A Key To Holy Thresholds

A sermon based on 2 Kings 2:1-12
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on February 11, 2018
by Rev. Scott Elliott

A few years ago one of us broke a key off in the driver door of one of our vehicles. Every once in awhile when we take it in for an oil change or repairs we ask the shop to put taking the key out on the to do list. But no one’s yet taken it out yet. The vehicle does not have a power lock so there is no fob entry. Because the broken key is still in the lock we reach in and unlock it from the passenger’s side. I get tired of that, so a few times I have tried to fix it myself. Two weeks ago I tried again. As I put a knife in the lock to pry the broken part out I accidently turned it the lock popped up. I turned it the other way and it locked, As I locked and unlocked it several times I laughed so hard my dog came to see what was going on. I discovered after all these years of taking the round-a-bout way that anything we stick in the keyhole will unlock the door. Now we’ve have an easy way to enter –and we are still smiling at the discovery given the years of getting in the hard way.

Doors on vehicle and buildings guard thresholds. We open them – or try to open them– to move from one side to the other side. When are successful we can pass through the open threshold out of the old and into the new. Thresholds boarder two places. In theology we often call the thresholds to the Sacred, a liminal place or time.

Our Lectionary reading is about a liminal time, the transition from one prophet to another, from Elijah to Elisha. As we heard the story begins with a strange traveling hither and yon aspect, a sort of follow the leader game where Elijah hurriedly goes places and says don’t follow, and Elisha says I’m following any way and does. One commentary calls it something like a quest without a goal. Elijah and Elisha and all the on-looking prophets in the story lack the knowledge required to enter and go through and to the next phase. It reminds me of taking the unnecessary long route to entering our vehicle because we did not have the knowledge to get through the threshold on the driver’s side.
Many times the lack of knowledge causes us to take round-about routes to a new place. But once we acquire the necessary knowledge it acts like a key and gets us into and through thresholds. Knowledge acquired always moves us from one place to the next. We exit the unknown to the known. And it need not be an idea or words or some other sort of academic type knowledge. Sometimes it is awareness (perception). Knowledge through the sense of some thing can be the key to unlocking and entering through a threshold.

Worship comes to mind. We know in a traditional sense that the Sacred is here, that God is everywhere all the time. But worship is a multi-sensory key meant to help a variety of people in different mind sets with different needs, at any given time in this hour, to unlock awareness that God is here with us. At its best, places of worship, like this church, offer both the keys and the threshold to God. It is a liminal time and place. We call it a holy place because of the access to the Sacred, but forgive the pun, we can also call it a “holey” place, the porous type of “holey,” because it can and does very often open up the wall or veil we keep between us and that which is Sacred. When the holes are open they let experiences of God pour on through, maybe for a moment, maybe for an hour, maybe even longer if we are fortunate.

Many humans try and move into times and places and awareness to access the Sacred, what we call God. This is meant to be such a time and place. It’s a liminal space. But, if God is already here– if as Paul claims, we actually live and move and have our being in God– then we are actually speaking not of a threshold to God but a threshold to awareness of God. Because God’s right here, right now. In worship we are trying to focus on and become better aware of and connect with that awesome omnipresence. We are trying to open up a hole in our lives to be aware of the holy.

The prophets in our lesson today are not in church, but the same sort of thing is going on. They are all in search of access to parts of God. They want to pry open up holes to peer in upon the Holy. What’s God got planned? When’s it going to happen? Who’s it going to involve? How can we find out? Can Elijah influence it? Does he know? Does Elisha know? Is he next in line as the master prophet? Will God provide him with the same powers? Will Elisha inherit the mantle of Elijah’s position as master, as the lead prophet? Will he be able to do as Elijah has done?
In times of anxiousness people of faith tend to ask the same sort of questions. What? When? How? Who? We want to know, so we make educated and uneducated guesses. What’s God up to, or where is God, in all of the messiness and chaos of life? We even want to hurry up the answers, and know the unknown or even the unknowable.

We can hear all that going on in our Lectionary text that Jene’ read so well. Chaos is afoot. Elijah, as I said, seems to be playing a game of follow the leader. And Elijah is not even gone and no one seems sad about the coming loss while he is alive. Instead there’s callously talk about who will be in charge when he goes. The prophets in the towns seem to be playing a came of twenty questions. There’s a hurly-burly in all this. Elisha can be seen as a pawn, but I like to think of him more as the disciplined one, a spirit person, a prophet who proves his meddle and worth by his loyalty and humbleness for sure, but also even as he wants to know he’s pretty patient about waiting to acquire knowledge and willing to follow God’s lead wherever it goes. The key to every theological threshold includes knowledge, even if sometimes it is just knowledge that we have to be patient and follow God for knowledge to be acquired.

I have mentioned a number of times in sermons how bodies of water in Ancient Near East represent chaos. Rivers and seas were seen like much of life, as uncontrollable. They seem to be like fate, to act on whimsy. And so Bible stories often have important leaders go through water in ways that symbolize not only God’s control over it, but God’s ability to lead those humans willing to follow to the other side of it. So God through Moses controls chaos as he leads the Hebrews into the wilderness by parting the Red Sea with a staff. Forty years later, God through Joshua again controls chaos as he leads the Hebrews out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land by parting the Jordan River with a Ark of the Covenant.

In our story today we are meant to be reminded of those two partings of water by Moses and Joshua, partings done with instruments, keys, given by God to symbolize God’s presence which when turned to get God’s followers through chaos. So, as we heard, God through Elijah controlled chaos as he crossed out of the Promised Land into the wilderness by parting the Jordan with a mantle, a symbol of God’s presence in his ministries. And then in reverse God controlled chaos as Elisha crossed out of the wilderness back into the Promised Land by parting the Jordan with the same mantle and then picking up where Elijah left off. The mantle is fully and effectively passed on, and the threshold to new leadership is crossed. But before that crossing there’s all that chaos. The long winding almost whimsical travel. The questions. The silence. The wondering. The unknown. The unknowable.

A question that stands out to most to us is the curious request by Elisha that he get a double share of Elijah’s spirit. The question is not as odd as it sounds, the phrase refers to the eldest son’s share of an estate. There are all these prophets about and when Elijah asks Elisha what he can do for him, Elisha wants him to give the lion’s share of his ministry to him. He wants to inherit the position of the patriarch in the family of prophets. Elijah properly counsels that it’s not his to give, but will be given by a sign from God, in an event symbolizing God’s presence. That event will create the liminal space of the changing of patriarchy.

And sure enough, in the very next verses the spectacular happens indicating in no uncertain terms God’s presence. A chariot of fire and horses of fire separates them and Elijah is taken up to heaven in the whirlwind that those magnificent heavenly vehicles create. Elisha is left down on earth with that vision and the mantle, the symbol of God’s presence. This is a very spiritual and religious event, a theophony, an experience of God’s presence, which is incomprehensible fire and swirling winds of great power that cause Elijah to be lifted up and blown a way by what we can hear as the cosmic spiritual breath of God. And the story has Elijah, like Moses, depart God’s people in the wilderness leaving no known burial site. And like Moses’ successor Joshua, Elijah’s successor, Elisha, also parts the Jordan to get from the wilderness to the Promised Land. And so with the mighty breath of God’s spirit Elisha is transfigured into the patriarchy of the prophets. He literally takes up the mantel of Elijah and leads God’s people.

In the invocation, instead of a Psalm I read a part of the Jesus’ Transfiguration story, the Lectionary text from Mark. Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration is about a radical change in a spiritual state. Elisha becomes the anointed Prophet. Jesus becomes the anointed Messiah. It is Jesus transfiguration that this Sunday commemorates. But both the Mark story and our lesson in 2 Kings are about men, Elisha and Jesus, taking on the radial change of being spiritual leaders, a prophet and a Messiah. That’s why they are Lectionary readings for today.

And the crowd of prophets in 2 Kings and the three disciples in Mark represent all of us who make things more complicated by trying figure it out in our own way instead of following God’s lead and trusting God to sort it out in God’s way. The prophets in the towns in 2 Kings and Peter and James and John in Mark ask questions and supply guesses – but silence and waiting is what is needed. Which is why Elisha says be silent in 2 Kings, and God says listen in Mark.

Because we live in the here and now the key to the threshold of God is being silent and listening. Listening to the past and the present and God in them both to lead us through thresholds to the Holy. And the holy does not appear in ways any human could guess at. As we heard God comes in the extraordinary– spiritual fiery wilderness whirlwinds and transfiguring mountain top experiences. The keys to enter the Holy are not what we may want or expect they are like fiery chariots and God-soaked fogs.

The extraordinary in ordinary places are tell-tale signs of God’s presence and what prophetic leaders wait for to lead God’s people out of the wilderness and off mountains and through chaos to follow God’s lead on God’s way. The key to opening the threshold to the Holy is not found in the past. It’s always going to come in ethereal heavenly ways, not earth bound ways of guesses and desires.

That’s not to say it is always going to be wind and fire and foggy clouds, but over and over and over again God is shown to be presence in experiences of the extraordinary. That’s the point! But it is always in the ordinary being experienced as extraordinary. Ordinary earthbound existence transfigured into extraordinary experiences act as keys to cross the threshold to see Heaven on earth.

The music and prayers and silence and even the sermons we have in worship are meant to create such experiences, to bring us to thresholds of heaven’s presence on earth. To get to God we have to let go of seeing the ordinary and let our minds be silent and listen to heaven’s extraordinary presence. We don’t have to take the long route to figure out how to listen to God, by guessing at what God is going to do. Because whatever God does and however God appears we cannot truly fathom. We can only follow and listen.

When we let go the need to understand in earthly ways, and just let our selves be open to the foggy mist soaking us, or the fiery whirlwind breath of God in our presence or follow the prophets of God or Jesus himself, that openness can help us turn keys to the thresholds to the Holy – making the ordinary extraordinary.

May we all stop and listen. May we all find the extraordinary in the ordinary as often as we can.