Sermon Ideas 4U - Archived Sermons -- AFTER Advent 2002
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June 26 - Pentecost 6 -
2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14
Luke 9: 51-62
The 1980s film that tells the story of English Olympian Eric Lidell uses the phrase, “Chariots of Fire” as its title. In the movie, a chariot of fire is a symbol of God’s power and zeal. In the movie Lidell is quoted as having said, “When I run I feel God’s pleasure”. The theme music would be recognized as normally accompanying a hymn which refers to a “chariot of fire”.
The Negro Spiritual, “Swing Low. Sweet Chariot” is commonly believed to refer to death bringing a release from the suffering from slavery, but during the period of slavery it could have been a much more subversive wish and prayer for better and more just times!
One of the problems of preaching is to be able to have a large enough passage so the “story” and “context” are clear but small enough so that you can actually deal with the material in one sermon!
We have encountered Elijah before. Elijah was the prophet who confronted Jezebel and Ahab about their unfaithfulness. He was pursued by the Queen because his preaching challenged her authority. As we know, the silencing of critics is often a tactic of tyrants.
Back in 1 Kings we were introduced to Elisha, Elijah’s disciple. In the midst of the turmoil in his life, Elijah was led to call Elisha as his successor. He found Elisha plowing with oxen. To show his commitment to his call, Elisha slaughters his oxen, uses the wooden yoke as firewood, and cooks the beef to feed the people he would leave behind. He then follows Elijah but disappears from the biblical text until the day mentioned in today’s passage.
The images and actions in the passage from 2 Kings are vivid and compelling. To not mention any of them would be to, use a common expression, ignore the “elephant in the room”, but to focus on them too much would be to miss the message this passage has for the 21st century!
Back in the “good old days” of Elijah and Elisha, in the land ruled by Jezebel and Ahab, life was hardly safe or certain for a prophet. In “them times” speaking truth to power could get the speaker killed!
In that poem by William Blake, which refers to a chariot of fire there is also a reference to “dark satanic mills”. During the industrial revolution massive numbers of people moved to the cities to work in factories and no longer farmed the land. Wealthy people made a fortune with whaet amounted to slave labour in the cotton mills, the large flour mills and other enterprises which completely and fundamentally changed the way society would function. No longer did small millers and artisans supply what was needed but everything was designed so that most of the money flowed to the top. If it sounds familiar, it is!
The main difference is that our “dark Satanic mills” are sweat-shops in the developing world, that take our jobs and introduce much of the world to cheap and dangerous labour to make stuff they can’t begin to afford and destroy their normally sustainable economies. And its not all that great for our either!
Blake’s poem also expresses the desire that England would become a place where none are oppressed by the economic disparities that abounded at that time. The chariot of fire becomes a compelling visual metaphor for the energy, zest and power of God in the midst of great change and upheaval.
The Brexit vote that took place this past week, and the US Presidential election that is coming in November both seem to boil down to two views of the world - “me first” or “a broader vision of blessing and responsibility”. At least some of the “mass shootings” seem to arise from frustrations about “those people” who are ruining things for the “rest of us.”
Clearly, these are not easy times? Do we speak our truth or do we remain silent out of indifference, or from a fear of sticking out or that the cost of change will be too great?
When a recruit signed up for service in what came to be known as WW1, before the institution of conscription, he was asked, among other things, “do you understand the nature and terms of your engagement?” I suppose most read this to mean, “do you understand that this is a war and you might be wounded or killed”. Few, if any, imagined the horrors that awaited them in this new form of warfare and the lasting toll it would take on the “returned men”. Even today, 99 years after the war, you can’t walk on the grass at some war memorials in Europe because of unexploded ordnance.
When people come to be married they promise, “for better or worse, etc. but there are really no specifics in the ceremony because no one really knows what may happen the next day, or year, or decade. When children are born there is no guidebook to cover any one child in every aspect let along a family of two, three or more, or families with half-siblings, step-siblings and other people’s kids who just move in!
If we are honest we know change is the only constant in life. Each age and stage of life has its benefits and responsibilities and sometimes moving from one to the other is easy but at other times it is stressful and difficult.
Today’s passage deals with change and the passing of the mantle, or cape, symbolic of the prophet’s responsibility and authority, to a successor.
Elisha asked for the “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit, a reference to the double portion of an inheritance received by the oldest son of a family. In addition to double benefit it also meant double responsibility; Elisha was agreeing to a “BIG” task.
When Elisha picked up the mantle he was tasked with informing the next generation of the demands of their God.
Perhaps we are Elijah readying the next generation to pick up where we have left off and knowing that their journey will have twists and turns that we could not imagine or predict.
Perhaps we are Elisha; we are the ones standing at the Jordan this day looking at the clouds which have just taken our glorious past and we are left holding the mantle wondering what we have gotten ourselves into. Perhaps we are nostalgic for a time when things were better or clearer or there was more guidance from the wise ones.
Changes in personnel always mean changes in direction and the ways of doing things. The one constant is the power and presence of the God who has been with us and will be with us.
In the lazy, hazy days of summer, in which we seek refreshment perhaps there will be time to reflect on these things.
May we have our time to teach and be taught, to mentor and be mentored for each time needs its own leaders.
May we pray that the God who breathes life into and throuh all generations will bring us our chariot of fire!
1995- 2016 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.
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