Elisha, the devoted disciple of Elijah, could have settled for just everyday protection from God. Do we settle for just what gets us by in faith? Or are we willing to ask for more?
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.”
A flash of light. A roll of thunder. A still, small voice. Someone speaks to us, and it seems like it’s God’s words, and not their own, words that seem to draw us towards a new goal. We have a word for it – a calling. We could keep on our existing path, but, somehow, often when we least expect it, there is something from God that is calling us towards something more, something different, something that is not really us, and, yet, all that we were meant to be.
And that call, that voice, that wind, that light, that sense of where God’s life is meant to intersect with our life, refuses to leave us. The call gets a hold of us, like a dog shaking a toy bone, tight in the grip of God’s mouth, whipped back and forth, sometimes, but with God never letting go, even when we’re ready to let go.
Maybe some of us have had a strong sense of God’s calling in our lives like this, but, then again, maybe not. Maybe we may have a general sense of God’s presence at times, but we are not so sure about what God has whispered or shouted into our ears, or what to do with it. Maybe so. But the real question isn’t what God is calling us towards, or how, but something just as important: What do we want from God to carry out that call when it comes? Will you pray with me, please. [PRAYER]
Responding to whispers with shouts
My own calling to ministries in God’s church has had many phases, many whispers and shouts, and many times when I had to consider what I needed to respond to God’s call. One of my earliest senses of God’s call to me came in my college years, when I was a summer camp counselor at Camp Aldersgate, a beautiful United Methodist camp in the rolling hills of northwest New Jersey. For the first time I became a servant and a leader in a loving Christian community, and reached out to others to share God’s love.
One evening, my co-counselor and I decided to have our group of kids sleep out under the bright stars in a big field at the camp. We were all in awe at the amazing beauty of God’s creation in the skies, and the kids started asking questions about God and Christ and our place in the universe – things of that sort. I read to them from my Bible under the stars by flashlight. It was the first time that I remember calling people to faith in the presence of the LORD. We weren’t yelling or anything, but our talking eventually got the attention of that week’s camp leaders, and they marched up to the field to tell us to get to bed.
I don’t know what it was, maybe it was the tone of their voice, or maybe it was the warmth of God’s Spirit in my heart that I was sharing with the kids, but when they asked us to get to bed, I jumped up, threw my flashlight to the ground, and yelled, “Christ knows no hour! Christ knows no hour!” My passion for sharing a deeper love for God overcame me, and the gift of this voice rose up in me, a voice that startled me and everyone else, a voice that can still surprise me when I put aside my fears and respond to it.
All of us are here in one way or another because God has called us. All of us have heard God’s words pressing upon our hearts, even if we didn’t hear them as words. We sense that there is something that gives us fullness, gives us hope, gives us something more than just our everyday lives to hope for. We want something more from God, and so we come to our faith community to ask for it.
The protection of God comes with a calling
A man called Elisha, who we meet in today’s reading from the Old Testament, also asked for these gifts of faith. Many years before we see him in today’s passage, the great prophet Elijah had been told by God to choose Elisha to be the next great prophet, and so Elijah went out to a field where Elisha was plowing, and threw his mantle over him.
I suppose you can think of Elijah’s mantle being a bit like Superman’s cape – it really didn’t have any magical powers, it was just a protective outer coat. But when you saw Elijah coming with his mantle, you knew that Elijah was special. His mantle wasn’t just a piece of cloth or animal skin protecting him – it was God’s grace that was his protection. So when Elisha felt Elijah’s mantle fall upon his shoulders in his father’s field, Elisha knew that his father in heaven had called him to be protected in a whole new way.
And so it was – Elisha dropped everything and became Elijah’s devoted disciple. Elisha loved God’s protection as he served Elijah, so much so that he didn’t want just to replace Elijah as a great prophet – he wanted something more. When Elijah knew that God was calling him home to heaven, he took his servant Elisha away from Gilgal, a home of the prophets in Israel, and took him to Bethel, a city of great temples and grand worship. Bethel is apparently as far as Elijah thought that he could take Elisha to become his successor – he asks Elisha to say there. But Elisha isn’t satisfied with being just another prophet, safe in Bethel’s houses of worship – Elisha has received much from God serving Elijah, and Elisha refuses to settle for Bethel.
Going to where only God can protect us
So they journey on, along with other prophets from Gilgal. They come to the river Jordan, probably near where Joshua first crossed it with the Israelites after Moses’ death. Surely this is as far as Elijah’s replacement would have to go to become a great prophet. But no – Elisha is still not satisfied – he wants to cross the Jordan with Elijah, to travel into the desert where the great prophet Moses talked with God. So Elijah strikes the water of the Jordan with his mantle, the waters of the great river part, and they cross alone. Finally, Elijah asks what gift he can offer to Elisha before he departs for heaven.
And it turns out that Elisha asks for something very bold – to have twice the Spirit of the living God that had protected Elijah! Elisha doesn’t want just one mantle worth of protection from God, he wants two! As God’s fiery chariots carry off Elijah to heaven, his mantle drops to the ground, and Elisha takes it. Will God’s protection be there for him as he had asked? Will waters part for him as they had for Elijah? Will he be able to heal people as Elijah had healed? Will God’s Spirit respond to his call as it had for Elijah? What an audacious thing that Elisha had asked for, and how he must have wondered what would happen as he approached the waters of the Jordan River to return home.
Do we dare to ask for more from God than others?
My friends in Christ, like Elisha, we are all here because of God’s calling. There are prophets who came before us and stirred God’s word in us, and in our ancestors. And I doubt very much that we are here because these people who inspired God’s word in us were timid, or asked for just a small portion of what those before them had. If we look at the amazing roster of pastors who have served our church since Jesse Lee helped to found it more than two hundred years ago, I am sure that there are many good people, many humble people, many thoughtful people, many intelligent and wise people, who have gone before us as leaders with God’s protection in the Holy Spirit. But I also have no doubt that this church has come this far not because people settled for just a portion of God’s Holy Spirit that was found in those who went before them.
No, this church, and God’s church around the world, has survived, has thrived, has grown, and has conquered hearts and souls everywhere, not because people of faith assumed that the best of faith had already passed them by, and that we should settle for faith as it has been. No, our church has upon it a prophetic mantle, a calling into the wilds of a raw and powerful relationship with God, a calling that asks us to accept the protection offered by God through faith in Jesus Christ, a sure and powerful protection that dares us to ask the eternal question that Elisha asked at the waters of the Jordan: “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” – a protection that asks us to strike the waters of our doubts, our fears, our pains, our losses, our rejections, our weaknesses, our inabilities, our disabilities, our social status, our financial status, our age, our unjust punishments, our lack of faith.
Praying for the mantle of God’s loving protection
All of these, and more, God asks us to strike in the name of Jesus Christ with the mantle of faith, faith that asks God’s Holy Spirit to move in us in the twenty-first century as powerfully as it did in the days of Elijah, as in the days of Elisha, as in the days of Jesus, as in the days of the apostles, as in the days of John Wesley, as in the days of Jesse Lee, as in the days of all of the great disciples upon whose faith God’s church has been built through the ages. God asks us to set our face towards Jerusalem, to leave behind the limitations our past, and to accept the challenge offered to us by that still, small voice from God, calling to us from within, and to let that voice roar, to let the devil himself know that the time for our responding to the calling of Christ in our lives has come, today, and forevermore.
My friends, as with Elisha, our journey towards such a faith starts simply and humbly. It starts with picking up the mantle of God’s loving protection through faith. On each of your chairs today you will find a mantle, a symbol of God’s protection, with a small slip of paper attached to it. I invite you to write on that slip those gifts from God’s Holy Spirit that you would like God to offer you to respond to God’s call, even if it’s more than you think that you deserve or you can manage . And please, don’t be shy – we can ask for even more from God than Elisha has asked. If you think that you need three times more faith, ask for it. If you think that you need five times more patience, ask for it. If you think that you need ten times more courage, ask for it. If you think that you need a hundred times more forgiveness, ask for it. Through God’s loving grace, and in our loving devotion to God in thanks for God’s grace, God waits for us to pick up our mantle, and to trust in God for the gifts that we are meant to receive as our protection, our strength, our courage, our transformation, our hope. We may not get exactly what we want, but, through faith, we will get exactly what we need. It is this faith that God’s still, small àvoice calls us towards today, and always, together. Amen.
A printable version of this sermon is here.