"The LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind" (v. 1).
Yes, a whirlwind.
The best flying technology of the ancient world.
Today, we have a brand-new airplane that can carry rockets and satellites into space. She has a wingspan longer than a football field, the longest in the world. From nose to end, she measures 238 feet. From the ground to the tip of her vertical tail, she stands 50 feet tall. She weighs 500,000 pounds and is powered by huge passenger jet engines.
Her name: Stratolaunch.
This colossal aircraft is the brainchild of billionaire Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft. The chief executive of the corporation behind the plane says that Allen has a "vision of normalizing access to low Earth orbit." He wants to carry payloads, satellites and humans into space in ways that are more economical and flexible than ground-based rockets. Stratolaunch is scheduled to take flight for the first time in 2019.
No whirlwind will be required.
Stratolaunch will make a connection between Earth and the heavens, taking rockets into space and then safely returning to Earth. Something similar happened when Elijah was airlifted into heaven in a whirlwind. Instead of dying, he went directly to heaven and later returned to Earth in the Transfiguration. He appeared alongside Moses and had a conversation with Jesus, showing the disciples that Jesus was the continuation of what God had started with the Old Testament law and prophets (Mark 9:2-9).
Today, Jews still expect Elijah to return to Earth ahead of the Messiah. A place is set for him when they gather for their annual Passover meal. Elijah is not designed to perform his prophetic work and then blast off on a one-way trip to heaven. Instead, he is meant to safely return to Earth to continue the work that God has called him to do.
When we fly with Elijah on his Stratolaunch, we keep our eyes on both heaven and Earth. We give thanks for the gift of salvation, of course, but we also put our heart, mind and strength into doing God's work in the world. We put effort into changing the world as it is into the world as it should be, remembering that Jesus taught us to pray, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).
On Earth as it is in heaven. With God's help, our challenge is to do whatever we can to get the ways of the world in line with the values of heaven.
We begin this process by carrying forward the work of the biblical prophets. Elisha certainly had this desire when he asked his master Elijah, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit" (v. 9). Knowing that Elijah was about to depart, Elisha wanted the spirit of his master to fill him, so that he could continue his work in the world.
As we listen to the prophets, we hear a clear and consistent cry for justice. Isaiah challenges us to "learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (1:17). Jeremiah criticizes those who "do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper," and "do not defend the rights of the needy" (5:28).
With a similar voice, Hosea calls us to "hold fast to love and justice" (12:6), while Amos says, "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream" (5:24). According to Micah, the Lord requires nothing more of us than to "do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (6:8).
In communities across the country, Christians are challenged to "inherit a double share" of the spirit of these biblical prophets. When we do, we take action to make sure that all of our neighbors are treated fairly, and that the weak and the poor get the help they need. We also reach out to our elected leaders and pressure them to take actions that will benefit everyone, not just the wealthy and the well-connected. Elijah himself became famous for helping a poor widow and her son, who were not only needy but were foreigners -- residents of Zarephath (1 Kings 17).
When we inherit a double share of Elijah's spirit, we enter new territory and help people in need. We join God's prophets in seeking justice, rescuing the oppressed and defending the rights of the poor. This puts us on board Elijah's Stratolaunch, which connects the needs of the world with the values of heaven.
This work continues when we act in ways that are consistent with the ministry of Jesus.
But here's the problem: At times, we neglect the specifics of what Jesus did in the world, focusing instead on his sacrificial death and resurrection. Have you ever noticed that one of our greatest statements of faith, the Apostles' Creed, says nothing about the ministry of Jesus? It begins with the words, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth: and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary." Nothing wrong with any of that. These words are foundations of our faith.
But what comes next? "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried." Wait a second!
The entire life of Jesus is jumped over, from "born of the Virgin Mary" to "suffered under Pontius Pilate." Where is the teaching, preaching, healing and miracles of Jesus the Christ?
Leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) tried to fill this gap when they wrote a brief statement of faith in the 1980s. The section on Jesus begins with the affirmation that Jesus is both fully human and fully God. But then it goes on to say, "Jesus proclaimed the reign of God: preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives, teaching by word and deed and blessing the children, healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted, eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners and calling all to repent and believe the gospel."
The point is this: What Jesus did is every bit as important as who Jesus is. His preaching, teaching and healing changed the world, as did his "eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners and calling all to repent and believe the gospel." When we believe in Jesus, we don't only believe that he is fully human and fully God. We also believe that his ministry brought the world a little closer to heaven, and that it gives us an example of how we are supposed to act in the world.
Lynn Fix is a part of our Divinity ministry that every Christmas for the past 50 years has brought our world a little closer to heaven and Lynn has given us an example of how we are supposed to act in the world.
In 1968, 50 years ago, Pastor Beohm asked Lynn Fix and Mary Ellen Murray who back then sang in our choir, to decorate the sanctuary for Christmas. They recruited other choir members, especially men, to help them. Wreaths, garlands, and lights needed to be hung.
Lynn was 36 years old when she started and told me she thought she was going to have a heart attack every time Harry Herman, Glen Sellers, or Paul Klemme would climb the step ladders to hang the decorations. She was terrified one of them would fall.
In those years we had five trees that all needed to be strung with lights and decorated. We have now downsized to 3 pre-lit trees that are not decorated.
Lynn has 2 favorite memories. The first year all the garlands went up along with all the wreaths and the lights were turned on. She said, “It was so beautiful.” Then about 18 years ago, John Smeets invented and installed a pulley system that eliminated the need for step ladders for the most part. “Thank goodness for him.”
Over the past 50 years all the decorations have been slowly replaced including replacing the bows with wire ribbons. There are now 12 wreaths in the sanctuary, 4 wreaths in the parlor, 2 wreaths in the narthex, 4 wreaths in the hallways, and 2 wreaths in the entry’s for a total of 24 wreaths hung every year during the week before the first Sunday in Advent and taken down before the first Sunday in Epiphany.
Lynn’s sister, Elaine Schuster, was her assistant decorator for the first 10 years of this century until she passed on. Eric Schumacker has been in training for the last 8 years and is in charge for the first time this year. Lynn has prepared him well.
Lynn shared with me a note she received from Pastor Don in 1981… Dear Lynn and Mary Ellen and all your Christmas elves’!
In the Lord’s name I want to thank you for the lovely church decorations. It again looks so special --- heavenly! We are appreciative of all your time and skills!
God fill your Christmas with beauty and joy and the New Year with blessings. Gratefully – Pastor Don.
When we get on this ride that bridges heaven and earth, we thank Lynn and all her helpers over the past 50 years for helping to move our world a little closer to heaven every Christmas season.