“Don’t Look Back” June 30, 2019
“Don’t Look Back”
2 Kings 2:1-14/ Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
Galatians 5:1, 13-25/ Luke 9:51-62
During Annual Conference this year, Ralph and I got to talking about baseball, particularly that unique relationship between catchers and pitchers. It got me to thinking about Bobby Weaver. Now Bobby was just an average pitcher. What made him good was his ability to distract the batters. Bobby had lots of tricks, one of them being he would do his homework. He would gather up any information he could on the opposing team and then, because I was the catcher, would relay it to me. It was my job to drop these little bombs at the perfect moment. So imagine that you are a teenage boy standing at the plate. You’re nervous, everybody is watching you and you have 2 strikes called on you. O, the embarrassment of striking out in front of your family and friends. So, just when the pitcher is about to wind up for that fateful pitch, the catcher says something about seeing your girlfriend at the mall with some other guy. What? How does he know these things? And could this be true? The ball sizzles by: “Strike three, you’re out!” says the umpire, and the only thing that might make you feel better is if you knew how much time and effort went into the distraction that just caused you to strike out.
Then, there’s the story involving Yogi Berra, the well-known catcher for the New York Yankees, and Hank Aaron, who at that time was the chief power hitter for the Milwaukee Braves. The teams were playing in the World Series, and as usual Yogi was keeping up his ceaseless chatter. As Aaron came to the plate, Yogi tried to distract him by saying, “Henry, you’re holding the bat wrong. You’re supposed to hold it so you can read the trademark.” Aaron didn’t say anything, but when the next pitch came he hit it into the left-field bleachers. After rounding the bases and tagging up at home plate, Aaron looked at Yogi Berra and said, “I didn’t come up here to read.”
Commitment, staying focused – these seem to be the themes of our scriptural texts today. Last week, we read about how Elijah lost his focus after Jezebel announced to the world that she would have him killed. Now you have to admit, that might tend to rattle a person’s nerves, but God brings him back with the question, “Elijah, why are you here?” and then simply tells him to go back and make things right. The Lord instructs Elijah to appoint a new set of kings for Syria and Israel and to also appoint Elisha to take his place. In chpt. 19 of 1 Kings, Elisha is asked to come with Elijah, which he does gladly. A series of wars and periods of peace take place for the next few years between Syria and Israel; you could almost say it’s back to “business as usual.” But this time things are different. This time Elijah is empowered like never before and the key element of this power is the fact that Elijah is fearless. Empowered by the Spirit, there was no hesitation, no doubt, no fear strong enough to distract him from finishing the job God has appointed him to do. And he does it. He does it big and he does it bold. Our reading today tells us of the moment that Elijah is taken into heaven and his final reward. Which leaves us with Elisha.
Elisha was another example of single-mindedness. Three times Elijah tried to ditch him, but three times Elisha refused to be left behind. If this was a test, you could say that Elisha passed with flying colors. I can’t help but see the delicious irony in the fact that Elisha was able to gain the power of Elijah only because he stayed focused enough to hang around and witness the actual moment when Elijah was taken by a whirlwind into heaven. He didn’t look sideways, he didn’t look back, he was focused on the plan that God had in store for him. He was determined to be a part of what’s next.
So yes, these are great stories. We can understand why the prophets Elijah and Elisha are held in such high esteem by the Jewish people – even today. But how does this speak to us – the church, the body of Christ – in this time and place? How can we make any kind of comparison that makes any sense at all? Our God doesn’t show up and wipe out the evil and corruption in this world. Our God doesn’t rain down fire on the folks who use us and abuse us. Sure, there are times when we can’t help wishing God would come along and clean house, but you know, it would be silly to think that everything would be just dandy if he did. We’d be right back where we started: chasing after any distraction that happens to come along.
So how do we stay focused, especially in the world today where it is almost impossible to not get distracted from what God is calling us to do – calling us to be? Well, for starters we can listen real close when God asks us the same question he asked Elijah, “Why are you here? Is it just to take up space, or are you part of something good, something wonderful? Are you a part of the Kingdom of God?” I have to tell you, these are questions that Jesus asks us every day. Let it be our blessing that we aren’t so distracted that we fail to hear him.
And so I’d like to pose a question to you all. I don’t necessarily want an answer right away. In fact, it will most likely make a lot of us uncomfortable. But I believe that if we are asked enough times, we’ll get used to the idea. The question is, “What is Jesus doing in your life these days?” Now, I’m not saying “what has he done for you or against you.” Just, “What is God doing?” It doesn’t necessarily have to be anything profound or earth shattering; just simply, “What is Jesus doing in your life these days?” The thing is, the more that we focus on the way that the love of Christ shapes our lives, the more we are going to notice. And the more that we notice, the more we are going to want to be a part of what’s next. So think about it, and I’ll bet if you do you’ll find he is doing more than you thought.
Amen & Shalom