Introduction to today’s readings from Scripture
First we will hear the story of the end of the earthly ministry of a prophet of Ancient Israel, Elijah, which includes a moment at which he passes on the mantle of responsibility to his protégé’ Elisha. There are echoes of that story, in the two separate accounts we will hear from the New Testament, about the departure of the Risen Christ, as experienced by a group of Jesus’ disciples.
2 Kings 2:1-13
When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”
But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”
“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”
4 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”
And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.
5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”
“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”
And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.
7 Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 4 On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with[a] water, but in a few days you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”
Learning Time: “Now What?”
(Begins with a short clip from a movie)
That’s the end of Mary Poppins, the magical nanny worked wonders with the Banks family, helping parents and children re-discover their love for each other. Have you ever thought about Mary Poppins as a kind of Jesus figure? She left the Banks family, and her other friends behind, as she ascended into the London sky, high above the kites. She left something of her spirit, with them.
All our scripture stories for today are goodbye stories.
Elisha was a student of Elijah, a prophet of ancient Israel. Prophets were a bit like travelling monks, who taught about God, settled religious disputes, and reminded the people of Israel they were meant to follow God’s ways. Some, like Elijah, seemed to have special abilities, to heal people, to help them, and do things that looked like magic.
When Elisha learned his teacher was to leave him, he asked for “a double portion of his spirit”. He wanted Elijah’s blessing, and the assurance God would still be with him.
Elijah was known as a miracle worker. When he needed to cross the Jordan River, he took off his cloak, also called a mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water. The river divided, allowing them to walk across a dry bed. Which brings to mind another story, about Moses.
When Moses led the Israelites out of slavery, they were pursued by Egyptian soldiers, who sought to return them to forced labour. Moses held up his staff, and the waters of the Red Sea parted. The escaped slaves walked across the dry sea bed. When they were safe on the other side, the waters crashed back down, washing away the chariots, horses, and the Pharoah’s army. That began the Israelites’ long trek across a wilderness to find a new life.
After 40 years in the wilderness, the Israelites were about to cross the Jordan River, to enter the Promised Land for the first time. Moses stood at the edge of the water and told the Israelites he would not be joining them. He appointed Joshua as his successor, and gave him, and the people his blessing, before he died.
Powerful symbols from these stories have made their way into our culture. We talk about dying as “crossing over”. In the old days, a groom might carry the bride over a threshold, through a doorway, to symbolize the transition from one way of being, to another. In literature, crossing a body of water is often a symbol of a new start. In movies, the beginning of a hero’s travels will often include crossing a bridge. It’s a visual symbol of moving from the old life, to the new. Often it’s an act of courage, just to make the crossing. A bridge over troubled water. Sometimes it’s a fresh start.
We use water when we baptize people. Water has the power of life and death. We can’t live without it. We use it to clean, to refresh ourselves. We splash our faces at the beginning of a new day. Tears stream down our faces when someone we love dies.
I’ve been talking this weekend with my friend Margaret, who is recovering from the very recent ordeal of losing her husband to cancer. It all happened so quickly. Just when she was absorbing the news that he was very ill, they learned things were progressing much quicker than expected, and within just a few weeks, Don had died.
Margaret is doing the best she knows how, with help, to carry on. She has two new grandbabies, her career, good friends, and lots to keep her busy. She told me this morning that weekends are the hardest, that being alone in her house is still very difficult, and that right now, she cannot imagine ever being happy again.
We do not always welcome change, and we certainly do not relish loss. It is painful when loved ones die- even when death is also a release from terrible suffering and hardship.
Elisha faced not only the death of his friend, but the end of his time as a student of holy ways. With the death of his mentor, he also pondered the burden of carrying on Elijah’s prophetic work.
Elisha watched as Elijah was carried off to heaven in a chariot of fire, pulled by horses of fire. We have no earthly idea what that means, but Elijah was gone. All that was left behind was his cloak, which Elisha picked up. The cloak, or mantle became a symbol of leadership and mission, like a superhero putting on their cape before going on duty. The last image in this story is of Elisha taking the cloak, and striking the water, and once again crossing the dry river bed of the Jordan.
We also heard two versions of the story of Jesus’ last earthly day. As Moses did not enter the promised land, Jesus would not physically be with the disciples as they moved on. Jesus said that they would be clothed with power from on high. That’s like the cloak, or mantle, Elisha inherited from his teacher.
In the ascension story from the Book of Acts, after Jesus disappeared into the sky, the disciples suddenly saw two men dressed in white standing beside them. The strangers asked, “why do you stand here looking into the sky?”
That sounds like the story in Luke’s Gospel of the first Easter morning, “very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
The story of Jesus’ Ascension, his saying goodbye to earthly life, has all the mystery and wonder of his Resurrection. Jesus passed from one way of being into another. We don’t necessarily understand it any better than his first followers did.
Jesus’ disciples, like Elisha, and any of us might rather time stand still, and things not change, and they need not face losing someone they love and rely upon. We might prefer to freeze time at a perfect moment, before the sad things happen.
The hope, and the comfort in these stories is there is life beyond grief, and loss and change. God does not abandon us, when we cross a bridge, move to a new place, begin a new chapter.
Before Jesus left the disciples, he promised they would not be alone. He passed on the mantle, the cloak of leadership, and said they would receive power of the Holy Spirit. We will hear about that next Sunday, as we celebrate Pentecost. It’s a day we remember we are never alone, because God’s Spirit is with us, always. Amen
I have sometimes talked about holy whispers, invitations from the Spirit to step outside of our comfort zone, and do something that is needed in the world. I encourage you to begin each day with a prayer, asking God what you should do today. The idea is to open our hearts, and imaginations to the possibility that God is with us, and has things for us to do, that perhaps no one else can do.
God may be waiting to guide you, perhaps take you across a bridge, into new territory. I heard a great story this week, about someone from the congregation who did just that. I’ve asked Laura George to share her story with you.
(The video includes Laura’s story.)
Pastoral Prayers for May 24, 2020
Today we listened to the story of Jesus’ Ascension. Once more, he said goodbye to his closest friends, and to his earthly life. He left them with work to do. They were sent out into the world to make new disciples, to offer care, to baptize, to welcome new followers into the fold. We also heard about Elisha, left behind by his mentor, Elijah, to go back out into the world, and carry on.
God, how do we carry on, after loss, while we are in grief? We need the assurance that you are with us, as we dare to move towards a new reality, one that we were not asking for, one that we may not be ready to fully embrace.
Our world is in the midst of a big change. Many of us are leading daily lives that are very different from what we knew, just a few weeks ago. For some, the changes are less obvious.
We don’t know what the new life, the new world will be like. We don’t know how we are going do things we once took for granted.
We may feel, at times, like Elijah, like Jesus’ friends, wondering if we have been left to our own devices and desires, and not knowing if we have it in us, to make our way in this strange new territory.
Help us wake up to the realization that it has always been this way. Things are always changing, and you are always with us. Help us to realize that you are ever-present, and always ready to fill us with the love, the courage, the energy, the passion to live, even through the weird and confusing seasons of life.
Help us to quiet ourselves, so that we are able grow in our awareness of you in our midst, in this shared worship time, and in the rest of our week.
Help us to grow in the desire to be faithful people,
to love in your name, to put you first in our lives,
to continue to learn and grow,
to take risks and make sacrifices to serve your people,
to call out for justice and mercy in the world,
and to pour our lives out in love, in response to your love for us.
We pray for all those, who like ourselves,
Have big questions about Jesus, and faith, and the workings of the universe.
We pray for those who are having an especially hard time these days. Those who have suffered recent loss. Those who are very sick. Those who are lonely, and isolated.
We pray for those who are caught in the traps of addiction, and despair, and co-dependence.
We pray for those who need encouragement and help to begin the work of changing their lives.
We pray for those who are aging, those who are chronically ill, those who are in pain.
We pray for those who are depressed, and those who care for the afflicted.
We pray for those who are on the front-lines of the efforts to care for those touched by the coronavirus, and for those who are working to keep us safe, and warm, and well-fed.
We pray for victims of violence, and those subject to terrorism in many parts of the world.
We pray for those who do not have what they need to live,
and for those who cannot seem to live without things they don’t actually need.
We pray for those who are unemployed,
and for those who work too hard, and for those who work,
and still do not have what they need to sustain the lives of those in their care.
We pray for our congregation, and all those who now join us for weekly worship and prayer, over the internet, in this unusual time.
Help us remember who we have been,
give thanks for who we are,
and be open to who you would have us be.
We make these spoken prayers, and the unspoken ones in our hearts, in Jesus name,
and we continue in prayer using the words Jesus taught:
The Lord’s Prayer: (together)
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory
forever and ever. Amen
Over the past few weeks I have talked about Justin Weber, a man I knew during my time at the Earlham School of Religion, a Quaker seminary. Justin is the pastor of a Quaker meeting, or congregation, in Iowa. I have kept up with the story of his entrance into hospital as the first COVID-19 patient in his area, his days in an induced coma, the long weeks of recovery, and finally, this week, his release from the hospital. I want to share with you now some video shot by a local television station, of Justin’s farewell to the hospital staff who cared for him, and nursed him back to health, for 57 days.
At the end of the video, Justin, who loves to sing, leads a powerful rendition of the doxology. Let that be our blessing today, as we end this time of worship.
New time for coffee with Rev. Darrow! 10:30 am this coming Thursday morning, May 28. Email him at email@example.com for your ZOOM invitation.
Do you know of someone who is sick, in need of food or other necessities, or could just use a pastoral phone call? Contact Rev. Darrow at firstname.lastname@example.org
Harrow United Church will hold another Drive Thru Food Drive, from 10 am-12 noon, on Friday, June 5. If you’d like to volunteer to help on that day, email us at email@example.com
The Official Board will meet by conference call on Tuesday evening, 7 pm, on June 3.
Online Bible Study continues each Wednesday morning, starting at 10:30 am.
To join the class, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a ZOOM invitation.
Thank you to Dennis Graham, John Woodbridge, Larry Anderson, and the Virtual Choir, for all the work they do to make these worship resources possible. Our May 17 worship service was read a staggering 216 times, and viewed 81 times.
The “opening theme” for our latest worship videos is a piece for guitar composed and played by the mult-talented Joel Woods, who also appears in the videos for our youngest ShoeBox Sunday School students.
ShoeBox Sunday School, led by Naomi Woods, has 27 children registered. There are online classes at 9:30 am and 10:30 am each Sunday morning, using materials delivered to households in, you guessed it, ShoeBoxes!
If you know of children who would like to be part of ShoeBox Sunday School, please let us know.
Harrow United Church is definitely not part of the group of Ontario churches pressuring Premier Ford and his cabinet to allow them to re-open their buildings for worship services. In fact, not one United Church congregation has signed on to support this effort. The leadership of the United Church of Canada, at a national and regional level, supports making these decisions based on science, and the best advice of public health officials. Check out Rev. Darrow’s article on this topic, in this week’s issue of the Harrow News.
Today’s worship service re-purposed videos of the Ascension Sunday Service from June 2, 2019. We thought it might do our hearts good to see the inside of the sanctuary, filled with life.