In 850 B.C., Elijah went to Mount Carmel to face the 450 prophets of Baal. When those prophets called on Baal to send down fire and there was no fire, Elijah taunted them.
“Perhaps your god is hard of hearing or sleeping or musing on the side,” Elijah said, and then he called down fire from heaven.
“All of this on the way to the Jordan,” said the Rev. Robert Allan Hill at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. His sermon title was “Sweet Chariot,” and the Scripture reading was 2 Kings: 2:1-12.
In 820 B.C., Elijah was on another mountain and the presence of the Lord passed by. There was a great wind, an earthquake and a fire, but God was not in them.
“God spoke in a still, small voice on the way to the river Jordan,” Hill said.
In 800 B.C., Elijah saw King Ahab try to take Naboth’s garden from him. Naboth rebuffed Ahab and Ahab went home and sulked. Jezebel, his wife, came in and told him to get up; she would get the garden.
Jezebel had Naboth arrested and stoned to death. Elijah went to Ahab and told him that the dogs would lick his blood in the same spot they licked Naboth’s blood.
“On the way to the river Jordan, the Bible is full of a long history of contention against cruel authoritarianism,” Hill said.
In 30 A.D., the spirit of Elijah was on the Mount of Transfiguration.
“Find the rhythm of your worship for yourself,” Hill said. “You need praying for yourself, knowing that others in your pew are hurting, singing in four-part harmony, giving of your offering and now and then some clarity in the word fitly spoken. Along the way from the Jordan.”
In 1753 A.D., Jonathan Edwards saw the divine light shining through the souls in New England who were willing to be damned for the glory of God.
“Taste and see that Lord is good,” Hill said. “You have to taste the honey to know that it is sweet. Personal experience of the spirit of God is crucial. Elijah embodies that spirit, along the way away from the Jordan.”
In 1863 A.D., Elijah touched Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg. Lincoln said: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”
“Aren’t we now, aren’t we now?” Hill asked.
When Benjamin Franklin was introducing the Constitution of the United States, people asked him, “What have you given us?” Franklin answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
“Along the way from the Jordan,” Hill said.
In 1951 A.D., Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, the temperature at which books burn. Guy Montag, the protagonist, fought against the book burning and ran away to a forest. He met a group of hobos who had memorized great literature — Plato’s Republic, Shakespeare, the four gospels, poets like Lord Byron and novelists like Thomas Hardy. They ask Montag, “What do you know by heart?” He answered, “Some of Ecclesiastes and the Revelation to St. John.” The group commands him to recite them.
“What do you know by heart, along the way from the Jordan?” Hill asked.
In 1959 A.D., Nelle Harper Lee published To Kill A Mockingbird. Hill said that it pierced the heart like St. Augustine’s Confessions, The Diary of Anne Frank and Night by Elie Wiesel.
Hill recalled the scene at the end of the trial of Tom Robinson, who has been unfairly charged with rape. His lawyer, Atticus Finch, is preparing to leave the courtroom. The entire black community is in the balcony and Finch’s daughter, Jean Louise (Scout), is with them. The Rev. Sykes says to Scout, “Stand up, Miss Jean Louise, your father is passing by.”
“Can you feel that presence?” Hill said. “That is the spirit of Elijah, along the way from the Jordan.”
In 1965 A.D., John Lewis, now a congressman, was hit over the head by the police as he tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. He was part of the Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, march for voting rights.
Lewis said he was not angry but filled with righteous indignation. He had thought he would be a preacher but instead went to Congress.
“He reminds us that real change can happen in real time when real people work at it, along the way from the Jordan,” Hill said.
In 2017 A.D., the spirit of God rested on the hearts of the people in the Amphitheater at Chautauqua.
“There are ghosts of women who went to China and missionaries and men who went to work with the poor,” Hill said. “We can produce life from this blessed place, along the way from the Jordan.”
In the year 20-something, a date unknown, the spirit of Elijah “will be present in my last hour and yours,” Hill said. It will be a prophetic presence of grace and love “on which we all can, do and shall depend.”
There will be a sweet, swinging, fiery chariot, and it will bring a way to live toward a common hope, a way to trust in what we see and what we don’t see.
“It is a chariot of promise, deliverance and salvation that will provide hope on the way from the Jordan,” Hill said. “Swing low, sweet chariot, comin’ for to carry me home. Amen.”
The Rev. Carmen Perry presided. Paige Ellen Coir read the Scripture. She is a retired public school teacher who is returning to Chautauqua for her ninth summer. Coir and her husband enjoy gardening, maple sugaring, wildlife, their beagles and chickens and walking/snowshoeing on their property in the southern hills of Onondaga County. At Chautauqua, she appreciates the Mystic Heart seminars, Special Studies and Bird, Tree & Garden Club offerings. She graduated from the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle in 2016. The Motet Choir sang “Dulcis Sinum Currus,” arranged by Dale Adelmann. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the choir. Gary and Willow Brost provide support for this week’s services.