First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
Meredith, New Hampshire
February 15, 2015
2 Kings 2:1-14
2:01 Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.
2:02 Elijah 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.
2:03 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
2:04 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho.
2:05 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”
2:06 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.
2:07 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.
2:08 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
2:09 When they had crossed, 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.”
2:10 He 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.”
2:11 As 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.
2:12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” but when he could no long see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in to pieces.
2:13 He picked up the mangle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.
2:14 He 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 water was parted to one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
New Revised Standard Version
9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,
9:3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.
9:4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
9:5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
2:6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
2:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
2:8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
2:9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
New Revised Standard Version
Looking Forward in Faith
An anniversary celebration affords a congregation a mountaintop moment. Today is a gift from God—a time to review the journey that brought you to this time and this place. In the great sweep of your two-hundred-year history (that’s over 10,400 Sunday morning services), there have surely been many other moments when those who were here before you prayed prayers of thanksgiving to God for the gift of this community of ministry and mission.
A file in the Conference Center preserves your 175th Anniversary booklet from 1990. You have come a long, long way from February 20, 1815, when thirteen men and women presented letters from other churches and signed the covenant. The “Congregational Church of Christ in Center Harbor and Meredith, Third Division” was born. Consider the moves made from the founding to 1842, when the church building was moved to this present location.
The changes in the past--numerical growth, the arrival and departures of thirty-two pastors, and the remodeling and renovation of the church facilities are notable in your history. The stand taken against slavery in 1841 and against “the use of ardent spirits as a beverage” in 1842 were moments when your ancestors spoke up against the evils of their day. And, if we gaze back from this vantage point, you can surely see some of the valleys and hills that this congregation has traversed to arrive at this day.
We give thanks for those thirteen men and women whom God gathered here in 1815. Just imagine them dealing with the harshness of a New Hampshire winter in the days before the many conveniences that we have now. They had to be a stalwart and sturdy lot! They followed the call of Christ to create a new community of faith. Yes, surely there were tears and heartbreaks for those who came before you—yet God always saw your ancestors through their deepest distress.
God has blessed this community of faith with perseverance and hope in the midst of death. We might spend the remainder of this morning reminiscing and remembering—worthy activities to be sure.
In this worship, as we gather on this momentous day of celebration, we give thanks and praise to God, who creates the church, to Jesus Christ, who is the Head of the church on earth and in heaven, and to the Holy Spirit who sustains and sanctifies the church in every age.
But, it is true that sometimes it is far easier for a congregation to linger in its past than it is to embrace its future. I have seen that so often as churches gather to celebrate and commemorate the paths that they have traversed.
I once participated in the 150th Anniversary for a small country church in my ministry in Missouri. The Sunday service was filled with wonderful memories and a long historical recital. A month later, the little church decided to disband. Their journey together was over.
From the heights to the depths! What a sad reality! The anniversary that might have served as a springboard to the future became the reason for pulling apart and ending the journey together.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It is a fitting Sunday for your celebration. The biblical texts draw us toward the future. In this mountain top moment, the scriptures speak of change and hint toward a future that is coming to you. It may be dimly glimpsed, but God’s future is sure and secure.
When the prophet Elijah prepared to leave in that mysterious whirlwind, his apprentice, Elisha, was steadfast and determined to accompany him. Even though Elisha had permission from Elijah to keep his distance, to stop in a more secure place—like Gilgal or Bethel or Jericho—Elisha was committed to the journey.
The two prophets—one seasoned and the other an eager novice—went even to the wilderness, to bank of the River Jordan—back to the edge of the Promised Land. And the waters parted when they were struck by Elijah’s mantle, so that both men crossed over on dry ground to the other side.
A big change was coming. Neither could predict precisely what it would mean, but they kept on in community because of Elisha’s persistence. He was loyal to the end. He had been called to that ending—to embrace the change and to find his own calling to the future on the far side of the Jordan.
There the chariot of fire and the horses of fire separated the two of them; and then, when the whirlwind swept Elijah away, Elisha kept the vigil and he cried out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”
When old Elijah was gone, Elisha tore his clothes—in grief, perhaps—but also because he needed new garments now, for a new day of prophetic service had dawned. He grasped the mantle of Elijah; and lo, and behold, when he struck the water, the Jordan parted again so that he could cross over on dry ground and join the company of witnessing prophets on the other side.
Friends in faith, I believe this is your story, too. You see, there is a powerful mantle of ministry that falls and must picked up in every age. In every change and every ending, there is a powerful new beginning.
God gives us a future. Yours is story of sticking together even when you have had major challenges to face. You have claimed the mantle of the prophets who were before you. You still strike waters and serve on this side of the Jordan, baptizing and feeding upon the Bread of Life, singing faith whether in seasons of celebration or sorrow, and serving the needs of all God’s children in this world.
Your 200th Anniversary Day is your transfiguration day. You are on the mountain with Jesus and Peter and James and John. You see Elijah and Moses right before your eyes. The holy ones—the saints of old—the law and the prophets are gathered here with Jesus. The past touches the present and moves you toward God’s future. Jesus does not desire that we build some booths, sacred shrines for living in the past; but he summons and empowers us to a future that is back down in the valley.
We hear the voice on this mount of transfiguration, “This is my son, the Beloved; listen to him!” The challenge for the church in every age is to listen long amid the various voices and the noises—to listen even for days and decades and sometimes for centuries—to listen as long as it takes to get our direction from Jesus.
Listen to him—not to the fears that would hold you back or keep you captive in a past that does not transform the present. Listen—listen for Jesus, for you are his church today.
This is a day for transfiguration and change. This is the starting place for the next leg of your church’s journey. The valley below long ago and the one with you here in Meredith are not easy places to serve. For Jesus, a cross loomed large, and for the disciples who would witness his death, there was a crucified power and a propelling hope that came through connecting his suffering with the sufferings of the world and the groaning of the creation.
Today, God needs the First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Meredith to be alive with faith, hope, and love.
God in Christ needs you to embrace the future and to be an agent of hope and transformation in the world.
God needs you to invite those who have no community into this one, that you may all be one in Christ.
God needs you to go out and give your lives away in loving service to those who feel unloved and unnoticed in this world. On the near side of the Jordan—on this side of Winnipesaukee—you have a mantle of faith that leads you forward in ministry, in mission, and in love.
God gives you a purpose beyond maintaining your memories. God calls you from the sanctuary to the streets, from the comfortable places to the cross, from the old to the new, from death to life.
May God continue to bless you, Dear Friends in Christ, in this journey that still lies before you. My prayers and those of the other churches of this Conference
and the whole United Church of Christ are with you now and into that future.
Thanks be to God for the gift of the past two hundred years of ministry and mission.
Thanks be to God for the future that continues to unfold in faith. Let us go there together!