Change: Elisha

Change: Elisha
A Message on 2 Kings 2:1-12
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Sept. 12, 2021
By Doug Wintermute

2 Kings 2:1-12 (NRSV)

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 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. 3 The 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.”

4 Elijah 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. 5 The 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.”

6 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. 7 Fifty men of the company of prophets[c] also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8 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.

9 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.” 10 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.” 11 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. 12 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.

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As we continue our sermon series on “Change” and the people in the Bible that experienced change today we turn our attention to Elisha.

First let’s clear up some possible confusion. The names Elisha and Elijah sound just almost alike, and it can be easy to confuse the two prophets. Elijah came first and was the prophet that precedes Elisha.

In our first reading today from 1 Kings 19:19-21 we find Elijah going to Elisha, who was plowing a field. Elijah walks up to Elisha and puts his “mantle” on him. Now when we think about mantles we think about a structure above a fireplace in our homes, which is spelled “mantel” but is pronounced the same.

In the Bible, though, especially in the Old Testament, the mantle was an article of clothing. It was a large, outer garment similar to a robe or a coat. It was usually made of sheepskin and was usually worn by prophets to signify that they were wrapped in God’s word. If you saw somebody wearing one of these mantles then the odds were that they were a prophet.

Elijah taking his mantle and putting it on Elisha symbolized the passing of the torch from one prophet to another. It was a sign of Elisha taking Elijah’s place. And it was very significant.

That significance can be found in Elisha’s reaction. He takes the oxen he was using to plow and slaughters them as an offering to God. He takes the wooden yokes that went around the oxen’s necks that allowed them to pull the plow, broke them up into pieces, and uses that for the fire for the sacrifice.

I find this very symbolic that Elisha is making a permanent change. By burning the yoke and sacrificing the oxen, there is no going back for him. He was committed to following Elijah and becoming the next prophet.

The transference of power from the older prophet to the younger one happens in the scripture we just read from 2 Kings. Both prophets know that Elijah’s time is coming to an end. Elisha is extremely faithful to Elijah and stays with him, telling him three times, “I will not leave you.”

Then, in verse 8, Elijah takes his mantle, the same one that he had put on Elisha, rolls it up and parts the waters of the Jordan with it. This parting of the water God reminds us of the parting the waters with Moses during the exodus from Egypt, but also the parting of the Jordan when the people of God entered the promised land with Joshua leading them. It symbolizes a new beginning.

After crossing the Jordan, Elijah asks Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.”

Elisha, reminiscent of Solomon asking God for wisdom when God offered to answer his requests, asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.

Now this sounds like a kind of strange request, but it is a good one. Elijah was well known as a prophet. Remember last week when we said that his appearance at the transfiguration of Jesus indicates that he represented all the prophets? There was no doubt that God’s spirit was upon him.

Elisha, in response, doesn’t ask for gold, for money, for power, or even a reserved parking place for his donkey. He didn’t ask for worldly things. Instead he asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah replies, “You have asked a hard thing.” And indeed it was. Not for God, mind you, but for Elisha. Elijah had a very strong spirit. A double portion of it might be more than one person could handle. And yet that is what Elisha asks for. And because he saw Elijah as he was taken to heaven in the whirlwind, it was granted to him.

So what can we learn from Elisha that we can apply to our lives today?

I think the first is that when God taps us on the shoulder that we should say yes.

Now I realize that when it comes to Elisha it was Elijah, not God, and that he didn’t tap him on the shoulder but put his mantle around him, but the concept is the same. God often works through other people to communicate with us, whether it is putting a mantle on us or tapping us on the shoulder literally or figuratively.

Elisha could have looked at Elijah, said, “No, I don’t want your coat,” and gone back to plowing. He could have said, “No, I’m good right here. You’ve got the wrong person. I’m not interested. Choose somebody else.”

It’s easy for us to try to dismiss God when he taps us on the shoulder. We are very good at coming up with excuses, “I’m too busy. I don’t have time for that.” Or we try to postpone that. “Maybe after I get through with this big project for my work,” or “Maybe after my kids are grown.”

Or maybe we say, “I don’t know the Bible that well.” Or “I haven’t been a Christian for very long,” or “There are other people that are a lot more religious than I am.”

Faith means saying yes to God when he taps you on the shoulder. Like Elisha, we won’t know all the details, everything won’t be made easy for us (again, God doesn’t call us to the easy places), but we will be following God and what he has called us to do. Faith isn’t knowing how things will turn out, but having hope that God is in control. Faith is saying yes when God taps us on the shoulder.

The second is to be loyal to God. Elisha was loyal to Elijah and refused to leave his side. Where Elijah went, Elisha followed. Three times he tells Elijah, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”

Being loyal to God doesn’t mean that everything in your life will be perfect. Far from it. Being loyal to God means going through some valleys as well as having mountain-top experiences.

I am a Texas Ranger fan. I have been for years, and I consider myself to be a loyal fan. I like baseball and my three favorite teams, in order, are the Texas Rangers, the Houston Astros, and whoever is playing the New York Yankees.

I was so excited back in 2010 and 2011 when the Rangers made it to the World Series. Those were mountain-top experiences. (Although they didn’t win, it was still great.)

This year, though, it’s a valley year. I’m talking a deep, deep valley, too. Boy is it rough. As of this morning the Rangers have a record of 55 wins and 93 losses. They are dead last in their division, the American League West, trailing the division leading Houston Astros by a massive 32 games. Yes, they are horrible this year.

And yet I still am a fan. I’m loyal to them, even this year. That’s what being loyal means.

We are to be loyal to God. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors (meaning everyone) as ourselves. That means in the good times and the bad times.

Ironically, unlike sports teams, it is during the good times that we as humans tend to wander away from God. When things are great, when we are healthy, we have money in the bank, our relationships are good, then we tend to believe the devil’s myth that we don’t need God, that all of our blessings are by our own efforts and not from God.

When times get tough, like they are now with the pandemic, we find it easier to turn to God and be loyal to him. But we are called to be loyal all the time, whether good or bad. We are to say, “I will not leave you.”

Another thing that I think we can learn from Elisha is that God is with us in the midst of change.

Elijah certainly experienced a lot of change in his life. He goes from being a farmer, plowing fields with a team of oxen, to being a prophet of God, with all the challenges that come with that. (And for an Old Testament prophet, there were many, many challenges.)

And yet in the midst of all that change he knew that God was with him. When Naaman, a Syrian military commander, came to Elisha to be healed of leprosy, Elisha didn’t make it about himself. He didn’t even come out and see Naaman, but sent a messenger to tell Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times and he would be clean. After at first being angry that Elisha didn’t speak to him face to face, Naaman eventually relented and went and washed in the Jordan and was cured.

He offered Elisha silver and gifts for healing him, but Elisha refused the gifts. He knew that the healing came from God, not from himself. He knew that God was with him, and that God caused the change for Naaman.

Sometimes it’s hard for us to trust God in the midst of change. I think that’s especially true during this pandemic. Now to be clear I don’t believe that God caused this pandemic to punish the world. The world is broken and bad things happen, and God allows them to happen. This pandemic is one of those things.

But even in the midst of this pandemic, God is in control.

I want to tell you about a young lady that lives over in Carthage named Lindsey Byrd. Lindsey was a youth at Murvaul UMC when I served as pastor there many years ago. She grew up, got married, and is now a mother and school teacher.

Her husband, Preston, is young like Lindsey and works in the oil field. Well even though he is young, Preston started feeling bad a while back. Turns out he had COVID. But then that turned into COVID pneumonia. Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, he started having blood clots, including DVT (deep vein thrombosis), blood clots in the major veins of the leg, which then moved to the lungs and caused several pulmonary embolisms (blood clots in the lungs).

Preston was in bad shape. We’re talking about serious, life-threatening shape. He was hospitalized and waited for an ICU bed to become available. He was put on a waiting list at some major hospitals in Dallas for an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), a heart and lung machine that serves as the heart and lungs for a patient. He was sedated, given paralytics, and was on a ventilator.

He was in extremely critical condition. And yet in the midst of this crisis Lindsey posted of her faith in God. She posted photos of Preston when he was baptized, of Preston with his children, of Preston and Lindsey. She gave daily updates, being realistic but showing a depth of faith that is not very often seen.

She even concluded one update with these words from the song, “No Longer Slaves”: “I am no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God.”

Lindsey is proof that God is with us in the midst of change. Her life was totally upended by her husband’s health. Preston, Lindsey, and all their family are going through a very deep valley now. Preston is better and, we found out Friday morning, is no longer on the ventilator. He still has a long way to go, but as you can see from this photo his sense of humor is back. Lindsey’s faith in her darkest moment is a testimony to us that God is with us during our darkest moments.

So my challenge to you today is to be like Elisha. When God taps us on the shoulder we should say yes. We should be loyal to God at all times, the good time and bad times, the weekdays as well as the weekends. Our loyalty is in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, above everything else. And we should always remember that God is with us in the midst of change. No matter how bad things get, God is with us. The Holy Spirit dwells within us because of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Let’s be like Elisha. And as bad as they are, go Rangers.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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