God does not leave you on your own.

See the title link for texts and translations for Transfiguration. This was supposed to connect through the Gospel and then move to Paul, but that would not come, and now the time is past. All I've really got is gospel preached from 2 Kings, but I do at least have that.

We could definitely say something about human action this week. About faithful following, faithful questioning, faithfulness in being sent -- even faith in general. But we cannot say it first. It cannot stand on its own out of these texts, as though they suggested that you could stand on your own. You do not become a prophet like Elijah on your own, and not being one is not a failure on your part. You do not follow like Elisha on your own, and not doing so is not a failure on your part. You do not become a witness like Peter, James or John on your own, and not being one is not a failure on your part. You do not become an apostle like Paul on your own, and not being one is not a failure on your part. And you have not become who you are today on your own, either. Who you are today, failures and all, whether devoted, bereft, confident, scared, confused, awed, trying to be useful, or even just sitting there not knowing how to respond, is who you are as God's good creation, the creature God has called, who calls back to God in prayer. God's creation, for whom God acts in love.

Faith is a response to God, and in all of these stories it is God who is the true hero. It is God who does the decisive action. We trust God because we have seen how God is good, and because of that we have seen behind what happens in the world. And in the wake of that revelation, the world has new meaning. We belong to God's story of the world. We belong to God's action in the world, because this God acts for us.

This week's reading in 2 Kings is full of prophets. There isn't a character in the story who doesn't know what's going on -- and so do you. God is going to take Elijah away in a heavenly whirlwind. This is Elisha's master, Elisha's father from the moment he threw his cloak over Elisha's shoulders back in 1 Kings 19. Elisha's inheritance has been granted to him since before Elijah saw him plowing in the field. He is to be prophet in Elijah's place, to be the prophet raised up from among the people Israel, the definitive agent and voice of God for the people.

So we already know, metaphorically, that he is the one who will take up Elijah's "mantle". Strictly speaking, in terms of the surrounding narrative, this story today doesn't need to be told -- except that it does. We need to see how it happens, because the human story is important. Because, in the middle of all this horrific, bloody political mess that is the kings' chickens coming home to roost, we need to see how God is good. How God is faithful to promise, how God upholds mercy for God's people. How God loves.

The sons of the prophets, though they know what's going to happen, don't get to see what we get to see with Elisha. For them, there isn't love invested here. They don't hear the threefold request from Elijah, "Please, stay here." "I have to go on -- but you don't." Elijah is not a man who is accustomed to being loved. He is accustomed to God's service being dangerous, and occasionally to being the only one to survive. But Elisha loves him, and in his devotion to Elijah will not leave him -- not while he lives, by God. The sons of the prophets of Israel don't understand this, but they do know what's going to happen. God is going to take Elijah. And they know to stand well back when it happens! They know that God is dangerous, best handled by keeping a reverent distance. They do not know that God, too, has love invested here.

And so they try to warn Elisha, because they do not understand. They do not understand why he will not stand back with them, why he will not witness from a safe distance. Why he gives no sign in his actions that he knows about the glorious but very dangerous thing that is about to happen. Why he does not seem to fear God. They fear God -- all around them, they see evidence that leads them to believe that they should fear God. It is a very violent time, and in God's judgment men are meting out and men are receiving in turn horrible, bloody death. One simply ... stays out of God's way in such a time!

But Elisha loves, and he cannot stand back. He will not be put out of the way. He trusts Elijah, and Elijah trusts God with his very life. And Elijah has seen that trust rewarded. Elijah has survived by the sheer goodness of God who has kept him alive. And so Elisha will not leave him, nor will he fear God like the sons of the prophets. Yet he knows that he is not the man that Elijah is, and he knows that he is not enough for the work that lies ahead of him, on his own. And what does God do? God permits him to see. God shows Elisha the reward that waits for Elijah: to be taken up and to be with God who guards and defends Israel his people. And in this way, God permits him to know: to know that he will be enough for the work ahead because the same spirit that enabled Elijah rests doubly upon him. God who so loved Elijah demonstrates his love for Elisha, too -- who will now continue the unpleasant business of prophecy in the time of wicked kings.

This same God so loves you, and has guaranteed your inheritance in Christ, well before any of you received your own callings. And Christ bids you to come, and see -- to see glorious and terrifying things, and horrible and terrifying things to come, and hold on to what you see and ponder it until you know fully what the end is. To cling to your master while he lives, by God, for love -- until you, too, see God raise your master up. And this Lent we will do this -- but we do it because Christ has thrown his mantle over us while we were in the fields, and because that Spirit of God enfolds us and strengthens us to carry on in the world, for love. Because God has loved us, and carries us always in love. God does not leave us on our own. And because we need them, God shows us signs along the way to assure us that we are not alone -- we go about our work by God's help, with double helpings of the Spirit.

Comments