It is able to lift a payload of more than 64 tons (141,000 pounds) into orbit, twice as much as the Delta IV Heavy, and at one-third the cost, according to SpaceX. The payload the Falcon Heavy carried into space on its maiden voyage is a Tesla Roadster with a dummy pilot, codenamed Starman, playing an endless loop of David Bowie’s song of the same name.
Watching the launch was spectacular! The entire launch pad and surrounding area glowed with a brilliant white light that lit the sky around it. What fascinated me the most, is that the rocket boosters returned to the launchpad in perfect synchronicity, ready to be used for another launch into space!
Interestingly, this morning’s Scriptures describe another type of launching experience: Elijah’s whirlwind trip into heaven, and, in the gospel of Mark, the prophet’s later appearance with Jesus and Moses, also surrounded by a brilliant light whiter than any star.
According to 2 Kings:
"The LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind" (v. 1).
A whirlwind. A whirlwind was an impressive flying technology of the ancient world.
Taken up by this whirlwind, alive, Elijah becomes a powerful connection between heaven and earth.
The Falcon will make a connection between Earth and the heavens too, taking payloads and/or humans into space and then safely returning to Earth.
Something similar happened when Elijah was airlifted into heaven in a whirlwind. Instead of dying, he went directly to heaven and later returned to Earth in the Transfiguration.
Elijah appeared alongside Moses and had a conversation with Jesus, showing the disciples that Jesus was the continuation of what God had started with the Hebrew Torah and prophets (Mark 9:2-9).
In fact, today Jews still expect Elijah to return to Earth ahead of the Messiah. This is why a place is set for Elijah at their annual Passover meal. According to tradition, Elijah is not designed to perform God’s prophetic work and then blast off on a one-way trip to heaven. Instead, Elijah is meant to safely return to Earth to continue the work that God has called him to do.
Like the Falcon Heavy Rocket- from ground to sky and safely back again.
The prophet Elijah is a living link between Earth and heaven, between our world and God's.
Elijah helps us to remain grounded and connected to God, proving that heaven is not just about "the afterlife," but is about the impact of the daily and ongoing choices we make in this life.
A colleague once compared life to a hand of cards; each of the five cards describes conditions we all share as human beings created by God: 1. Chemistry- our DNA, biological circumstances, and mortality. We are all related, yet each designed in ways that make us unique. 2. Connections- our relationships. Studies suggest self-esteem is greatly determined by what you believe the most important person in your life thinks of you. Maybe we should all make God the most important “person” in our lives? 3. Circumstances- what life seems to bring our way. My colleague suggested we give this card way too much power, and I tend to agree. 4. Consciousness- the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. The way we think dramatically affects how we think and act. 5. Choices- This is the wild card that affects all the others. We have the freedom to choose how we respond to each of the others.
When we see Elijah, Moses, and Jesus in the transfiguration, we see they keep their eyes on both heaven and earth; and teach us to keep our eyes on both heaven and Earth as well.
Yes, first we give thanks for the gift of salvation, but we also put our heart, mind and strength into doing God's work in the world. We put effort into changing the world as it is into the world as it should be, remembering that Jesus taught us to pray, "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).
On Earth as it is in heaven. With God's help, our challenge is to do whatever we can to get the ways of the world in line with the values of heaven.
Remember that following the transfiguration experience, Jesus takes the disciples back down from the mountain and back into the work and world of ministry.
We begin this process by carrying forward the work of the biblical prophets. Elisha certainly had this desire when he asked Elijah, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit" (v. 9). Knowing that Elijah was about to depart, Elisha wanted the same spirit, and more, to fill him, so that Elisha could continue God’s work in the world.
As we listen to the prophets, we hear a clear and consistent cry for justice.
Isaiah challenges us to "learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (1:17). Jeremiah criticizes those who "do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper," and "do not defend the rights of the needy" (5:28).
With a similar voice, Hosea calls us to "hold fast to love and justice" (12:6), while Amos says, "let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (5:24). According to Micah, the Lord requires nothing more of us than to "do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (6:8).
Following Jesus today, we are challenged to "inherit a double share" of the spirit of these biblical prophets. When we do, we take action to make sure that all of our neighbors are treated fairly, and that the most vulnerable and those living in poverty receive the help they need.
Following Jesus today, we also reach out to our elected leaders and pressure them to take actions that will benefit everyone, not just the wealthy and the well-connected. Elijah himself became famous for helping a poor widow and her son, who were not only needy but were foreigners -- residents of Zarephath (1 Kings 17).
In the name of Elijah and Jesus we welcome opportunities to engage and talk with those we name “enemies” seeking reconciliation and peace; we do not refuse to sit at the table with them or leave the room because they are present.
These are the kind of works that continue when we act in ways that are consistent with the ministry of Jesus.
But there is a problem: Sometimes, we neglect the specifics of what Jesus did in the world, focusing instead only on his death and resurrection.
Have you ever noticed that one of our greatest statements of faith, the Apostles' Creed, says nothing about the ministry of Jesus?
The only description of Jesus’ life is, "Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried." Wait a second! The entire life of Jesus is jumped over, from "born of the Virgin Mary" to "suffered under Pontius Pilate." Where is the teaching, preaching, healing and miracles of Jesus the Christ?
Leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) tried to fill this gap when they wrote a brief statement of faith in the 1980s. The section on Jesus begins with the affirmation that Jesus is both fully human and fully God. But then it goes on to say, "Jesus proclaimed the reign of God: preaching good news to the poor and release to the captives, teaching by word and deed and blessing the children, healing the sick and binding up the brokenhearted, eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners and calling all to repent and believe the gospel."
The point is this: What Jesus did is equally as important as who Jesus is. If you do not believe this remember these words:
Matthew 12:46-50 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The True Kindred of Jesus
46 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.”[a] 48 But to the one who had told him this, Jesus[b] replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus’ preaching, teaching and healing changed the world, as did "eating with outcasts, forgiving sinners and calling all to repent and believe the gospel."
When we believe in Jesus, we don't only believe that he is fully human and fully God. We also believe that Jesus’ ministry brought the world a little closer to heaven, and that it gives us an example of how we are supposed to act in the world.
Both Elijah and Jesus are riding the light, as it were, that goes to heaven and back, and they invite us to join them on this amazing journey, a ride that speaks truth to power, that seeks justice and that reaches out to the poorest and neediest among us.
When we sign on to this ride that bridges heaven and Earth, we help to move our world a little closer to the values of heaven.