by Rev. Joseph Connolly
“Elisha took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is Yahweh, the God of Elijah?’ When Elisha struck the water, it parted to the one side and to the other, to the right and to the left and Elisha crossed over the river.”— 2 Kings 2:14.
The more things change the more they stay the same. I have what may be proof of that. A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was a member of All Angels Episcopal Church on the Upper West Side in Manhattan.
Several of us would meet with the Pastor, the Rev. Carol Anderson— one of the first women officially ordained in the Episcopal Church— for Bible Study each Wednesday at about 6:00 p.m. After spending an hour with Carol and with Scripture, we’d all go around the corner to a pub on Broadway to talk some more about theology and to knock back a few beers.
Going to a pub to talk about theology and to knock down a few beers is not as radical or different as it sounds. Martin Luther is reputed to have said, “There is no beer in heaven, so let us drink it here.”
And apparently, after the classes he taught at the University of Wittenberg, Luther and the students would repair to the local pub to talk some more about theology and to knock back a few beers. What was that I said? The more things change the more they stay the same.
People practicing what has come to be called pub theology is still with us. This weekend you can see the Public Broadcasting show Religion and Ethics News-weekly on WKSG which will highlight the Kyrie Pub Church in Fort Worth, Texas. That church has worship services in a pub. Since they are already in a pub they don’t even have to go elsewhere for the beer.
That episode of the show will also feature the Pastor and self-proclaimed pub theologian Bryan Berghoef. (By the way, I think in using the title “pub theologian” Berghoef is picking up on Luther’s example.) Berghoef also gathers people to study Scripture and talk about it in a pub in Washington, D.C., again, hence and also, avoiding the necessity of traveling to far to find a beer.
In fact, we in the New York Conference can lay claim to something similar. A new church start a couple of years ago, the Journey United Church of Christ in the Albany area, at first in a hotel bar on Sunday mornings before opening time.
They have become much more conventional. They now meet at the club house of a local Kiwanis club. I’ve never been there, so I don’t know— the Kiwanis may have a bar also.
In any case, pastor Berghoef, who comes out of the Reformed Church in America tradition and whom I’ve quoted before, says this (quote): “Pub Theology gatherings tend to be open spaces for people of all religious traditions, as well as non-religious folks like agnostics, atheists and humanists.” 
Coming back to when I was hanging out in a pub and discussing theology, I need to say two things about that. First, going to the pub put me in a somewhat awkward position. I was not a drinker. So, I ordered soda. But no one seemed to mind. A litt;e like Berghoef crew they were an accepting, non-judgmental group.
Second— and this reiterates the idea that the more things change the more they stay the same— when I was in a pub discussing theology the people with whom I was hanging out where mostly under thirty. The same is true today. The pub crowd is a young crowd.
Now, there is a rumor about young people leaving or not even being present in the church. But when sociologists do in depth interviews with young people this is what they discover. Young people are deeply interested in theology. Young people are deeply interested in leaning about theology. And once well informed, young people are deeply interested in acting on their theological beliefs.
What is it in which they are not particularly interested? They are not interested in the institution called church. Why? They’ve been to churches and/or heard church members talk. From what they see and hear it appears to them and sounds to them as if the environment in churches presents a scarcity of interest in theology, in learning about theology, a scarcity of interest in acting out and on the precepts of theology. (Slight pause)
We find these words in Second Kings: “Elisha took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is Yahweh, the God of Elijah?’ When Elisha struck the water, it parted to the one side and to the other, to the right and to the left and Elisha crossed over the river.” (Slight pause)
This reading addresses a crisis in the history of Israel. The crisis is about the transfer of leadership from one generation to the next, the old guard to new faces. So, when one generation ends how does the disciple, how do the disciples, the next generation get to continue the work?
Indeed, in this passage there is enormous anxiety about the “successor.” Can this successor function in a way comparable to how things have always been? How will this transition from the leader of one generation to the leader in the next generation be made real? (Slight pause.)
There are two important interpersonal things going on here. One is the willingness of Elisha to stay with Elijah. But of equal importance is the willingness of Elijah to allow for Elisha to stay, to be engaged, to remain engaged, to act. Indeed, one key here is the interaction between them on a very personal level.
And then there is the mantel, the symbol which is worn by Elijah and passed on to Elisha. It is a symbol that the presence of God, the work of God will continue. And, if you do not think this is about the work of God please do note, the word Elijah means “My God is Yahweh.” The word, the name Elisha means “My God is salvation.”
Further and as you heard, Elisha, the disciple, asks for a (quote:) “share of your spirit.” But what needs to be noted is the groundwork for this transition in leadership has already been solidified.
Elijah is not just a mentor for Elisha. And Elisha is not just a disciple of Elijah. They are united as one, working together, being together. It is a very personal relationship.
But perhaps more importantly, their work does not center on the preservation of an institution. Their work centers on theology. Their work centers on the work of God.
That brings me to a very interesting point. When we hear the word prophet we think of an individual. In part that’s because some individual prophets left writings. However, in this passage we hear what perhaps strikes us as an odd phrase several times: “company of prophets.”
There is a company of prophets at Bethel. There is a company of prophets at Jericho. There is a company of prophets at the Jordan— three different companies of prophets— all of whom seem to want to discourage Elisha and none of whom seem to want to cross the Jordan with Elijah and Elisha.
But what does that mean— company of prophets? (Slight pause.) Whereas we envision the very word prophet as being singular, it is not in Hebrew. Prophets came in groups. It was often a family business. And the business of the family tended to be to act as defenders of the institution rather than as practitioners of theology. (Slight pause.)
I think there is a message for we in the institutional church here. It is a simple message. Theology needs to come first.
Without theology there is a great danger that whatever mission we think we might have becomes skewed. Indeed, the mission ceases to be theology. The mission becomes the preservation of the institution.
What do we, in the church, need to do to overcome a skewed mission? We need to study theology. We need to live theology.
Indeed, that is what this transition is about: lived theology. And lived theology means not just doing. After all, just doing can wind up a busy work. Lived theology means doing the work of God.
In a conversation with a friend this week, a member of the laity, I asked, “How’s it going.” He said, “Some things are good; some things are bad; some things are strange; the solution is to get out from under the bed and do something about it.”
Which brings me back to a pub filled with young people talking about theology. Young people are interested in theology. They are interested in doing. They are interested in deep, close and very personal relationships. They are interested in crossing the Jordan.
How can we “share the Spirit?” Here’s my suggestion: we can start by studying theology and see where that leads us— us meaning the church. My bet is it will lead us to places beyond our imagining. My guess is studying theology will lead us across the Jordan. Amen.
ENDPIECE— It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Congregational Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “Many of you know I was born into the Roman Catholic tradition and I have often said I have Jesuit training. So, please allow me this Catholic, Jesuit joke. A Franciscan, a Dominican and a Jesuit walk into a bar…. and the lights suddenly go out. The Franciscan praises the chance to live more simply and lights a candle. Having been shown the light, the Dominican gives a learned homily on how God brings light to the world. The Jesuit goes to the basement and fixes the fuses. My friends, if something is broken you have to fix it. In the church there is only one way to fix the fuses. Start with theology.”
BENEDICTION: Let us go in joy and in love and in peace. God reigns. Therefore, let us go in forth in the name of Christ proclaiming the peace of God which surpasses understanding. And may the face of God shine upon us; may the presence of Christ be with us; may the fire of the Spirit burn within us this day and forevermore. Amen.