Sunday, 27 June 2010

The mantle of love

A short reflection based on this mornings OT reading - 2 Kings 2: 1-14
This reflection was punctuated by a vuvuzela!

(Vuvuzela blast)

We could do with a few of these punctuating our reading this morning.


These vuvzelas.
People either love them or hate them
They’ve become a constant accompaniment to the World Cup action in South Africa.


In our Old Testament reading this morning, a few of these would, perhaps shake things up a bit.
Because there’s a conspiracy of silence.

It’s time for Elisha to take over from the old prophet Elijah who has been his mentor, taught him everything he knows.
But, every time someone tries to talk to Elisha about it, they’re told Wheesht… Let’s not talk about it.

Elisha is adopting that age old coping strategy that we’ve all adopted at some time – if we don’t talk about it, it might never happen.
Or – if we ignore it, it will go away.

How often have you done that?

How often has it worked?
It doesn’t work, does it?
In fact, often, not confronting things simply makes them worse.

It’s very understandable.
When we imagine something to be unpleasant, then we’d rather avoid facing it.
But it seldom goes away – and by the time we face up to things, they’re worse than they might otherwise have been.
Or, occasionally, they’re actually not nearly as bad as we feared.
So all our worrying has been a waste of energy.

That’s how it panned out with Elisha.
He couldn’t change the fact that he was to take over from Elijah.
And, actually, when that moment came, it turned out to be phenomenal.
Elisha witnessed his mentor being taken up into heaven in a chariot in a whirlwind – he witnessed the miraculous power of God.
And then, he came to realise that he had been given that same spirit that Elijah had – in double measures.
The moment he had feared.
The moment he had done his best to avoid.
Became one of the greatest moments of his life.

I wonder if that’s ever been your experience?
That something you dreaded not just turned out OK, but turned out much better than you could ever have imagined?

As people of faith, it shouldn’t really surprise us, though it does constantly.
The God in whom we trust IS amazing.
And often things in life are transformed beyond our imagining by the power of that amazing God.
Things we worry about.
Things we stress over.
Don’t go away.
But are often transformed when we commit them to God.

Elisha saw Elijah being taken up to heaven on a chariot pulled by horses in the midst of a whirlwind.
The stuff of fantasy.
The kind of imagery that we shy away from because it is just too fantastical for this modern age in which we live.
And yet, our experience of life tells us that magical things DO happen.
That life can be turned around in ways that we would never have expected.

It may not be cool.
But we can believe in miracles.

Be it the miracle that England is still in the world cup.
Or the miracle that the God who is revealed in our remarkable scripture reading in a whirlwind today, still participates in our everyday lives.

Everyday is punctuated by miracles.
We can choose to see them and share them.
Or we can indulge in that conspiracy of silence.

But still the God of miracles will invade our everyday and transform the world around us.

In our sacrament (of baptism) this morning, we celebrated the miracle of new life.
And celebrated the miracle that God loves us even before we can respond or even begin to understand that love.
The love of God follows us all through life.
When we acknowledge God’s love.
And when we don’t.
God’s love is there for us.
And so, whatever may afflict us in life.
Whatever worries we may be hiding.
The love of God surrounds us and upholds us.
Our pain may not be taken from us.
Our anxiety may not disappear.
But our lives can be transformed just knowing that the God of miracles cares for us all through life.

God did not reassure Elisha that all would be well.
In fact, Elisha was kept in suspense right to the end.
To the moment he parted the waters of the Jordan, he couldn’t be sure whether he had received the gift of the spirit of Elijah.

Believing in a God of miracles does not ensure that our lives will be easy or pain free.
But that faith does bring us a reassurance that we can face whatever comes our way in life, that we will have the resources to endure, in the knowledge that we are surrounded by a God whose name is love.

Today’s reading speaks into our lives as individuals.

What are the things of which we dare not speak?

What are the things we are afraid to confront?

And today’s reading speaks into our life as the church together in this place.

What is it we’re afraid to face up to.

What is it we maintain silence on so that we won’t upset the apple cart.

Immersing ourselves in silence will not resolve anything.

Being people of faith, called as we are to take up the mantle of the Spirit of God demands that we be courageous and face up to the challenges that meet us in life.

Face up to challenges knowing that the God of love goes before us and carries us to places we could never imagine.


Let’s wake up to the challenges surrounding us – and to the God who accompanies us through all of life.


Saturday, 26 June 2010

Our vuvuzela?

Some thoughts on 2 Kings 2 v 1-14

OK, maybe not quite as annoying as a vuvuzela but our heraldic bugles surely rank with those attention seeking instruments.
As we consider tomorrow's Lectionary text, where Elijah's mantle is handed on to Elisha, a few well timed vuvuzela blasts won't go amiss.
There seems to be a conspiracy of silence as Elijah and Elisha make their way to that historic moment.
Presented with opportunities to talk about the coming change with the "band of prophets", Elisha chooses to maintain silence.
Something we can be good at in the  church.
If it's difficult, let's not talk about it.
Thorny issues remain unaired.
Unacceptable behaviour goes unchallenged.
Lack of commitment becomes acceptable.
And so the double portion of the Spirit that is ours for the asking lies unwanted, unused.
And the church becomes a mere shadow of the kingdom, undistinguished, languishing on the periphery.
What will it take to startle us into life?
What will incite our passion?
When will we pick up the mantle and be God's people, speaking love and living out the challenges as prophets in the world today?

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Meeting points

A sermon for Sunday 6th June 2010

Reading: 1 Kings 17 v 8-16

Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying: Go now to Zarephath… and live there. I have commanded a widow there to feed you.

We need to rewind a bit in the Elijah story to put the part of the story we read today into context:
Ahab is king of Israel and has taken as his wife, Jezebel, a name still today synonymous with all that is evil.
1 Kings records that Ahab did evil in the sight of the Lord – more than all who were before him.
In the ways of Old Testament kings – that is really saying something – Ahab and Jezebel were a fine team, leading the people into all that was evil and worshipping false gods.
There’s nothing like being led into evil by the nation’s leaders.
How often, especially in recent times. Have you heard someone say – well, if it’s alright for them… it’s alright for me.
If he/she can get away with it, then so can I.
Though we might have scant regard for leaders today, though we might not be as respectful or as deferential as folk were in times past, still we are influenced by their actions.
Still we have the tendency to witness bad behavior and, rather than aspiring to behave better, we resort to behaving badly ourselves.
The lowest common denominator often wins out.
This story in first Kings is a stark reminder of how often we look for God in the wrong places.
When we expect to see God in the high and lofty places, so often we are disappointed.
God appears and is honoured in the places we’d least expect.
In lowly widows rather than in kings.
In well trodden refugee routes rather than famous highways.
In tented cities rather than in palaces.
In the oppressed rather than in the successful.
That’s the kind of God we worship.
A kind of God who confounds expectations and pops up in the places and times we’d least expect.

It is into that kind of climate, a people oppressed by corrupt leadership, that we see Elijah emerge, a prophet of God, called to point out the nation’s failings and encourage leaders to turn from evil and follow the way of God and to lead the people in the right paths too.
Not a popular task at any time.
Prophets and kings had very stormy relationships in the Old Testament.
Today, their relationships have scarcely improved.
Leaders don’t want to hear about the effects that their policies have on the most vulnerable members of society.
They don’t want to acknowledge that while the rich get richer, the poor get poorer.
Some things never change it seems.
And still God seeks prophets to be a voice for justice, to speak out against evil, to demonstrate that there is another, fairer way to live.

Elijah was called to just such a task.
To speak for God against the evil of the day.
There is a drought on the land.
And Elijah, fleeing because Ahab and Jezebel didn’t like what he had to say, finds himself in strange territory in the midst of this drought.
God directs Elijah to places where he will find water and food.

We enter Elijah’s story tonight at the point when his supply of water and food has dried up and God instructs him to go to Zarephath where a widow will feed him.
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying: Go now to Zarephath… and live there. I have commanded a widow there to feed you.

Elijah goes to Zarephath and encounters the widow at the gate of the town.
She is gathering sticks so that she can light a fire and cook a last meal for herself and her son.
Their resources are depleted too.
She sees no hope of replenishment, so she does the best she can – she makes preparations for what, in her mind, will be their last meal together.

The starkness of the widow’s predicament is astonishing.
Into this bleakness, wanders the prophet Elijah.
It struck me as some kind of divine comedy.
A widow, at the end of her tether, devoid of hope, is accosted by a holy man looking for her to share.
The laws and customs of hospitality dictate that she must share – but it’s difficult to share nothing.

And not only does the prophet ask her to share, he asks her to prepare him something first. Nothing like rubbing salt in the wounds.

And yet isn’t that often where the human encounter with God is at its most vivid.
When hope is gone.
When we’ve thrown in the towel.
When we’ve resigned ourselves to despair.
Then we have space to be aware of the divine presence.
Then we are not too cluttered.
Then we are able to be amazed by the grace of God.

We said goodbye to one of our student ministers this morning and next week we will welcome another.
Having students around, preparing for ministry is always refreshing and stimulating.
Being involved in that whole process of vocation and formation helps keep us mindful of the struggle that comes with being obedient to God’s nudging.
It’s a convoluted business discerning what God really wants of us.
And then, just when we think we’ve grasped it, there’s often a twist in the tale.
And we’re forced to move on to plan B.
Before we know it, we’re at plan Z – and God often still has more surprises for us.
God often asks more of us than we would ever have imagined.
More than we ever thought ourselves capable of giving.
And that’s because God knows that, when our reserves are depleted, the well of God never runs dry.

Elijah appears to have been on a similar kind of roller coaster with God.
God asks him to go and confront Ahab, the king about his wicked ways.
Once he’s done that, Elijah has to flee for his life – but that’s OK.
God leads him to a brook and wild ravens bring him food.
But the brook dries up and Elijah is forced to move on to plan B.
He must have wondered about that. Because plan B involved being fed by a widow who, it was obvious, was in even more dire straits than Elijah was.
“Do you have a plan C God?” you can imagine Elijah asking.
However the prophet continues to do God’s bidding and to speak the words that God has given him.
He tells the widow to prepare a meal for him first and then for herself and her son, promising that there will always be enough to sustain them.
How could Elijah have been so faithful?
How could he have been so trusting?
I suspect that many of you know only too well how Elijah managed that.
Having no reserves of his own, he relied completely on God.
And, guess what – God came through.
You know that.
Many of you have experienced that.
That in those times when it seems we have nothing left to give, nowhere to turn, no other options open to us.
It’s then that God meets us and proves in what a faithful God we trust.
When we’ve reached rock bottom, the end of our tether, our last reserves – we can only look up – and there God meets us.

God meets us.
Perhaps for tonight those three words are enough to sum up the good news:
God meets us.
In a story full of meetings:
Elijah and Ahab – justice meeting evil.
Elijah and the widow – faith meeting hope.
And God in it all – bringing compassion, bringing justice, bringing grace.
God meets us – at whatever point we most need to be met in our lives right now.
God meets us.

Tonight as we share communion together, what better scripture illustration could we have before us.
A mother, her child, God’s prophet, gathered round a table, trusting in God to provide.
That is communion.
Tonight as we gather around this table, can we be so trusting?
Can we believe that whatever our wants, whatever our needs, God knows and God, in love, will meet us?
This is communion.