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Focus and Choose (Elisha and the Boanerges)

June 30, 2013 Leave a comment

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Knowing that I grew up in a coal mining town in the hills of western Pennsylvania, might give away who some of my childhood heroes were.  My first was a second baseman for the Pittsburgh Pirates by the name of Bill Mazeroski.  I still remember my Grandpap calling our house on that late summer day of 1960 when “Maz” hit the game winning home run in the final inning of the final game of the World Series!  He became a household name for many years to come, as would the likes of Clemente and Stargell.  Now my talents weren’t close to theirs and there wasn’t much of a chance for me to become like them, but in my mind when I practiced on the ball field I would imagine my body was going through every motion exactly as they appeared on the games I saw on television.  But the biggest thrill of all for me that left the biggest impression on my mind was actually going to baseball games at Forbes Field and seeing these idols perform before my eyes.  Oh, how I wanted so much to play at the level they did!  A competitive spirit was growing in me and would soon show in everything I did.  As much as I’d like to think I’ve settled down with the competing aspect of sports, my wife still brings to my attention from time to time that some things in life aren’t and shouldn’t be a contest.

Now I mention these sports figures not to brag about a particular team, city, place or time, but because as I look at the characters of Elisha, James and John, I see the image of some young people going about life with the same zeal for God that many youngsters have for sports.  There is an enthusiasm here that can get one in trouble depending on what you’re doing – and that is true to the point so much that James and John are told to settle down and start paying attention.  It’s also true in showing where our own passions and desires lie in our lives.

For Elisha it lies in wanting to be able to do more than Elijah does.  He sees the good that Elijah has demonstrated throughout his life, knows that it’s God who does the work, and so wants to do the same his desire to please God is evident everywhere.  Several times he’s told to stay at a certain spot, yet each time he insists on going the distance.  Some might classify this as a test of will and strength.  When we know we are heading toward an unpleasant situation there is always the choice of sitting back and saying no.  As we get closer to the end and we are given an option of not having to witness the final moments of it what will we choose?  Elisha is prepared to stay with his friend to the end.  His request for a higher blessing is met with a condition.  “If you see me as I am being taken from you… then it will be granted.”  Paraphrasing it might sound like this; “If you keep your focus on the ways of how I showed you to live your life up to the final moment, and never take your eyes off of the ways of God and look back to the past, your blessings will be increased.”  So Elisha, formerly a rich man who left his wealth and luxurious life to follow a prophet of God, gained a new life in the rich blessings of the Holy Spirit.

For James and John, their passion for God was so intense they were given the name “Sons of Thunder.”  Jesus seems to have a liking for giving out new names to his followers, especially the twelve, the ones closest to him.  Have you ever stopped to think about what he might name you if he were around now?  This is one passage many consider to be the main reason Jesus dubbed them “Boanerges.”  As they pass through the Samaritan village they are treated badly.  Take into consideration that during the first century CE the relationship of a Samaritan to a Jew then is what the relationship between an Arab and a Jew is today.  They barely tolerated each other; to the point where I read New Testament historian C. Bernard Ruffin tell us to imagine signs on the hotels reading “no Jews allowed.”  That is what is meant by the more polite statement here made by Luke, saying that Jesus’s face was set toward Jerusalem.  Another spiritual lesson is taking place, this time in humility.  James and John are so riled and offended at the apparent hatred being thrown at them they’ve allowed their thoughts to be brought down to that same level.  They want to throw hate back at hate and so ask Jesus to send down lightning bolts from heaven.  They have seen him numerous times control nature by calming the storms and walking on water.  If he can stop the wind and waves from turning over a boat full of fishermen, surely he could shock a few bodies or at least rattle them with some rolling thunder.  Combine that attitude with their presumably powerful voices echoing the good news of Jesus through the huge crowds –the Sons of Zebedee become the Sons of Thunder.

But Jesus tells them to let it be.  They are not traveling through this place or any other place to retaliate and get into arguments and fights.  The mission is clear, at least to their leader.  He is travelling to the place and time where soon He will be taken up.  Just as Elijah has related to Elisha, the focus has to be on God and the Holy Spirit to make it through the entire journey.  Now to drive this point further home, Luke presents some issues that cut through centuries of time and generations of culture.  What about my family?  What about those I love?  What about the things I put above all else every moment of the day?  The people say; “Lord, I would follow you anywhere but you see, I have a wife and 3 children, another family member has passed away and the winds and rain are coming so I must harvest the wheat and there are all these things I must attend to in my daily life, but after I take care of those things, then, yes, Lord, I’ll start following you.”  And then the final request of them is to “let me go and say goodbye to family.”  First of all, it’s my hopefully humble opinion that in none of these cases is Jesus literally telling us to leave everything we have or we will never be able to serve God the way God is to be served.  I do not believe He would tell us to forget about family values or socially acceptable customs or business ventures that keep us clothed and fed.  If that is the case, then we certainly wouldn’t have been given the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Luke’s presentation of the gospel and Jesus’s words are directed to a society where family life was considered central and was more tightly knit than we are today in the western world.  So we must keep this in mind when reflecting on these very shocking words of how to realize the Kingdom in this world.  Jesus knew that all these things were important to people or I doubt these situations would have been put in the gospels.  He understood that family was a prime subject but he wanted to remind everyone that God should be at the top of the list.  He tells us that before everything we do, we must consider what is most important.  Everything is in its place.  We go to our jobs and perform our work but we keep our moral and ethical values no matter what kind of deals are offered.  We tend to the sick and dying with the respect and honor they need and deserve but we don’t forget about our commitment to the living while we mourn.  We value time with the family on weekends but we make certain that some of that time is spent together in church or prayer.  And we look toward the future with each other but we do it prayerfully and thoughtfully keeping God front and center in the decisions and plans we make.  Instead of following that idol from childhood we must now start following the Christ that Jesus has become.  We are Its body.  Through Him it is realized.  By us the work is done.  Will we be like “Boanerges”, daughters and sons of thunder?  Like Elisha, desperately wanting more?  The answer lies in where we choose to place God in our lives.  Amen.

(Scripture used from RCL for Year C, Proper 8.  2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14  Luke 9:51-62)