June 30, 2013
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
In today’s readings we find two aspects of faith worth paying attention to: one, how faith is transmitted from one generation to the next, and two, what are we supposed to do with it.
Elisha and Elijah are at Elijah’s retirement party. The Lord is going to draw him up into heaven. And along the way, Elijah keeps telling Elisha, ‘wait here, wait here, the Lord has called me to go as far as Bethel.” But Elisha will not stop.
When they get to Bethel, “wait here, wait here, the Lord has called me to Jericho.”
“As the LORD lives,
and as you yourself live,
I will not leave you.”
At Jericho, “wait here, wait here, the Lord has called me to Jordan.” You can guess Elisha’s response.
If you are listening carefully you can hear echoes of Naomi and Ruth here.
Where you go, I will go,
And your people will be my people,
And your God will be my God.
So Elisha follows his mentor and teacher, all the way to the place where they strike the river Jordan and the waters part and they cross over on dry land. Echoes of Joshua, which has echoes of Moses. They are traveling the path of the Hebrews entering Israel, only in reverse.
Finally, Elijah asks Elisha what he wants to inherit from Elijah: a blessing, perhaps; a final teaching; a word of wisdom; a final remembrance. “A double portion of your spirit,” Elisha answers.
This is a hard thing. I want a double measure of what you’ve got. Elijah does not offer it to him, but says “If you have a vision as I am taken up, then you will have it; and if you don’t see it, then you won’t.”
The gift Elisha asks of Elijah is not Elijah’s to give. It is the power of God that dwells within Elijah, and it is God who gives or does not give, not God’s prophet.
Elisha did see the vision, and the power of faith was passed from Elijah to Elisha in double measure.
I propose that this story is both about the authority of God and the passing of authority from one prophet to another, and also about why children need church. Elisha did not wait at Bethel, or Jericho, or Jordan, and simply hope that the spirit of Elijah would be his spirit as well. He followed Elijah, learning from him even as they walked Elijah’s final walk.
The number one greatest factor on whether or not children attend church is whether or not their parents attend. Grandparents can stand in there too, but the real powerhouse is the parents.
By the age of six, 95 percent of our brain’s operating system has been programmed by our experiences. If those experiences include the faith life of parents, examples of prayer and service and faithful action and worship, the child will much more easily come to know these things as important.
In other words, if you want them in the youth group, get them into the toddler room! If you want your child to sing, pick up a hymnal. If you want your child to pray, let them hear and see you praying.
Modeling and examples are all vitally important. But there is another piece to the puzzle: you cannot clone faith. Modeling and examples and traveling together do not guarantee faith. It is not an automatic thing.
Faith and maturity are two things that cannot be cloned, and probably for the same reason. Both faith and maturity happen when we take what we have received, whether it is genetics or emotional baggage or scripture or prayer, and we take responsibility for it for ourselves.
In their worksheet on children in worship, Debbie Gline Allen and Rev. Becky Johnston remind us that faith is caught more than it is taught.
Elisha walked all the way with Elijah, but Elijah could not give what Elisha asked. That comes from God. And Elisha will now be responsible for the gifts that God has given.
The difficulties of trying to teach faith are found time and again in the Gospel. This morning’s reading comes after Jesus sending his disciples out with the power to heal and cast out demons and preach the kingdom, and they have come back triumphant. And now, he has set his face towards Jerusalem.
As they travel through Samaria, an unfriendly area that lies between Galilee and Jerusalem, his disciples go ahead to book some rooms for the night.
When the Samaritans ask, “Oh, where ya headed?” and they say “Jerusalem,” the Samaritans, people who have been shunned and despised by Jerusalem, have no time for them.
So the disciples come running back, and say, “Okay, Lord, we got this. Want us to rain down a little fire? Please? Can we smite, ‘em boss? Huh? Huh? Can we? Can we?”
But he turned and rebuked them.
And they went on to another village.
It does not tell us what Jesus said. Perhaps it was not suitable for printing in the Bible.
It is not enough for the disciples to have walked with Jesus all this way, and to have been given the power of the authority of God. There is still much they need to learn.
And it is not enough that Elisha has walked all this way with Elijah, the power of faith does not come from Elijah, but from God.
Is this not where we are: following as best we are able, but still much to learn? Learning as best we can, that we need God to do the heavy lifting? Trying to take responsibility for our faith, but still coming up with some great excuses? Occasionally wanting the Prince of Peace to rain fire down upon those who cause us grief?
Nobody said it would be easy. Especially not Jesus. Nevertheless,
Come to me,
all who labor and are heavy laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you,
and learn from me;
for I am gentle and lowly in heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy,
and my burden is light.
Thanks be to God.