Look Where You’re Going, Christian!

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

June 30, 2019
3rd Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture readings – 2nd Kings 2: 1-2, 6-15 and Luke 9: 51-62

It was a rainy summer afternoon somewhere in the middle of Indiana on the interstate highway about ten years ago.  I was dozing off while returning from several days with 5000 Presbyterian youth who had just finished Triennium, a PCUSA event in which youth from all over the country gather every three years for activities, speeches, prayer, and fun.  It was exhausting but fun.

The bus ride back to New Jersey was a quiet one with all 60 people on our bus dozing like I was – especially after a full week at Triennium.  At one point, I woke up and looked out the window – as people tend to do on long, overland trips.  I immediately saw that there was an 18-wheeler tanker truck right next to our bus on the highway.   I also saw that the driver was texting on his phone and not looking where he was going.   I gasped, which quickly woke everyone up around me.  It also alerted our bus driver, who asked me what was wrong.  I quietly told him what I saw.  He accelerated and quickly moved away from that tanker.

By this time, about half the bus was wide-awake and looking out the window.  We all saw clearly what was going on and how much potential danger we were in…but our bus driver acted quickly and moved us into a safer spot on the interstate.

Besides not looking at the road, like he should have been doing, what else did that tanker truck driver NOT see?  He was so focused on his cell phone that…

  • He didn’t see his own recklessness.
  • He didn’t see how his small act had put all of us in a potential deadly situation.
  • He didn’t see the possible legal trouble for himself and for his company if anyone had been hurt because of his actions.
  • He certainly didn’t see a bus full of 60 Presbyterian folks, who were riding right next to his tanker truck.

This person – with the trust, equipment, training, and responsibility given to him – was not looking where he was going.

Contrast this with the story of Elijah and Elisha from the Second Book of Kings.  Elijah WAS looking where the Lord was leading him.  Elijah WAS looking at what was happening around him – and at the results of the Lord’s work through him.  Elijah WAS looking to the future work on behalf of the Lord that would continue through Elisha.  And finally, Elijah WAS looking at how his departure would affect Elisha’s future work – and Elijah tried to protect Elisha, the young man who was like a son to him, from an devastating emotional goodbye that might affect that future work.  With all that Elijah was facing, he never quit looking ahead to his service to his Lord.

Elijah – with the trust, equipment, training, and responsibility given to him by the Lord – WAS looking where he was going.  In fact, despite his own human love and emotion, he never stopped looking.

But if you keep reading that story, if you just go a little further, you will learn that Elisha followed his mentor’s example and also kept looking where he was going in his service to the Lord.  We heard that Elisha seemed to know something was coming quickly, something that would take Elijah away from him.  Even though it is not spelled out in Scripture, Elisha seemed to know it anyway.  Experts spent a lot of time and discussion and debate on whether or not Elijah was protecting Elisha, or pushing Elisha away, or trying so hard to serve the Lord right up to the last minute of his life that he was trying to ignore Elisha while doing it.  Most of that debate doesn’t work for me at all.

It seems to me that Elijah was always looking where he was going with the Lord, including the last few hours and moments of his own life.  As he did this, I also think that Elijah loved Elisha so much that he wanted to protect him – as any parent would want to protect a beloved child.  Being a parent myself, that works for me.

Yet, there is something else here that can’t be missed: as Elijah followed the Lord and worked on his behalf, he was constantly threatened with the loss of his own life by evil people who tried to stop the Lord’s work.  Elijah knew he would not live forever on the earth, and Elijah saw in his son, Elisha, the path forward for that work to continue.  So when Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, it was not so that he could be mightier than Elijah or that he could do even more of the Lord’s work than Elijah or that he could be exalted in the Lord’s eyes even more than Elijah.

No, Elisha asked for that double portion of Elijah’s spirit because he didn’t believe he was up to the task.  I mean…who could possibly follow the great prophet, Elijah, and do the same work?  Elisha looked where he would need to go, and he saw himself as inadequate.

This man, Elisha – with the trust, equipment, training, and responsibility given to him – WAS looking where he was going.  But he was looking through ordinary eyes, and in doing that, he didn’t see where the Lord would lead him. 

At least…not at first.

Then we have the story of Jesus being refused entry and hospitality by the Samaritan village.  This would have been a major insult; in those days, when someone asked for refuge, they were supposed to get it – no questions asked.  And those Samaritans had, no doubt, heard of Jesus.  So their refusal looks like it makes no sense.

Let us remember the theory about the work of Jesus:  He came to earth for three reasons: to heal the sick, to cast out demons, and to preach the Good News.  Sometimes, as he traveled on his various journeys, he was sidetracked from his ultimate work because he loved the people so much. 

But those Samaritans looked at Jesus, and they didn’t like what they saw.  Perhaps they expected this prophet to stay awhile and preach and heal and cast out demons.  Instead, Jesus made it clear that “his face was set on Jerusalem” and on more important things.  Apparently, everyone could see that for themselves.  So, those hated Samaritans closed up shop and told Jesus and his Apostles to move along.

Notice that it seemed to be acceptable to Jesus.  Did you see that?

Also, notice that the Apostles were not only shocked and angered, but they wanted to order down a heavenly punishment on those Samaritans.  I wonder if some of that traditional hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans was on display here.  Jesus may have had his face set on Jerusalem, but later on, we are told in the Book of Acts that as he was about to ascend into Heaven, Jesus told those same Apostles, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth.”  He never forgot those close-minded, traditionally hated Samaritans.  He loved them too, even though they were rude to him.

So, those angry, rash Apostles who were looking for revenge on Jesus’ behalf – with the trust, equipment, training, and responsibility given to them by Jesus himself – were not accurately looking where they were going.

And one more observation: just as Elijah was working on what would happen after he left and yet continued to look where he was going, so did Jesus work with his Apostles to continue his work after he also left.

So, my friends, what is our big message for today?

  • Look where we are going?
  • Look around and see what else is going on before we act?
  • Look within for our own problems and biases and issues and how they may affect our work on behalf of the Lord?
  • Look always to Jesus?

Yes, to all of these.  But that won’t cover it all.

We must also look to the past in order to learn from it…not to remain in it, not to glorify it, but to learn from it.

We must look to forgive wherever and whenever we can.

We must look to plans, dreams, visions, ideas, and possibilities for our future.

In our own way, each of us must “set our faces on Jerusalem” toward whatever will come from following Jesus.  But as we do this, we must also set things in motion for when we will no longer be doing that good work.