2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:16-25; Luke 9:51-62
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
June 30, 2019 –Second Sunday After Pentecost
We come this week to the question of succession. How do we cast the vision we now have into a future that will go on without us? How did those who have gone before us cast their vision in our hearts?
We are a people who have seen much. We have had to let go of many wishes about the way things should be and accept the way things are. We have hopes about the way things will be…can be…if the Word is to go on.
So how do we carry wisdom into conversation? How do we carry lessons we have learned through many seasons into the season that now opens before us?
We are debt free, in bankers’ way of thinking. Will future generations understand how we got here? Will they understand how we gave today that mission in our community and in our world might be less burdened?
Will they see the liberation in it? The empowerment we intended by it? Or will they see entitlement in it? Will they simply assume that those who came before us owed this to us?
Sooner or later they, too, will look on this day and wonder about what came before and what comes after.
It’s like Mark Twain’s remembrance of his father: “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
You and I have been together now for four years. Tomorrow we begin our fifth year together. How much I have learned in four years. But in a larger sense, we have been together much longer.
How much has this church has learned in 117 years, since they purchased this land that was once part of the Sliter homestead’s apple orchard. Think about all the seasons people have gathered to worship here.
Cherry orchards and apple orchards. Some peaches…mountainsides full of timber. The logs were ferried to Somers and became ties along the Great Northern Railroad.
We were the Christmas Tree Capital of the World at one time, harvesting enough trees to light up living rooms on Christmas Eve from here to Kansas City and back to Seattle again.
We had the first electric generating plant in the Flathead Valley and once supplied 100% of the light you saw outside, anywhere, any night. Here we sit today, at 750 Electric Avenue.
In 1893, the great World’s Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago. People wept as they found themselves walking along the promenade at night, with streetlights turning darkness into day.
By 1902, people in this dark little corner of a valley next to a great lake of fresh water wanted to cast light into the world, All this time, this church as been here.
It was and is…we were and are…a summoning bell and a constant light over every corner of every soul in the Valley. The old apple tree in front of the church can tell us all of this if we will stop and listen to it…and give thanks for its years…and ours.
So Elijah turns toward eternity today. He is the greatest prophet of Israel. Samuel anointed David as he gathered and built a nation out of a confederation of desert families. Those were the glory days.
Moses led a nation out of Egypt… out of bondage…into freedom… into the wilderness. Those were the days of faith…a humble admission that the mystery of God calls us to greater understanding, greater hope and greater love every hour…every day…every season.
But Elijah – whose name means “Yahweh is my God” – serves as its prophet after the nation has begun to lose its vision as a people…and has begun to divide into factions… has begun to polarize…has begun to fracture. They have forgotten who they are.
Elijah defeats the 400 priests of Baal, as we shared last week, and he has been driven out into the Wilderness …just as Israel escaped into the Wilderness…and he has found himself alone in the world…just as the Israel Moses led…found itself alone in the world.
Now he is about to be taken up into heaven and there is but one follower who has stayed with him. He tries to turn Elisha back for Elisha’s own sake. “Stay here,” he tells him,“the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.”
But Elisha has seen something in Elijah and he sees something beyond that. He must give away what Elijah has given to him or he will lose this precious truth.
In fact, he must keep giving what Elijah has given to everyone or the world will not see it anymore. At the same time, Elijah has seen something in Elisha and he wants to pass on what he knows through Elisha.
He had walked up to Elisha as Elisha was plowing his field. He throws his cloak…his mantle…around his shoulders. Elisha says, ““Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and then I will come with you.”
“Go back,” Elijah replies. “What have I done to you?” So Elisha does go back, but he goes back to slaughter his plowing oxen. He burns his plow to cook the meat, which he shares with his family. Then he sets off and follows Elijah to the place we find them now.
Today, we read an echo of that event in our Gospel reading. Jesus has turned his face like a flint toward Jerusalem. He knows God is calling him home, just as God was calling Elijah home. As he goes, Jesus is calling followers to carry on after him…but they have things to do before they can follow him.
One has to wait until his father dies – “Let me first go bury my father.” – Jesus says, No. Now is the time. If you do not come with me now you will miss me…for my time is short.
Another asks to go back and say goodbye to his family, but Jesus tells him…and all of us…reminiscent of Elijah’s words to Elisha, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
It is a matter of priorities and the question is what master you choose to serve. Everyone has a god. For some it is money. For some it is power. For Elijah and Elisha and Jesus, it is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
We have a story of Elisha turning his face like a flint to follow Elijah and refusing to turn back even at the end. All he asked was a double portion of the prophet’s spirit.
We have a story of Jesus looking for followers who make excuses like the one Elisha made at first, but they do not come to see the importance of the call they have received the way Elisha did, and they return to their workaday lives, unchanged.
Today, we can celebrate the fact that here, in our midst, we have friends who have seen the importance of the call they have received. Since 1902, people none of us have ever met have provided a place for people to gather in worship.
In 1989, people who are known to many of us and people who are known to all of us put their worldly wealth where their faith was and built a new sanctuary. They gave their personal pledge to pay $525,000 if the church as a body did not.
In 2001, many of the same people continued their journey and replaced the education and fellowship wing. By the time that debt was refinanced in 2012, the debt remained at $465,000.
The church borrowed money and many of the people of the church guaranteed payment of the debt. I do not have records to show me who all took this dauntless step of faith but I am sure many of them are with us here this morning.
Perhaps it is better we do not have a definitive list…so that we can suspect everyone. I am pretty sure that on this day when you may be experiencing feelings of gratitude to ward them…they are just as grateful to you.
In any event, we all decided a couple of years ago that now was the time to retire that debt…this was the day that we would call others to our banner that the vision and the hope and the faith of our community of faith might be cast into an uncertain future.
It was not your pastor who saw this opportunity. You saw it and rallied to it and pushed forward with it.
It is interesting to me that perhaps the greatest incentive was not that you would find a way to spend less to have a church to worship in… but that you would be able to reach farther into the community…and into every heart in the community …with the same level of support.
You were seeking…like Elijah sought…like Jesus sought…to make the work of the church in the world the work of God through the world.
You sought a way to make your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service…and your witness… speak now and long, long after we turn out the lights today and move back into the world.
You chose a goal of no indebtedness to become a community that people will look to for many years to come and wonder how this mighty band came to be.
And you covenanted at the outset that the dollars you did not have to pay in interest…the dollars you did not have to give to pay down the principal on the debt you took on to cast your faith forward…would be available for ministry in your community today.
The past and the future were woven together with the present to give us hope and make us one with all who have gone before us and all who will follow us. You have asked for a double portion of the Spirit, and today you are blessed by your own asking.
In our end is our beginning;
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing;
in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection;
at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.
We finish a work today. We begin a work today. We are the work of the potter’s hands this day, this hour, this moment…this now.
O Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through us… through me…this day? Amen.