Good Morning! While there’s not an intentional theme guiding the choice of these (Track #1) semi-continuous readings we hear in Pentecost from the Gospel of Luke and from 1 & 2 Kings, a theme can certainly be detected, one perhaps fitting as I prepare to leave you on July 8 for some much needed rest and renewal.
If you were paying attention, both Elijah and Jesus are about to be “taken up” and away, we are told as each reading begins, and therefore concerned with who will carry on God’s work in their absence. In both cases they are surrounded by their followers: Elijah is surrounded by the “company of the prophets” who number 50 (one of whom is Elisha), and Jesus by the company of the disciples, those “70 messengers” he sends ahead into the villages to prepare the way as he sets his face towards Jerusalem.
So in both cases people are being readied for a shift in leadership, as Elijah and Jesus each prepare to “pass the mantle” of authority and mission to those most able to undertake and spread God’s work to the ends of the earth.
But since it’s not easy for these disciples and followers to take up the mantle of a prophet or a messenger of God, especially when the shoes they fill are those of Elijah or Jesus, we can appreciate their need for a double share of the Spirit and some real discipline to meet the challenges they’ll face, to stay focused on the teaching they’ve received, and to give a full measure to their ministry.
Our Collect is right on point, too. It reminds us that God built the Church on the foundation of the apostles AND the prophets. While Jesus is for us the chief cornerstone, we are still to join together in unity of spirit around the teaching and example of ALL of them, so that we might become more like them and more faithful in God’s eyes. Since it was the prophets who laid some of the first stones in the foundation of God’s Church, let’s start with the company
of prophets, as God passes the mantle of prophetic leadership from Elijah to Elisha, along with a double share of Elijah’s spirit to sustain Elisha in his new responsibilities.
On the one hand, the story of Elijah and Elisha is a tale of two prophets and a transition in leadership that confirms Elisha as a fully capable successor to guide the prophetic guild, the company of prophets, in which Elijah had been a father figure. No one knows if Elisha will be an able successor or not, until he demonstrates his powers and divides the Jordan with his mantle, just as Elijah had done earlier.
As it turns out, it may not be “cheekiness” that prompts Elisha to ask God for a double share of the Spirit, but a very real need for an increase in his own spiritual power. Elisha may correctly sense that, as Elijah’s worthy successor, he will soon find himself at odds with the royal family and intervening directly in the political arena of kings and soldiers (as you’ll hear more about next week), bringing about the destruction of the house of King Ahab that Elijah prophesied would happen.
That Elisha receives a double measure of his master’s spirit may also serve as a metaphor, pointing to the growing role of the prophet overall in society. For in those days it was the whole community of prophets who possessed the double measure, who had moral integrity, and thus demonstrated they had more bench depth than the king to guide the people.
In a similar vein, consider this morning’s gospel from Luke, where we turn from the 50 prophets to the 70 messengers who are sent ahead through some tough Gentile villages on their way to an even tougher Jerusalem. I expect they know Jerusalem’s reputation as a city that kills the prophets whom God has sent in the past, and so a city that may be very tough on God’s messengers like Jesus and those who follow him.
We’re in a section of Luke sometimes called the “travel narrative” that frames his journey to Jerusalem and began with his transfiguration on the mountain, after which he casino online turned his radiant face to Jerusalem. Whereas the first section about his baptism began with his rejection back home in Nazareth, this section begins with his rejection in Samaria. While these rejections will not alter his determination to see his ministry through, in them we see signs of his larger mission to the Gentiles and the wider world, including the Samaritans who at first rejected him as we heard in today’s reading. We’ll hear more about this travel narrative in the coming weeks, including the challenges Jesus faced and the prayerful intensity and power with which he always responded.
This no doubt accounts for why Jesus begins to set the terms for commitment by his disciples – for self discipline –in this section of Luke’s gospel, as we hear in today’s reading regarding those who would follow him. Just as he sets his face towards Jerusalem, with the cross in the distance and his approaching absence on the horizon, he’s also laying the groundwork for his followers and the mission of the church, right down to this very day and this very people.
Let’s face it, when Jesus tells stories that chastise those who say they would follow him, but then turn back to bid farewell to the family or bury one of their dead, he’s calling for total loyalty to Him and his cause when compared to our other highest loyalties. After all, nothing will stop Jesus on his journey to communicate God’s love for us and to gain our liberation and salvation at great personal cost. So why would we diminish the significance of that, or the reign of God we’re here to proclaim to the world as his messengers in our day, by allowing ourselves to be distracted from the prize each time we look back over our shoulder?
Looking over our shoulder is a great analogy for those distractions that cause us to veer from our course and goals. I think we can imagine what happens to a plowman’s furrow when he looks back, because we know what happens when we’re driving or bicycling and look to the left or right for a moment. The straight path becomes the crooked path in every real and metaphorical way, and because one thing leads to another, we may never get there.
So if that’s our M.O. most of the time, if looking back and clinging to the norms of our culture or norms of our family keeps distracting us and drawing us away from Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can see how the kingdom of God doesn’t stand a chance of being born in us. So we should be more beware of those distractions and divided loyalties, of taking our eyes off the prize.
As I prepare to leave you for a time of my own travel and renewal beginning July 8, I pass the mantle your way, asking you to step up to the plate and claim your rightful calling and commitment in this church. If needed, help part the water with your mantle to smooth the way. For you are like the 50 prophets who have already received a double share of the spirit. And you are like the 70 messengers sent forth to prepare others to receive Christ.
Like them, this is a faith community with tremendous bench depth in its members. We have been given more than a double measure! Yet to those whom much is given, much is expected!
Just as the Gospel now takes us into Gentile country, so is Summer a good time to grow the church when the Rector is away. As all the church growth literature suggests, the folks who come and stay are those invited and welcomed by the PEOPLE, not the pastor or the priest. So go for it while the cat is away! There is nothing so satisfying for a priest than to return after an absence and find new people he or she has never met before.
So I’m passing the mantle of the Spirit to you all. May God bless each of you, and may the full fruits of the Spirit abound in your joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and gentleness, not only with one another, but the stranger in your midst. AMEN