Pastor Kyle Bitter - The Sixth Sunday of Easter - Sunday, May 26, 2019

Text: 2 Kings 6:15-17   

Watch Service Video                                                                       

Just over 78 years ago, on May 9th, 1941, most of the world was engaged in a massive confrontation that we know today as World War II, and a not very well known but important event was taking place.  It started in an ordinary enough way.  British ships found and attacked a German submarine, damaging it heavily.  Thinking they were about to sink, the German crew abandoned ship, but the submarine didn’t go to the bottom as quickly as they had anticipated.  The British sailors managed to board the vessel and took everything they could find that seemed to be of value, including a strange looking typewriter-like machine in the radio room and a book that was beside it.  Upon further investigation, this strange device proved to be a code machine known as an Enigma machine to history, and the book was its key.  The capture of this device and book allowed the allied forces to read German radio messages for the next couple of weeks and contributed to the eventual deciphering other German communications.  Knowing where the German forces were going and what they were doing was a huge strategic advantage! 

In the verses leading up to today’s first lesson, we see how God gave a similar tactical advantage to the Israelite army during their war with the Arameans – one of the neighboring nations.  Even though the Aramean army seems to have been quite a bit more powerful than that of the Israelites, they never could seem to force a decisive battle and win the war – even when the king tried to set ambush attacks it seemed as though the Israelites knew what he was up to before he even did anything!  And, in fact, that was exactly what was going on.  After yet another failed campaign, [The king of Aram] summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Will you not tell me which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?”  “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.”  God was protecting his people by giving information to his prophet.  Naturally, the King of Aram couldn’t allow this situation to continue.  “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.”  The report came back: “He is in Dothan.”  (2 Kings 6:11-13 – NIV84).  So during the night, the king sent his army to surround Dothan, hoping that if he could capture or kill Elisha, he might then be free to pursue is war with the Israelites.  That’s where the words of today’s first lesson pick up the story.  “When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” the servant asked.  (2 Kings 6:15 – NIV84).  They were surrounded, and there didn’t seem to be a way out. 

I am going to guess that the majority of us here have not experienced being hunted and surrounded by an army who wants to capture you for being such an effective intelligence agent, but I’m also going to guess there have been times in life when you have felt as though you were surrounded by difficult circumstances and it seemed as thought here was no way out.  Maybe it was the general stresses of life that we all have to deal with – so many deadlines that it’s impossible to meet all of them, so many places to be in a given day that you’re just chasing from one thing to another and you find yourself asking, what am I going to do?  Or, maybe that surrounded, trapped feeling is from a social perspective.  Maybe there’s a friendship or a relationship that doesn’t seem to be working out, maybe there’s a marriage that has become a struggle, maybe there are parents or teachers who don’t understand you or kids who don’t show proper respect.  What am I going to do?  Or maybe it’s something you have even less control over – a nasty medical surprise you didn’t see coming for you or for someone you care about, and there don’t seem to be many pleasant options.  What am I going to do?  Sometimes this same feeling of being trapped comes up in spiritual life too.  Each one of us has our own spiritual weak points – the particular sins that we really struggle to avoid – and sometimes it seems like you’re trapped in those things.  No matter how hard you try, when the temptation comes the sinful side of you is ready to go again, no matter how guilty you felt last time and no matter what the consequences have been in the past, and it’s an ongoing struggle!  What am I going to do? 

Isn’t that kind of a foolish response to situations like these?  Think about Elisha’s servant again.  Biblical Dothan was a walled city, but it wasn’t a large city like Jerusalem and almost certainly didn’t have a huge army inside.  What could Elisha or his servant do?  Throw some stones?  Give a rousing speech to rally the residents of the city to heroic action?  Maybe that works in the movies, but probably not in reality!  You’ve experienced the same thing.  You might try to try the latest time management and stress relief techniques out there, and it might help with some things, but the problem really isn’t solved.  Stress just arises from another place in life, no matter what you do!  You employ the most thoughtful of strategies to improve relationships or marriages, and there certainly is value to such things, but when you’re dealing with sinful and imperfect people, new issues tend to arise to replace the ones that have been solved!  You might pursue the latest medical miracle cure, and it might even work for one disease or illness, but eventually another one will arise to take its place, because the underlying problem hasn’t been solved. 

And that underlying problem comes out in spiritual life, because you see the same thing happening there.  You might cultivate the best of spiritual habits; you might surround yourself with people who are good spiritual influence – and all of that probably does help some…but it’s not enough.  Your sinful nature still is there, and it’s still a struggle.  And even if by some miracle you do succeed in ridding your life a certain sinful desire, you can’t undo the damage that’s already been done!  We’re surrounded.  But today’s first lesson shows us a wonderful truth that changes everything, and that’s that the reality of what’s going on is More Than You Can See.  God is also at work behind the scenes, and that makes all the difference.     

Surrounded by the Spirit

Listen to what happened to Elisha and his servant.  “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered.  “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  And Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.”  Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”  (2 Kings 6:16-17 – NIV84).  It was still true that the Aramean army was surrounding Dothan, but suddenly that didn’t seem to matter so much anymore, because something else was going on behind the scenes!  God’s army of angels had surrounded the Arameans, and it became clear what the reality was.  Nothing was going to happen to Dothan or to Elisha or to his servant unless it fell in line with the good and gracious will of God!    

That’s exactly what Jesus promises to do for you and me.  Even though we don’t expect to see the kinds of miracles on the scale of what happened in bible times, the wonderful reality is that we too are surrounded by God in perhaps a more powerful way than even the miracles of years past!  Certainly he still sends his angels to protect us, just like he did for Elisha, but in today’s gospel, Jesus promised even more!  “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26 – NIV84).  No matter where you go and no matter what you see, you are surrounded by the Holy Spirit.  He’s always with you, and his job is to remind you that reality is More Than You Can See!  Like Elisha and his servant, it might appear as though situations in life are hopeless, but the reality is that the almighty God is at work on your behalf.  You might feel like you’re surrounded by troubles, but in actuality you are Surrounded by the Holy Spirit, and when you understand that and listen to the reminders he gives you, you realize that instead of being surrounded by fear, you can be Surrounded by Peace.   

Surrounded by Peace

Peace is exactly how things play out when God’s activity on behalf of his people is concluded.  Look at Elisha and his servant.  If you read on, you find how the Aramean army was stricken with confusion by God and they ended up following Elisha to a place where they were surrounded by walls and at the mercy of the Israelites, who treated them kindly, fed them, and sent them home in peace, bringing about the end of the war.  It had seemed as though Elisha and his servant were at the mercy of the Arameans, but in reality, Elisha had the Arameans in the palm of his hand, and he was the one who showed mercy to them.  What looked like warfare and destruction ended with peace! 

And that’s always the case when God’s activity is factored into the picture.  When you find yourself overwhelmed with stress and frantically struggling to keep your head above water, what reality does the Holy Spirit remind you of?  Jesus still loves you, and when it comes to things that matter for eternity, there is nothing you have to do.  Jesus already did it all for you.  When you find yourself surrounded by relationships that are falling apart and it seems like there is no one you can count on, or when your health starts to fail and life changes in a major way, what reality does the Holy Spirit remind you of?  Jesus is always there, eager to hear your prayers and promising to provide the strength that you need.  When you find yourself trapped in the same sin yet again, and your heart is heavy with guilt and shame, what reality does the Holy Spirit remind you of?  At the cross Jesus said, “it is finished,” and it was finished.  Jesus rose from the dead and there is nothing more that you need to do.  Those sins are forgiven.  They’re gone!  The reality is, Jesus promises you the same thing he promised his first century disciples in today’s gospel.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  (John 14:27 – NIV84).  Reality is More than You Can See, because God is at work behind the scenes.  Because of that, the fear that comes from what you see can be replaced with peace that comes from what you know about the reality of God’s activity.  You are Surrounded by the Spirit, and that means that no matter what happens, your life is not surrounded by fear either.  You’re Surrounded by Peace.  Amen.