June 26th, 2022 homily on 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 and Galatians 5:1, 13-25 by Pastor Galen
Great Power, Great Responsibility
It has often been said that “With great power, comes great
responsibility.” While some may know of this quote mostly because of Marvel Comics and Spider-Man, this quote is actually a reformulation of an ancient adage going back at least to the first century BC. And the sentiment, though not the saying itself, is found throughout the Bible.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” There are many people in our world who are drawn to power, but may not always see or understand the weight of responsibility that comes along with it.
This happened to me when I was in 7th grade and ran for the office of treasurer for my Middle school student government association. Now I’m not exactly sure why I decided to run for the office of treasurer. Maybe not many other people were running for the office and I thought I would have a good chance of winning. Or perhaps I had a friend that was running for another position in SGA and they encouraged me to run for office along with them. Or maybe I just wanted the title. I’m not sure.
Either way, I do remember that I got very excited about campaigning for office, because I had what I thought was the best and most original campaign slogan ever: “Vote for Galen, vote for Change!” Get it? Because as the treasurer, I was going to be dealing with money, and back when people used actual cash to buy things, they would get change back with their purchase. So I wanted to convey that a vote for me as the treasurer would not only bring about the much-needed turnaround that apparently our school was in dire need of, but also that I would maximize our middle school limited funding through frugal spending and conscientious accounting.
To drive home this point, I scotch-taped a penny to every one of the quarter-sheet flyers emblazoned with my campaign slogan Vote for Change that I gave out to the 100+ other students in my middle school. It was the best dollar that I ever spent, because not only did my marketing campaign catch people’s attention, but I won the election in a landslide!
Funny enough, while I remember my effective election campaign in great detail, I honestly do not remember a single decision that I made as treasurer that brought about significant or lasting change in my middle school. Nor do I really even remember enjoying keeping the financial records that much! I don’t think I really wanted to be the treasurer in actuality – I think I had just wanted the title. But I did learn through that experience that with power comes
A Double Portion the Inheritance
Such was the case with the prophet Elisha, who was mentored by the great prophet Elijah, and who, in 2 Kings chapter 2, asked Elijah for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9).
In asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, Elisha wasn’t just asking to have twice the charismatic personality of Elijah, or to be twice as popular as Elijah, or even to be able to perform twice as many miracles as Elijah performed. (Many people have gone to great lengths to show that Elisha went on to perform exactly twice as many miracles as Elijah – but the overall number depends on how you define miracles).
But in asking to inherit a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, Elisha “was using cultural terms derived from inheritance law to express his desire to carry on Elijah’s ministry. [According to the book of Deuteronomy] inheritance law assigned a double portion of a father’s possessions to the firstborn son (see Deut 21:17).”
Now, as the younger brother of my family, I used to think it was unfair that in Bible times the oldest brother received a double portion of the inheritance. But in her book, Stewards of Eden , Old Testament scholar Dr. Sandra L. Richter explains that, in a
patriarchal tribal society that had no unemployment benefits, SNAP, medicaid, or social security, the oldest male member of the family was responsible for the economic well-being of all of the extended family members who were under his care, and this included those “extended household members who became marginalized through poverty, death, or war” (Sandra L. Richter, Stewards of Eden: What Scripture Says About the Environment and Why It Matters , 69.) Not only that, but with no police force, foster-care system, public hospitalities, or orphanages, he was also responsible for looking out for and ensuring the safety, health and protection of all of those extended family members as well.
Since the eldest brother would have assumed these responsibilities after the father passed away, it’s no wonder the eldest brother needed a double portion of the inheritance! Being the patriarch of the family was a lot of hard work.
A Double Portion of Elijah’s Spirit
Elisha, though not a biological son of Elijah, was sort of Eljah’s adopted son. In a very dramatic fashion (which you can read about in 1 Kings 19), Elisha had left his own father’s household to be trained under Elijah as his apprentice.
Elisha’s mentor Elijah was a powerful prophet in Israel who not only performed amazing miracles such as raising a widow’s son back to life, calling down fire from the sky, and preventing the rain from falling for 3 1/2 years, but he even morso a prophet who spoke truth to power, calling the king and queen and all of the people to repent of their idolatry, and return to the worship of the one true God.
Not only that, but Elijah was also the overseer and mentor to several schools of prophets, as we read about here in 2 Kings 2.
And so when Elisha asks if he can inherit a double portion of Elijah’s spirit when Elijah leaves and goes up to heaven, Elisha was, knowingly or not, asking not only for great power, but for the even greater responsibility that came along with that, in stepping into the role of lead prophet of Israel, overseeing the various schools of prophecy, and continuing the trend of speaking truth to power and calling his country and its leaders to repentance.
This is why Elijah said that Elisha had “asked a hard thing” in 2 Kings chapter 10. Not because it was a difficult request to grant, but rather it was a difficult responsibility to bear. But Elisha’s request was indeed granted, and he did in fact become Elijah’s successor and function in the role of lead prophet for the rest of his life.
Living the Spirit Life
Our worship series these past several weeks following Pentecost has been entitled “Living the Spirit Life.” We’re reminded of when Jesus was getting ready to leave this earth, and how he promised to give his Holy Spirit to each and every one of his followers, to teach us and instruct us and lead us in the way of truth.
We’re reminded too of that first Pentecost Sunday, when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the early Church. And we’re reminded that the Holy Spirit is continually poured out on the Church to this day, continuing to empower us to serve God and others.
As followers of Christ who have been adopted into the family of God, each of us have been given an inheritance – a gift of the Spirit to use for the building up of the Church.
We learn throughout the New Testament that the Holy Spirit gives these gifts to every member of the Church – no one is excluded, and that these gifts are given to us to empower us to serve God and others.
For some that gift might be teaching, or preaching, or encouraging, or serving, for others healing, or words of wisdom. Some of these gifts may not seem as miraculous as others – teaching may not seem as supernatural as healing – but each and every one of these gifts are indeed given by God. And with these each and every one of these gifts comes not only great power, but also great responsibility. And as such we need to stewards these gifts well, to make sure we are using them in the way they were intended to be used.
The Fruit of the Spirit
Perhaps this is why in Galatians chapter 5 the Apostle Paul talks about the “fruit of the Spirit.” Because it matters not just that we have gift, or roles, or responsibilities, but it matters how we use the gifts with which we’ve been entrusted.
Because there are a lot of ways in which power – even spiritual power – can be and is often abused. And so here in Galatians, the Apostle Paul tells us what the result – the fruit – of the Spirit should look like in our lives. No matter what gifts or roles or responsibilities we have been given, the result should be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
If we are leveraging our gifts, or our roles, or our responsibilities in any other way than these, then we are working against God’s plans and purposes in the world, rather than for and with.
This is how we know the Spirit is at work within us. Not because we can do miraculous signs and wonders – there are few who can do that, and even fewer who can do that well. But each of us as believers, as we open ourselves up to the Spirit of God to work in our lives, we can each grow more loving, more patient and gentle and kind, more generous, and more faithful, and use our gifts in ways that further advance God’s kingdom of peace, love, and joy.
This is why the Apostle Paul goes on to say, “There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:23-25).
So let us indeed live by the Spirit. Let us be guided by the Spirit. Let us desperately long for and yearn for a double portion of God’s Spirit. Not for power or prestige that it will bring, but so that we might see God work in mighty ways in our church and community to produce the kind of loving, joyful, and peace-filled world that we long to see.
And so let us remember that the power that we have as Children of God who have inherited God’s Holy Spirit comes with great responsibility. And let us ask God to make us more loving, more joyful, more peace-filled people, who are more patient, and kind, generous, faithful, gentle and guided by self-control so that we can steward the power that we have been given in a world that is so desperately in need of God’s healing and restoration.