Sunday, August 16, 2020
What do we see when we look around? Driving through your neighborhood, do you see signs supporting one candidate or another? It’s an election year! Do you see signs promoting a movement? At the grocery story, the doctor’s office and in church and everywhere else, we see people wearing masks. What word describes th times we are living? Pandemic; social unrest; racial strife; polarized politics; selfishness regarding good pandemic behavior; what words fit best?
How about this? God is on the move in the world, working for our good and for the salvation of humankind. If you looked out your window, or opened a new window and surfed the internet, is this what you see? God on the move? No? What if we looked differently?
We’re spending five weeks in 2 Kings, walking through the story of the prophet Elisha. He stands at the center of the story, but he’s not the story. He is the vehicle. God on the move at work in the world; that’s the story.
Elisha has to fill some big sandals as the heir to Elijah. He is right there with the greatest Old Testament figures, Abraham, Moses, and David. Elijah is the paradigm of the Old Testament prophet. New Testament believers insisted the Messiah could not come until Elijah returned. When John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, they knew the promise had been fulfilled. He was, symbolically speaking, the return of Elijah.
Elijah served God during troubling of times. The people split into two kingdoms, Israel in the North, and Judah in the South. God never intended this, but it came about because of human selfishness. Elijah opposed Ahab, king of Israel, and his pagan wife Jezebel. She was determined to lead all Israel to worship the idol, Baal. Opposing her, Elijah’s life was constantly threatened. The magnificent stories of his struggle with these evil monarchs are told in 1 Kings.
As we turn to second Kings, we pick up the action with a new king, Ahaziah. Injured in a fall, the king knows his life is in peril so he calls on the god of Ekron, Baal-zebub for healing. Elijah tells him that because he called on a foreign god, he will surely die (2 Kings 1:4). Enraged by the prophet’s words, King Ahaziah three times sends a company of 50 soldiers to bring Elijah into custody.
The first time, the captain approaches, Elijah call down fire from Heaven, killing all 50 men. When the second group of 50 approaches, the same thing happens. King Ahaziah commissions a third group, but this company’s captain knows the fate of his predecessors. When he gets to Elijah, he falls on his knees and pleads for his life.
Elijah is ready to bring the same fire on this group as on the first two, but God stops him (2 Kings 1:15). Why is this important? We focus on the names, Moses, Abraham, Elijah, but they are vehicles. Elijah didn’t make the decision to spare this third group, God did. God is bigger than kings of Israel or emperors of Rome or presidents of America. We see the world in turmoil, and it is in turmoil. But there’s more going on that what we see at first glance. God is on the move, working to save humanity. It was true when God spared those 50 soldiers and it is true today.
King Ahaziah, who ignored the God of Moses and turn to Baal-zebub died, just as God, through Elijah, said he would. In chapter 2, we turn to the wilderness. It might seem like the royal court is where the action is, but that’s a human perspective. In God’s eyes, the real action was with his prophets, out in the wilderness.
Elijah and his protégé Elisha were on the move, walking out of Gigal, with a company of prophets following them. Think of a school of prophets, learning to discern the word of God and speak it, especially to those in power, especially when God’s word would not be welcomed by those in power. These individuals followed Elijah and knew that when Elijah’s time was up, they would be following Elisha.
Elijah comes across as a disinterested mentor. Three times, he tells Elisha he must remain behind as he, Elijah, moves on. Three times, Elisha says, “As the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will not leave you (vs.2, 4, 6). It calls to mind the loyalty the woman from Moab, Ruth, showed to Naomi, her Jewish mother-in-law. She said similar things, and like her, Elisha knows that no matter what happens, his place is at Elijah’s side. The company of prophets following the pair say to him, “Do you know, today the Lord will take your master away from you?”
“Yes,” Elisha said. He knew. The nation – God’s chosen people – had lived through generations of unfaithful kings worshiping foreign idols instead of the one true God. Elisha knew that God in heaven had imposed drought on the people for their apostasy. Elisha knew things in the world were not good and it was entirely likely that the next king would be as destructive as his predecessors. He knew not to put his trust in human leaders but rather to rely on God.
In our country, election day is coming, in the middle of a pandemic, racial strife, and the worst economy since the depression. Election day means millions of people, supporters of whomever loses, will be frustrated; distraught. Our hope is not in the identity of the occupant of the White House. You can be politically active, at the local, state, and national levels. Vote. Campaign. Pray about the election. Do all of it, but remember, our hope is not dependent upon the winner on November 3.
If your brother or sister in Christ in our church family holds a different political view than you, don’t despise him or her. I say this with as much pastoral authority as God has granted me and you have granted me. We are united in the crucified, resurrected Jesus Christ. How we feel about what happens on November 3 must not disrupt our unity and our love for one another.
Elisha knew his mentor Elijah was soon to depart. But he would hold onto him as long as he could. He knew the real action wasn’t in the king’s court. It was in the wilderness. Out in the world, God is on the move, working for good. Elisha knew his part in that. When the company of prophets raised the issue of Elijah’s departure, Elisha commanded them to keep silent about it.
He followed Elijah from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho, which is right next to Gilgal. They weren’t going anywhere. That did not matter. Elisha knew that where Elijah was, God was at work and that’s where he needed to be.
Finally, at the Jorden, Elijah struck the water with his mantel, it stopped flowing, and they walked across. “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken up,” he said to Elisha.
“Let me inherit a double share of your spirit” Elisha responded. Understand, Elisha’s request was not selfish. Things would not get easy for him. Elijah had been hunted by kings. Starving in the wilderness, he was fed by ravens. God turned down his request to die. Instead he had to run for miles and miles to continue his work of confronting the powers in God’s name. Nothing about that life was inviting, yet, Elijah could do no other. It was God’s call on him.
Now, Elisha asks for that life because he knows it is God’s call on him, and he wants to be ready. As important as Elijah was, he could not grant Elisha’s request. It wasn’t up to him. Instead, he gave test. “If you see me as I am taken,” he said, “It will be granted you” (v.10). A chariot of fire, pulled along by flaming horses came and took Elijah into the sky. The company of prophets, watching from across the river, saw none of it. Elisha did.
In sorrow at saying farewell, Elisha ripped his own garment. Then, with a heavy heart and determined mind, he took Elijah’s mantel and stepped into his calling. The company of prophets saw him cross the river and immediately recognized two things. The spirit that had rested on Elijah now rested on Elisha, and Elisha was alone. They who had warned that Elijah would be taken now offered to search the land for him. They loved Elijah too. They too grieved his absence.
Elisha told them not to bother, but they insisted and came back empty handed as he said they would. Elijah went to Heaven without even having to experience death – the death he had earlier requested. Prophets carry heavy burdens as we see in Jeremiah’s torment. Like Elijah, Jonah asked God to let him die. Moses felt the pressure. Elisha knew it as well. Each lived the prophet’s life because God called them to it. God would speak His word through them.
We do not identify with Elisha or Elijah. We don’t have that unique anointing. We are like the company of prophets. We are called the observe what God is doing in the world. We are to be diligent, faithful observers. Second, we tell what we have seen. We testify. In spite of how bad things are, we let the world know that God is all-powerful, all-loving, and is doing new things in the lives of those who turn to Him. Hurting, lost people can turn to Jesus and be comforted and saved. The church does many things. This morning’s focus is on the call to observe and tell. We are witnesses who testify.
There’s a pandemic. We see stress between protestors and law enforcement. People are out of work. Racial strife and injustice continue to plague America. All these statements are important and true, and with the love of Jesus we address these realities. But, we will not allow these truths to take our focus off the bigger truth. Though it looks different than it did in the days of Elisha, it is just as true now. God is on the move in the world, working to bring about salvation for all who turn to Him. He calls us to be his witnesses. The big story is not happening in the royal courts or the in the halls of government. The big story is here, in the wilderness where people meet God in Jesus and discover new life in his name. No matter what else is happening, that’s the story we tell.