series or the Stanley Cup; everyone would be winners.

Back when I was in school, I can remember that on occasion when I took a test, the teacher stated that she was going to grade the test on a curve. When the test results came back, she had to lower the curve or the standard, because no one did very well.

Back in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s standards of all kinds were being challenged. The dress code was basically eliminated; there was “open campus” where if you didn’t have a class you could leave school. In Newton, where I went to school, there was a special experimental school where the students didn’t receive grades, just a commentary from the teacher as to whether you mastered the material or not. There was a risk involved because it wasn’t known whether all colleges would accept this kind of “grading” system or not.

Jesus had very high standards for His disciples. In our Gospel reading, we have three men who could have become disciples, but they would not meet the conditions or standards that Jesus laid down.

The first man was a scribe (Matt. 8:19) who volunteered to go until he heard the cost: he had to deny himself. Apparently he was accustomed to a comfortable home and living. By today’s standards, this man would offer to go camping and show up in a RV; complete with a bed, kitchen and of course, in-door plumbing. “The Son of man has nowhere to lay his head” (Luke 9:58); once Jesus started His ministry, He had no home. Jesus and His disciples were always traveling from town to town and would quite often just curl up under a tree for the night.

The second man was called by Jesus, but he was rejected because he would not take up the cross and die to self. He was worried about his father’s funeral when he should have been planning his own! Jesus is not suggesting here that we dishonor our parents, but only that we not permit our love for family to weaken our love for the Lord. We should love Christ so much that our love for family would look like hatred in comparison (Luke 14:26). It was to emphasize priorities: God must come first.
We are to worship God, love people, and use things, but too often we use people, love self, and worship things, leaving God out of the picture completely.

The third man also volunteered, but he could not follow Christ because he was looking back instead of ahead. He wanted to say ‘good-bye’ to his family before he left to follow Christ. There is nothing wrong with a loving farewell, but if it gets in the way of obedience, it becomes sin. Jesus saw that this man’s heart was not wholly with Him, but that he would be plowing and looking back. This man would always being wondering, how his parents are getting along without him; he would be wondering if his brother got married and whether he had any children. He would always be wondering how his family was doing instead of focusing on the ministry that Jesus had for him.

From our Old Testament reading: Elijah was a good model for believers to imitate when it comes to the inevitability of one day leaving this earth, either through death or the rapture of the church. He didn’t stand around and do nothing, but instead he kept busy until the very moment the Lord called him. Even more, he didn’t ask his successor to give him anything, because we can’t take anything with us from earth to heaven, but instead he offered to give Elisha a gift before the end came. One of the best gifts we can leave is a prepared servant of God to take our place!

It appears that what Jesus taught His disciples and the multitudes had done them little good. He set a very high standard for them. They lacked power, love, and discipline, and they grieved His heart. If we today lack these spiritual essentials, we can never truly be His disciples, but they are available to us from the Lord. “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).

We need another power within, and that power comes from the Holy Spirit of God. When we believe on Christ, the Spirit comes to dwell within us (Gal. 3:2). We are “born after the Spirit” as was Isaac (Gal. 4:29). It is the Holy Spirit in the heart who gives assurance of salvation (Gal. 4:6); and it is the Holy Spirit who enables us to live for Christ and glorify Him. The Holy Spirit is not simply a “divine influence” He is a divine Person, just as are the Father and the Son. What God the Father planned for you and God the Son purchased on the cross, God the Spirit personalizes for you and applies to your life as you yield to Him.

In our Epistle reading, Paul begins by explaining our calling: we are called to liberty. The Christian is a free man. He is free from the guilt of sin because he has experienced God’s forgiveness. He is free from penalty of sin because Christ died for him on the cross. And he is, through the Spirit, free from the power of sin in his daily life. He is also free from the Law with its demands and threats. Christ bore the curse of the Law and ended its tyranny once and for all. We are “called unto liberty” because we are “called into the grace of Christ” (Gal. 1:6).

Having explained our calling, Paul then issues a caution: “Don’t allow your liberty to degenerate into license!” This, of course, is the fear of all people who do not understand the true meaning of the grace of God. If you do away with the Law, with its rules and regulations, then you create chaos and anarchy.

Of course, that danger is real, not because God’s grace fails, but because men fail of the grace of God (Heb. 12:15). If there is a “true grace of God” (1 Peter 5:12), then there is also a false grace of God; and there are false teachers who “change the grace of our God into a license for immorality” (Jude 4). So, Paul’s caution is a valid one. Christian liberty is not a license to sin but an opportunity to serve.

There was a man named Carl and one day he said to his wife, “I have an extra day off this week, so I think I’ll use it to fix Donna’s bike and then take Larry on that museum trip he’s been talking about. His wife responded, “That doesn’t sound like very exciting ways to spend your day off.” Carl answered, “It’s exciting if you love your kids!”

The amazing thing about love is that it takes the place of all the laws God ever gave. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” solves every problem in human relations. If you love people (because you love Christ), you will not steal from them, lie about them, envy them, or try in any way to hurt them. Love in the heart is God’s substitute for laws and threats.

On a much higher level, the Holy Spirit within gives us the love that we need. Unless the Holy Spirit of God is permitted to fill hearts with His love, selfishness and competition will reign.

The Holy Spirit does not work in a vacuum. He uses the Word of God, prayer, worship, and the fellowship of believers to build us up in Christ The believer who spends time daily in the Word and prayer, and who yields to the Spirit’s working, is going to enjoy liberty and will build up others and the church. The Holy Spirit writes God’s Law on our hearts, so that we desire to obey Him in love.

The characteristics or standards that God wants in our lives are seen in the ninefold fruit of the Spirit. Paul begins with love because all of the other fruit is really an outgrowth of love. This word for love is agape, which means divine love. This divine love is God’s gift to us (Rom. 5:5), and we must cultivate it and pray that it will increase (Phil. 1:9).

When a person lives in the sphere of love, then he experiences joy – that inward peace and sufficiency that is not affected by outward circumstances. This “holy optimism” keeps him going in spite of difficulties. Love and joy together produce peace, “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7). These first three qualities express the Godward aspect of the Christian life.

The next three characteristics express the manward aspect of the Christian life: long-suffering (courageous endurance without quitting), gentleness (kindness), and goodness (love in action).
The Christian who is long-suffering will not avenge himself or wish difficulties on those who oppose him. He will be kind and gentle, even with the most offensive, and will sow goodness where others sow evil. Human nature can never do this on its own; only the Holy Spirit can.

The final three qualities are selfward: faith (faithfulness, dependability); meekness (the right use of power and authority, power under control); and temperance (self-control).

Jesus has set some very high standards for us. He challenges us when we read His Word; He tests us to trust Him in dealing with the circumstances, situations and trials that we find ourselves in. People around us are starving for love, joy, peace, and all the other graces of the Spirit.

We do not bear fruit for our own consumption; we bear fruit that others might be fed and helped, and that Christ might be glorified. It takes patience, perserverance, an atmosphere of the Spirit, walking in the light, the seed of the Word of God, and a sincere desire to honor Christ. This will enable you to achieve the high standard that Jesus has set for us. May we become a member of God’s Special Forces and become a disciple of Christ.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.