6 Pentecost — The Rev. Karen C. Barfield

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Luke 9:51-62

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Elijah and Jesus are on the final legs of their journeys,
and they have disciples in tow….
disciples who follow along without knowing the destination or, even, the way to it,
but, they are following along as faithfully as they can.

Elisha follows Elijah from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan.

And at every point along the way, Elijah tells Elisha to “stay put” because the Lord has sent him further along the journey.

Elisha doesn’t know where he’s going, but he is committed to going the whole journey with Elijah wherever it leads.

When they reach the Jordan, Elijah strikes the water with his mantle, and through the power of God the waters part so that they cross on dry ground.

Upon reaching the far side, Elijah asks Elisha what he may do for him,
and Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.

Elijah replies that if Elisha sees him as he is taken into the heavens, then his request will be granted. So, Elisha keeps his eyes focused on Elijah every step of the way, watching him as Elijah ascends into heaven in a fiery tornado.

He doesn’t even for a moment shield his eyes from the burning splendor!

Elisha then allows himself to grieve his loss of Elijah as he tears his own clothes in two.

Then, without hesitation, he grabs Elijah’s mantle that had fallen to the ground,
walks back to the bank of the Jordan,
strikes the water
and calls upon God.

The waters part,
and he crosses to the other side.

Let us now pause our story and take a look at the Gospel…

We are told that “when the days drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” And as we know, nothing shifts his attention away from his destination.

As he and his disciples are going along the way, someone comes up and tell Jesus that they will follow Jesus wherever he goes.

Jesus neither welcomes this person or nor turns them away but instead offers a warning:
I have no place to call “home,”
so if you follow me,
you, too,
will have no place to call home.

As Jesus continues along the way he invites another to follow him.

This person wants to take care of family obligations first, but Jesus responds saying that proclaiming the kingdom of God takes priority.

A third person who freely offers to follow Jesus also says that he first wants to tell his family good-bye.

In each of Jesus’ responses, he speaks of following him as being a journey in which there is no place of security or certainty in worldly terms.

The kingdom of God is the only focus for our lives…all else falls away;
a focus on love, forgiveness, mercy and justice are all that matter.

These last two weeks have been weeks of heaviness of heart,
beginning with so many beautiful lives lost in Orlando and the ensuing record increase in gun sales as one response.

I weep not only for the lost lives of the patrons at Pulse nightclub but for all persons in the LGBTQ and Latino communities who suffer injustice and hatred.

I weep also for the deep brokenness of someone who would carry out such destruction and for his family.

My heart is heavy as I think of all those in our nation and in our immediate community who struggle with addiction and mental illness who cannot find their way to have even their basic needs met…many of whom end up in our jails and prisons and on our streets.

So these stories today are good for us to hear.

Keep your eyes focused on love, forgiveness, mercy and justice, Jesus says.
Keep following along the way of the cross…even when it means you can find no home in this world because others don’t understand love in a world focused on judgment.

We hear of dear Elisha, who focuses his eyes on the fiery whirlwind and has utter confidence that God’s power will be at work through him.

We, like Elisha, are called to pick up the mantle
and strike the water
and call upon the Lord, our God,
and God’s power will flow through us.

This is my last Sunday with you for three months.

First, I thank you all and the vestry for allowing me this time away to refresh and renew my body, mind and spirit.

Some of you are nervous at my being away, but I am not.
You are an amazing community with many gifts.
You will be just fine.

There will, of course, be some changes, but change is nothing new for us!

As I was looking over our membership rolls last week, I noticed that in the last five years 36 people have become members of St. Joseph’s. And, there are currently 36 members on our books…you do the math.

Over the past five years seven members are now ordained and serving other communities…another four folks who were not members but were involved in our community are also now ordained and another four are in the ordination process.

There is constant turn-over at St. Joseph’s!

But, what that means is that when a mantle falls to the ground, someone else picks it up and strikes the water, and the journey continues…a journey in which we allow God’s power and spirit to flow through us as we keep our eyes on the Kingdom and follow where we are led.

Two weeks ago our vestry made a decision that while I am on sabbatical, we are asking that no one be on the property between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. unless attending a church event. This was a difficult decision, but we hope that it is a faithful one.

In a few weeks a team of four folks from St. Joseph’s will attend the Duke Divinity School’s Collaborative Health Initiative, during which they will talk about and reflect on how we, as a community and as individuals, may best address mental health needs in our congregation and in our community. They will be seeking input from you all. This will help us faithfully address the needs of our neighbors who find shelter here so that this may be a more welcoming space for all.

Perhaps also these next months will be a time when you each can think about your gifts and how you can share them with this community.

Perhaps you’ve been engaged in a particular ministry for a time and want to do something different. Or perhaps you’ve been thinking about getting involved in something but haven’t yet. Perhaps you need a break… as we all do from time to time.

I invite you to use this time to pray and ask God to show you the mantle you’d like to place on your shoulders…perhaps it’s the same one you’re already wearing!

I will keep you all in my prayers, and I ask you to keep me in yours.

We may not know our final destination or the way we will get there, but let us keep our eyes on God that we may be vehicles of God’s love, grace, forgiveness, mercy and justice. Amen.