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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Thursday, November 23, 2017
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors

Asking the Hard Thing

Asking the Hard Thing

2 Kings 2:1-12

The Old Testament has some remarkable stories and this week I will read another one to you and we will explore what it might mean for us.  In this reading we find Elijah and his devoted follower Elisha who becomes Elijah’s successor in a very remarkable way.  (Read 2 Kings 2:1-12)

Every year several people from Nardin Park UMC planned a mission trip to Costa Rica.  The planning began right away after a team got back from there.  Tools and money were collected and a mission project chosen from the needs of the people living in central Costa Rica.  By February the following year a team had been assembled, all that was needed collected and the team was ready for departure.  Sometimes the project for the next year was chosen as a continuation of the project from the year before.  The year I went we were responsible for adding a cafeteria to the one room schoolhouse where the children of the tiny Tonjibe Indian tribe were schooled.  Fortunately, the team leaders had been going to this particular sight for over 10 years, knew what to expect, had connections, and could fairly easily set up living quarters in the small local United Methodist Church.  They were wise enough not to tell us ahead of time that the church had no glass windows, although the packing list contained mosquito net tents.  They were wise enough to tell us the roosters crowed all night long and it was not uncommon for a cow to stick its head through an open window.  And they did not tell us that the truck taking the men to plantations to work came at 4:30am beeping loudly to call the men together.  They did not tell us that the one lane bridge over a deep ravine had no guard rails and consisted of two thick planks, and that anybody nearby said a prayer so the vehicle would make it over without falling into the ravine.  They did not tell us there was only one shower for 18 people.  But they did know what we were getting into and knew the local people enough to help us get supplies and interact with the local people. 

The question that hung heavy on my mind was what would happen to those trips if the people who led the trips were to decide not to do that anymore.  Would someone be able to step in and take over.  Not many people had the skills or the knowledge to do such a great job of coordinating traveling and working on projects.  The Indian tribe had become accustomed to the school supplies, clothes and tools we brought and left with them.  Mission trips seem to run their course, then when someone decides not to lead a mission trip, they can fall apart and sometimes cease to exist.

Elijah had had a great ministry.  He performed miracles of unusual stature and his wisdom about God was unbound, because he had God’s Spirit within him.  He was getting older however, and even though he had someone learning under him, Elisha, many probably wondered how his work could be carried on.  Many tend to focus on the miraculous way Elijah was transported into the heavens, but the more important aspect is the focus on Elisha.  Devoted Elisha refused to leave his mentor.  Elisha wanted to be like Elijah, so when Eilijah asked what he could leave him the answer was simple but oh so difficult.  Elisha wanted double the power that Elijah had.  He wanted to carry on Elijah’s work and could not do that without the same Spirit Elijah was given.  The bigger lesson from the story is about God’s work continuing.

Just when we think a ministry or work is over and done, God raises up people to continue the work.   The Old Testament is filled with marvelous stories of how God continues to work with the humans he created.  He does not give up on his people and on His purposes.  In the time of Noah God did not completely destroy people.  He saved Noah and his family to replenish the earth and continue to work toward His ultimate goals. 

When the people of Israel were sent to Egypt and became slaves over time, God did not give up or abandon them.  He sent Moses to free His people and set them back on course.  Even when the people rebelled and began to follow other gods and other religious practices, God did not give up on them.  He eventually sent them back to the promised land to make ready the time when God could do a new thing in Jesus Christ.  And the church has gone through numerous divisions and splits and reorganizations and divisive issues.  Churches tend to spend an incredible amount of energy on single issues in interpreting the Bible, draining the church of its energy and vitality and ability to draw people to God.  And just when things seem hopelessly entangled in controversy, God raises up voices to proclaim the message of God’s love again to those who need to hear it, most often those who don’t care about church issues and agendas.  They simply need to know God and God’s love and forgiveness for them.  They need to know there is hope in the midst of the darkness of their lives.  They need to know the story of Jesus and the sacrifice he gave.  They need to know that he took on their sin and made it possible, through his death and resurrection, for them to live lives of hope and redemption.  The greatest leaders of the church have been those who have remained focused on God and in that focus can draw others to God.

We get so bent on our issues, on our ways of doing church, that we lose God in our wrangling out what it means to live a Christian life.  The most important task we have is to share our faith through our stories, our witness and our prayers, to show people that God loves them, and went to great pains to get them to know that love and that God seeks to be in relationship with them.

When I feel like I’ve gotten distracted in my faith, I go back to God in prayer and remember what it was that got me to God in the first place.  I remember that it was a glimpse into the stars, a passage in Genesis, a moment of baptism, a call to ministry that spoke to me most about who God was and what God wanted.  And it is in that remembering that I am set back on course, again, to do God’s work in ordained ministry.  It is when I work with those in need that I remember the power of God to transform lives through his presence with them.  It is in remembering that I am assured that God’s plans are being worked out in the march of time and in the ordinary events of people’s lives.  Noah’s work of God continued after the flood.  Moses’ work continued after he vanished.  Jesus’ work has continued down through the ages in spite of church rifts, declining attendance in mainline churches.  And the work of this church has continued in spite of some past difficult times.  Why?  Because there will always be hearts for God within any congregation.  Hearts that ask for the difficult things, hearts that hear and respond to God’s tug within them. 

There is great hope in knowing God’s persistence.  God will continue to raise up voices and worker to call us back again and again.  And we will continue to help God transform lives and work out the Divine plan that has been from the beginning.  That is certainly a more hopeful way of looking at the world.  God will not leave us!  Whether we find ourselves in dark circumstances or feel on top of the world, God will always be there!  Elisha’s faith brought him close enough to God to witness what he needed to witness in order to carry on his mentor’s work.  He refused to leave Elijah alone.  Can our faith be that of Elisha’s.  What if we said to God, “I refuse to leave you alone!”  What if we asked God to give us a portion of His Spirit!  You know what, God has already done that when we believe in Jesus, when we allow Christ to come dwell within us and pay attention to his leading.  The easy thing is to ask, the more difficult thing is to follow—too many distractions, too many dark places in our lives, too many other ideas, arguments, controversies vying for our attention.  But God will always be there! 

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