Last Epiphany, Year A, 2017–Final Sermon at St. Paul’s, Ivy

“Lord, it is good for us to be here!”

Jesus has started getting real with his disciples. In Chapter 16, Matthew tells us that Jesus has started warning them that he will undergo great suffering. This has the disciples on edge. Ministry has been exciting so far—following Jesus around, watching miracles, learning from a great teacher. They have become comfortable in their new routine of moving from place to place following their teacher and friend. But now, Jesus is kind of ruining it with his dark talk.

Peter even confronts Jesus about this. You can just imagine him pulling Jesus aside, “Come on man, you’re being a real downer. Let’s just go make some blind people see, okay?” Jesus looks right at him and says, “Get behind me, Satan.”

So, things have been a little tense. Maybe the disciples are second guessing their choices to drop everything in their lives to follow Jesus. Maybe things are getting a little too real for them.

Whatever the reason, God arranges a huge gift for Jesus, Peter, James and John. They hike up a mountain and suddenly Jesus becomes transformed. The disciples see the divinity with him and suddenly they also see Moses and Elijah flanking him. To gild the lily, God’s voice breaks through and says, “This is my son, The Beloved” Whatever doubts they have had are suddenly washed away. THIS is the transcendent experience they hoped for when they began following Jesus.

And when we have a transcendent experience, we want to bottle it, right? We want to stay in that moment of connection with God. We want to make it our every day. Peter does, too. He makes the generous offer to set up three tents so Jesus, Elijah and Moses can hang out indefinitely. It’ll be great! They can invite the other disciples up the mountain and then they can just party there for the next fifty years or so.

Lord, it is good for us to be here!

But if Jesus and the disciples stayed on the mountain, God’s good news for people would never have spread. We wouldn’t know how much God loves us or how we all belong to each other.

Jesus is going to suffer. The disciples’ lives are going to get dangerous. They cannot avoid the hard part of their ministry. But the experience of the transfiguration also transforms the disciples so that they will have the strength to carry on even through difficult times.

The trip up the mountain was important. The trip up the mountain was renewing. But the trip up the mountain was never meant to be permanent.

Jesus is not a top of the mountain kind of guy. Sure, he goes up periodically to get renewed, but he always comes back down again. He spends his time in the midst of human beings experiencing all the pain that comes with being human. He is Emmanuel—God with us.

This is the God who chose to be incarnate. He is 100% divine and 100% human. He can experience the glory of being in the presence of Moses, Elijah and God the father. But he doesn’t choose to stay there. He chooses to be with us.

If I leave you with anything from our four years together, this is what I want you to know: Jesus is with you. Jesus is not up in the clouds looking down on you in judgment. Jesus isn’t off on a mountain somewhere communing with the Saints. Jesus is here with you in this sacred space.

Lord, it is good for us to be here.

And Jesus is not just here with you. Jesus is out there with you. Jesus is with you when you brush your teeth, when you wrangle yourself and your family out the door, when you walk into your office, when you are in the grocery store, while you’re driving, when you greet a stranger, when you’re doing every ordinary and extraordinary thing you do in your life.

Jesus does not run away when things get hard, either. Whenever you or someone you love is suffering, Jesus is right alongside of you. He is not afraid of your pain. He is not turned off by your mistakes. He is with you to remind you that you are deeply loved, just as you are.

Jesus isn’t with you just to make you feel good. Jesus wants more than your affection. Jesus wants you to be his disciple. Jesus wants you to change your world by following him in all those ordinary and extraordinary moments of your life.

[At the 10:30 service] today we will our baptismal vows—those promises we make when we decide to follow Jesus. We promise to renounce the demonic, evil and sin. We promise to trust that Jesus loves us and to follow him. When we walk this path, God transforms us. As we get closer to Jesus, we don’t sin less, necessarily, but we realize it sooner. And we have more courage to ask for forgiveness and to work for reconciliation. We have more energy to reach out to those who are in need and to fight for justice. But it all starts with that knowledge that Jesus is already with you.

When we realize that Jesus is with us always, suddenly it is good to be everywhere! We don’t need to stay in our transcendent spaces if the transcendent goes with us. The beauty of the incarnation is that every place in our life is holy, no matter how mundane it may feel. A cubicle becomes holy when Jesus is there. A hospital bed becomes holy when Jesus is there. A grocery cart becomes holy when Jesus is there. You bring the transcendent with you and you can offer it to the world as a gift.

One of the gifts of being your priest has been these little glimpses of how you bring Jesus into the world. I have seen patients who offer kindness to their nurses, even though they are in pain. I have heard many stories of ministry happening at the Harris Teeter. I have seen a chef collecting unused produce from his colleagues for our food pantry. I have seen doctors taking extra steps to care for their patients. I have seen those who have walked through the experience of loving someone with Alzheimers mentor others going through the same thing. I have seen parents doing their best to raise children who contribute to the world. I have seen teachers create a safe and loving space for their students. I have seen you loving people who are difficult to love.

You, cooperating with Jesus, make it good for people to be where you are.

Lord, it has been good to be here. It has been good to be here with Eric and the rest of your church staff who work so hard every day. It has been good to be reunited with Allison and with those of you who had been at Emmanuel. It has been good to meet some of you for the first time, and have the privilege of walking along side life with you. It has been good to be with you at bedsides and weddings, in yoga and Sunday School classes, around lunch tables and over coffee.

Thank you, Eric, for inviting me to serve here. And thank all of you for your many kindnesses to Charlie and to me. It is always a challenge when a priest moves on from a congregation. This has been a stressful year in the world and it is hard not to carry that stress with us wherever we go. We will miss each other and saying goodbye brings anxiety. One way you can honor the relationship we have had in this transition is to take the words Ra often says at the end of our church yoga class to heart:

“Offer compassion to yourself and others. Every one is doing the best they can with what they think they know with where they are from.”

Jesus is with you. Jesus is with you in staff meetings, and vestry meetings, and in every conversation you have here at church. He will show up for you. It is good for you to be here.

May God bless you, your ministry in this place, and your ministry in the world.

Amen.

Proper 7, Year C, 2013

A few weeks ago, we met Elijah the showman—a man so confident in God that he was willing to have a public throwdown with the prophets of Ba’al.

Today we have a slightly more relatable Elijah.  Today we have Elijah, the whiner.  Not many of us have had public throwdowns in which we have heroically defended God’s honor.  But I guarantee that most of us in this room have whined at least once.

The last few weeks we have skipped all around the Elijah story, but this leg of the story happens right after the show down with Ba’al’s prophets.  You might remember that Elijah then kills the prophet’s of Ba’al, which infuriates Queen Jezebel, who sends a messenger to warn Elijah that he has 24 hours until she is sending someone to kill him.

So, Elijah runs.

He spends an entire day running into the wilderness until he finally collapses, exhausted.  He lies under a little tree and decides to give up.  He asks to die.  He doesn’t want to go any further.  He’s had a good run as a showman prophet and now that things are going downhill, he’s ready to check out.

Now, anytime I get a little cranky, my husband’s first line of defense is to feed me a snack.  This works about 85% of the time.  Apparently, God has the same plan for Elijah.  Elijah falls asleep under the tree, but an angel wakes him up and feeds him some cake and water.

What a tender acknowledgement of Elijah’s humanity!  Before God engages Elijah directly, he gives Elijah what he needs to regain his strength.  He has asked Elijah to do extraordinary things, but God remembers that Elijah is just a man, and a man who needs some cake.

Once Elijah is revived, he finds a cave and hides there.  For 40 days.

Finally, Elijah hears God’s voice.  And God says, slightly exasperated, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

What would we answer God if he asked us the same question?  Would we answer, “What?  This is where you called me to be!”  Would we say, “I know, I know, I’ve gotten way off track.”  Would we say, “Don’t look at me, Lord of the Universe, I am only here because of outside circumstances!”

Elijah gives a personally reasonable response, even if it is a teensy bit whiney.  Elijah patiently explains to God that he has been extremely faithful to God, even though the Israelites are total losers who have turned their backs on God and now they are trying to kill him, so he’s just going to go ahead and live in this cave thank you very much.

We might expect that God would tell Elijah, “Oh grow up.  No one ever said being a prophet was easy.  Put on your big boy britches and get back out there!”

In fact, at first God doesn’t answer Elijah at all.  He just tells him to go stand on the edge of the mountain because he is about to pass by.  Remember this isn’t just a mountain, this is Horeb.  This is Sinai.  This is the mountain where the Lord shows up in big ways.  This is the ten commandments mountain.

So, Elijah goes out to the edge of the mountain.

Now, Elijah has gotten used to experiencing God in dramatic ways.  After all, God shot fire from the heavens to prove to the Israelites that he existed and was more powerful than Ba’al.  So, I bet Elijah expected a big showing when The Lord himself was going to appear!

Elijah waits and a huge wind comes.  But the Lord is not in it.  Then a huge earthquake, but no God.  Then fire!  Surely God was in the fire, Fire is God’s move.  Nope.  No God.

Finally sheer silence fell on the mountain.  Elijah wraps his face in his cloak because he knows hte Lord is passing by and he wants to be protected.

What a powerful moment.  Elijah is reminded that God is not only with him when fire is raining from the sky, but God is with him even in those moments in his life when he cannot hear or experience God.  God is in the silence, not just the dramatic.  God is in the everyday, not just the holy experiences.

Surely, this is a transformational moment for Elijah, right?

Well, God asks Elijah the same question, “What are you doing here Elijah?”

And Elijah gives God the exact same answer as before.  Word for word!

I think we get so distracted by the beautiful imagery in this passage, that it is easy to miss that Elijah’s anxiety has not diminished.  The encounter with God was surely powerful, but not enough to transform Elijah’s personality or current problem, which is that the king’s wife is going to kill him.

Our reading stops there, but what happens next is that God gives Elijah an out!  He lets Elijah quit!  He tells Elijah to head back and that God will appoint a new king to replace Ahab and Elijah will get to appoint Elisha to be the next prophet!  God gives crabby Elijah what he wants! Elijah knows what he can handle and God honors Elijah’s limitations.

Isn’t that great news?

We hear so often of the Christian martyrs and remember Christ’s death on the cross, that sometimes we think being faithful to God means working ourselves to death.  We think being faithful to God means beating our heads against brick walls.  We think being faithful to God means handling whatever we are dealt, no matter how terrible.

But God created us to be limited beings.  We are not infinite, God is.  And because we are finite, there are challenges that are too much for us.  And we are allowed to complain to God about them.  Sometimes we will have to follow through, but sometimes God will completely understand our need to quit.

Now, please, don’t all of you quit your church committees at once; Eric will kill me.  And, it turns out, Elijah didn’t quit, after all!

God did give Elijah the out, and Elijah did immediately find Elisha, but he didn’t then move to Florida and start wearing Hawaiian print shirts.  Elijah worked alongside Elisha, finishing out his duties as prophet.  Something about being heard by God, and having his limits recognized, came him the energy and courage he needed to finish out his ministry.

When you imagined God asking you, “What are you doing here?” Did you imagine parts of your life that are making you miserable? Are there responsibilities you need to give up so you can fully live?  Do you need encouragement to finish out what you have started?

Admitting your limitations will not make God turn his back on you.  In fact, it wasn’t until Elijah admitted his fears that he experienced the full presence of God.  God’s relationship with Elijah was not a reward for Elijah being a “good boy”.  God’s relationship with Elijah was because God loved Elijah, for who he was, in all his crankiness.

And you too, are loved, exactly as you are.  With your bad habits and unpleasant disposition and extra ten pounds–God loves all of that.  God loves all of you.  And God will continue to call you, but that call is a conversation, not a set of marching orders.

So, what are you going to say when God asks you, “What are you doing here?”

Amen.

Proper 4, Year C, 2013

Good morning!

Welcome to St. Paul’s Ivy on this very special day as we celebrate our 175th anniversary!  If you are visiting from another congregation, we heartily welcome you and look forward to getting to know you during our picnic this afternoon.

We can promise you good food and warm company, but cannot guarantee any pyrotechnics the like of which we see in our reading from 1st Kings this morning.  This showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal is amazing.  We can easily imagine the scene being some kind of new reality show. Instead of The Voice or The Bachelor, we would all gather in our living rooms to watch Prophets:  The Showdown.

Of course Elijah is not just parading around to entertain the Israelites.  The Lord is so angry with Ahab and the Israelites that he has caused a multi year drought.  Ahab is described in the Bible as the most evil of all the kings of the Israelites and the other kings were no peaches, so you can get an idea of what kind of person he was.  His wife, Jezebel, encouraged him to start worshiping the local God, Ba’al, so he set up shrines for that purpose.  Breaking the first of the ten commandments is no joke.  I mean, truly, if you are the King of God’s people at the very least you ought to get down to the third or fourth commandment before your integrity starts to fall apart.

Elijah is assigned the uncomfortable task of being the prophet to try to keep Ahab in line.  Elijah has confronted  Ahab before when warning him about the drought. So this scene is round two in their battle.

Ahab gathers all the people of Israel to see this competition between the Lord and Ba’al. In other parts of 1st Kings Elijah can be afraid, even whiny, but here is all swagger.  Beyonce is known for getting into her Sasha Fierce character before a show and I picture Elijah doing his own version of this here.  At the very least he must give himself a pep talk!   Elijah’s first move is to taunt his audience!  Can you hear his scorn?  “How long will you go on limping between two opinions?”

This is what is so pathetic about the Israelites worship of Ba’al.  They haven’t given up worshiping the Lord, they’ve just added Ba’al into the mix to hedge their bets.  They won’t even commit to fully abandoning the Lord.  Elijah is not impressed.

In a contest, Elijah puts himself up against the 450 prophets of Ba’al.  The prophets of Ba’al make a pile of wood and pray and pray and pray and nothing happens to their pile.  And when nothing happens Elijah trash talks to them!  “Cry aloud! Surely he is a god; either he is meditating, or he has wandered away, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.”

Like a true showman, he then calls the crowd to get closer so they can all get a good look. He carefully rebuilds an altar to the Lord that has been torn down.  He digs a trench and puts wood into it.  In the middle of a drought, he then pours water all over his pile of wood.  He doesn’t do this once, he does it three times for good measure! The entire trench is filled with water. There is no way this fire should light.

Elijah offers a an offering to the Lord and prays that the Lord would show himself so that the Israelites could know him.  The Lord sends a fire that consumes the burnt offering, the wood, even the water catches on fire.

The people of Israel, given this absolute visual proof of the power of the Lord fall on their faces and worship him.

If this was on our imaginary reality show, Elijah would drop his mike and walk off stage.  Ba’al has been served.

We may not have any altars to Ba’al set up at St. Paul’s, Ivy, but the story of Elijah and the prophets of Ba’al is a powerful reminder about God’s power.

We have been celebrating the ways God has shown up in the past in this place, but a few weeks ago Eric guided our attention forward.  We now begin dreaming about the next 175 years of worship and service in this place.  Will we move forward in courage and hope, trusting that God is powerful?

Or will we hedge our bets?

A few weeks ago, at our last vestry meeting, your vestry voted to authorize the hiring of a full time director of youth ministries to care for our junior and senior high youth and their families.  The children and youth formation committee read about, talked about, prayed about youth ministry in this place and nervously made this recommendation to the vestry.  I’ll be honest with you; I didn’t think there was any way it would pass!  Most churches I know hedge their bets, not wanting to fully commit to youth ministry.  When the vote came in I would not have been surprised to see the coffee table in Neve hall burst into flames.

Hiring a youth minister is not a way to outsource youth ministry.  With a full time youth minister, we are going to have more events, need more chaperones and drivers, need more Sunday School teachers, need more confirmation mentors.  Will you rally around this vestry and the new youth minister when he or she comes?  Will you come to church more often so your kids can be in Sunday School regularly?  Will you put youth events on your calendar first rather than squeezing them in when they are convenient?  Youth ministry is not just about giving teens a wholesome set of activities.  Youth ministry is about inviting teens to meet the living God, the God who so loves his people; he is willing to put on ridiculous light shows to get their attention.

And for those of you not called to work with youth, are you willing to dream big?  To imagine the other ministries God might be calling us to in this place?  How does God want to show his power and his love at and through St. Paul’s, Ivy?

God shows his power now, not through droughts and fire, but through changed lives.  Are you willing to draw near to God in these upcoming years and have your lives changed?  Are you willing to pray?   Join a bible study or Education for Ministry group?  Encounter God in our outreach program?  Finally go to AA? Are you willing to be changed?

Following God is no joke.  After his amazing, bold display of God’s power, Elijah spent a long time on the run, afraid for his life.  (He also killed the 450 prophets of Ba’al, which might have had something to do with his sudden need to hide in the hills.  Jezebel was not pleased.)  We will have moments in ministry when we feel bold and confident in what God is doing and there will be spectacular failures when we want to hide in the hills.

But there is exhilarating freedom to take risks when we realize that our successes and failures aren’t really about us at all, but are both part of living lives that are open to the possibility of God’s power breaking in and doing something miraculous.

Keep your eyes, your ears, and your heart open.  Be a detective who searches for where the Holy Spirit is at work.  Let us know where you think God is calling us. And 175 years from now, let the members of St. Paul’s, Ivy reminisce about the exciting work God has done in our time.

Amen.

Proper 14, Year B, 2009

I don’t know how closely you’ve been paying attention to the lectionary lately, but there has been a lot of whining and a lot of bread.  Two weeks ago, Jesus fed the 5000 with just a few loaves.  Last week, the Israelites started whining about being hungry in the desert and were fed manna from heaven.  This week we’ve got Elijah whining in the desert and Jesus describing himself as the Bread of Heaven.

Well, maybe Elijah is not whining, exactly.  You see, Elijah has been locked in an epic battle with a powerful woman named Jezebel.  Jezebel was the wife of King Ahab and had worked with her husband to encourage the worship of Baal among the Israelites.  And frankly, that is about the nicest thing I can think of to say about Jezebel.  She was not a kind person.  Elijah was not afraid to confront her about her many failings as Queen of the Israelites, but Jezebel was not really open to criticism.  Instead of listening to Elijah, she ordered his death.  Elijah ran away, into the wilderness.

Elijah is exhausted from running.  He has no future that he can imagine.  There is a death sentence waiting for him if he returns home.  In his exhaustion he asks God to kill him and then promptly falls into a deep sleep.

What happens next is one of the loveliest moments in all of Scripture.  Instead of killing Elijah, or telling Elijah to pull himself up by the bootstraps, or berating Elijah for his lack of faith, God sends Elijah an angel.  The angel gently wakes Elijah from his slumber and gives him hot bread to eat and cool water to drink.  Before the angel leaves, he touches Elijah one more time, encourages him to eat and then disappears.

Elijah has spent a lot of his life defending God of Israel against other gods.  Elijah has spent a lot of time helping people to see the power of God, the strength of God.  But in this small moment, Elijah experiences the intimate God, the loving God.  God gently encourages Elijah to press on and gives him the literal bread he needs to build up his strength for the journey.

For Elijah, his whining, or murmuring, or cry for help is met by God with nourishment, not rebuke.

Elijah’s need is met with love.

Most unpleasant behavior can be attributed to either hunger, fear, anger or loneliness.  Elijah was certainly experiencing hunger and fear!  When humans feel these unpleasant feelings and can’t quite sort out how to get our needs met, we lash out at whomever is around us.

I don’t know about you, but when I get cranky, nine times out of ten what I need is food.  My husband knows this by now and when he hears a certain snappish tone in my voice he immediately looks around to figure out what he can feed me before my unpleasantness can fully reveal itself.

The natural response when someone is cranky or whiny or unpleasant is to steer clear of the offending party.  But instead of moving away from us when we are at our worst, God moves toward us.  God nourishes us.

And maybe the lectionary spends four weeks in August dwelling on how Jesus is the Bread of Life, because this concept is so counterintuitive.  This concept is almost as hard to imagine as an angel waking you up and offering you a hot breakfast.

Jesus is easy to understand when he is standing on a mount or a fishing boat and telling us about God or how to live our lives.  When Jesus is speaking to us, we understand that he is the teacher and we are his students. The relationship is safe, the boundaries are clear.

But when Jesus describes himself as Bread-as something we bite and chew, swallow and absorb, those boundaries blur.

Ronald Rollheiser, the Catholic theologian, makes the connection between Jesus being the Bread of Life and being present in the Eucharist.  He writes:

For most of [Jesus’] ministry, he used words. Through words, he tried to bring us God’s consolation, challenge, and strength. His words, like all words, had a certain power. Indeed, his words stirred hearts, healed people, and affected conversions. But at a time, powerful though they were, they too became inadequate. Something more was needed. So on the night before his death, having exhausted what he could do with words, Jesus went beyond them. He gave us the Eucharist, his physical embrace, his kiss, a ritual within which he holds us to his heart.

Words are important.  I believe in words.  I have included many of them in this sermon.  However, words alone cannot convey love.

I spent a lot of time this week watching the footage of the journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee reuniting with their families after being prisoners in North Korea.  I’m sure they spoke words, too, and will continue to speak about their experiences to their loved ones, but their first reactions were to run toward their families and hug them as tightly as humanly possible.

Those hugs, their tears, her husband wrapping his arms around Euna as she clasped her daughter to her chest-those small acts conveyed more love than any speeches the women could have made to their families.

In the same way, Jesus was limited by words to express the fullness of love he felt toward humanity.

And so, Jesus becomes Bread.  He becomes a kiss.  He becomes our nourishment.  He moves beyond words to commune with us in a way both spiritual and physical.

And like the angel gave Elijah bread to give him strength for the journey ahead, Jesus gives us himself for the very same purpose.  Whether we are cheerful or cranky, strong or weak, ready or unprepared, Jesus moves toward us and embraces us.

Jesus is the Bread of life, given to us.  And that is beyond words.

Proper 8, Year C, 2007

What a year of transitions!

Perhaps over time I will learn that every year is full of change, that we don’t really stand on solid ground, but on sediment that is constantly shifting.  However, this year has seemed particularly full of transition.  We elected, and then greeted, a new bishop.  The presidential race is in full swing, with dozens of men and at least one woman gunning for the most powerful office in America. 

And personally, for us at Emmanuel, we have lost many of the Saints that led this church for the last fifty years:  Kate LaRue, Peggy Flannagan, Ned Morris, Mildred Lapsley, Zan McGuire, Kitty Shirley, David Smith, Louise Ellinger, and Theo Earp.  I have listened to one interview conducted by the Heritage committee for their oral history project, and I was so moved to hear stories of the men and women who served this place twenty to thirty years ago on the vestry, through altar guild, singing in the choir, teaching.  Their service was a continuation of the service of those before them, and we carry their work on now. 

The work of the church is never ending, and though we don’t often take time to reflect on it, the work we do is always a direct result of someone else’s hard work.  Our Sunday School and nursery would not be functional if not for the years of service of the Christian Education committee before I came.  Chuck would not be here if Mr. Marston and Mr. LaRue had not poured their hearts into this place. 

In the Christian story, generations are always passing the torch, one to another.  Sometimes that goes smoothly. . . and sometimes there are some bumps in the road!

Today, we’ll look at three such stories-the transition of leadership from King Saul to King David, the transition of leadership from Elijah to Elisha, and finally the transition of leadership from Jesus to the Church.

The transition of leadership from Saul to David is a worst-case scenario.  If you’ll remember from reading the 1st and 2nd books of Samuel, Saul was the first king of Israel.  God did not want the people of Israel to have a king, but they whined because they wanted to be like all the other countries around them.  The whining finally got to God, and he granted them a king.  Saul was a great king.  He was tall and handsome, very smart and had innate leadership skills.  The problem was, he was such a good king, he forgot to rely on God.  He ignored the prophet Nathan’s instructions once and that was IT.  God wanted him out.  For God’s second try as king, he chose David.  David was not anyone’s first choice for king.  He was scrawny, a shepherd, and. . .a musician.  But God knew that David loved God with all his heart. God wanted him as king..

But you know, it’s hard to let go of power.  History books tell us it took years for Nixon to fully understand that he was no longer president.  For a long time, he would sit in his office at home and command his staff as if he were still the leader of the free world.  While some find it easy to retire, others, especially if forced out, have a really difficult time letting someone else take over.  Saul was one of these guys.  He knew David was next in line to be king, but he was not going to go down without a fight.  He fought the transition so hard, it ended up killing him-he died on the battlefield.  Saul did not need to die that way.  He and David did not start out as enemies-in fact, Saul’s son Jonathan, was David’s best friend.  Saul could have resigned his post and then acted as an advisor to David, or taken up gardening, or some form of ancient golf.  Instead, he gripped on to his power, his authority, and it ruined him.

Do we ever cling to power?  Letting go of a position of authority can be very painful.  My father retired two summers ago after being principal of a particular school for five years.  Watching his successor undo much of the good foundation he had laid at the school, was terribly frustrating to my dad.  He had to consciously let go and distance himself so he wouldn’t go crazy worrying about the students and teachers under this new administration.  We cling to power, not just for power’s sake, but because we think we can do a good job, a better job than the next guy, but sometimes God is calling us to let go and to move forward in our own lives. 

The transition of power from Elijah to Elisha is a very different story.  If the story of Saul and David is on the very human and very sad end of the spectrum, the story of Elijah and Elisha is over here on the over the top, almost ridiculously spiritual side of the spectrum.  Elijah was a stormy old prophet.  He ushered in a drought to punish the nation for idolatry.  And he was constantly shouting prophecies of dooooooom.  Nevertheless, Elisha thought Elijah was the bees knees.  In our story today, he is following Elijah around like Elijah’s biggest fan.  Even when Elijah tells him to get lost, that he’s going to be taken up into heaven, Elisha won’t leave.  He admires Elijah so much, that he wants to inherit a doubleshare of his spirit-he wants to be able to carry on Elijah’s prophetic ministry with the same energy and vigor as his mentor.  When Elijah is finally taken up into heaven, Elisha tore his clothes into two pieces and placed Elijah’s fallen mantle on himself-symbolizing the transition of leadership.

Taking over leadership from a successful leader is scary stuff.  It can be tempting to hero worship our predecessor and lose ourselves in their style. And while we can certainly learn from other leaders, it is important to retain a sense of our own identity.  While Elisha did inherit Elijah’s spirit, Elisha was a very different kind of prophet.  Instead of heralding doom, Elisha showed people God’s power by being a wonder worker.  He worked miracles for his nation and for individuals.  (He also killed two kids who made fun of him for being bald-but that is a whole other story.)   Elisha was able to inherit Elijah’s spirit, while remaining true to himself and the gifts God had given him.

Finally, the transition of leadership between Jesus and the church is most like what we experience today in the Church.  Jesus had spent three years leading and teaching his disciples.  He knew his death was going to come, and come soon.  He had changed Simon’s name from Simon to Peter because Jesus knew that Peter-which means rock-would become the rock of the new church.  You and I know how that transition went.  Before Peter could become Peter of the book of Acts, in which he is a wise leader and administrator, he first had to be Peter the impetuous screw up.  Before he could become the Peter who would guide the church, he had to be Peter who would betray Jesus three times.

Peter, James, Paul and the other leaders of the early church had to deal with all sorts of problems as people figured out what it meant to follow Jesus, and they did not handle every situation perfectly.  Like us, sometimes they fought, or hurt each others feelings, or spoke without thinking.  Also like us, they knew they could solve these problems by remembering how Jesus handled situations and by asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. 

I know it is hard to believe, but I have made some SPECTACULARLY stupid decisions as I have ministered here.  You are not so lucky as to get to hear these stories in this sermon, but it is sufficient to say I can relate to Peter’s moment of “Ooooh.  I’ve really screwed up.”  Like Peter, I have had to take a deep breath, ask for forgiveness, and then move on, hoping I have learned something!  I’m sure none of you can relate! 

When we are baptized, we each become a leader in the church.  We each become a minister.  We all will face times in our life when we have to let go of our power to let someone else step up.  We will also face times when we realize that WE are who God wants to step up, no matter how underqualified we think we are!  We will also all make mistakes as we attempt to lead and need to be forgiven.

The good news, is that God will also bless our leadership.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit we will be able to accomplish more than we ever would on our own steam.  The trick is to remember Saul and not be tempted to do everything on our own!

Our great leaders at Emmanuel whom we have lost this year had their leadership blessed by God and all of here in this room enjoy the benefits of their hard work.  As we take over their responsibilities, their areas of leadership, may be also be blessed.

Amen.