My reflection that was part of the closing worship at Eastern Synod's Big Day Out in Trinity Park, Ipswich today.
A reading from 2 Kings 2, verses, 23 to 24 (NIV)
“23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. “Get out of here, baldy!” they said. “Get out of here, baldy!” 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.”
It’s been an interesting week, an interesting few weeks. Terror at a pop concert in Manchester, repeated on a bridge and in restaurants in London. An election that has left us in a very interesting place. The idea of feasts and festivals is about celebrating. And, despite all the struggles, I think we have got an awful lot to celebrate in the church. And I want to celebrate it. That’s why I think a day like today is great. And that’s why I recognise that we have a God who is great. Our God is awesome.
But somehow it seems that, at this particular point, we also need to say something about the context in which we currently find ourselves. And that is why I have chosen to read a brief passage, just a couple of verses, that I think I can guarantee that none of you were expecting.
Elisha is annoyed. Elisha is the prophet and he has been doing a bit of good. We didn’t read about it, but if we had read the few verses just before the ones we did read, we would have about the problems with the water supply and how Elisha became God’s instrument for sorting that one out. And what’s his reward? He is called names, and not just by anybody, by small boys. Hey baldy! Well, Elisha is not only good at blessings. He can do cursings as well. And so a couple of bears are invoked and 42 of these lads meet a horrible end. As Brueggemann says: “The incident put Israel on notice. This Elisha is dangerous and is not to be trifled with, not by small boys, not by kings, not by anybody.”
Now, to be honest, I am not really sure what you do with this kind of passage. The name-calling shouldn’t have happened, but the response seems extreme beyond words.
I chose the passage because I want to say, in a similar way, that I am not really sure what you do with some of the stuff that has been going on of late. And I am talking more about terrorism than elections. But there is a lot of stuff there in the mix. I learned this last week that one of the victims of the Manchester attack, Chloe Rutherford, was part of our United Reformed Church at South Shields. What can we say to such a situation? Nothing really. But we find ourselves in a time of lament, not feasts and festivals. Except that the two are mixed up together, as is demonstrated by the second Manchester concert, the one in memory, poignantly the day after the London stuff.
I don’t know why, any more than you do. It is certainly nothing to do with Islam as it is properly followed. And I don’t know what to say. But I do know that we remain people of hope. We remain those who follow a risen Lord. And we must play our full part in sharing God’s love with those whom we encounter, with discovering how to live out that abundant life that God offers, with recognising the pain, and the hurt, and the struggle, but also seeing the possibilities and the opportunities and responding to the challenges. And so, as we go into a world that has more armed police on our streets than normal, that is trying to sort out a changed and uncertain political landscape, that is going to bring Brexit, whatever that may mean, let us go with the joy of our feasting and our "festivalling".
Nehemiah is another who had quite a tough time, but he reminds us, Nehemiah 8:10 – for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Now there’s a good mission statement: the joy of the Lord is your strength.