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

Proper 8 (13) Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
June 27, 2010 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 8C / Ordinary 13C / Pentecost +5 June 27, 2010

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Amen.

When I first read it and again this morning I was tempted to go with the second reading from Galatians – I thought we might have some reflective fun together as we took verse 19 and put our hands up: so who’s into fornication, who’s into impurity, licentiousness; I thought we could go through the list and check each other out. It’s worth doing but in order to do it with any meaning we’ve got to ditch the church fathers’ understanding of what Paul was saying, because the church has created quite a gap between the flesh and the spirit – it’s put this gap there and tried to turn everyone into passive do-good look-alikes. That’s not what it’s about. If you can’t check off all of the things that are mentioned in Galatians, just wonder what you’ve been doing, where you’ve been so stunningly switched off. The only ones that don’t check all of those off are the ones that spend all their time in front of telly looking at game shows and even then there’s envy! It’s a beautiful exercise to do.

However, I want to run with the first reading and ask the question, what is the first reading all about? “As they [Elijah and Elisha] continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" Quite a vivid picture.

As a child, I heard and can still remember an unusual name - Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin. On 12th April 1961, he became the first human in outer space and the first to orbit the Earth. The first man in space, we were told, but was he? What about Elijah? I guess evangelical literalists can explain away any confusion - Yuri went up into space and Elijah went up into heaven. However, such explanations serve only to feed our unbelief, or to maintain a simplistic understanding of these sacred stories, such that we will not look any deeper; we will not look for fuller understanding because we’ve been given this simple explanation.

The story can be understood at one level within a worldview that believes that heaven is an actual place that exists beyond the dome of the sky. But that is not our experience nor is it our day-to-day reality – it was many, many years ago, but now it is not. And yet, the word of God speaks, is uttered eternally; it is the Word that is creative of each and every moment. The Word of God we heard in that reading this morning still speaks to us, and as we listen to this text and listen for the Word of creation in the text in the present, in the now, what do we hear? What is the first reading all about in the now?

It does give us some valuable and basic references on which to reflect. No longer focusing on a recorded event, we can read it as an illustration of Divine activity and Divine movement in relation to humanity. The relationship between Elijah and Elisha is a relationship of teacher and student, master and apprentice – a mentoring and a learning relationship with a future orientation. Elijah and Elisha are illustrative of continuity; following in another’s footsteps so that one may walk beyond the scope of another. Learning from one so that so that another can build on the foundation that one has laid. Creating a future for the world by giving all we have to those who follow.

In the words of Nelson Mandela – “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” So if you place yourself in Elisha’s shoes – who is Elijah for you? And, if you place yourself in Elijah’s shoes – who is Elisha for you? Where is that mentoring, that learning, that giving and receiving taking place for you in the now.

Another reference point for reflection is that Elijah does not die! And this will test our capacity to reflect, as it goes beyond what we know and moves into the field of what we believe. Elijah does not die! How far have you gone toward ‘knowing’ the truth of eternal life? And if you do believe in eternal life, does that belief shape your living, or is your living still shaped within the bookends of birth and death? If we can experience a movement here, if we can grasp it or even glimpse it, so much can change.

Not only does Elijah not die, but he gains entrance into heaven! Even more confusion. Remember what we have been taught by those ‘flat earth’ theologians, - they used to call them Sunday School teachers: when you die, judgement day, the book is opened, and from there it’s either the gates of heaven or the fires of hell. Not so! According to the sacred texts we have just read in the present moment! Elijah illustrates a different process, whereby we are ‘lifted’ into the realms of heaven as we live! You’ve got to ditch a whole lot of theology to get that. We are lifted into the realms of heaven as we live.

And there is more, another reference point for our reflections. What was given and what was received in this process? Verse 9 “a double share of your [Elijah’s] spirit.” How do you do that? How do you give a double share of what you have? You can’t give a double share of what you materially possess, but those who have had two kids readily know that at the birth of the second you do not have to halve what you give in the form of love, rather it seemingly doubles. And then again, how do we receive a double share? How can I possibly receive more, in fact twice as much as my teacher? What rationally sounds impossible is so obviously possible, for if the student cannot do more than the teacher how would we ever make progress?

The transaction between Elijah and Elisha is an illustration of capacity, potential and for us an illustration of unrealized abundance. Our world is so dominated by material possessions that we often fail to appreciate our potential for fullness in giving and our potential for fullness in receiving.

So now let’s bring the text into the New Testament and build a doctrine and a theology for the emerging church that lives in the light of Christ… In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, ‘Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these’ (14:12) Elijah is revealed again through the life and person of Christ, and we are revealed in this same truth! We read in today’s gospel: Jesus said, "No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Life revealed in Christ is our plough. As Christians, Christ is the teacher where we have put our hand. And our orientation - the furrow that we plough - is an orientation toward life in Christ. If we look back, we shall not see the Kingdom of God – we shall see a fading cross some 2000 years old and some fearful church fathers seeking to convince us that the earth is still flat.

If we look forward, with a hand on the plough we should look to inherit a double measure of Christ’s spirit. And like Elisha, we should continue to reveal the eternal fullness and abundance of life in the soil that we till. This is the work of our hands. Even more, like Elijah we should look to be lifted up, lifted in life to those higher realms that are the promise of the Kingdom of Heaven.

It’s a sacred text; it’s an ancient text. It speaks not of Elijah competing with Yuri Gagarin, but rather it speaks to a people as Christ has revealed to a people, an orientation of life that lifts us into the realms of heaven.

The Lord be with you

Peter Humphris