Freedom and Focus

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Freedom and Focus

June 26, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14                Luke 9:57-62                          Galatians 5:1, 13-25

Have you seen the demonstrations of the capabilities of some of the new cameras?  I’m talking about the new phones with three lenses and a few other high-end cameras.  One of the neat tricks that they can do is known as “variable focus.” In days past, you could turn the lens to change the focus, but whatever you focused on, once you took the picture, that was what you had to live with. 

But variable focus cameras not only take the picture that you saw, but several more, from different angles, and the technology allows you to change the focus of the picture after you’ve already saved it in memory.  For example, you take a picture of some friends at a wedding, and after you get home you notice another person, in the background, doing something interesting.  A few years ago, you would just have to wonder who that was, or what it was that they were doing.  But with this technology you can open yesterday’s picture, zoom in, and refocus on the person in the background.

It’s a lot like real life.  We can choose what we want to focus upon.  Our eyes do that naturally, but we do that with the way that we live our lives as well.  I used to work as an engineer, but the focus of my life changed.  Or consider Alfred Nobel.  Mr. Nobel was a brilliant scientist who spoke six languages, earned his first patent at the age of twenty-four and eventually held 355 patents for a wide variety of discoveries.  But his best know patent was for a safe method of using nitroglycerine as an explosive, in other words… dynamite.  That patent made him a wealthy man, but when a newspaper erroneously wrote his obituary before his death, they referred to him as a “war profiteer” and he didn’t like it.  Mr. Nobel didn’t want his legacy to be one of destruction, and so he created, and gave his entire fortune to, the Nobel institution, so that annual prizes would be given to those persons who “conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” Alfred Nobel changed the focus of his life, and it made a difference to the world.

With that in mind, let’s read today’s scriptures and, as we do, let’s look for where we can see the focus of the people in them.  We begin with 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 and the story of how Elijah ends his time on earth and passes the mantle of his ministry onward to his apprentice Elisha.

2:1 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went down to Bethel.

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, the two of them walked on.

Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

Everyone knew that today was the day that God would take Elijah from the earth.  Elijah knew, Elisha knew and, in the verses of scripture that we skipped, hundreds of Israel’s prophets along the path of their journey also knew and asked Elisha to be sure that he knew (He did).  But along the way, several times, Elijah tells his apprentice to stay behind and Elisha, however obedient he might normally have been, flatly refuses to be anywhere except where Elijah is. 

Elisha is completely focused on loyalty, respect, and honor.

As a result, Elijah asks what he can do for Elisha before God takes him away, and Elisha asks that he be twice as spiritual, twice as godly, twice as powerful, twice as devoted, and twice as close to, and twice as focused on God as Elijah had been.  Elijah knows that this is not a gift that he can give and so he tells his friend that if God allows him to see him as he is taken from the earth, then he will know that God has given him this gift.  And he does.  As proof that God has given him this gift, on his way home Elisha repeats the miracle that Elijah had just performed when he slaps the Jordan River with Elijah’s coat, the water parts like the Red Sea in front of Moses, and he walks to the other side on dry land.

We see the same focus on priorities and… well… focus, in Luke 9:57-62, as the time came for Jesus to be taken up from the earth.

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

This passage draws a distinction between the different sorts of people who followed Jesus.  We usually talk about Jesus’ disciples, but in this passage, we also meet people that we would, in modern language, refer to as Jesus’ groupies.  They were enamored of Jesus and what Jesus was doing but Jesus makes it clear that they are only attracted to the idea of what he is doing and not to the reality of what he was doing.  To the first case, Jesus simply reminds the man that Jesus and all who follow him, are homeless.  There is no healthcare plan, there is no home base of ministry, there is no wealth, and there isn’t even a definitive destination for their journey together.  And in the next three cases, Jesus’ responses all ask that these groupies reconsider what their priorities really are.  To be a disciple, rather than a groupie, requires a complete and dedicated focus.  A farmer that looks back, or becomes distracted, while plowing a field will not be able to plow straight lines but will instead plow a field with wandering furrows.

But why is that important?  Why do wandering furrows matter?  Why does focus matter?

Those questions are answered by Paul as he writes to the church in Galatia to explain how the followers of Jesus Christ should use the freedom that Jesus paid for with his life (Galatians 5:1, 13-25).

5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whateveryou want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Paul reminds the church that Jesus has purchased our freedom and the reason that he spent his life to do that was… freedom.  Paul cleverly repeats those words, saying that we were set free for freedom, in order to remind us that if we do not stand firm in what we believe, then we will give up what we have gained, give away our freedom, and return to our slavery voluntarily.   Yes, we are free.  But Paul’s reminder is that using our freedom to serve ourselves, to pursue a life of pleasure, or to be argumentative, angry, and destructive with one another, takes us back to the slavery that we once escaped.  Rather than practicing immorality, impurity, worshipping idols of stone, fame, money, or work, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, rage, selfishness, division, envy, drunkenness, and free sex, the followers of Jesus Christ are called to live lives of service to the people around us, to love our neighbors, and be loving, joyful, kind, agents of peace, goodness, and faithfulness, and to be calm, faithful to God, and to one another.

How we use our freedom, is what distinguishes Jesus’ disciples from groupies.

How we use our freedom reveals our priorities and our focus.

If we focus on the wrong things, we throw away the freedom for which Jesus paid so dearly and return, voluntarily, to a life of slavery to sin and death.

Our freedom has been bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus.  But the only way that we will be able to keep it is to stand firm and keep our focus on the mission in front of us.  If we lose our focus, our paths will wander and take us places that we never want to go.

Can you hear Jesus asking?

Are you disciples or are you groupies?


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Dimensional Rifts, and You

Dimensional Rifts and You*

February 14, 2021

by Pastor John Partridge

2 Kings 2:1-12                        Mark 9:2-9                             2 Corinthians 4:3-6

If you are a fan of Star Trek, science fiction, comic books, the Marvel moviemaking universe, or physics, you have almost certainly heard of dimensional rifts.  For those of you who have not, the basic idea is that other universes exist, within the same space as our own, but slightly out of phase with ours in some way, or more to the point, in a slightly different dimension than our own.  In comic books this is used to explain how Captain Marvel and Superman can both exist on a planet known as Earth but have never met one another or how Doctor Strange can magically travel from one place to another.  In Star Trek, it provides an opportunity for the heroes to encounter strange new aliens, or the basis of cloaking technology, or for the famous episode in which a good Captain Kirk fights with an evil Captain Kirk as well as how we remember Mr. Spock with a goatee.  In all these cases, a dimensional rift is place where, by accident or design, two different worlds that are ordinarily separated can meet, and even interact, with one another.

But since none of us are characters in comic books, television, or movies, what does any of that have to do with us?  And the answer is that these examples from our imagination might aid our understanding of a few unusual moments that we encounter in scripture.  Our first example of this for today if found in 2 Kings 2:1-12 where we read about the last day of the prophet Elijah’s life on earth.

2:1 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went down to Bethel.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went to Jericho.

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, the two of them walked on.

Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

While the spiritual world is normally invisible to those of us in the physical world, there are moments, like this one, when a dimensional rift seems to open between them, and the spiritual world breaks out into ours.  As Elisha cries out in amazement, a chariot, and horses of fire emerge into our physical world and separate Elijah and Elisha just as Elijah is carried into heaven by a tornado of swirling winds.  And, just as suddenly as they appeared, the horses, the chariot, and the whirlwind, disappear back through the rift taking Elijah with them.

At least a part of the message for us is something that both Elijah and Elisha were well aware, that although it is most often unseen by us in the physical world, the spiritual world is just as real as ours and what happens in the spiritual world has an impact on the physical world as well as those of us who inhabit it.  The message of scripture is that the spiritual world is connected to our world, and influences the events of our world, even if it only occasionally breaks through in such a way that it can be seen by us.

Perhaps the most well-known dimensional rift between the spiritual and physical worlds is recorded for us in Mark 9:2-9 where we read the story of Jesus’ transfiguration:

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

Because much like the angels, Jesus is himself a spiritual creature, during the time of his ministry on earth, he existed in both the spiritual and the physical worlds.  Despite that dual existence, his spiritual presence was not visible to the physical world, until a rift between the two opened on the top of that mountain.  At that moment, and in that place, both the physical and spiritual worlds existed, and were visible in the physical world, at the same time.  Although Mark describes Jesus as being “transfigured” in the presence of Peter, James, and John, we might also think of this as a moment in which the Disciples were simply able to see Jesus as he really was, or how he would ordinarily appear to be in the spiritual world.  And, because our two worlds collided in that moment, the disciples were also able to see Elijah and Moses, men who were long dead in the physical world, but whose lives had continued, uninterrupted, in the spiritual world.

But why does any of that matter to us?

It matters because it has implications for the people, and for the church, in the first, and in the twenty-first centuries.  In 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Paul writes to the church to explain our role in sharing the gospel and explains how we, as the followers of Jesus Christ, can be the agents of the spiritual world in the creation of “dimensional rifts.”  Paul says:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

While it may be helpful to think of the spiritual world as being in another dimension or on the “other side” of a dimensional rift the truth, Paul says, is that the “god of this age” that blinds unbelievers to the truth.  And, while some have taught that the “god of this age” is Satan, Paul never describes the enemy of God in this way and likely would never have elevated one of God’s enemies to the status of a “god.”  But what Paul has described as a god, are things like wealth, money, sex, power, selfishness, culture, princes, governments, and other things that can be worshiped in place of the one true God.  Our own sin is what blinds us to the truth of the gospel and to the nearness of the spiritual world.  But, as the followers of Jesus Christ, we have the power to be “dimensional rifts” between the spiritual and the physical worlds.  We have the ability and the power to let light shine out of darkness, to let the light and truth of the spiritual world break out into the darkness of the physical world in which we live.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, we can let his spiritual light shine in our hearts so that we can see the truth and so that God’s glory can be revealed to the people around us.

We are the “dimensional rifts.” We are called to be the sources of light and the sources of truth.  We are the ones who can fight against the gods of this age, who can fight against the worship of self, money, power, pleasure, and everything else.  We are the ones who can help our neighbors to see the light of the gospel by letting the light of Jesus shine in our hearts and break through into our spiritual dimension.

You may not be the captain of a starship and it may not be quite like what you might find in an episode of Star Trek, a movie from the Marvel Universe, or a Doctor Strange comic book.  But you are called to be a dimensional rift, and let the light, love, and truth of the spiritual world fill your heart and break out into your neighborhood and your community so that the people around you can see and hear the truth of the gospel of Jesus.

Make it so.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/QhG52V8fQE0

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.