Never On Our Own
2010-06-21 by Guy Kent

Never On Our Own

2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14

“Hey, Parson,” he asked me, “you know anything about this new pastor they’re sending to our church.

“I don’t know her personally,” I said. “But I know what she’s gone through to get where she is. “

“Well, I don’t know,” he countered. “We were kind of partial toward Reverend Martin. They should have left him here.”

Here in my corner of United Methodism this conversation, or variations of it, are taking place throughout our conference. This Sunday pastors who have been appointed to new charges will stand in their new pulpits for the first time. Pastors in hundreds of churches have laid down the mantle and now another is appointed to pick it up. Neither, putting the mantle down or picking one up, is necessarily an easy task.

Samuel Wells, Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, in his 2009 Baccalaureate Sermon to the Divinity School graduates began with that old story of the famous preacher who was a little short of ethical. He had an assistant who wrote his sermons, but he delivered them as his own with no attribution to the assistant and no sharing of the glory. The assistant finally grew tired of it. One Sunday the famous preacher was delivering his sermon to the thousands and read from his manuscript, “And this, my friends, takes us to the very heart of the book of Habakkuk, which is …” At this point he turned the page and on that next page saw the words, “You’re on your own now.”

He then reminded the graduates, “You’re on your own now.”

Let’s lift a prayer for those of our number stepping into new pulpits this Sunday. Let’s lift a prayer for they are on their own now. And yet, in a real sense, we’re all, every Sunday, on our own as we step into a new Sunday, a new effort, a new challenge.

We’re on our own, or are we?

We are never on our own for the one who laid down the mantle has gone before. Though we may vainly feel our gifts and talents are being assigned to this place to rectify the lack of the same in the one who went before, in actuality that one prepared the way. We are the recipients of the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us.

Note that in this story it is Elijah’s mantle that Elisha wears. The same mantle Elijah slapped upon the water to allow his passage on dry land is the same Elisha uses to accomplish the same.

Praise God for those who have laid down the mantle. And thank God for those who now pick it up.





Fathers and Demons
2010-06-18 by David von Schlichten

I may talk about my biological father and how his demons made him a father I vowed never to imitate, then go on to talk about how God has exorcised the demons from my life through a loving stepfather and through my own children, and conclude with emphasizing God as the greatest of fathers.

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Jeffrey Nelson; Ecocritical Dilemma
2010-06-18 by David von Schlichten

Thank you to guest blogger Jeffrey Nelson for his posts this week, especially his reflections on 1 Kings 19, an enigmatic, rich, and problematic text. Scroll down to read his posts.

I am thinking about Luke 8 and the poor swine that perish to save a man possessed. I understand that the swine are symbolic of the unclean, and I praise God for saving this poor man from possession and for showing mercy even to demons.

However, the text still shows the rights of animals being minimized. Many people won't care and will accuse me of being over-sensitive, but we humans are to care for non-human creatures. Here we have a text in which everyone is shown mercy except for the non-human animals. Why does God choose to show mercy to demons but not to swine?

Yours in Christ,

David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator





Stories of Sound and Silence
2010-06-17 by Jeffrey Nelson

While I spend a day or more just with the text, I begin jotting down any potential tie-in that pops into my mind.  It doesn't matter to me how nominal it may be related - I consider it worthwhile.  This may or may not be old hat for my readers, so I'll just list the things that came to mind as I pondered Elijah's experience of God on Mt. Horeb.

~A well-known church landmark in southern Ohio--a 6-story tall statue of Jesus--was struck by lightning and burned to the ground on Monday evening.  My in-laws live near Cincinnati, so this was a common feature of our trips down there.  To me the statue was a source of amusement, but also an example of wasted resources and Christian kitsch.  Both its existence and destruction were and are theologically provocative.  What lesson could be learned as the smoldering embers cool?

~The "What Is That?" video shown on Monday evening of this year's Festival of Homiletics (linking isn't working for me, so it can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mNK6h1dfy2o).  The son rants about his father's annoying behavior, and finds greater meaning after he quiets down.

~In the memoir The Day the Voices Stopped, Ken Steele reflects on his battle with schizophrenia, including the morning he woke up and could no longer hear the voices.  This brings about a new reality for him; new questions about his existence.

~A while back, a friend shared with me that he'd elected to go to a place of worship radically different from the churches he's known.  Part of his reasoning was that he'd become tired of "the sound of church."  What might be included in this sound, and what sounds might people be seeking apart from it?

~Barbara Brown Taylor coins the phrase "sabbath sickness" in her book Leaving Church.  This term connotes the restlessness that one may begin feeling after even an hour or two of silence and free time.  In the silence, thoughts and feelings may creep up that we don't expect or don't want to deal with.  Do we sometimes avoid the silence for that reason?

All this and more have been with me this week as I consider Elijah's encountering God during or after the hushed sound. 





A Hushed Sound
2010-06-15 by Jeffrey Nelson

There are multiple places in 1 Kings 19 that recall other stories in the Old Testament.  The actions of Elijah recall Moses in particular, and that is no doubt deliberate.  After fleeing Jezebel, he sits in the wilderness and tells God, "I am no better than my ancestors."  The ancestors mentioned don't seem very specific until he continues his journey in the wilderness for 40 days and 40 nights, recalling the Israelites' 40-year sojourn in similar conditions.

Elijah rests at Mt. Horeb, which is also known as Mt. Sinai, the place where Moses received the law from God.  Not only that, but Elijah rests in a cave and is soon told that God is about to pass by.  This recalls Exodus 33:17-23, where Moses is situated in a cleft and God passes by, though he is kept from seeing God's face.  Perhaps this is even the same cleft.  One may be invited to think that, based on all the other allusions to that earlier prophet.

The climactic moment then occurs.  There comes a violent wind that breaks and shatters, but that isn't God passing by.  Then comes an earthquake, but that isn't God passing by either.  Then comes a fire, but again that isn't God passing by.  Finally, there comes "a sound of sheer silence" (NRSV).  This gets Elijah's attention, and he stands at the entrance of the cave to witness God passing by.

The Hebrew word that is rendered "sound of sheer silence" in the NRSV is suggested to be several things.  The popular rendering is "a still small voice" (KJV).  Other possibilities are "a thin whisper," "a sound of fine silence," or "a hushed sound."  The phrase one selects will vary in suggesting just how much or how little sound there actually is in this moment.

Determining how exactly that term is translated may be an exercise in missing the forest for the trees.  The popular interpretation of this text has to do with centering oneself, blocking out the noise, in order to hear God in the silence.  Pick your favorite hobbyhorse here: encouraging more spiritual discipline, railing against how busy the typical person's schedule is, lamenting how increasingly noisy our world is thanks to new forms of technology or due to an increased inability for us to truly hear one another's experience.  There is nothing inherently wrong with these messages, and they're all worthwhile.

However, Elijah doesn't need to block out any noise.  The hushed sound comes after the noise, not during it.  There come three dramatic, violent, loud events in a row, but God is not in any of them.  After they all abate, one may imagine that relieved tension that hangs in the air after such a happening, where one's ears are still ringing and one's thoughts are suddenly, unexpectedly loud in one's mind.  When there is noise like that of the wind, earthquake and fire and then nothing, it is noticeable.  It can't not be noticed.  And that's what draws Elijah to the entrance of the cave to experience God's presence.

Whether God is in the silence or whether the silence calls Elijah's attention to God's presence may be another forest/trees issue.  However, after he hears the silence, he hears God's voice, and he is instructed to get back to work.  Now is not the time to be huddling in caves.  His time in the wilderness is cut short, and he is called to continue being the prophet that he was called to be.  His time of seeking God's presence in mighty, obvious theophonic ways is disappointed by a hushed sound followed by a renewed call to prophesy and to call others.





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