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Who Tells Your Story
The Reverend Krystal Leedy
June 30, 2019
1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21; 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
A Reading from 1 Kings
Then the Lord said to [Elijah], ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.
So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was ploughing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’ Then Elijah said to him, ‘Go back again; for what have I done to you?’ He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
A reading from 2 Kings
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel.
Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’ As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The lectionary fascinates me. It allows preachers to create art within constraints, which I think is much more interesting than picking your favorite passage from Scripture and just preaching about that one. It makes it feel more like commissioned verbal art. I recognize that the lectionary is fascinating to ME but probably is not all that fascinating to YOU. So we are going to read two passages this morning, both in the lectionary, but there are a few chapters between them. I’m happy to explain to you why this happened the way that it did, but I guarantee that it’s probably not that interesting of a story. It involves my own human fallacy and the differences between the semicontinuous and complementary tracks of the lectionary. I can some eyes glazing over, so I’ll include a link in the manuscript of this sermon on our website if you’re nerdy like me: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/ministries/worship/call-to-worship-publication/lectionary-frequently-asked-questions/
There’s an album that I cannot stop listening to. If you had walked into my office two weeks ago, you’d know it. If you had been with me on errands with me in my car, you’d know it. If you ask my family, you’d know it. I recognize that it’s old news. It’s a compilation that was starting to be written in 2009 and it was on Broadway in 2015. That’s right.
Its name is Alexander Hamilton.
I never thought I would see the musical, Hamilton. I figured that it was something that would stay on Broadway in perpetuity and I would never get the opportunity to experience it. I ignored the sing-alongs that my friends would participate in and avoided listening to the music because I wanted to see it and resigned myself that I would never be able to fly to New York to see this phenomenon that was sweeping the nation in song.
Four years later, UPC member Sarah Fife would have an extra ticket.
I cannot tell you how amazing this musical is. It’s way more fascinating than the lectionary. It’s the story of the treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, and the characters that surround him in American history.
I went, I saw, I laughed, I cried, I was moved. I leaned over to Sarah during intermission and just said, “They don’t stop.” The cast moves through this story so fast, with dancing, singing, moving stage pieces, that you feel a bit exhausted by the end. Exhausted but moved.
And I went on StubHub that night and got tickets for my husband and me to enjoy this show for our anniversary. He leaned over to me during intermission and said, “They don’t stop.”
The first song in this musical is a song called “Alexander Hamilton,” and the music ramps up, his narrative is rapped, the violins start, to a point when Aaron Burr asks “What’s your name, man?” to which Alexander Hamilton appears and a single spotlight appears and Alexander replies, “My name is Alexander Hamilton.”
And the whole room exploded. People were cheering and applauding and were overjoyed to see the first treasury secretary of the United States. It took a good minute for the music to start back up again. I have never seen a group of people so excited to learn about American history.
After this experience, I decided to look up when this musical started, and I found a video from 2009 when Lin-Manuel Miranda was performing at the White House Evening of Poetry, Music and the Spoken Word. He was supposed to perform from his hit musical “In the Heights,” but he decided to perform a song from his new hip-hop album called The Hamilton Mixtapes. He sang the title track with a single piano player, and he got to the point once again where the pianist was ramping up the music, hitting the keys with all of the force he could muster, moving his head with the beat, and the line came, “What’s your name, man?” And Lin Manuel-Miranda stood in the middle of that stage and replied, “His name is Alexander Hamilton.” And the whole audience laughed. Yes, even the President and the first lady. They all laughed. Now granted, the stark contrast from the music ramping up to a single quiet chord and a man quietly singing his name is sort of humorous when you see it, but it was so fascinating to hear the laughter. After the song, the audience applauded, but they were still giggling with one another.
I can’t imagine what that six-year journey was like for Lin Manuel-Miranda, to have a group of people decked out in jewels and gowns, tuxedos and watches that drip wealth, a group of people that included the President of the United States laugh at you. It’s not that people didn’t like it, but it felt more like, “Ooookay, good luck on your musical about the US treasury.”
Obviously, ten years later, it finally crossed the Mississippi River and made its debut in Austin Texas, into my ears, into my heart, into my head and the music followed me to Mo-Ranch.
So while Lin Manuel-Miranda was writing Hamilton, I was building relationships with people at Youth Celebration, the high school conference at Mo-Ranch. It’s kind of a musical as well. Our songs include 500 Miles, Star Trekkin’, Wavin’ Flag, and a bit of Baby Shark thrown in for good measure. Energizers, a Presbyterian camp and conference tradition, were a part of our repertoire. And this energizer genre was also mixed in with the same breath as Sanctuary, Prince of Peace, Come Thou Fount, and a new to us song called Paz, paz, paz. Our worship songs looked a little different than they do around here, until we started singing songs like “Glory to God” and “Listen to the Word that God has Spoken.” Because these songs are in our hymnal, our common musical repertoire, I thought of you all standing and singing the act of praise as we passed along these words to a new generation of young people. The worship leader talked about how the Psalms in the middle of Scripture are the songs of our people, how they express so many emotions that we can relate to. We laughed at ourselves when the music leader encouraged us to move our hips. We nodded when the Psalmist praised God’s creation as we looked out over the Guadalupe River. We giggled as we did silly dance moves, and when the leadership came off the stage and Friday finally hit and we were done with the conference, we all looked at each other and proclaimed, “Wow. We didn’t stop.”
The last song of the musical Hamilton is “Who Lives, Who dies, Who tells your story,” and if you’re thinking what the connection is between all three of these items, it’s things that you can’t control. You can’t control who lives, who dies, and who tells your story. But, we know who can control those things. Before Elijah went to the cave at Mount Horeb, he prayed for God to kill him because he was so afraid for his life. Elijah couldn’t control how Jezebel was talking about him. But Elijah lived because God still had work for him to do, the work of passing on the ministry to the next generation of prophets.
I don’t know why Lin Manuel-Miranda wanted to write a musical about Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton’s life was pretty fascinating, but it seems odd that he would choose this person. I mean there were virtuous things to lift up about him, but surely there are things that everyone would like to forget. He’s not a larger than life character. He’s so supremely human. He’s just all of it, embodying a relatable human, immortalized in music, so that the story is easily passed on, so that we can tell the next generation about this weird founding father whose face in on our $10 bills.
But the beauty in this musical is how he not only told the story of Alexander Hamilton, how he created catchy tunes that will stick with us for a long time, but the casting of the show really makes it what it is. The producers are fairly insistent on non-white actors playing lead roles in this show, portraying the founding fathers as truly American, allowing for all voices to be heard, and re-imagining a historical story that had a certain meaning when they wrote the words “all men are created equal.” This musical opens up an interpretation of some of our founding documents that encourages that when they write “all men,” they really mean all people, all of humanity: men, women, rich, poor, gay, straight, red, brown, yellow, black and white. All people play roles in the story of America, and we need to be lifting up the people who traditionally have supporting roles into leading roles.
And this re-imagining, this re-casting makes the story richer and more beautiful. Lin Manuel-Miranda highlights Alexander Hamilton’s immigration status because Hamilton was an immigrant to the United States and wrote many founding documents that we would not have had it not been for a community of people who recognized his gifts. The community leaders of the Caribbean island of St. Croix collected money and sent him to the mainland. It is this kind of imagination that Lin Manuel-Miranda possesses, the creativity to imagine a story usually told by, for, and about white men and make it truly for everyone. The American Revolution does not diminish in importance if it is told by non-white Americans. The American spirit lives in all people who set foot on this country. And maybe the founding fathers would be furious to find Lin Manuel-Miranda told their story in a new way, but they have no control over who lives, who dies, or who tells their story.
And we get to reap the rewards of this re-imagining. We can see ourselves in the story and also imagine how others may imagine themselves in our story.
So I wonder, if this story of a prophet named Elijah was the passing on the mantle to a younger prophet named Alisha. And I wonder if we cast the story differently how it would change.
So Elijah set out from there, and found Alisha daughter of Shaphat, who was ploughing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of her, and she was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by her and threw his mantle over her. She left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.’ She returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, she boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then she set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Alisha were on their way from Gilgal.
Then Elijah said to her, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’ But she said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on. Fifty men and women of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Alisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Alisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’ As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Alisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when she could no longer see him, she grasped her own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
She picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. She took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ When she had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Alisha went over.
Pronouns make a difference. And even though it would have been easy for me to say that those who identify as women could simply read themselves into this narrative, it means more when it’s said out loud, when it is re-imagined, when the possibility of a man passing along the knowledge of his trade and his calling to a woman is no longer taboo.
Because when we ordain ministers of word and sacrament, when we ordain elders, when we ordain deacons, we do not segregate the hands that are placed upon the one being ordained. We do not separate male and female in ordinations and we shouldn’t in mentorship either. This should be the place where we are re-imagining the narratives of Scripture. We should have a big enough imagination to think that yes, a man could spend his life doing something and pass on his work to a woman and that she could take on the mantle and run with it and then tell his story. Because Alisha was the only one there when the whirlwind of fire came and took Elijah away. And someone had to tell his story.
At the end of Alexander Hamilton’s life, Eliza Hamilton picks up the mantle along with Eliza’s sister, Angelica. They leave a legacy that is worthy of a being a part of the narrative. So much so, that it is still uncertain to me if this musical was actually more about her than him. She raises money for the Washington Monument, she raises her children as the legacy of the Hamilton name, she interviews each solider that fought alongside her husband in the Revolutionary War, she begins an orphanage. She does so much to tell his story. And then Lin Manuel-Miranda tells us hers and gives her the last word.
So many people lie in the background of the biblical narrative, but the beauty is that we have been called to reimagine a world in which the people who have power give it to the next generation. And we pass the mantle not in the way that we have given it before: just only from father to son, but as a story for all people across all barriers that we world tries to put in God’s path.
In our thin places, places like Mo-Ranch, we get to pass on the mantle of the story of our community. We get to re-imagine these texts for a generation filled with technology that the people of old could never have asked or imagined. And God is big enough to take our re-imagination. God has been trying to extend God’s story to all people, and it is humans that have made that smaller. So, when I’m at Mo-Ranch during energizers and I see a woman in her 60s, after having a double mastectomy, jumping up and down next to a 16 year old boy or a man who has had a stroke making sure that he waves the flag next to a girl who is less than half his size in order that they might know the love of God. Or a woman’s imprinted wrinkles from her scowl lines fading into laughter. Or a teenager putting together a hygiene kit for someone in need instead of being on their phone, that’s the Kingdom of God. It is in the play, the storytelling, the songs of our people that we find the love of God, the joy of Christ, the Spirit that cannot let us go. And that’s a story I can’t wait to be a part of.
And we get to continue to tell that story here with the next generation. And we seek out those opportunities. For our hope is not that the church would look exactly like it did when we were kids, but that it would be a fuller picture of the Kingdom of God, with the Table extended, and yes, with the words of institution still spoken, but with the voices speaking those words making them new, with music that we all grew up hearing and new songs to be sung, with energizers still energizing, but maybe just maybe, we’re moving our hips a little more. Just you wait, just you wait.
For this church, for all people, for the world that we cannot even imagine,
Thanks be to God.