Harrowing Of Hell
September 23, 2015

Evening Prayer Homily: The Power of Compassion

Preacher: George Moberly
Reading: 2 Kings 6:1–23

Elisha, the “man of God,” was a prolific miracle worker. Through the power of God flowing through him, he interacts with kings and makes predictions that come to pass that affect the worldly powers of his time and place. However it is his individual displays of kindness and compassion to all types of people that draw my attention tonight.

There are at least 11 such interactions described in 2 Kings. He multiplies oil for a poor widow who owes money and multiplies barley loafs for the hungry. He purifies the drinking water for the Jericho villagers. He cures a leper, and he raises a child from the dead. But lest we put Elisha on too high a pedestal, he also calls forth bears to maul some boys who taunt him for being bald.

In tonight’s reading we hear another demonstration of Elisha’s compassion to the weak by miraculously retrieving the expensive axe head from the Jordan so his poor follower can return it to its owner.

Elisha reminds me of someone important to me who recently died. My father was kind and compassionate to everyone. I cannot recall a time or place where he didn’t instinctively reach out to help everyone around him. Much to the chagrin of my mother, this kindness extended to a habit of picking up hitchhikers. He cleared snow from the neighbor’s walks and drives along with his own, with a shovel for years, and a small snow blower as he grew older.

I have had the amazing experience of getting a lot of notes and letters from people Dad knew as I’ve spread the word of his passing, and decades later the memory of his kindness towards them is fresh and new. Here are a couple examples. My friend Tony said, “Senior year in high school when I was doing a dance marathon with Carol Von Holt, he massaged all our feet on the breaks and encouraged us to keep going.” Our neighbor Viki said, “I remember when I was living on Princeton by myself while I was in college and how Clell ferried me over to Gonzaga many a day and was always just there to talk with. He was such a comforting person to know.”

Watching this one-man altruism through my entire life has at times made me feel small, incapable of wanting to help the people around me in the same way. At times as a kid his demonstrations even made me a little jealous of the attention I thought belonged to me.

Experiencing dad’s last days together with him was his final gift to me and has helped me towards bridging this gap. As his life here faded away, he was able to travel back and forth between here and forever. Sometimes he saw his mother and thought that his beloved pet dogs were in the hospital bed with him. I have no doubt that he is now with them. It was a privilege to witness his passing, and I now know in a new way that death is not something to fear. I was able to see that what is beyond co-exists with what is material.

This has opened up a new reality for me: the understanding that God is not up there, out there, or away from here. Until recently I would walk in prayer up to a door, or a dark void, or a great black-grey veil, and pray that God would crack the door or shift the transparency even slightly, so that I could glimpse something of the light and presence on the other side. Something in me has shifted, and I can better sense the continuous presence of the Spirit in all I do. This has made it possible for me to take a few wobbly steps down the road of unconditionally channeling God’s kindness and compassion to those around me.

In the other Elisha story we heard tonight, Elisha deflects the violent forces arrayed against him away and they find themselves surrounded by the army of Israel. Instead of taking advantage of God’s power, Elisha invokes the hospitality customs of the ancient Middle East to see that the Aramean army is fed and lodged for the night.

What in our lives right now is that Aramean army coming to take us away by force? What can we do to call God to demonstrate his presence through us into a world that so needs us to return peace for violence, love for hate. Just as the Aramean’s response was to “no longer come raiding,” who knows what will grow from God’s love we bestow and release into God’s world?