On Walking Toward the Impossible
June 26, 2022
2 Kings 2: 1-6
When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 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. 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.”
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. 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.”
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.
Galatians 5: 1, 13-15
For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become enslaved to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
The sermon today is titled On Walking Toward the Impossible.
The summer after my junior year of college, I landed a job in Oregon with the Forest Service studying the Northern Spotted Owl. I should have asked more questions before I agreed to the job. All I knew when I went to work the first day was that I would be working full time and that the Forest Service would provide all the clothes and equipment I needed except for leather boots. I showed up fully dressed anyway (that was my attempt at a joke). I was sitting in the office of the head biologist when I found out that my hours would be from 6pm to 4am, four days a week; make that four nights a week. I would receive two days of training in the office and one night of training in the field. The reality dawned on me that I would spend nearly all summer sleeping through beautiful warm sunny days and nights walking through old-growth forests in the darkest and coldest hours. I had never even been camping before and I had definitely never been in the woods at nighttime.
I went dutifully through all the training and the Forest Service issued me more gear than I could carry. On the outside it appeared that I was all ready, but nothing could have prepared me for how hard it would be on that first night to leave the safety and security of the truck. The headlamp I wore, even with a fresh battery pack, only provided a small circle of light that made the surrounding darkness even darker. Walking away from that truck was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It seemed impossible that I could survive and make it safely back.
Theologian Cy Walt writes about “the bravery of walking toward the things that feel impossible.” I so appreciate how that is worded…the bravery of walking towards the things that feel impossible. In our story today from Second Kings, I see that same bravery in Elisha. Three times Elisha’s teacher tells him to stay and not to follow. His teacher, the prophet Elijah, must be either testing him or trying to protect him; there is no way for us to know for sure, but Elisha’s answers are clear and definitive. Three times he answers, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” Elisha is walking with his teacher toward the reality that they will soon be parted, but he will not stay behind, he will not turn away from the heart-wrenching loss, he will not yield. “As surely as you live, I will not leave you,” he says. Elisha devoted himself completely, without reservation, in service to his teacher, come what may. He would not be dissuaded even though he knew what lay ahead would be painful and difficult. That’s bravery. That’s the “bravery of walking toward the things that feel impossible.”
That same bravery was on national display again this week in the Select Committee hearings. The first witness on Tuesday was the Republican Speaker of the House from Arizona, Rusty Bowers. He is one of many who refused to compromise his morals, one of many who held strong to his convictions, one of many who safeguarded our democracy. After coming home from Sunday services, Speaker Bowers was sitting in his car, in his driveway, with his wife when a call from the White House came through. Can you imagine? During the course of the conversation, Speaker Bowers was pressured to call a hearing to replace Arizona’s electors.
In his testimony, Speaker Bowers explained why and how he refused the request, even though it had come from the highest office in our land. To honor the request would have required that he go against his oath to the Constitution. At one point during his testimony, Speaker Bowers could not speak. He was overcome with emotion momentarily, and then he said, “It is a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired.” The convictions of Speaker Bowers, along with the convictions of many others we heard from this week, protected our democracy.
It seems impossible to me that the words or actions of one person could turn the tides of world history, and yet I know it has happened over and over again. It would be dangerous for us to underestimate the effect any one of us has in the world. We heard some valuable words of warning from Paul in his letter to the Galatians. “… You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become enslaved to one another.” What a statement this is, especially for our times. Paul counsels us to the right use of freedom and in the same sentence he reminds us that love is essential. “…Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become enslaved to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” In my opinion, right use of freedom is something we should all be carefully considering, especially with such volatile issues as guns and abortion being debated in the public square.
In the weeks and months and years ahead, we will be called to bravely walk together toward the things that may, at this time, seem impossible. Things that come to mind are free and fair elections without undue interference, equal treatment under the law for all people, gun safety (an oxymoron if ever I have heard one!). We will be called to step beyond the relative safety of what and who we know and extend ourselves in friendship to those outside our familiar circles, in a similar way I took those first few steps away from the truck and ventured into the unknown forest, unable to see very far ahead. We will be called to be very clear, like Elisha, about how we align ourselves, who we choose to support with our vote, who we choose to follow, and who we choose to ignore. The future of our country and the health of our culture will depend on our response.
In closing, I want to leave you with a piece of ancient Hebrew Wisdom that I find encouraging because we can use some encouragement with all we are facing. The words come from Pirkei Avot (translated as Ethics of our Fathers). 2400 years ago, someone wrote the following words, “It is not up to you to finish the task, but you are not free to avoid it.” Friends, may we walk bravely, together, toward the things that feel impossible. There are untold billions of people in the world who are walking with us, too.
God of chaos and God of calm, we pray your blessings over our beautiful world and all the life forms living here. Help us to receive the many ways that you nurture us, ways tender and subtle and also in the ways that shake our foundations. Give us courage to overcome our fears, Lord, so that we may be a clearer reflection of your love and grace to all we meet along our way. May those that are ailing in body or mind feel your soothing presence. May those that are facing death feel your reassurance and your peace. In the face of all uncertainty, may we remember to reach for the hem of the garment of Christ, for in reaching we act in faith and by holding we receive unimagined blessings. In gratitude for the power of prayer, let us join together in reciting the words of the Lord’s Prayer… 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. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
Benediction: Now, I leave you with the words of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 55, verse 12:
“You shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace: the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” Amen.