Sermon – Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

2 Kings 2:1-12; Mark 9:2-9

Farmville Presbyterian Church

February 11, 2024

– We have all had help to get where we are


I need to tell you something that might come off as a bit odd, but it is important for you to know that you did not get here today by yourself.  Some of you also came with someone else so that might not seem so odd to you, but those of you who did come alone to church today might be wondering if the pastor is paranoid or just weird.  No, no one as far as I know is following you.  No is waiting out in the car or lurking behind the bushes.  This also applies to me, however, and to all of us watching or here in person.  None of us got here by ourselves.

I needed help to get here today.  While I did manage to dress myself, there are lots of other things that need to happen in my family to make life work day in and day out.  We are in the middle of moving, so that need is exponential.  None of the last four moves that we have made would have happened without getting others to come and help.  Some pieces of furniture are just too big to move by yourself.  I have the umbilical hernia repair to prove it.  By next weekend, we should be done with the move, thankfully.  But even that is not really where I am trying to go today.  We did not get here by ourselves.  That help extended far beyond those friends and family who might help us get up and get going.

I am thinking more the spirits.  Now, this is getting more interesting.  How would your life be different if your great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother had married Theophanes or Argyle instead of William?  This really a striking point.  One seeming small change in a distant family link would have had tremendous impact on who we are, where we live, what we do, the life we know.  It could be that not all that much would have changed geographically, and socially some people in history did not seem to have much say so, but even just the genetic differences may have altered your very existence if you still existed at all.  If that one link in your altered family tree could not have children, well, that might make a different story for you.

And our help today goes even deeper.  This is the good stuff.  This is where we get to true community.  Who made you the person you are today?  Yes, family was probably big, and whatever your family looked like played a huge role in making you who you are with successes and even failures, but I am even more interested in those along the way who inspired you and challenged you and encouraged you and taught you and guided you and gave you what you needed to be and to do what you are today.

Just after I got married, I moved to Crewe (a block down from my house today – that’s a different sermon about how far we get in life) and I joined the Pryor Memorial Presbyterian Church where my wife was raised.  There was an amazing older lady there who was known for her spiritual presence, Mrs. Sally Wingo.  She was a spiritual force of a person the likes of which I had never known.  She had energy and learning and presence and teaching, and she saw me as someone who might go down a greater path.  I did not know her necessarily all that long, but she made an impact that inspired me to follow the path that I did.  She also gave me resources and guidance for the journey.  This was the crucial time of my life when the “lightning bolt” was looking to hit, and I was spending time with God in deeper and richer ways than I had ever known.  Another lady in that church was moved enough by our desire to go into ministry that she offered to help us pay for our healthcare while in school.  Generosity is an enormous way of moving feet in different directions.  I went to Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary for my Master of Divinity because I could go for free.  They had a fund for people who had Greek or Latin in college to go to seminary for free.  I had both at Hampden-Sydney with Dr. Wayne Tucker’s help, with my background in Latin in high school because of Shirley Rash who got her Latin at H-SC while she was at Longwood and who encouraged me to look at Hampden-Syndey, too.  I did not get here by myself.

This is exactly useful for the passages we encountered today.  It is hard not to be enthralled with the story of Elijah and Elisha, two of the greatest prophets.  Elijah has always held a special place in God’s story as the man who never died in any usual sense.  Amazing story after amazing story was the life of Elijah as he represented God’s righteous anger toward the wickedness of his day.  He is the prophet who stood up against the army of prophets employed by Ahab and Jezebel in the service to the pagan god Baal.  Any day that ends with calling down fire from heaven is a big day.  The stories about him were legends, and people could even be intimidated around him, but one person who followed him faithfully was his apprentice, Elisha.  Talk about someone who was shaped by someone else: Elisha was minding his own business working the fields until Elijah walked up and called him to follow.  This was like Jesus calling the fishermen – a complete and sudden life change.  And Elisha followed and learned and grew as a prophet person… until today’s story.

As Elijah is about to be swept up to heaven, he asks Elisha what he should receive for his dedicated service and to carry on.  He wants a double-portion of the spirit that Elijah had.  Even Elijah is taken back and seems to doubt that Elisha really understands for what he is asking, but Elisha is resolute.  Elijah does not even know whether it WILL happen, but he does know how he will know.  “If you see me headed on to heaven, then it will happen.”  And he does.  This is a profound example of others making you the person you become.  And there is one even more amazing example to me.

We do not usually associate Jesus with someone who needed the help of others to become the person that he was.  While sometimes he seems to brush off his parents and their place in his life, they were very important to him and absolutely taught him how to be and do in the world.  His mother continued to play a great role in his life even to his last day when he entrusted her to the care of John while hanging on the cross.  But this particular scene of Jesus just before he heads to Jerusalem is today’s story.  This is what we have called the Transfiguration of Jesus when he takes on a superhuman appearance before a few of his disciples and has a conversation with Elijah and Moses.  As Jesus prepares to enter Jerusalem for his last week of life, he turns to these giants of Jewish history for help.  Elijah and Moses are probably the two biggest figures in the history besides David.  They were prophets.  Elijah was pivotal for his work in a faithfulness Israel and keeping the candle burning, and Moses was the great deliverer out of slavery and the giver of the Law.  When Jesus needed companionship, guidance, encouragement, and help, he turned to them.  The assistance of these long-gone heroes of faith was one part of his journey to his death and our life.

It is easy to forget sometimes how much we have relied on others through the years.  America’s rugged individualism makes it hard to ask for help or to admit how much help we have received.  I found out this week that the assistance programs for those struggling with addiction that we help support has withered to just one group from three.  AA and NA both offered needed sessions here every week, and now there is just one NA group.  And I don’t think that is because people are no longer struggling as much with Alcohol or Narcotics.  In fact, I bet there is just as much need, if not more.  Part of today’s message is about how we have received help ourselves from those who have gone before us, but it is also about how we can continue to help others to become more and more their best selves.

If we realize how much we have been given in life, it is easier to invest ourselves in that blessing for others.  We have all been given so much, and God has equipped us to do so much more for others, if we are willing.

This is about friends and neighbors and strangers and even our enemies.  In fact, the biggest impact we might have is for someone who stands against us.  Grace is amazing for a reason.  It changes lives because it is love for the sake of love.  This kind of support and help extends far beyond us, also, as we think about how we as a church, a community, and a nation might assist those in need right now.  You have probably heard about the fiasco in Washington as we try to give assistance to others in critical need but some are more interested in playing politics than helping real people in real need in this real time.  Does it really matter your political leanings when we have the need to stand with others on the shoulders of God’s people who have come before?

Do not take today’s Souper Bowl ministry too lightly, either.  We are giving tangible, meaningful support to our community.  Real people will receive real help right here in the area.  I have been assisting in the food distribution through the schools at the fireman’s arena for a while now and the lines extend far outside the doors.  As the families come through, though, so many are truly grateful for the assistance.  There are so many vessels of grace in our community, so many ways for us to be involved in one way or another, so many ways that we might make the life of someone else better.  Do something this week to remind someone else how special they are, how much they are loved, and how you are rooting for them.  You might even change their life.

To God be the glory.  Amen.