Elijah is told by the Lord to anoint Elisha as his successor. Elisha was the son of a wealthy landowner. Elijah found Elisha, took him under his wing for the next eight years. Taught him how to be a prophet, and internship in the field of prophecy.
In 2 Kings 2:9 Elisha asks for double the inheritance as was custom among first sons. However, this feels a bit pushy to be asking for double portion of power. Pushy to keep telling the others to be quiet and moves ahead anyway. He receives the double portion via Elijah dropping his mantle as he’s taken up into heaven. His mantle, the mark of his life as prophet and miracle worker.
So as the story continues, Elisha does wonderful things like purifying the water for Jericho. Then also brought water into the desert where the armies of Judah, Israel and Edom were dying of thirst.
And just to show he’s not all happy happy miracles, on he curses these boys who made fun of his baldness. And two she bears appear out of nowhere and maul to death forty-two boys. Even with an explanation that these were children from a town that did not worship Yahweh, and clearly they were disrespecting the prophet… it still sounds pretty harsh to our ears.
This is one of those stories where I can’t give you a satisfying spiritual answer but I can recommend to you participate in Education for Ministry so you may wrap your mind around why this story is in scripture, who wrote it, why, and why it’s technically NOT part of the lectionary… ever. I give it to you today, because I’m not sure many ordinary folks have heard this strange story. I will leave it with you to wonder, and hope that your memory now drifts back to the first part of the story of how pushy Elisha was for the double portion of spiritual power. Whether by privilege thinking he deserved it, or because he had some inspiration to say so, it’s pushy. It’s me-first thinking. It’s a sense of “this is how it’s done.”
Now let’s compare that to the disciples who have encountered Jesus with Moses and Elijah. They have their own version of asking for double portion. They have following Jesus around, not for 8 years like Elisha, but for awhile. They are following him; seeing him as ushering in the spiritual glory of tomorrow. Whupping their enemies and giving them the peace and joy and tranquility they finally deserve. The three, Peter, James, and John, have tromped up to this place to pray and they encounter an extraordinary spiritual experience. A vision, a conversation between the holiest men of their past and Jesus. Their tradition and Jesus meet! It’s real! It’s true! We were right!!!
So naturally they want to do what their tradition tells them to do. They want to build booths, places for the three spiritual masters to stay with them, bringing heaven and earth together in booths, here, now. That is what is first on their mind. They have been brought there by Jesus and if they wanted they could be privy to a most remarkable conversation between Moses, Elijah and Jesus.
But no, they don’t dare be present and listen, they think back to what success means for them and are pushy about building booths to keep these giants of spirituality for them. Presented with something so wonderful beyond their imagination, they want to reach back into their tradition, their custom, rather than listening to what the past – Moses and Elijah – might be saying to Jesus the present. What might the past be saying to the present??
We are constantly faced with that challenge ourselves. Trying to rebuild the past, rebuild what we’ve done before, yet just slide in a new face on it. Over and over again in scripture we have the story of God doing a NEW thing. And Jesus, Messiah, God Incarnate, is quintessentially the NEW thing for us. God with us to inspire, co-create, transform, any and every part of our lives for His Kingdom.
And even in our own church life, we do this. We have come a long way with Jesus, and find ourselves on a pinnacle of seeing what remarkable service we have given and are giving our community. We are experiencing a glorious union of the past with the needs of the present.
Back on Palm Sunday in 1924, about 60 people and a choir of 10 gathered to worship under the name of St. Andrew’s. They were a worshipping community. Period. People with just their prayers, their hope, and quite frankly debt that might have been over their heads.
Now Consider how since then, how many people we’ve fed, both children and adults who didn’t go hungry, who received clothing, who received fresh vegetables, who received jeans, and nets to prevent malaria, backpacks for school, animals for their farms, and a lot of other life sustaining gifts from our outreach. It adds up. Not to mention the impact we’ve had on hundreds of families through our support and hosting Head Start and Pathways of Hope. Not to mention the work of the two other churches that have sprouted out of our parish. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people touched through the efforts of a fairly small group of people who gathered to pray in 1924 in their brand new church.
It’s almost 100 years later and we have returned to that core. 60 and 10. I look at the obvious presence of Christ’s heart and hands in our congregation, and wonder are we listening to the prophets and the Messiah speaking? Are we really present to how God is manifesting in our lives and those lives around us today?
Or are we doing the Peter, James and John, thing and terrified that God might ask us to do a new thing? Say a new thing? Are we worried that we need to capture and hold tight for ourselves the worshipping opportunity. Build the booths. Keep our sights on material things, rather than spiritual beings?
The number of people in our community that we have touched over the past 100 years has been extraordinary. I wonder if those folks who founded our parish ever dreamed of what 100 years in the future would look like. Could they have imagined the garden? The soup kitchen? Fullerton Interfaith Emergency Services growing into Pathways of Hope and we would house this multimillion dollar housing agency that we were one of the originators?
St Andrew’s is a remarkable community. Yes we, like Peter himself, have said stupid things, done things of betrayal, and clumsy commentary, not noticed someone in need, failed when we tried to heal, but we continue like Peter to have hope, have faith in Christ, and most importantly carry the witness that God…. God is with us. And we shall not be afraid, we shall not be daunted by what seems impossible. We will listen as God speaks in front of us, and calls us into a new era of being St Andrew’s. AMEN.