“Refuse To Shrink a Vision Of Tomorrow To The Boundaries Of Yesterday”

(Quote by Joan Chittister)

Sister Joan Chittister is an American Benedictine nun whose writings and teachings display a deep insight and wisdom. We can call her a modern-day sage and prophet. Her books and speeches have changed countless people’s lives and thinking.

She is also famous for her quotes. Today I invite you to consider this one:

“Refuse To Shrink a Vision Of Tomorrow To The Boundaries Of Yesterday”

If there is one thing I personally struggle with intensely it is to let go of the past. I have to tell you it is hard to let go of your culture and a large part of your identity, its even harder to let go of your hurts and memories of wrongdoing.

But the message we get from all the prophets, ancient and modern, is that we need to let go—to truly let go, so we can move on to the future. The alternative is to remain stuck in the past.

This is true for us as individuals, finding our way through life. It is also true for churches and communities and whole societies.

The sure sign of this is when you hear someone say; “but that is not the way we used to do things.”

When challenged with the present it is almost inevitable that we start dreaming of the past. The past is rarely as great as one remembers it. In fact, much of it that sucked we simply disregard.

When these two figures of the Bible, Elisha and Elijah, interact, especially here in the last days of Elijah’s great life, they leave us with a message.

Elisha, the chosen prophet of Israel, had been picked to succeed Elijah. For some time Elisha had been a kind of prophet-in-training under the tutelage of Elijah. But Elijah knew the time had come to allow a new generation—a new choice—a new visionary, to take over.

The student felt ill equipped and caught up in the greatness of Elijah’s presence, he did not want to let go of the past. He even sounds rather childish and immature. He wanted more Elijah-time but it was now Elisha-time. And time was up!

This story is fascinating because it is most definitely a symbolic story depicting Elijah as the new Moses and Elisha as the new Joshua. Moses who led the people out of Egypt from slavery to freedom and Joshua, who took over the leadership from him and led the people across the Jordan River into the land promised to them.

God calls Elisha, not to become a clone of Elijah, but to be part of God’s ongoing story with the people.

And so Elisha and Elijah cross the River Jordan;

“When they had crossed [the River Jordan], Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’”

Now they are standing on the wrong side of the Jordan.

His wish is granted and Elijah is taken up into the heavens, casting off his mantle which Elisha rushes to gather. Then he strikes the river with it asking “Where is Elijah’s God…?” -and at that moment the waters part and he crosses over into the Promised Land.

The Moses/Joshua drama is replayed here to remind the people of the continuity of God’s presence in their story.

Elisha is now affirmed as the ordained prophet of Israel. Through these symbolic actions he is elevated to the status of the two giants of history, preceding him, namely, Moses and Elijah.

Fast forward a few hundred years. Who else comes to the River Jordan, not with the fanfare of the parting of the waters—but with a baptism with fire when a voice calls out, “this is my beloved”?

And so one can recognize the artistry of storytelling in the Bible. When we listen carefully we pick up the golden thread.

God calls us to live in faith, moving forward while remembering the past, but not getting stuck in it—not being limited by it, at times, letting go of it.

This is the ultimate story of the Bible, namely, that there is always a reason to approach the future with hope. Circumstances have no bearing on the fact that we are God’s Beloved and we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul says this;

(Philippians 3:13}

“…forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead…”

We can let go of the past. We truly can. In fact, we must.

We have to say goodbye to Moses for a Joshua to emerge.

We have to say goodbye to Elijah for Elisha to emerge.

We have to say goodbye to Elisha for Jesus to emerge.

We have to say goodbye to Jesus for the disciples to emerge.

We have to let go of whatever it is that keeps us holding onto a past that is gone forever and embracing the future with all of its promise.

There is no future in making the past great again. We can only tackle the future in faith and make the best of it—with God’s love as our compass and assurance. Amen.

2Kings 2

2Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.2Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel.

9-13

9 When they had crossed [the River Jordan], Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ 10He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’ 11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ When he had struck the water, the [the River Jordan] was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.