The Adventurous Lectionary – The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost – June 26, 2016
2 Kings 2:1-4, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
Today’s readings ask us to launch out in new directions of faithfulness to God. They ask us to believe great things and trust God to work creatively and redemptively in our own freedom. They ask us to live by the spirit and in life-giving, not legalistic or guilt producing ways and to expect great things from ourselves as well as God.
Once again, our readings take us into the Twilight Zone, the realm of the mystical, miraculous, and magical; the realm of paranormal experience. Elijah is caught up in a whirlwind and ascends into heaven. The prophet is delivered from mortality to dwell in the house of God. Elisha asks from a “double portion” of his mentor’s spirit and is given a sign, and then goes forth with the same miraculous powers to shape the non-human world. Like Moses before them, the Divine Force is great with Elijah and Elisha, who can now part the waters.
Moderns and even post-moderns will have trouble interpreting this passage literally. We have seen the studies done by Masaru Emoto (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masaru_Emoto) asserting that consciousness – our state of being – can change the molecular structure of water. We have also heard stories of shaman and rainmakers, all of which give some credence to such actions, and make Jesus’ stilling of the sea a manifestation of naturalistic, not supernaturalistic, divine power active in the natural world. Still, such events seem incredible and violate everything we know about naturalistic causal relationships. Further, at the time Elijah went up into heaven, the Hebraic peoples had little or no positive vision of the afterlife. Where then did he go?
At the very least, we can all affirm Elisha’s request, “give me a double portion of your spirit.” Such a request challenges us to ask God for great things, get our ego out of the way, and let Divine Providence move through us. It is clear that we often settle for “less” when we should settle for “more.” We are sounding the death knell of congregational life, when she should lean on divine energy and inspiration to empower our congregations. Elisha’s request invites us on a daily basis to ask “What great thing will you do in my life today, God?” and “What great thing will I do today, O God?” Expecting great things from God does not diminish our power or responsibilities, it increases them – in a world where God asks – and needs us – to be companions in healing the earth one act at a time. In an open-system universe in which the future is partly left up to us, we can expect great things from God and great things from ourselves, and our congregations.
The words of Psalm 77 reflect the community’s cry for divine presence. They have heard – like us – the stories of healing and rescue, and they need it now. Obviously, we understand these stories differently than the ancients did, but we can still lean on God to inspire, guide, and energize our own efforts. We need a power and wisdom greater than our own to tackle today’s global and local crises. Leaning on God does not diminish our power and responsibility, but energizes us to be channels of blessing and healing – instruments of peace and creative transformation – in our world.
The Galatians passage celebrates Christian freedom, freedom from the confines of legalistic traditions, guilt, and shame, and freedom for life-transforming behaviors. The way of the spirit opens us to the world, frees us from ego and individualism, and inspires us to bring greater unity and community to the world. While Christians need to respect the separation of church of state and affirm diverse religious paths, we also need to let our values shape our politics and civil involvement. Our freedom as followers of Jesus is not revealed in phrases such as “don’t tread on me,” “it’s my property and my money,” or “it’s my life and I can do what I want with it” – these are the ways of death, according to Paul, because they destroy relationships and communities. We need to balance individual desires and freedoms with the good of the whole.
The Christian life affirms that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Yes, explore your destiny and achieve much, but remember that creating healthy communities is as important as your own well-being. We need, as Whitehead says, to go from individual and community loyalty to world loyalty.
Jesus’ words are challenging ones. We have obligations and we need to affirm our responsibilities to our families and loved ones. The realm of God is found in everyday relationships of fidelity, support, and healing. We love God by loving those around us. Still, we must accept the uneasy conscience that Jesus provokes even as we take care of our children and our parents, and go to work on a daily basis. Few of us will sacrifice “everything” for God’s realm. Those who do “sacrifice” should not succumb to a sense of spiritual superiority. We can’t take the bite out of Jesus’ words, and we need to continually ask ourselves as we check our bank accounts, drive children to school, pick up our grandchildren (in my case), and act as responsible members of society, “Are we looking beyond our own self-or-family interest? Do we see God’s way of life in our way of life?” We need to be willing to adjust our course to be faithful in our time and place – in economics, spiritual practices, and congregational loyalty.
Today’s readings ask much of us. They also present a vision of alignment with God’s Vision that unleashes divine power and the ability to be faithful to God in ways we have not previously imagined. Think larger in terms of ethics, social responsibility, kin-dom living, and personal empowerment.