Follow! Don’t Look Back!

Meditation on 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21

June 30, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

     Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

***

Welcome to summer in Ohio. It’s hot! It seems like we are always talking about the weather. Last Sunday, we complained about the rain and flooding, and thanked God for the sunshine! On Monday, I was hiding in the downstairs bathroom with the dog, taking shelter after a tornado warning.

tornado.jpg

Did anyone else hunker down in the bathroom or the basement? Did any of you take your dog with you? Mabel our Pomeranian was comforting, though she was confused. She heard the wind, thunder, and crashing of breaking branches, and cocked her head as she looked at the closed bathroom door. I texted Jim at the library to make sure he was safe. He was with the staff in the basement, too. I worried about Melvyn, our cat, asleep upstairs in our bedroom. He wasn’t worried about the storm, but he eventually wandered downstairs, looking for a snack. When I opened the bathroom door, the expression on his face seemed to say, “Where did y’all go? Woke up and you were gone.”

I hesitated before leaving my shelter after the all-clear signal. Was it really over? Were we really safe? The thunder boomed and the rain poured down. I waited, wondering what my next adventure in Ohio might be.

 

***

 

Inside my basement shelter, I remembered the story of Elijah, hunkered down in a cave. He wasn’t afraid of a storm; he is running from the idolatrous Queen Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. She wants to kill him after Elijah kills 450 false prophets of Baal. Now he is running for his life, but also running from his call.

The prophet’s mantle had begun to weigh heavily on the one whose name in Hebrew, Eliyahu, means, “My God is the Lord.” Before hiding in the cave, he runs a day’s journey and stops to rest under a broom tree. He cries out to God, “It is enough, now, O Lord! Take away my life. For I am no better than my ancestors.”

Elijah.jpg

Like some other Old Testament prophets, Elijah suffers from depression and self-doubt. Moses, who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, struggled with his call, too. He prays to God in Numbers 11:15, “If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”

And then there’s Jonah. He tries to run away from God by boarding a ship headed in the opposite direction that God commands him to go. A violent storm comes up and threatens to break the ship apart. Jonah tells the frightened sailors, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.” Later, after a whale rescues him and Jonah preaches to wicked Ninevah as God commands, the city repents, and the Lord forgives them for their sins. Jonah cries out, “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing. And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

The Lord uses Elijah, Moses, and Jonah, in spite of their weaknesses, to accomplish God’s purposes.

God sends an angel to feed Elijah and the food miraculously strengthens and nourishes him for a journey of 40 days and 40 nights—what does that remind you of?—to Horeb, also known as Sinai, the Mountain of God. He will meet God there and hear God’s voice, but not in the great wind, earthquake, or fire. God is in the silence. Elijah wraps his face in his prophet’s mantle, made of fur or hair, in the presence of the Lord. The mantle is a reminder that he has been claimed by God, set apart for holiness as a child of God, for a person in ancient times would throw his mantle on a child to adopt him.

God asks his prophet, calling him by name, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God already knows why. The Lord wants Elijah to trust Him with his doubts and fears, pain and disappointment. Being obedient to God doesn’t mean we will be free of stress and pain and be popular and happy all the time. Following the Spirit often means trials and troubles, as it requires us to take a different path, the narrow road. Choosing the Lord’s way may bring sorrow and loneliness as it may mean leaving friends and family behind.

As Paul says to the Galatians in 1:10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of the Lord.”

Elijah, huddling in the cave, says to his God, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left”—can you hear the loneliness and discouragement in his voice?—“and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

God answers with confirmation of his prophetic call, in spite of his difficulties. This is where today’s reading begins. The Lord tells Elijah there’s more work to do. Elijah must go to the wilderness of Damascus and anoint Hazael king over Aram, which is Syria today, and anoint Jehu, son of Nimshi, King of Israel. And the Lord, knowing Elijah’s loneliness and weariness, sends him to anoint a helper, a kind of apprentice prophet or disciple. This is extraordinary, for a prophet doesn’t usually anoint another prophet. A community anoints a priest, prophet or king, as one who has been given authority by God.

Elijah never actually anoints Elisha. He finds him plowing a field with 12 yoked oxen in front of him. Elijah passes by the younger man, an unmarried farmer living with his parents, and throws his mantle over him. The simplicity of Elisha’s calling and his response makes me think of Christ walking on the beach, calling to a couple of rough fishermen, “Come. Follow me. And I will make you fish for people.” Elisha immediately leaves his oxen, just as the disciples drop their nets. Elisha, though, has a request. “Let me kiss my father and my mother,” he says, “and then I will follow you.”

Elijah instantly feels regret at the younger man’s loss. “Go back again,” he says. “For what have I done to you?”

Elisha does more than kiss his parents. He slaughters the oxen, starts a fire with the wood of their yoke, cooks the meat, and gives it to “the people to eat,” which sounds like he is leaving behind a community or at least a large household, and not just his parents. He is giving up his former life—his family’s farm that he would inherit and his occupation–for his vocation.

He accepts the call to follow and serve the prophet of the Lord. He doesn’t look back.

 

***

Friends, Elisha’s story speaks to me especially this summer, as I prepare to finally go and visit my parents in Florida a few weeks from now. As you know, it was very hard to leave them last December. But now, I can look forward to a visit, a time when I can tell my parents in person that I love them and kiss them both goodbye, once again. And assure them that God is with them.

I have peace in the call that I accepted years ago when I heard the Lord’s voice in the silence. I was 20 years old. I didn’t know what answering the call would mean, just as Elisha surely did not know what adventures he would experience serving Elijah, the prophet of the Lord. I didn’t plan on being a pastor back then. I am sure the thought didn’t cross my mind. But then, life is seldom what we think it will be. My life is better than I expected, and I give thanks to the Lord for His grace. I am sure God has a sense of humor!

The Lord used Elijah, Moses and Jonah, in spite of their weaknesses. And the Lord can and will use us, too, with all our weaknesses. The way to peace is when we can forgive and put the past behind us. Yesterday’s failures belong to yesterday.

We can rest in the knowledge that we don’t have to be perfect for God to love us. All of the prophets were flawed human beings that the Lord was pleased to use to bring about God’s good purposes. The Heavenly Father has thrown His mantle on all of us. We are our Creator’s children, chosen, adopted, saved, and set apart for a life of worship, love and service. The Lord has given us each other so that we may be servants of one another, like Elisha serves Elijah when he is depressed and discouraged, until one day, when Elijah rides a chariot of fire into the sky and Elisha will wear his prophet’s mantle for good.

We can do mighty things with our gracious and merciful God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. We serve a God of second chances. Today, we have another opportunity to respond with joy and faith to God’s call—to follow! And don’t look back!

Let us pray. Holy One, thank you for placing your mantle upon us and calling us your children. But we are afraid, sometimes, of our vocations, just as Moses, Elijah and Jonah were afraid. We don’t always want to take risks. We lack confidence in ourselves. Yes, sometimes we lack faith, just as your first disciples did. Forgive us, Lord, and send your Spirit to strengthen and renew us. We thank you that our weaknesses won’t keep you from loving us, growing us, shaping and reforming us, and using us for your good plans and your glory. Help us to seek your face and hear your voice in the silence and then reach out to share your love. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s