Happy Valentine’s Day!
Today’s sermon is about Love, not the usual kind of love that we celebrate on Valentine’s Day. Today you will hear about Elijah and Elisha, the strength of Elisha’s love for his mentor, and Elisha’s courageous determination not to look away from Elijah even at the moment of his death.
I was not at the side of either of my parents when they died. Daddy’s death was sudden, and I was away. Mom died more slowly, in hospital, and I had to be home. I had to be a mom, and I had to work. Self-employment does not give time off for hospital vigils. So I wasn’t there. I wish I was. I was there in spirit. I was there in dreams. But I was not at my mother’s side. In these Covid times, people around the world have not been there with their dying loved ones. My heart aches for them. My heart aches for those of YOU who have had to wait outside of hospitals in these last 11 months.
Elijah told Elisha that he would go on, to his death, alone, but Elisha refused. He went every step of the way at Elijah’s side. He did not take his eyes off his master, and witnessed the moment when his spirit left his body, like a burning chariot and fiery horses. He tore his clothes in his grief, but he did not turn away.
Our attention capacity is short. We are always blinking, looking away, getting distracted, in normal every day circumstances. In the tough times, keeping our gaze turned toward the pain is hard, almost impossible. At other times, we feel like we can’t pull our attention away at all, from the news of what is happening in the world around us. But being “glued to the screen” is itself a way of NOT seeing what is happening beside us. That pain beside us begs for our attention.
We are learning to be a 21st century church, I’ve said. We are learning to become something different than we have been. In fact, we are being forced to be different, against our wills. We don’t like change, not at all. As I say in today’s sermon, we prefer to look back at the past, than to look squarely into the changes that are coming.
Just like the “Sons of the Prophets” in Elijah’s time were facing a change of era, so are we. Do we watch from a distance like most of them? Or do we walk into it, courageously, like Elisha? I do hope that we get back into our churches for in-person services soon, but what is “soon”? And how long will it take for our services to be “normal”? Will they EVER be “normal”?
I’ve come to realize that we have three congregations in Prince William Pastoral Charge – Living Waters, the Kirk, AND our online congregation. The online folks, some of them never come to church. Some live elsewhere. Some would love to be with us in person, but health concerns or disabilities keep them away. These people tell me how grateful they are for the recorded services. No matter when we get back to seeing each other face to face, we must not abandon these people. This Covid Journey is making us rethink what church is, what church membership is.
For a long time, we have been saying that Church is not a building. The question becomes, can church be ONLY online? Can we do without buildings completely? No, we cannot do without buildings. We need to be able to gather in person. Real change happens in person. Real love happens in person. But the buildings do not have to be church buildings. The buildings may be our homes.That is where Church started, after all, in the homes of believers in communities everywhere, supported by ministers like Paul and Silas, who travelled and wrote letters.
We CANNOT be Church ONLY online, because online it is too easy to look away. I get an email, for example, about the children starving in Yemen. I can delete that, and forget it. I see post after post on Facebook or elsewhere, of people in pain, and I can scroll right past. Or click the “care” button to send a hug, or the “sad” button to express my concern, but this leaves that individual alone, while the Facebook post disappears into the depths of the feed, and my attention is caught by the next meme, or the next funny video.
Real change, real concern, does not happen online. We need to be face to face, loving, caring, helping, supporting. We need to be face to face looking each other in the eye, not turning away from the pain. That is what Church is. No matter what happens with Covid, no matter what happens with our ability to sustain our buildings, we need to keep on loving, keep on being devoted to each other, just like Elisha was devoted to Elijah.
I’m writing this early on Saturday morning. It’s not quite 6 am. I did not expect to write paragraphs; my sermon was already a longish one. Thank you for reading all this. Thank you for not looking away.