Leaving home for the first time was a difficult and exciting experience for me. I know that some people had bad experiences of their high school years, but I was fortunate enough to have some pretty good years then.
I was in the marching band, the jazz band, the concert band, the chorus, I ran cross country. I had a small, close group of friends that I hung out with constantly. These were people that I could have fun with and be myself, but they were also people that I could count on to support and care for me in whatever struggles I was going through. I had a girlfriend at the end of high school. I got along well with my parents and my brother. I had a loving church that helped shape my faith. I had a good thing going. High school had been a pretty enjoyable adventure.
I, however, had to see the end of that adventure. I was going to college in Massachusetts- a 6.5-7 hour drive from my hometown in Pennsylvania. I was looking forward to the idea of making new friends and experiencing new things and new places. But in order to do this I knew that I would see my high school friends infrequently and I would see my family less. I wondered if I would find a church that I liked, if I, the super-introvert, would be able to make new friends, and if my new relationship would survive the long distance.
Elijah and Elisha had some pretty amazing adventures together. This prophet and prophet-in-training had performed miracles, proclaimed words of comfort to the hurting, and proclaimed words of challenge and critique against the powerful- like King Ahab. Now their adventure was coming to an end. Elisha knows that his mentor and friend will be taken from him. Elijah gives Elisha three chances to retreat from the pain of saying goodbye. With a stiff upper lip, Elisha announces that he will stick by Elijah until the very end. Between these three chances to leave, a company of prophets remind Elisha that Elijah is going to be taken from him that day. “Yeah, I know. Now shut up,” the disheartened prophet says as he reveals his hurt.
Moments before Elijah is carried off into heaven, he asks Elisha if there is anything he can give him before he goes. Elisha asks for a “double portion” of his spirit. This spirit is what I like to think of as “God fuel.” It’s the stuff that gives Elijah the conviction, creativity, and ability to do God’s work. It’s what lets him do the miracles, proclaim the comfort, and proclaim the criticism. Elijah’s answer is curious. He tells Elisha that he will certainly possess this spirit if he is able to see him taken away- if he is able to experience the conclusion of this adventure and God’s real presence in it.
Elisha does see the ending of this adventure and does receive God’s spirit. After Elijah is carried off into heaven on flaming chariots, he goes on to perform more miracles, comfort the lost and hurting, and condemn the unjust tyrants. He has the confidence, creativity, and ability to do these things, because he has experienced the end of an old adventure and has seen God’s spirit in it. He is now able to believe that God’s spirit can continue on with him into an unknown, scary future- into a new one- one that will lead to the hard work, rejection, the cross, and resurrection.
Jesus is transfigured and Peter wants nothing more than to bask in that glorious moment for as long as possible. He is with the heavenly, 1,000,000 watt shine Jesus and two a-list Bible heroes, Moses and Elijah. This is God’s glory at its finest and Peter wants to build booths or tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to live in. Jesus, however, has other plans. He wants to go back down the mountain to where the people are hurting and where the cross is waiting for him. He calls Peter, James, and John to a new adventure. This is one that is scary and unknown. They have to say goodbye to the old adventure and glory that they have known to start a new adventure.
They have experienced the glory of God manifested in brilliant light. They heard God say to them, “Listen to Jesus!” even after Jesus predicted his own suffering, death, and resurrection and before he calls them down the base of the mountain. They have experienced the glory of God in their old adventure and with the promises of Jesus, they can believe that God’s spirit will be at work in their unknown future.
In many of our churches we may be unsure of our futures. One adventure has ended and another one looms over the horizon. We remember how God was at work when the Sunday School was packed, when we had to have four Christmas Eve services, how our old pastor was so good at preaching or pastoral care or teaching or inspiring, how certain members were so good at keeping the finances straight or leading new and exciting ministries. We remember those old adventures and we remember how God’s spirit rested on them.
Many of those adventures are over for the church. We do not know what lies ahead. Many of our churches have less members than we’ve had in many years, we’ve seen some of the old programs and ministries end, we’ve said goodbye to beloved pastors and other leaders of the church. What will our church look like as we move into a very uncertain future?
We do not know. But as we remember the old adventures of the church, we do know that God was faithful to us. That much we can be certain. When attendance was high, when attendance was low, God was faithful to us. When programs were booming and when programs were stagnant, God was faithful to us. When Elisha was serving with Elijah and when he was serving alone, God was faithful to us. When Jesus was shining bright on a mountain and when he was healing and teaching at the bottom of that mountain, God was faithful to us. When Jesus was crucified and when Jesus was resurrected, God was faithful to us.
We know that God has done some amazing, transforming, life-giving things. We have been promised that the same spirit of God that allowed such brilliant news to be shared, continues to shine today. We look back on the end of an era, but we look forward with faith that God continues to shine today and tomorrow. Amen.