Found in Translation

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Psalm 77
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-61

“My 1865 Webster’s defines translation as ‘being conveyed from one place to another; removed to heaven without dying.’ We must have an art that translates, conveys us to the heaven of that deepest reality which otherwise ‘we may die without ever having known’; that transmits us there, not in the sense of bringing information to the receiver but of putting the receiver in the place of the event – alive.” — Denise Levertov, “Great Possessions”

“The Translation of Elijah” has always seemed to me a strange title for the chariot of fire scene. “Translation,” I thought, was merely a matter of substituting words in one language for words in another language. At this crucial juncture in the Elijah story, however, translation is a fiery threshold, the means by which Elisha receives a double portion of the Spirit that animates the Prophet Elijah’s life. Not the spirit that animated Ahab and Jezebel. Not the spirit that animated the whole religious industry that had made its peace with Ahab in order to ensure its success. “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha prays of Elijah.

This story occurs in the book of the Bible entitled “Kings,” but the main characters are prophets, especially Elijah and Elisha. The book title is tongue-in-cheek irony. Beyond the headline stealing royal pretensions and exploits, there is an alternate history going on, seen clearly, spoken obediently, and lived courageously by those animated by the prophetic spirit. Read more

A Morsel From Your Hand

Third Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 17:8-24

As I lifted my eyes from the letter I was writing seated in the bookstore café, I searched for a thought while I watched a woman ride in the door on a Walmart motorized cart. My son, across from me, was lost in the pages of a fantasy novel. I looked back down, pen to the paper to finish my sentence, and when I looked up a moment later, she was next to our table, had come straight to us.

She said, “hello,” then looked away, fighting the words and gearing up for rejection. Half through her explanation, feeling awkward and wanting to end her humiliation, I gently cut her off and said, “Do you need money?” Her answer was, “Yes, $26,” an amount so exact, so without explanation, and so more than what I was expecting and yet still modest, that I startled.

As I looked in my bag to see what I had, she said, “and also I really need a ride just over there,” gesturing toward the distance. Before I could gather words, my twelve year old said, “We can give you a ride.” Then seeing my face, which must have been processing the moment poorly, he followed with, “Or… we can, right?” Read more

It’s About Jesus

Transfiguration Sunday

Luke 9:28-36

This is a strange story; we don’t often know what to make of it. What does it mean? What does it do? Jesus on a mountain, a shining moment, a voice from on high? This is the final story we read in this season of Epiphany, the season of revelation, manifestation. In other words, this is the season when things of God should be revealed, uncovered, be brought into the light. This story is no different. So what does it reveal? Read more

The Advocacy of the Spirit

Pentecost Sunday
Acts 2:1-21
Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Although this piece is about Pentecost, I am writing it on the Feast of the Ascension. This fact along with the Pentecost reading from Acts 2 brings Elijah to mind. Like Jesus, Elijah ascends into heaven. Unlike Jesus, he does not conquer death prior to his ascension. Like the followers of Jesus, Elijah has powerful experience of the Lord’s presence.

In 1Kings 19 Elijah has just accomplished the most powerful act of his prophetic ministry. On behalf of the one true God, Elijah has challenged the prophets of Baal, who enjoyed the favor of the king and queen. God vindicates Elijah’s bold fidelity and Elijah purges the prophets of Baal. Ahaz and Jezebel vow revenge; Elijah flees. He is now a fugitive from royal justice. This is an incredible reversal of fortune. This is not at all what Elijah anticipated or what he thought God had in store for him. Read more