February 11, 2024
OT II Kings 2:1-12
1Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah 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. 3The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
4Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”
6Then 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. 7Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then 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.
9When 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.” 10He 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.” 11As 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. 12Elisha 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.
Gospel Mark 9:2-9
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
Last year on this Transfiguration Sunday I mentioned how I believe these two men – Elijah and Moses -- appear not just because they are Old Testament heroes but more so because they too were men who practiced faithfulness in adversity. They understood suffering. And the kind of suffering required to remain faithful despite what the world throws at you.
And both men had to exit early lest they succumb to the temptation of building a godly empire for themselves.
What made them examples of faith? They overcame the temptation where it is “easier to be God than to love God” [Henri Nouwen, “In the Name of Jesus,” p. 59].
Moses. Once the favorite prince of Pharaoh, discovers his true identity, sides with his people, the oppressed Hebrews – has to flee into the wilderness, encounters God and is called to bring the people to God, takes on Pharaoh, dresses down Pharaoh -- let my people go. Then the journey begins, with Moses the great leader, the Exodus, and Moses having to deal with all the refugees whining and complaining. Are we there yet?”
Great leaders do arrive when they are needed.
So who is this Elijah?
Unlike Jeremiah or Isaiah or Amos, he left no writings. He preceded them all. He is known by the legends told by these Bible books of History. Some sound a little bit like we talk about Paul Bunyan or how George Washington tossed a dollar across the Delaware.
Elijah, like Moses, he was known as a rough and ready leader, tough and steady.
He too a champion of the faith, taking on corrupt King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, confronting all those limping pagan prophets in that Mount Carmel contest. Eli – jah, meaning, “Yahweh is my God.” He too had his moments of despondency but when encouraged by God, he went back to work.
Elijah is a key and celebrated figure at every Passover Seder. Which our Jewish friends will celebrate in April 22-30. At Passover a cup of wine is poured for him at the Seder table. A child opens the front door following the recitation of texts seeking God to come and deliver the people. A return to be announced by Elijah’s return, because according to this text we read, he never died. Elijah will return and introduce the Messiah, through whom God will save his people
Rabbinical tradition proclaims that when peace rules the world he will return to announce the coming of the Messiah to seal the deal.
Unresolved questions of the Talmud, the collection of great Hebrew Rabbinical thought, end up with the Rabbi’s writing in Elijah the Tishbite’s initials at the bottom of the page of the unresolved question to indicate that Elijah – all wise, all knowing, all faithful Elijah -- will clear this up in the future.
Who is Elijah? Beloved Elijah. He ranks right up there in the Hebrew hall of fame, next to Moses. It was Elijah who was raised up at a bad time in Hebrew history as the stalwart fighter against idolatry. He wasn’t applauded a lot in his day. But then he wasn’t looking for stardom.
It helps to begin by confessing that “we are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for” [Henri Nouwen, “In the Name of Jesus,” p. 44].
One of our elders being trained as a commissioned pastor said the other Saturday how when he heard the word idolatry his mind used to imagine those hand-made images and golden calves and such – but how recently he received the insight that idolatry is anything we worship other than our God as we know God in Jesus – for we do like our idols – we are very fond of making God into our image.
So that’s who Elijah is. Or was. He had a good run. Until the time came for him to pass the responsibility on. Which is what this passage from II Kings is all about. The helpful key to troublesome Bible texts that might make you wonder how can this be is to focus instead on what the message is, what is being proclaimed.
Passing his authority onto his apprentice Elisha who’ll face his own challenges, his own hardships, his own disappointments, his own successes for the glory of God.
There is that grace of knowing when to step aside. We can cling so hard we end up choking what we love. As one generation yields to the next. Or should. As if we have a choice. We’re all playing a game of tag. Tag! You’re it! The Gospel, surprise, requires flesh. Tag, you’re it.
Moses had his Joshua.
Elijah had his Elisha, meaning “My God is salvation.”
Elisha asks for the share that a first born son would receive from Dad – first borns always got double in the will – in this case, the spiritual share – the mantel of prophetic responsibility. You Scouts say your oaths and promises, you wear your uniforms, or in my case, you put the robe and you better realize you are not your own. We call them servant leaders for a reason.
How do we mark the qualities of servant leaders? What is it that we want and need from our church leaders?
“The way of the Christian leader is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross…a leadership of powerlessness and humility in which the suffering servant of God, Jesus Christ, is made manifest…leadership in which power is constantly abandoned in favor of love. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for” [Henri Nouwen, “In the Name of Jesus,” pp. 62-63].
Is it about power and control? Or discipleship? Empowering others to be faithful? How can a leader lead unless the leader knows how to follow.
Thy will be done. Thy will be done.
Then comes this fun legend material about chariots and horses and such. Elijah’s ascension.
Chariots – an image of speed – it was the fastest man could travel. Horsepower. Up until the 19th Century.
Chariots of fire – an image also used by the Greeks to describe the passage of the sun across the sky. Helios rises from the ocean at dawn bringing light to earth in a chariot drawn by four horses. That sounds familiar. Chariots of fire also makes for a good poem by William Blake and for a good anthem and for the title of a good movie.
And did those feet in ancient time,Walk upon Englands mountains green:And was the holy Lamb of God,On Englands pleasant pastures seen!And did the Countenance Divine,Shine forth upon our clouded hills?And was Jerusalem builded here,Among these dark Satanic Mills?Bring me my Bow of burning gold:Bring me my Arrows of desire:Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold:Bring me my Chariot of fire!I will not cease from Mental Fight,Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:Till we have built Jerusalem,In Englands green & pleasant Land.
Sometimes, friends, it doesn’t pay to try to explain or debate and analyze. Sometimes it is enough to bask in the wonder of it all. The imagination. Simply allow the story to move you and for us to listen for the proclamation.
Moses had his Joshua.
Elijah had his Elisha.
The story of faith really is more a passing of the torch than a flash in the pan. Carry on, carry on. The holy message continues in new personas. Evidently, Elijah prepared Elisha for the troubles he’d face when he got to wear this mantel of responsibility and authority. How are we doing with what those who follow us need from us?
· The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.--C.S. Lewis
· Unless we equip all the laity to live all of life for God, Christianity will degenerate into mere religion. --R. Paul Stevens, Liberating the Laity
Is the larger church training successors for them to use their gifts rather than try to replicate us?
Which is something my father couldn’t do, didn’t do. Dad had to hang on to the family business well beyond his capacity to hang on. He never let his eldest son take over. He couldn’t let go, and by so doing failed to adapt the paint store for a changing market. Our family business failed.
How about us?
Moses had Joshua.
Elijah had Elisha.
Who does Jesus have?
Tag, you’re it.