Sunday, June 26, 2016
June 26, Proper 8, Prophecy 3: Elisha Sees the Chariots
2 Kings 2:1-2,6-14, Psalm 77, Gal 5:1,13-25, Luke 9:51-62
My buddy Orville likes Yogi Berra quotations. He told me a new one last week. Yogi’s wife asked him, “If you die before I do, where would you like me to have you buried? Here in Jersey, or in New York City, or back in St. Louis?” He said, “Surprise me.”
The Lord Jesus tossed off those three answers to those who would follow him as one-liners, sort of nonsensical non sequiturs. Of course the Son of Man did have places to lay his head, and of course the dead are unable to bury the dead, and if you’re plowing you actually do check your alignment behind you. He throws off these one-liners like he’s pushing away the branches to keep his path clear. He’s not so much talking about the general challenge of discipleship as about his own challenge, about his new determination and resolve, that he has now set his face towards Jerusalem, time’s a-wasting, and things that were normal are now distractions.
So it doesn’t bother him that the Samaritans will not receive him. So what if they hate Jerusalem and Judea and therefore expected any Jewish Messiah to be their enemy. Look, he’s going to frustrate every expectation of how he should be the Messiah anyway, and if the Judeans do receive him they will soon reject him even worse. Rejection is precisely what he has set his face to enter into.
Why is he suddenly so focused and determined? Why has he ended his patient preaching tours of Galilee? The change, according to St. Luke, follows upon his discussion with Moses and Elijah on the mountain of the Transfiguration, just a few verses earlier in this same chapter. They talked about his “exodus,” a word which meant both his exit and his victory through death, and now he wants to get on with it. He knows he will die, and he believes that he will be “taken up,” as it says in verse 51. Both Moses and Elijah had been “taken up.” Moses to the mountaintop, to see the Promised Land, and then he died in the arms of God. Elijah was taken up directly while still alive. Might Jesus be their combination, dying, but then being taken up alive again?
There’s lots of Elijah in the background of Jesus. It was Elijah who had once called down fire from heaven on the Samaritans, which the disciples want to copy. Jesus was criticized for not being more like Elijah. But Jesus was inspired by other prophets too. He was actually more like Elisha, the healer, who was less confrontational. And like Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, who was tortured and imprisoned in Jerusalem, and rejected by the city that he loved. The Samaritans had no idea!
Jesus had a vision, and he had to keep to his vision, the vision that only he could see, and yet once you saw it too, you could then see it all through the scriptures that you thought you knew. But you cannot see it at all without the gift of the Holy Spirit. To be prophetic, you need the Holy Spirit.
That’s my new thing for today. In my first sermon in this series, I said that we are prophetic when we speak the truth about ourselves, when we confess our sin and that we confess our only identity in the sovereign grace of God. As the Catechism says, “Our only comfort, in life and death.” In my second sermon, I said that a church is prophetic when it keeps pointing to the alternate reality of this world, to that more true reality which except for prophecy is unacknowledged by the world, to the Kingdom of God which is hidden and yet is always bearing down on us. And today the scripture is telling us that it’s the Holy Spirit who empowers you to see prophetically and to speak it.
Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken up from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” Elijah responded, “You have asked a hard thing.” Because it was not Elijah’s to give him. The spirit working prophetically in Elijah was none other than the Holy Spirit of God, and the Holy Spirit inhabits whomever it wills.
But when Elisha was able to see the chariot, that showed that the Holy Spirit had already come upon him, or he could not have seen it. And the Spirit gives him power to tell what he sees, and he cries out, “The chariots of Israel and its horsemen.” He sees more than just one chariot, he can tell the presence of a multitude of the heavenly host. The heavenly host who showed themselves and sang to the shepherd on the hillside near Bethlehem, the heavenly host, the cavalry of angels, the power of God, the Kingdom of God, and Elisha he could tell it was there, the alternate reality always pressing down on us even if we do not know it. The Spirit empowered him to see it and call it.
This same Holy Spirit is given to all of us, according to our lesson from Galatians. You, as a very ordinary Christian, can live by the Spirit. Like we’re up there with Elijah and Elisha. Like we’re up there with Jesus. Who, us? We don’t speak in tongues, we don’t do miracles, we don’t see chariots, we don’t have visions supernatural. But we are prophetic in our behavior when we shape our lives by that alternate reality.
That’s what you are called to do. And because you want to do that is why you came here today. You know that the present reality is not just disappointing but destructive. You know that our current way of life is rich and prosperous at the cost of toxicity, pollution, and violence. You want to live by a vision of the world in which the fruits of the political economy are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
In this passage, what St. Paul means by “flesh” is not the human body. Notice that some of the “works of the flesh” are spiritual works. Flesh is a shortcut word for St. Paul. It means the world that tries to live on its own and free from God. Its freedom is for its self-indulgence and consumption. We are “flesh” when we call ourselves “consumers.” We “bite and devour and consume” each other. It is under God that freedom is really found. And to live in such freedom is to be prophetic. We are living in terms of a reality that depends on God, and gets its power from the Holy Spirit of God.
So if we’re prophetic, we have this double relationship with the world. We quietly discredit all the powers of the world and we dispute their pretensions and we grieve their sorry glories no less than their miseries, but we do not despair. Because we live by hope. Because this alternate reality is for the world, and the Holy Spirit is the Creator of this and the Lord and Giver of life to this world, and our hope is based on God. Prophets may be critics by they live by hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
We prophets are crazy. We keep hoping against hope. Every week we celebrate Communion, because “as often as we eat that bread and drink that cup, we do show the Lord’s death until he come.” Until he come! We celebrate communion every week in order to nourish and sustain our hope, to keep us alive as prophets.
But we have more than hope. Something real is here already. For just as Holy Communion is a sign of what’s to come, Holy Baptism is a sign of what’s already so. The Holy Spirit allows you to see in little Ella Elisabeth Platt “the chariots of Israel and its horsemen.” Do you know what this little girl represents? Why the eye of God is on her, why all of God’s attention is on her, what God has in mind for her? By the Holy Spirit you can see it in the Baptism and believe it. It’s not just hope, it’s already accomplished, so certainly as you see that water upon her, so certainly has she been crucified with Christ and in him raised again. Not just one more soul snatched from evil, but one more warrior in the heavenly host. Only her weapons will not be violent, but such things so wonderful that we call them the fruits of the spirit. And that has already begun to happen in this little girl.
The baptism of a child is a thoroughly prophetic act. Because her faith is totally from God, and not from her own decision or achievement. Because the Holy Spirit in her is nothing that she’s asked for, but freely given her by God by God’s own sovereignty. And it’s prophetic because already as an infant we see these gifts developing in her.
I’m going to read these backwards: we can tell in Ella already the fruits of self-control and gentleness.
We can tell in Ella already the vision of faithfulness, generosity, and kindness.
We can tell in Ella the realities of patience, peace, and joy.
And we can tell in Ella the fullness of love. She knows full well what love is. This baptism is the prophetic sign of a whole life of her coming to know how much God loves her, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Copyright © 2016, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.