Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fifth after Pentecost, 2010

RCL 8C: II Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14; Luke 9: 51-62

The other week I mentioned a magazine that I remembered seeing a number of years ago called “Acts 29.” Remembering that if you run to your Bible to see what’s in Acts 29, you find yourself looking at a blank page—because the Book of Acts ends at the end of chapter 28.

But of course the point is that just because the Book of Acts ends at chapter 28, that doesn’t mean that the story of “The Acts of the Apostles” has come to an end.

The first 28 chapters of the story are full of signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit, beginning with the Ascension and the Day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, and then chapter after chapter, the raising up of great heroes and heroines of the faith, journeys of outreach and evangelistic adventure, inspiring witness to Jesus as Lord and Savior, faithful discipleship. Concluding then in Chapter 28 with St. Paul in Rome, the capital city of the world, teaching and ministering to a growing, vibrant Christian community.

And Chapter 29 of the story—this was the idea of the magazine title—is all about what comes next. What comes next: the story we write with our lives, generation after generation. The Acts of the Apostles: not the whole story, but only the beginning. God working in us to accomplish infinitely more than we could ever ask for or imagine. Not a different story, but a new chapter of the one great story, incorporating us and all the challenges and adventures of our lives—full of signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit, the raising up of great heroes and heroines of the faith, journeys of outreach and evangelistic adventure, inspiring witness to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, faithful discipleship. Acts 29.

And thinking about all that again with the two lessons appointed for us to read together this Sunday morning. From Second Kings, the exaltation and assumption of Elijah and the new beginning for Elisha. And from St. Luke, as Jesus, his face now set to Jerusalem and the last long leg of the journey to the Cross, shares with his disciples a glimpse of what is to come after. What we might call “succession narratives.” Stories about the handing on of the baton.

Elisha is the faithful disciple, step by step following his mentor and guide. And it’s interesting in the passage this morning Elijah seems to keep trying to talk him into staying behind, which we almost feel is a kind of a test. Or maybe just the offer of a graceful exit. But Elisha insists on following his master to the very end. No matter how far, no matter the cost.

They travel from Gilgal in the Northern Kingdom down to Judah and to the River Jordan. Crossing the Jordan just as the Hebrews had so long ago crossed both the Red Sea and the Jordan. Elijah dips his cloak, his mantle, into the river, and it parts before them, so that they can pass over on dry land. And then that amazing scene, the Chariot of Fire that whirls down from the heavens and sweeps Elijah away. And there is Elisha’s grief. Maybe even a moment of panic. He’s been preparing for this now for some time. But will he be up to the task? Will God bless and empower him to do this work?

Then, a deep breath, and there is a new chapter to begin. Elisha takes up that mantle of Elijah, and in this powerful moment he too strikes the water of the Jordan. “Are you with me, God? You were here for Elijah, will you be with me now?” And in dramatic confirmation, again, the waters part before him. Elijah may be gone, but that doesn’t mean God’s work is complete. A new chapter begins.

And this passage from St. Luke. Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. And these disciples, not quite sure yet how to handle the power being entrusted to them. The Samaritan village doesn’t provide hospitality to Jewish pilgrims on their way to the Holy City, and James and John think about calling in the heavenly artillery. Blast ‘em away. But Jesus turns that aside. This reaction to personal grievance. And instead reminds them of what faithfulness will cost. “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” And of the call to set the mission of the Kingdom first, above self-interest, even home and family.

It’s not some kind of magician’s wand, the mantle of Elijah. And even those first disciples of Jesus weren’t superhuman characters. Just like us. Sometimes getting it right, sometimes not. Sometimes full of energy and idealism, sometimes falling back into our own brokenness. Just people. But as Elisha followed Elijah, so James and John would follow Jesus. Sometimes getting it right, sometimes not. Needing to learn and grow. All the way to the Cross, and then to the Resurrection, and then to the Mount of the Ascension, and to Pentecost. And beyond.

What amazing things God did through Elijah first, and then through Elisha. What amazing things God does in the power of Jesus’ ministry and through his Cross and Resurrection, and then, what amazing things God does through James and John, Peter and Andrew, Stephen and Paul. The Acts of the Apostles, chapters 1-28.

And then, all the story of Acts 29. What amazing things he continues to do, all around us, among us, with us, in us.

We kneel at the altar to share the Bread of Life, and then we are sent out in peace to love and serve the Lord. And the adventure continues. All of us. God working in us, doing infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Bruce Robison

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