“I Will Never Leave You”

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Meditation on 2 Kings 2:1-15

June 26, 2016

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

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

 

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     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 (Elisha) said, ‘Yes, I know; keep silent.’

     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. 

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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.’

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

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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.

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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.’ 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.’ 

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. 

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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.

    He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.

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 He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

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 When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’ They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.

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     My friend, Erma, turned 96 in January. This is a photo of her when Jim and I visited her in Renville, MN, in May.

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She was in her kitchen, about to serve us her homemade rhubarb pie. Yes, she still bakes pies, though not as much as she used to. Perhaps more startling is that on her 95th birthday, I received a Facebook friend request from her! Her family had bought her an IPad. She had never used a computer before! Now it is easier to stay connected with her and her family–and for her to stay connected with me.

I met Erma in July 2011, when I first arrived in Renville. Her husband, Chet, who died in 1972, had been a pastor and served my former congregation, Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, for about 11 years. Under Chet’s leadership, the church of the 1950s needed more space for Sunday school! They built a 2-story addition. And Erma, who had taught in a one-room school, started a Sunday school class for 3-year olds!

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She and I became close friends. She nurtured my faith and encouraged me to walk confidently in my call to ministry. I looked forward to my visits with her, and hearing her stories about family, her life long ago, and the church in the old days. I felt a special touch of the Spirit when we prayed. Whenever I felt discouraged, Erma was there for me.

I am truly blessed that she is one of many people whom the Lord has used to help me find me way and become more comfortable with the person the Lord has called me to be!

You may have a similar story to tell! You are in church today because someone cared about you, shared the Lord with you, and helped to nurture you in the faith. You are who you are today–a follower of Christ–because someone loved you, took time to teach and encourage you and make you feel special, too.

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In our 2 Kings reading today, we encounter Elijah and Elisha in a godly, helping relationship. Elijah, whose name means “YHWH is my God!”, is in his last days of ministry. Last week, we read how Elijah ran to the wilderness, fleeing Jezebel, who wants to kill him.

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Weary of his prophetic call, he asks the Lord to “take away his life.” God sends angels to feed him and prepare him for the work to come.

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Hiding in a cave, Elijah hears God in the “sound of sheer silence.”

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The Lord tells him to return to Damascus and anoint new kings of Aram and Israel. Along the way, he will train up and anoint Elisha to take his place. God will send the tired, lonely prophet help and encouragement.

Elijah finds Elisha when he is plowing a field with 12 oxen in Abel-mecholah in northern Israel.

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“Abel-mecholah” means, “Meadow of Dancing.” Elisha, probably in his 20s, is the son of a wealthy landowner named Shaphat. Elijah throws his loose outer garment or “mantle” over Elisha as he passes by.

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Elisha, whose name means, “My God is Salvation,” recognizes the call to prophetic ministry. He leaves his oxen, runs after Elijah. This reminds me of how Jesus calls his would-be disciples while they are working, too. They leave their nets–their way of life and making a living–and follow him.

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Elijah regrets his invitation when Elisha asks to first kiss his father and mother goodbye. “Go back again,” Elijah says, “for what have I done to you?” Elisha, to prove his commitment, returns from following him only long enough to slaughter the oxen, cook the meat over the wood of the plough, and feed it to his friends and relatives, in effect, declaring that he was not going back to his old life!

Elisha’s call story may be compared to the call of the would-be disciple in today’s gospel reading in Luke 9:61-62. Someone approaches Jesus and says, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me bid farewell to my family. Then Jesus declared, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ reference to the plow–and looking back– is likely a reference to Elisha!

We hear nothing of Elisha again until about 4 years later, when we are nearing the end of Elijah’s ministry. Today’s passage in 2 Kings begins, “Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind…” Elijah is the only prophet taken to heaven, without dying first, though Genesis 5:24 tells of another man–Enoch–who didn’t experience death. He “walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”

Elijah will try 3 times to persuade Elisha to leave him–to stay in Gilgal, Bethel, then Jericho. Three times, Elisha insists, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” This may be a test for Elisha. His 3 proclamations of commitment may be compared with Peter’s denying Jesus 3 times before the cock crows

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and the risen Jesus asking Peter 3 times, after he denied him, “Do you love me?”

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Do you wonder who this “company of prophets” are who keep asking Elisha, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ To which Elisha always answers, ‘Yes, I know; keep silent.’ Be quiet!! Doesn’t he sound annoyed? Other translations say, “Sons of prophets.” But they are not prophets; they are students, perhaps, or “groupies.” They threaten to distract Elisha. With his curt reply, we get a sense of his grief at the thought of losing his friend.

Finally, Elijah and Elisha are at the Jordan, where so many important things happen in the Bible. The Israelites, in Joshua, cross the Jordan to reach the Promise Land. They, too, cross it on dry land as they follow the ark of the covenant.

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The mantle striking the water and the water parting points back to Moses at the Red Sea.

 

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After they cross the Jordan, Elijah asks Elisha what he may do for him. Elisha asks to “inherit, a double share of your spirit.” He is asking for the status as rightful heir to the prophetic leader’s role. The phrase means twice as much as any other heir, not double the amount that Elijah has! Then we find out why Elisha has been so persistent to stay with Elijah. If Elisha is permitted to see Elijah being taken, then his wish to follow in Elijah’s footsteps will be granted.

While they are walking, a chariot and horses of fire separate them; Elijah ascends in a whirlwind. For some reason, art often depicts Elijah riding the chariot.

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But the Bible doesn’t say that he actually rides the chariot and horses of fire–only that they separate them before Elijah is taken up. Scholars are puzzled over the horses and chariot of fire. Chariots and horses are transportation, of course, for war. Wind and fire are associated with God, the Holy Spirit, as in Acts 2. In the OT, the “whirlwind” is a symbol of God’s judgment. Elisha’s cry is also puzzling–not the “My Father, My Father” part, which is a common address of respect for a mentor or teacher. But the rest, “The chariots of Israel and its horses!” We hear the cry again in 2 Kings 13:14, but this time it’s Israel’s King Joash who says it, weeping as Elisha dies.

We learn today the importance of the mentor relationship, the godly friendship. It takes investment of heart, mind, and time. God brings people together for a season and for good reason–so we can learn together–and love, serve, hear and know more the God of our salvation. God helped Elijah when he was exhausted and discouraged by bringing him Elisha. But the blessings were there for Elisha, too. Remember his commitment to his mentor and friend, “‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’

I am grateful for Erma–for our friendship that will last, despite the distance. I am grateful for the many people God is using to help me grow and serve Him with all my gifts, with all my life. I am also grateful for the opportunities God has provided for me to help others. I am happy to see God is using you, too!

 

 

Who will you reach out to with Christ’s love–and your friendship?

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Yes, it will take your heart, mind and time! Whose faith will you touch today?

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Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for sending your Son, who has promised to be with us always, even to the end of the age! Thank you for your forgiveness and your Word, which assures us that your will is for us to have godly friendships–to love one another and help one another as we seek to serve you with our hearts, minds and lives. Build up our faith as we seek to nurture the faith of others. Bless our relationships. May they always be Christ-centered and glorifying to you. Strengthen our commitment to one another–and to you, who are the Rock of our Salvation, our hope and inspiration. In Christ we pray. Amen.

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