Saturday, May 22, 2010

May 16, 2010 - A Double-portion of God's Spirit

A Double-portion of the Spirit
2 Kings 2.1-15

Have you ever come to the end of a long day of travel or work, and thought (or even said to yourself), "How I wish we could just snap my fingers and be home again"? Of course, all we want to do is get home as quickly as possible. We are not trying to demonstrate some sort of magic; we simply dread the long trip.

In Harry Potter, the magic was *Floo Powder*, a magic we encountered first in The Chamber of Secrets. *Floo Powder* was a glittering powder used by wizards to travel and communicate using fireplaces. It can be used with any fireplace connected to the Floo Network. To transport from one to another, the fire at the point of departure must first be lit. The traveler throws a handful of Floo powder into the flames, turning them emerald green, then steps into the fireplace and states the intended destination in a clear and purposeful voice.

In **The Chamber of Secrets**, the Weasleys traveled by *Floo Powder* to *Diagon Alley* to get school supplies. Unfortunately, Harry did not say "Diagon Alley" clearly, instead saying "diagonally", so he was sent to *Borgin and Burkes*, a more sinister section of *Diagon Alley*. Thus, began a whole series of adventures that only ended when Hagrid found him and brought him back to meet the others. Clearly, a magical power is at work in the adventures of Harry Potter.

In the Bible, almost every trip was made on foot. Riding a donkey or a cart might be a bit easier, but it was not much faster. They had no motor cars, no airplanes, and no trains. Throughout the O.T., the Hebrews had little use for boats. In the N.T., it was not until Paul that Biblical characters made use of the ocean for travel. Travel, when it did happen, was difficult, slow, and mostly on foot.
So, it is not surprising that the Bible is fascinated with people who can move miraculously (or even move quickly) from one place to another. High on the list was the ability to move from heaven to earth and back again. Ordinary people could not do it; anyone who could do this held enormous power.

This is Ascension Sunday, when we remember that the risen Jesus ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. Fifty days have passed since Easter and the resurrection. The risen Jesus has appeared to the disciples many times. He has taught them, reassured them, explained the scriptures that point to him, and answered their questions. But, now he must ascend to the Father. The closest the O.T. can come to such a feat was when Elijah was translated from earth to heaven at the end of his long life. I want us to look at the O.T. story of Elijah this morning. Perhaps we can learn something about Jesus' Ascension by looking at Elijah's. Perhaps we can learn about our response to Jesus' Ascension from those who responded when Elijah ascended.

[I.] It was time for Elijah's long life and ministry to come to an end. He is an old man; he has fought his battles. It is time for Elijah to rest. So, he turns to his disciple, Elisha, and says to him with no explanation, "You wait here. I have to make a journey." But, even though Elisha does not know the purpose of this journey, he refuses to leave his master's side: "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you."
[APPLIC] Think about this response. If we were disciples following Jesus, would we show as much commitment?
"It does not matter the purpose of your trip, Jesus, I will go with you."
"It does not matter that you do not need me to come along; I need to come along. I will go with you, Jesus."

What kind of commitment do we make to Jesus? Is it limited by our comforts? Is it limited by our other obligations? Or is it *unlimited*, rising out of our convictions and our need to be with Jesus?

Remember in John 6, where Jesus is preparing the disciples for the Last Supper? He tells them that they must eat his flesh. They, of course, have no idea that his telling them about a symbolic act; they think he means it literally. Many turn away from him.
67 So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?"
68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go?
You have the words of eternal life."

Is our need to be with Jesus that strong? I hope it is. Let him be for you the one who has the words of eternal life.

[II.] The scripture goes on:
So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" And he said, "Yes, I know; keep silent."

What does this mean? "**Today the LORD will take your master away from you**." At one level, they are telling Elisha that his old master, Elijah, is going to die this day.
The clue to the second level of meaning is in the title the *Company of the Prophets* give the old Elijah: "Your master." A disciple was not a slave, but he made a slave's commitment to this master. The disciple was this master's learner, his companion, his servant, his beast of burden, and more. This commitment was only released when the master died. What the *Company of the Prophets* are telling Elisha is that the old prophet is about to die, and, when he does, Elisha will be free of his commitment.

But, Elisha does not rise to their suggestion that his freedom is close at hand. He does not rise to the suggestion that his freedom might be the treasure Elisha wants most. So, he said, "I know; keep silent." You see, unlike the company of the prophets, Elisha believes that there is something more at work here. We might respond to the promise of freedom; he knew that there was something more if he continued as servant for a little longer.

[APPLIC] Many of us have enjoyed the company and the guidance of mentors. Hopefully, that guidance has not come at the price of our enslavement to the boss or the company. Instead, we hope to see a payoff for faithful service:
+O.T.J. training,
+introductions to the people who will make your next promotion,
+going beyond the job description to learning the soul of a particular profession.
In every case, the payoff only comes to those who can put off immediate satisfactions to gain the more distant ones. Maintaining a good relationship with mentors is good business and, hopefully, it is personally satisfying, too.
Elisha heard the suggestion that he was about to be free of his master's rule over him, but he saw something more. So, he said: "I know; keep silent."

[III.] So, at the edge of the Jordan River, Elijah tried to leave his disciple, Elisha, behind one more time. When Elisha refused to leave his master, they went across the Jordan together. There the old prophet asked his disciple: "What can I do for you before I am taken away?" Finally, Elijah confirms what the company of prophets have been saying. Now, Elisha is clear about what he wants: "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.

[ANNUAL CONFERENCE] In one of the beloved traditions of Annual Conference, the retiring pastors and the newly ordained pastors are brought to the stage together. A representative of each group will be brought to kneel one across from the other. Then, the older will take the mantle from around his/her shoulders and place it on the shoulders of the young preacher, confirming on the young pastor the spirit of the older.

As you might know, in Biblical culture the double portion was always given to the first-born son – the one who was expected to take care of the farm and the family, to carry the family spirit and name. So, what Elisha asked was that he be counted as the primary heir of the old prophet. Elijah cautioned him that this might be difficult. Then, he told Elisha that if he saw him as he was taken up, he would indeed inherit the double portion of his spirit. In other words, he would inherit if he stayed with the old prophet to the very end.
In the Ascension story, the disciples go with Jesus to the place where he is to be taken up to heaven. Like Elisha, the disciples of Jesus watch him as he is taken up – just as Elisha watched Elijah. There was power for the disciples in being present at Jesus' Ascension just as there was for Elisha when Elijah was translated to heaven.

[APPLIC] Consider what Elisha has asked: a double-portion of the master's spirit. The scripture suggests that this double-portion is what the disciples received as they stood watching on the day of Jesus' ascension. That double-portion provides both *treasure* and *responsibility*.

In our thinking about Christian faith and salvation, we primarily think about what we are going to *receive* from Christ. I call this the treasure of the faith: peace, joy, hope, confidence, and more. But, there is also responsibility when we inherit. As the inheriting children of a great person who dies, we now bear the burden of leading the family, perhaps the business, and often a community. In the patriarchal, Biblical times, when the head-man of a village died, his eldest son took up the responsibility for leading the village in his father's place. He set the direction for village businesses, he guided the marketplace, he settled disputes and honored those who served well. The fabric of the Biblical village depended on the eldest son stepping forward and accepting that burden. The double-portion was both treasure and responsibility.

Are the disciples at Jesus' Ascension ready for a double portion of the spirit of Jesus? Are they ready to accept the responsibility and carry on the work and the family of Jesus?
Or more to the point, are we? Some of you know what it is to work in the family business until it becomes yours. When that happens, it is your responsibility to take care of the business. You have employees who depend on you for a paycheck. You have loyal customers who depend on the service your business provides. It is your responsibility to treat the business *NOT* like a museum but to take the business into the changing and unknowable future. It is your responsibility to take the family business into economic situations that the previous generation never encountered. In the same way,
+it is our responsibility in this generation to be the greatest generation of Christians this nation and this world has ever seen.
+it is our responsibility in this generation to take the church and the work of Jesus Christ into situations that no previous generation ever encountered.
Our mission at Church Street is: To be the vibrant Body of Christ at the center of this city and our larger community.
We will carry out this vision by:
+ Living as a witness and servant community of Jesus Christ.
+ Inviting people to become disciples of Jesus Christ in every activity of this church.
+ Expressing our faith through rich, traditional worship and great, traditional music.
+ Expecting that Christ will lead us into new ministries and forms of ministry.
+Building this community upon the foundation of Scripture.

Elijah was taken up in the same way that Jesus would be centuries later. And Elijah's disciple Elisha watched him going, riding the whirlwind to heaven just as the disciples of Jesus watched him rise up to heaven and out of sight. Consider: what do we now inherit as spiritual heirs of those disciples who themselves inherited this treasure and this responsibility from Jesus Christ?

[IV.] 13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14a He took the mantel of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water, but nothing happened. Then he said: "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.

Elisha, now bearing the spirit of his master, returns Israel, crossing over the Jordan just as Joshua had done after the death of Moses. Like his master, he rolls up the mantle and strikes the water. At first, nothing happened. Elisha could not assume that the spirit and power of his master was his. He had to step forward, to claim it, to allow the mantle to be placed on his shoulders.
When he did, the water parted so that he could now walk across on dry ground.

[APPLIC] Where are we striking the water so that we can be encouraged at its parting? Where are we going forward in the Spirit of Jesus, convinced that we are the change-agents and the healing-agents that this world cries out to see? By faith we stand with the disciples on the mountain, watching Jesus as he Ascends into the heavens. There he will sit at the right-hand of God the Father Almighty. We have not come *to see the show*. We have come to ask, as disciples have done across the ages, "Please, let me inherit a double-portion of your Spirit." Let me hold the treasure; it is life to me. Place upon my shoulders the responsibility of your heir; I will carry so that the world might be healed in Jesus' name."

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