June 26, 2016
Luke 9:51-62, 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
“Who Ya Gonna Call?”
I feel like I should tell you the truth. I am discouraged. We are two weeks out from the horrific shooting in Orlando and I am trying to discern what hope looks like. One would think tragic events would draw us together, but too many news stories make it seem that the gap has widened even more. At times like this, I want to call on the prophets to help us find our way. I want to look to others to give me a word, a direction, a step toward healing. I did not have a class in seminary on “what to do when there are terrible mass shootings.” So, we are all here making our way and wondering what to do next.
Our scriptures this morning may seem like little help, but I think they have something to offer us. The strange story of Elijah and Elisha shows us a step forward. Elijah, the mentor, knows his life is coming to the end. He keeps trying to send Elisha back, but Elisha will not be deterred. He refuses to take his eye off of Elijah. Elijah’s mantle is passed to Elisha, empowering him to continue God’s work.
I have been thinking about mentors and teachers and those who have profoundly shaped my own life. One of my mentors reached out to me after the Orlando shooting. I was grateful for her support. I have leaned on those mentors in my life and they have influenced me in profound ways. Perhaps, in times like these, we call on those who have shown us the way and ask them again, “How then, shall we live?”
I am watching people answer that question in a number of ways. There are senators sitting on the floor, there are airlines flying family members to funerals, there are musicians recording songs to raise money for the victims, and one company donated 200 three-bedroom condos for families of victims and survivors to move into for awhile. There are many ways to show love and support in the face of tragedy and hatred.
We are here to learn to follow Jesus. I think about how many people have gathered in this sanctuary through the years and I find myself leaning into the faith and strength of all those who have gone before us. What can they teach us now? They have passed the mantle to us. How shall we carry it to honor the love of God that continues to call us to healing and hope?
I wonder what Jesus would do now. How would he call us to respond in a world that chooses to draw bitter lines in the sand and justifies hate?
In the scripture from Luke, Jesus is moving toward death. The scripture says repeatedly that he “set his face toward Jerusalem”. He knew the direction he was going. He sent his disciples ahead through Samaria. It was an unusual thing to do because Samaritans and Jews had nothing to do with one another. But Jesus would not allow that divide to continue.
It didn’t go so well. The Samaritans weren’t very receptive and James and John became angry. They asked Jesus if they could just call fire to come down on those bad Samaritans. Jesus was clear that they would not use violence. It is good that they still had Jesus to look to for direction. I’m struck by how much we need to turn to Jesus to show us how to react today. Jesus knew he was getting ready to leave his followers and he was trying to show them what it means to follow.
Elijah was preparing to leave Elisha and he was showing him what it looks like to follow God. In our text study this week, we were reminded that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harvey Milk could see that their time was coming to an end. Many of their followers wanted them to choose safety, but neither would abandon their call to extend equality to those who had been denied it. It cost them their life, but they were uncompromising in their commitment to equality.
One piece of wisdom in our texts today is to look to God and those mentors as we seek to navigate this life journey. The mantle is ours now and it is up to us to continue the work Jesus began.
Composer Giacomo Puccini wrote a number of famous operas. In 1922 he was suddenly stricken with cancer while working on his last opera, Turandot, which many now consider his best. Puccini said to his students, “If I don’t finish Turandot, I want you to finish it for me.” Shortly afterward he died. Puccini’s students studied the opera carefully and soon completed it. In 1926 the world premier of Turandot was performed in Milan with Puccini’s student, Arturo Toscanini, directing.
Everything went beautifully until the opera reached the point where Puccini had been forced to put down his pen. Tears ran don Toscanini’s face. He stopped the music, turned to the audience, and cried out, “Thus far the Master wrote, but he died.” A vast silence filled the opera house. Toscanini smiled through his tears and exclaimed, “But his disciples finished his work.” When Turandot ended, the audience broke into thunderous applause. (Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 3 p. 176)
We may not be the ones who will finish the work, but we continue it for those who come after us. Jesus is getting ready to hand the mantle to the disciples. He sounds awfully harsh and unsupportive when his followers to have to bury someone or say goodbye to their family. I don’t think that is to be taken literally. It does, however, show us that following him will require focus. We are so easily distracted in our culture and we have many good excuses about why we can’t possibly follow Jesus down that road. Jesus, too, was prone to distraction. There are many stories where he is in the middle of something and someone appears needing help so Jesus stops what he is doing to be present to that person. The story today says that Jesus set his face, which tells us he was focused in the direction of God and he wants us to understand the same will be required of us.
That’s where it gets uncomfortable. It is going to be hard. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls, he bids [us] come and die.” The way forward is to stay focused on love no matter what the circumstances evoke in us. There are invitations to do everything, BUT love. Yet, Jesus tells us that love is the ONLY way forward.
The musical Hairspray, is set in Baltimore in the 1960’s. It shows the racial tension through the lives of a group of teenagers and a segregated teen television show. A wise African American woman sings a song “I Know Where I’ve Been” that describes the way forward. She says,
There's a road
We must travel
There's a promise
We must make
But the riches
Will be plenty
Worth the risk
And the chances that we take
There's a dream
In the future
There's a struggle
That we have yet to win
Use that pride
In our hearts
To lift us up
When we focus on love as the way forward, we will get there. We can be guaranteed that the road will be difficult. We can be sure it will be painful. There are no shortcuts, but we have people to show us the way. So, we must continue to look to those who have gone before us – those who never stopped loving in the face of hatred and violence – and be God’s love incarnate in the world. Love will prevail.