"The running of rivers, the wild geese returning, the bear cubs stepping out, and the peepers singing - this is the arrival of spring in the north country". These words from a book by Reeve Lindbergh, son of Anne Morrow and Charlie Lindbergh, will be woven with the voice and music of Andy Davis for the children's story at tomorrow's 10am service at Guilford Community Church, UCC. Knowing the names of these creatures helps us know, love and protect them just as learning each others' names and the names of children lost in the Korean shipwreck and the Nigerian forest make these tragedies real. Compassion comes from this familiarity and action rises from this compassion. Anthems for the day, under the direction of Andy Davis, include "The Blue Green Hills of Earth", a meditation on the beauty and fragility of the earth and gospel favorite, "Up Over My Head" which lifts up the courage needed for the sacrifices we need to make if we are to take action. Anyone wishing to sing in the choir is invited to come for the choir rehearsal at 9am, preceding the service.

Pastor Lise Sparrow will offer reflections on the lectionary readings in Acts 7:55-60 which tells the story of the first martyr, Stephen and on John 14:1-14, which offers Christ's reflections on death and comfort to his disciples before his own martyrdom. The Sunday School will continue during the service with lessons focused on the the disciples after the Resurrection. Guilford Community Church is an Open and Affirming Congregation of the United Church of Christ. The building is fully handicapped accessible and hearing assistance and an ASL interpreter are provided.

 

 

September 19, 2010

 

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

18When I would comfort myself against sorrow, my heart is faint in me.

 19Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people because of them that dwell in a far country: 

Is not the LORD in Zion? is not her king in her? 

 Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities?

 20The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.

 21For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black; astonishment hath taken hold on me.

 22Is there no balm in Gilead; is there no physician there? why then is not the health of the daughter of my people recovered?

Jeremiah 9   1Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!

1 Timothy 2:1-7

 1I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;

 2For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

 3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;

 4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

 5For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;

 6Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

 7Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.

 

Sermon

 

I recently read and article by a professor of theology Scot McKnight who starts his course on Jesus with a questionnaire. He writes:

(http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/april/15.22.html) 

 

         The first part is about Jesus. It asks students to imagine Jesus' personality, with questions such as, "Does he prefer to go his own way rather than act by the rules?" and "Is he a worrier?" The second part asks the same questions of the students, but instead of "Is he a worrier?" it asks, "Are you a worrier?" The test is not about right or wrong answers, nor is it designed to help students understand Jesus. Instead, if given to enough people, the test will reveal that we all think Jesus is like us. Introverts think Jesus is introverted, for example, and, on the basis of the same questions, extroverts think Jesus is extroverted.

         Spiritual formation experts would love to hear that students in my Jesus class are becoming like Jesus, but the test actually reveals the reverse: Students are fashioning Jesus to be more like themselves. If the test were given to a random sample of adults, the results would be measurably similar. To one degree or another, we all conform Jesus to our own image.

        

         This is what we can, on the one hand, say is the glory times of postmodernism.  “God is Dead” in the way we once knew God…There is no one Truth any more. We create God in our own image…men and women…we create God and Goddess.

         During the past half century travel and communication have opened up the world and our minds in such a way that we can no longer ignore the fact that there are all sorts of Christians and all sorts of religions and all sorts of individuals who seek and worship God in many many many different ways….we have discovered the infancy narratives which include the stories Tony  told and Cathy sang about…  and the Nag Hammadi texts which brought us the Gospel of Mary Magdalen. There are now those who have given up on the idea of God all together and those who have created their own gods or versions of God… piecing together spiritualities woven together from many traditions.

         Just one hundred years ago people in Guilford would have been thrilled to have a preacher come and share a new perspective on the Bible…because just that short time ago most inspiration came from small groups of people doing Bible Study on their own,  finding strength and inspiration in each others stories and insights.

         Now in this church our elders are often the ones bringing news from far off corners.  Arnold Clark handed me a book last week which he has been reading on the Lost Books of the Bible.  Peg Hunter reminded me of her life with her husband in the 50s in  Afghanistan where Muslims and Christians lived side by side and took care of each other.   They show us the truth of the world we live in…We now understand that the Bible has been constructed and reconstructed over time with books added and taken away to suit the needs and purposes of church leaders. Arnold’s book points out that the stories of Judith and Esther were once part of the Christian Bible just as women were part of the priesthood until the culture shifted and women were set aside to allow for the Patriarchy which still exists in many parts of the world. Peg’s life experience as a Guilford farm girl took her nonetheless to places in the world no one here could even have imagined and opened her heart to the truth of a Wondrous

God who touches people everywhere.

         In the best of ways we can say this is what the “God is Still Speaking” initiative is all about…honoring the many ways God continues to speak to all of us. In the worst of ways it can confuse us and make our heads spin.   In a complex world we can despair at ever finding connection or peace from our afflictions because in many ways the words of Jeremiah still ring true:

 19Behold the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people because of them that dwell in a far country: 

Is not the LORD in Zion?

Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with strange vanities?

It is fine when we find a God who makes sense to us but we are “provoked to anger” when others talk of Gods who seem crazy to us.

Jeremiah’s story is our story.  It does no harm when nothing depends on our gods being a little different one from the other…but when we are sick …”0The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved…” we can despair.

         In the end the Truth must become our personal truth and our own experience of a god must be one who can redeem us and give us and others peace.  We must be able to push through the forest of questions and feeble answers “to love God with all our hearts and all our souls and all our minds and to love our neighbors as ourselves”(Matthew 22:37).

         Scot McKnight, the same man I quoted at the beginning, ends his course and the article her wrote by pointing his students and us back to Jesus ---as a lightning rod--- a path to follow through the confusion where a spiritual life is made obvious and priorities made clear…God, our neighbor and ourselves…all one in immense unfolding Love.

 

         When we do the work of exploring early Christianity we discover that it was the early disciples who established the Church…and it is to them we owe the debt and burden of Christianity’s history.   Timothy, whose scripture we hear today, was one of Paul’s early disciples and even then or especially then they made the message, our instructions, clear:

first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for ALL men ( and women);

2For kings, and for all that are in authority;) that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.

 3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour ;

 4Who will have all men and women to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

 5For there is one God…”

 

He goes on to say that Jesus made the path clear through his own life…giving it as a ransom…so that we might see truly and clearly the Truth of God’s Love.   In the end the Truth is ours in every faith through prayer and our faith tells us Christ helps us to pray even when we are in strange places in our hearts and minds…we can set our hearts and minds on God and Christ will show the way in what ever words and with whatever means God will and does speak to us.

         People and churches have all survived through these thousands of years when they have kept focused on this simple and amazing love , when people pray and putting themselves to work with each other…even in the darkest wilderness.

 

Let us pray:

 

O Holy One,

We come to you having seen your many faces

and knowing they are all called Love.

Amidst the turmoil of our lives may we always see your One Light reflected in this Place we dedicate to you:

Help us to embrace Jesus as one whose life was made ransom that we might see what is possible,

Transform our lives and the community around us,

Help us to live lives with and among our neighbors, 

welcoming the stranger,

serving with generosity,

working, creating, leading and worshiping You

with every aspect of our lives.

In Christ’s name we ask this,

Amen.

 

 

 

SERMON: September 12, 2010

Daniel 6:16-23 (New International Version)

 16 So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions' den. The king said to Daniel, "May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!"

 17 A stone was brought and placed over the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the rings of his nobles, so that Daniel's situation might not be changed. 18 Then the king returned to his palace and spent the night without eating and without any entertainment being brought to him. And he could not sleep.

 19 At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. 20 When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?"

 21 Daniel answered, "O king, live forever! 22 My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king."

 23 The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.

Luke 15:1-10 (New International Version)

 

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

 1Now the tax collectors and "sinners" were all gathering around to hear him. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them."

 3Then Jesus told them this parable: 4"Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' 7I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

 

The Parable of the Lost Coin

 8"Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' 10In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

 

 

 

SERMON

 

As many of you know,  last weekend we held a retreat for youth in the community.

As the organizer  I felt particular responsibility for the well-being of these teens who had left their homes and come to spend a night in the woods.   They were teens though so it was also important to give them their freedom and a bit of responsibility so we left he check ins as somewhat casual..I’d do a count and if we were short I’d ask them to check for a buddy they’d been given to figure our who was missing.

            Nonetheless, on the final night, as dusk fell, I did a count and found we were short one teen and for 15 minutes --which seemed like an eternity to me—I held the possibility that something has happened to this one young person.   Now, of course, all 29 other teens were right there ready to go but for those minutes my heart was racing, my mind was imagining the most terrible of possibilities and all the while I was trying to look as if everything was under control.  In the end of course, it turned out that another chaperone who didn’t happen to be right there right then knew exactly where the teen was and we were able to go on.

            So when I read the scripture for this week and Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep

it calmed me down and made me smile.  I love the gift of a God who cares that much for every last one of us who gives us our freedoms and responsibilities but who cries out nonetheless when we are lost.

            I’m not sure how many of you were following the story in the news this week of the pastor in Florida…the pastor of a small church who was determined to burn the Koran?   The internet and news media have now helped us see how true it is that

Even the last suspected individual can become world news, can stir up wars and rebellions and tip the balance away from peace to war.

            In the instance of this  pastor,  God rushed in many ways. General Petraeus beseeched him to rethink what he was doing,  the people of Gainesville demonstrated, the FBI sent him a bill for the millions it would cost for security and talk shows hosts offered him tens of thousands of dollars to be on TV instead.

He said he was praying on his decision but God rushed in many ways for this man who had somehow gotten lost in hatred.

            More and more we see the truth of how important even one unsuspecting person can be..whether towone person doing the right thing at the right time can, indeed, tip the balance away from hatred toward love.  One person with courage and a deep connection to what is good and true and right.

            This week I heard a radio show about a man who is stealthily hanging short haiku poetry all over his home town. They all start with a first line come on and then a simple reminder about what is really important.  One I remember especially was “…Multiply your investments…read to your children”. 

             I thought of our Sunday School and of how, if nothing else, once a week our children we acknowledge how tough life can sometimes can be, how good it feels to act with courage and how important that courage and a sense of peace is to their lives and to the world.

            The story of Daniel is one in which chapter after chapter we find visions of the same Message.  First Nebuchanezzar, then his son Balthazar, and then his grandson Darius mistake power position and wealth for life’s purpose, and have dreams of terrible loss.  They see what is lost and come miserable to Daniel only to have him point out again and again what remains… the golden statue falls only so that the king might see the glorious mountain which was always there.   They suffer personal loss and misery while Daniel goes about his days with simple prayers.  Where they see roaring hungry lions, he finds the company of sleepy friends and the help of an angel.

            The Love Christ taught us is that same love…a love which seeps into every crack and cranny of our lives, transforming the whole of us and opening us to a view of the world we might never have known.

            All fall we will be looking at images the Bible gives us of Christ and images Christ gives us of God and this one of Christ as “shepherd” sets the stage.

            We can forget how dangerous the job of shepherd can be

with wolves and coyotes, weather and boredom all stalking the pasture.

Sheep get sick and are threatened,  they give birth in the night and lost in thickets. Shepherds need all sorts of skills but we start this week with what we have always known ..the most important thing is to set our hearts and minds on God so that there is a peace which passeth all understanding in our lives.

            There is a page for coloring we are giving our children today downstairs of Daniel lying asleep while the lions watch over him. It is an amazing image.. a man who did not worry because of the deep peace his faith had given him.

            This is the investment we need to make in our children…. Homes filled with love and forgiveness..in every nook and cranny and a belief in a God who protects us night and day.

 

Let us pray.

Spirit of Love, that which moves within, among and beyond us, be present with us Great Mystery, that which ultimately concerns humanity, be with us and hear our prayer.

God of All Nations, and of All Peoples, we are grateful for all the wonders of the world, for each other and for all the members of the human family.

This day and every day, let us not be divided by fear, but find within us the strength and hope to stand together with our children on the side of love for freedom, peace and justice.

 

 

 

Sermon:  July 18, 2010

 

Note to readers:  This summer we are exploring psalms and prophets and include modern day poets and prophets as we go…thus the poetry included here.

 

SCRIPTURE READING

Genesis 18:1-10a, Luke 10:38-42

 

 Genesis 18:1-10a   The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, "My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant." So they said, "Do as you have said." And Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah, and said, "Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes." Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it. Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.  They said to him, "Where is your wife Sarah?" And he said, "There, in the tent." Then one said, "I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son."

Luke 10:38-42      Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me." But the Lord answered her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her."

 

POETRY:
 
To Be of Use (Marge Piercy)

 

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

 

 

SERMON

 

MOCKINGBIRDS (Mary Oliver)

 

This morning

two mockingbirds

in the green field

were spinning and tossing

 

the white ribbons

of their songs

into the air.

I had nothing

 

better to do

than listen.

I mean this

seriously.

 

In Greece,

a long time ago,

an old couple

opened their door

 

to two strangers

who were,

it soon appeared,

not men at all,

 

but gods.

It is my favorite story--

how the old couple

had almost nothing to give

 

but their willingness

to be attentive--

but for this alone

the gods loved them

 

and blessed them--

when they rose

out of their mortal bodies,

like a million particles of water

 

from a fountain,

the light

swept into all the corners

of the cottage,

 

and the old couple,

shaken with understanding,

bowed down--

but still they asked for nothing

 

but the difficult life

which they had already.

And the gods smiled, as they vanished,

clapping their great wings.

 

Wherever it was

I was supposed to be

this morning--

whatever it was I said

 

I would be doing--

I was standing

at the edge of the field--

I was hurrying

 

through my own soul,

opening its dark doors--

I was leaning out;

I was listening.

 

~ Mary Oliver ~

 

 

 

The adult fellowship has been learning about this story from Genesis and here we have it today in our lectionary.  Abraham is sitting outside his tent in the heat of the day We can imagine the heat rising off the desert  Even the old oaks of Mamre cannot provide much relief. And suddenly God appears before him along with two angels  “O My!” he says and suddenly he and Sarah go to work

 

Let a little water be brought,

and wash your feet…

rest yourselves under the tree.

Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves

"Make ready quickly three measures of choice flour, knead it, and make cakes."

 

Abraham ran to the herd, and took a calf, tender and good, and gave it to the servant, who hastened to prepare it.

Then he took curds and milk and the calf that he had prepared,  

and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.

 

Quite a welcome. Quite a welcome.

 

The servants and Sarah and Abraham all working together

We have learned that this God who came to Abraham and Sarah was not surprising.   Gods could appear at any time so this appearance was an honor but not unusual.  The appearance called for all the preparations of a party.

 

And we see the very specific effort…three cups..choice flour..a tender calf…concrete worshipful steps to make God and the angels welcome

 

And as Mary Oliver says, the reward was great…there was great joy in the tent…God had come into their midst and, of course, a baby was conceived… and the beginning of a new relationship with God.

 

A welcome made of meeting the moment with open arms and small acts of work and grace.

 

Our new testament story is a similar tale. Jesus is in Mary and Martha’s home and Martha is bustling about, distracted by her many tasks, until Jesus calls her back to herself, back to the whole purpose of his visit, and the truth of what will make him welcome.

      

       Let us all sit down Together!   How many times have we heard this at dinner when the hostess is scurrying about tending to details.

       In churches we know how important details are to true welcome…Can we all see can we all hear, can we all enter,  are the chairs comfortable? Can we deny the importance of being able to know when we come to church that worship will truly be a time when all are brought together as one with God?

       This scripture, in fact, is said to be the counterpoint of the one which has gone before it in the scripture which we heard last week—the story of the Good Samaritan- in which two men walked by and one stopped and kneeled down and provided all the acts of kindness to allow a battered man to heal…

       Sigmund Freud said the two most basic human needs are Love and Work…but that they are not separate needs…we must do work which we love and know that love is work.  The good Samaritan showed love but showed it with the fruits of his labors.  Mary knew that coming to know and understand Jesus was not something she could take lightly. She knew she needed to stop and love in a new way, a way which might mean suspending life as she knew it and expected it to be, listening in the only way she knew how.

       I believe churches are the place where this balance is well met.

Worship calls Mary and Martha together, brings the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, the wounded man and the thief together in one place to find what they each need.   First off  we offer a time of rest and reflection, of beauty and of peace, of song and celebration and a reminder that we are all welcome at the table…then slowly we reveal that this love and community can find expression and grow roots through work and love

       It is no accident that in this time of Pentecost we hang banners which show

a tree in bloom with leaves that show the shade of dark and light, which balance one another each drawing in the light, each drawing from the same root the refreshment they need.

       Love and work find balance here, the more we find the Love of God the more easily see what work it is which each of us is called to do,  the more love we bring to our work, the more joy we find.   That small tent in the desert next to the Oaks of Mamre are the image we need to hold…of the times and places where God and angels might appear at any moment and we might do the work of welcome and feel the blessing of a time of rest.

 

 

May we open our hearts to your presence, O God,

moving beyond all that clutters our lives

and all that is waiting for our attention.

May your Spirit calm us amid the chaos,

and tune our ears to hear your voice above all else;

calling us to find our centre in you.

May your Spirit guide us in our busyness –

the expectations of community,

the needs of others,

the necessary demands of ministry –

help us to let them be for a while.

Move us deeper into your presence

where we can be fully attentive

to the depth of Jesus’ teaching,

the stirring of your spirit,

the gift of your listening.

May we create space within our lives

to meet you, O God,

and to know you more.

Amen

(Prayer from Seasons of the Spirit:  seasonsonline: july 18)

 

Sermon for June 27, 2010

Living in the Whirlwind

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.

Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

Philippians 4 (New International Version)

 1Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

Exhortations

 2I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow,[a] help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

 4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

 

Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set towards Jerusalem. When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.

As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

            When I was a little girl I lived in California and every summer we would go for a week to the beach.   My memories begin when I would go out with my mother and jump the waves.   The strongest part of that memory is the connection to my mother’s hand. We would be standing up to our waists in the rocking waves of the cold ocean and.. when a wave would come …we would jump at just the point the wave was strongest and the wave would lift us both off our feet for what seemed like minutes of magical joy –as if the water itself had lifted us up and beyond the surf.

            As I grew older, I would go with girlfriends and we would jump the waves together ….human flotsam and jetsum riding the ripples …..until we were old enough and brave enough to take on the deeper surf.  With most big waves it is possible--- even if the water rises over your head-- to catch it at just the right time and to float suspended… for amazing seconds, hearing the surf crash just behind you…but sometimes, if it comes too fast or is too big---you have to make the decision to dive right through the wave and that is an even more amazing lift.   You have to catch the wave just as it is crashing above your head …and dive right through where it begins to foam and then aim your  body like a bullet through the crest and out the other side.

            Then again there was always the possibility of body-surfing the wave. That takes an even better sense of the wave..of catching it at just the right moment…stiffening your body and riding it to the shore.

            I have not done much surfing with a board which can be an entirely other experience.   The you have to manage a board as well,  waiting outside the surf until a perfect wave comes, paddling quickly to ride on top of the wave to where the surf

begins to fold into a wave then deftly standing on the board and above the wave---finding a balance and then riding it to just our side the shoreline and jumping free.

            It is common knowledge that surfing in the West---whether with a board or without—is most heavenly at sunset…when the sun slowly sinks toward the sea and seems to melt along the horizon.     You can easily see why the Greeks and Romans thought of the sun as a chariot of fire…leaving a golden path behind at the end of the day.

 

            We can also imagine  Elisha in the moment Elijah was carried away—blinded by the sun as it set beyond the hills as he stood at the edge of the Jordan, windswept by the whirlwind that enveloped the place they stood.   It was a far different whirlwind than the small still voice Elijah had found on the mountaintop in the scripture we read a few weeks back.    This was the full moment of godliness in which Elijah was consumed by God wholly and completely and Elisha was left behind.

            I mentioned the story of surfing with my mother because the scripture recounts the same sort of passing on of wisdom. Elisha kept following Elijah insisting he had to be there when he crossed over.  They left the prophets’ home at Gilgal and travelled to Bethel.    Elijah offered to let him stay but Elisha insisted he had to follow along.

            They travelled then to the Jordan and Elijah offered to let him stay on the riverside but he wanted to pass through to somehow live into and through Elijah’s great spirit.   And then he stayed as the whirlwind came and the sun shown like a chariot of fire and Elijah was carried away with the whirlwind.

            We are encouraged not to take the image literally by scholars--- inasmuch as Greek mythology seemed to have been stirred into this scriptural memory,   but it is beautiful nonetheless…and easy to understand if you have been with someone you love and cherish at the time of their death.    There are often images and words which surpass our understanding…the one I might share is that of my mother-in-law who was French-canadian by birth and who, at the moment of her death sat up in bed--- her face filled with light--- reaching her hands out as if to a parent proclaiming  “ La Lumiere, la Lumiere!  In English that would be “the light, the light”.   We might well imagine that Elijah at the moment he passed also saw the light as a chariot and Elijah was left on the windswept shore of the Jordan having lived through something otherworldly and yet very real.

            What we also know about Elisha is that he feared he wouldn’t be up to the task of bearing Elijah’s mantel and yet he wanted it terribly.    He begged Elijah to be sure he knew enough,  had enough-no, double of the holy spirit to carry on and he stayed with Elijah to the end that he might have the touch feel smell and comfort of the mantel he left behind…some reminder to carry with him of who his beloved had been.  Again, we are encouraged to make much of the mantel itself, there is no real biblical significance to a mantel..it too may be a carry over from the Greek but we know it was precious and something to hold onto as he went forth.

            As always the old testament makes human our struggles to live as people of faith in times of change and loss.  Elisha manifests what we know so well in ourselves about times of change.     We follow after what gives us security, we doubt ourselves, we ask for assurance and we hope that material things might somehow help us hold on to memories or replace those we love.

           

Jesus, of course, cuts right through all of this in the gospel:

 "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

 

Follow me, he says to the person-- but they are caught..in their obligations, in their traditions, in their work.

" Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

 

Jesus is not talking about giving up being human--- but rather about remembering what is most important. We know and will hear in the weeks to come that Elisha does drop Elijah’s mantel and becomes a prophet in his own right…making wise decisions, encouraging others to remember God’s love and wisdom above all  and encouraging others to make a new Jerusalem on earth.

 

Jesus cuts right through this process and puts it in words:

"Has God indeed said…He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it."( Matthew 10:39)

            Elisha takes me back again to the seaside in California where I so desperately wanted to be able to be at peace with the Great Ocean and probably just as much, ached for the chance to be alone with my mother and something she loved.

            In the story of Elisha we find the truth of how delicious it can be to follow our deepest yearnings…

To follow,  as it says in Phillipians….”whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—“

. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7

 

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

 

I think of the wave and the learning about just when to jump into the wave trusting

that the water will lift you up and over every wave.

Rejoice! Paul says to the Phillipians…” 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

 

Peace when we follow our deepest desires, leave worries behind and trust in God.

 

            Yesterday, in the midst of the Strawberry Supper, I came upstairs to my office to get something and the phone rang and it was the woman I talked about earlier who is in need of diapers and formula . When she told me who she was I tensed up a bit since I knew we had spent all we have to spend for her this year but in her cheery voice, as if we were now friends, she shared with me her news that her older children are in Kurn Hattin, that she has done all the paperwork for low income housing, that one possibility had fallen through but she was hoping it would not be long until she and her children had a home:

"Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head."

 

The words of Jesus rang in my head.

 

And she shared how she was almost out of diapers and that her baby needed special

 

formula…just like that as if of course I would understand. And the miracle was that I

 

did understand.  I still have the memory of buying special formula for my third

 

daughter because she was allergic to all the usual formula and of coming to the cash register and cringing,  week after week, and paying $14 for a  quart size can and thinking, what would I do, what would we do if we couldn’t pay  this much?

            It was as if this young woman and her children and I were facing the same wave, the same whirlwind of concern for our children and the question was whether I would continue to hold her hand. My child and her child were the same child with a delicate stomach and I felt myself rise above the wave and ay, Yes! We can do this, we can do this, I will ask and we will help you feed your children.

            My daughter is now 20 years old and I praise God that I did not say ---oh no, I must turn away, I Must this or we must that.  I knew that God had assured her that if she asked she would be lifted up with grace and joy and I also knew it would really be no problem to respond at all…”to do whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from Christ, or seen in Christ—and to put it into practice.”


 
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