“CHARIOTS OF FIRE”
A sermon preached
Kings 6:8-23, Mk 8:22-29
“Those who are with us are
more than those who are with them”
(2 Kings 6:16)
Some pot holers are crawling deep into the side of a mountain.
After a huge length of time in the dark cold wetness of a narrow tunnel,
the passage they are crawling along begins to broaden out,
the roof of the passage starts to rise –
until they find themselves in a huge cavern inside the hill.
They look about them –
And there high above there is a crack like a chimney –
they can’t see through it,
but what they do see is
“a long thin ray of light falling from it,
and scattering itself in the vast cave, lighting up the dripping walls.
At the top there are even a few ferns growing. Daylight! .
The explorers are suddenly reminded of the open air world above.
They think, if a mere trickle of sunlight can make the huge cave visible,
what must be the power of the sun up there
where he has free scope and nothing stands in his way?
They remember the floods of golden glory pouring on land and sea…..
What mugs we are, they may think,
ever to have taken on this exploration down in the dark…”
(Austin Farrer, The End of Man, Hodder 1975 p 30)
For all of us there are occasions
· when the world seems a dark and foreboding place
· when the light of the Gospel seems strangely dimmed
when we are tempted to deal with the problems of life
using only the dim torchlight of our own abilities.
· when we are tempted to despair
into our life comes just a trace of the light of heaven,
just a hint of the blaze of God’s glory –
and we in the dark recall that
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness overcomes it not”
today’s OT passage the Kings of Israel are – as so often –
seeking to maintain their position against external aggressors.
At this time trouble is coming from the North,
from raiding parties either commissioned by or sympathetic to
Damascus and the King of Aram.
somehow whenever the Arameans launch a raid,
the Israelites are always tipped off in advance,
and when the raiders arrive, they find an ambush –
or the Israelites are simply long gone.
The Arameans are fed up with this,
and look for the person giving their plans away.
The King is told that the culprit is the Prophet Elisha.
Perhaps as a well connected itinerant prophet
he simply gathers good intelligence –
though I think the writer of 2 Kings assumes something more miraculous -
that God has given him insight which amounts to a sort of spiritual radar –
he knows where the invaders are headed for,
and each time there is an attack, he tips off the Israelites
becomes a wanted man –
and the Syrians or Arameans go to Dothan (where Elisha is)
and lay siege to the city in order to capture him.
servant looks at the host of the enemy
encamped in the hills around Dothan,
and thinks the game is up –
What are we to do? He says.
“Those who are with us are more than those who are with them” –
asks God to give his servant spiritual vision –
and sure enough his servant’s eyes are opened to a new level of reality –
and he sees chariots of flame all around the city –
these are the forces of Israel’s God, only seen through the eyes of faith.
story is a good one for anyone fighting battles –
and that means us.
baptism we are called to spiritual conflict –
to be Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants – to fight against evil
course are called to fight not with the weapons of the OT
but with the weapons of love and peace and sacrifice –
powerful weapons but ones which need nerve.
And when your nerve goes,
you can look around and see
nothing but the host of the enemy in the hills –
and feel very afraid.
So sometimes we need to hear Elisha’s words –
“Those who are with us are more than those who are with them”
to have our eyes of faith opened –
and see the chariots of God around us.
and I were
ranked with the most holy saints,
then doubtless we would go through life
always seeing the whole world in the light and presence of God –
always seeing the angels & chariots of fire around and about us.
I guess for most of us we fall short of that sort of sainthood.
We rely on the occasional glimpse, to remind, inspire us.
suspect many of us can think back to occasions
when we have suddenly been aware
of the power and presence of God with us -
some may look back to a day when they were converted -
others may not have such a single defining moment in their life,
but we can perhaps recall days, places, occasions,
when you have suddenly seen the world in anew light -
the day we have seen
· the flaming chariots on the mountain side,
· the bush flaming with light,
· the shaft of light in the murky underground darkness….
Often – as for Elisha’s servant – that vision comes unexpectedly.
But we need to be ready to see it.
Celtic theology has that wonderful phrase – the thin place –
particularly holy place
where the boundary between heaven and earth
seems very thin and porous -
the place where we can be made aware of God’s dimension
Christians we believe that the whole world
is potentially a meeting place with God –
and yet we also know that there are specially thin places
where those before us have seen the light break in –
we do well to go there –
to prayer and worship and Bible study,
to Christian service and care of the needy.
And today we gather at the Lord’s table – a thin place indeed.
remember attending a Communion Service on Iona
and the President leading the service saying to us –
when you come up to the table and kneel,
make space for the Saints –
remember that they are also kneeling unseen beside you at the table.
Behold the hosts of God encamped about us even here in this place!
The ReJesus website has a page
in which people are invited to write in
describing their own personal thin places –
all sorts came in everything from rural retreats
to someone saying God is specially close to her
when she does the washing up.
sent in his favourite thin places in North Wales –
then added a challenging thought -
”I would say from my experience
that thin places and experiences are dangerous,
though; we often glibly talk about Jesus being
'radical and life-changing',
but when it really happens
it can be bloody frightening
and hard to live with.
When it comes down to it,
most of us don't really want our lives changed,
just jazzed up a little.”
in all his power is closer than you think –
though when you see him, it may not only be to reassure
but also to challenge, to enlist in the army of righteousness
Roger, the founder of the Taize Community,
was murdered last week at the age of 90
by an apparently deranged lady
in front of 2500 worshippers at a Taize service.
A terribly sad event.
a man who had lived a saintly life –
working tirelessly for reconciliation in a divided world,
at the very heart of the Taize Community,
in many ways an archetypal thin place
where so many have found God real in a new way.
Yet sadly he was killed there.
places do not guarantee safety, let alone comfort -
but they do guarantee us a knowledge of God’s presence.
we see the mighty host of God about us,
it matters not whether we prosper or struggle, whether we live or die –
for we know then (as Paul puts it in Rom 8),
“that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers,
nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”
to the table as to a thin place,
a place where the love and power of God breaks in,
a shaft of heavenly light into our dark world.
Feel the Saints about you.
Know that the flaming chariots of God’s army circle you.
And go out to meet the enemy –
let him do his worst – the victory is ours.