I Love You, But…
June 30, 2019*
By Pastor John Partridge
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 Luke 9:51-62 Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Have you ever watched those Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel? Or even old westerns, or some of the romanticized war movies? In a great many of those movies, there is a scene where the two romantic leads go their separate ways, and there is always a conversation that runs along the lines of, “I love you honey, but this thing is bigger than two of us.” It’s a phrase that’s been around for so long, and used in so many books and movies, that no one can even guess where it was used first. It’s a cliché in movies, but it has obvious, and tragic, uses in “real life” too.
Whether it has been said out loud or not, how many times have relationships ended because one person was more in love with their independence than they were with the other person? Or their commitment to another person, or an addiction, or any number of things was greater than their commitment to the other romantic lead. In these cases, the phrase “I love you, but…” can just as easily be replaced with, I don’t love you enough to be what you need, or what you want. Or maybe it’s too harsh to boil that down to just, “I don’t love you enough.”
Those kinds of break-up stories aren’t limited to romantic relationships. We leave jobs for many of the same reasons and tell our employers that our families, or our checkbooks, or our feeling of self-fulfillment is more important to us than they are. And unfortunately, our relationships with God are often much the same. Too often, we tell God, through our actions, if not our words, that other things are more important to us than God is.
But before we talk about abandonment, let’s begin this morning with a story that illustrates true commitment and dedication. We begin this morning with one of the greatest stories of transition and succession in all of history. As the great prophet Elijah, advanced in age and near death, comes to the end of his career, he is followed and assisted in everything that he does by his protégé, Elisha. And, as God calls Elijah home, we hear this story in 2 Kings 2:1-14.
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. 2 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.
3 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.”
4 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.
5 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.”
6 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.
7 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. 8 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.
9 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.
Elisha declares that he will never leave his mentor Elijah even though they both knew that this was the day that God would take Elijah from the earth. And, as they travel, they discover that all the other prophets of Israel know that as well. Each time they pass by one of the places where God’s prophets gather, the prophets in that place already know what’s going on. And when the time finally comes, and God sends a chariot of fire to carry Elijah away, it was necessary for the horses of the chariot to separate them because Elisha stayed true to his word and refused to leave his mentor’s side. And even then, he tears his garment in a sign of mourning that they have been separated.
Elisha was true to his word no matter what.
But the reverse is true for everyone who makes those same kinds of promises to Jesus in Luke 9:51-62.
51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.
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.”
The Samaritans don’t want Jesus because they knew he was traveling to the temple in Jerusalem and not to their temple. Their position was, “We love you, but only if you worship like us.” The disciples wanted to destroy the Samaritans and it was as if they were saying, “We love you, but we were hoping you would destroy anyone who isn’t like us.” The next man offers to follow Jesus, but Jesus knows that he won’t. Jesus knows that what he’s really saying is, “I love you, but not if you’re homeless.” The next two are willing, but essentially answer Jesus by saying, “I love you, but only when it’s convenient.” But none of these answers rise to the level of Jesus’ expectation. Jesus says that when you set out to plow a field, you focus on what is ahead and not on what is behind. The focus of the farmer must be on farming and if it isn’t then he should probably be doing something else.
What God wants is the kind of dedication that Elisha had for Elijah, a single-minded determination that was focused exclusively on his love for his mentor. For Elisha, “I will not leave you” meant exactly that and nothing else. Only God himself could separate them. And that’s what Jesus wants for us as his followers as well. When we are called to be the followers of Jesus, we are called to love him with our whole heart, but that’s often harder than we expect it to be when put into practice. In real life, we are easily distracted by the things that make us feel good. In Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Paul explains it this way:
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 whatever you 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; 20 idolatry 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, 23 gentleness 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.
In Paul’s mind, because we have been set free from sin, then we ought to do everything we can to live lives separate from sin so that we do not become burdened and tied to the same sin from which we were once set free. As Americans, we often talk about enjoying freedom, and many times that discussion involves talking about how we are free to do the things that scripture teaches us not to do. But Paul’s idea is quite different. Real freedom, he says, is not found in indulging ourselves and doing things that feel good, instead, real freedom is found in service to others, humility, love, and obedience to God. The Spirit of God and the desires of our fleshly bodies often run contrary to one another. Our freedom means that we should not do whatever we want to do because Jesus died so that we could be set free from sin, not set free for sin.
But, just to be sure that we are getting his point, Paul lists some of the common things of the flesh that cause human beings to go astray, “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.” When we pursue these things, we wander from the path of salvation and risk losing our inheritance altogether. Instead, we are to seek to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit. When we are truly following the example of Jesus Christ, our neighbors and friends will see things like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control” in our lives.
When we say “I love you” to God, it shouldn’t include exceptions that make it sound like “I love you, but…” God wants us to love him without reservation, with all our heart, all our mind, and with all our soul.
If we want to follow Jesus, and become like Jesus, then we have to give one hundred percent.
If we want to bear spiritual fruit, “I love you, but…”
…is not going to get us where we want to go.
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