Sermon: June 16, 2013 Robed with the Mantle of Elijah
2 Kings 2.1f, 6-15 – Elijah is taken up to heaven;
Elisha inherits Elijah’s mantle
Rev. Andy Ferguson
had been the disciple of Elijah for several years. In that time, Elisha had
traveled with the older Elijah just as the disciples of Jesus had traveled
about with him. Elisha listened as his master taught; he knelt beside him to
learn what it was to pray; he was present to witness miracles of healing. He
was probably present when Elijah took on the prophets of Baal on Mt Carmel.
Elisha saw as he followed the older prophet was a man of great faith, someone who walked with God. In a time when different
people followed different gods, Elijah was clear that he followed only the
Lord, the God who had led Israel out of slavery in Egypt to the Land of
What made Elijah’s faith different
from our own? We look at one of the greats and assume that there was quality
about their faith that was greater or better than the common run of faith we
know. Did Elijah believe in God in a way that was inaccessible to the likes of
us? I do not believe so.
once complimented a vibrant Christian by saying, “You must have a great faith.”
To which that Christian responded, “No, it is not I who has a great faith in
God. Instead, I have a little faith in a great God.”
Elijah had a little faith in a great
God, and it inspired him to live a life of clarity and power.
Annual Conference, Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor, in her sermon at ordination told those who were
being commissioned and ordained, “People you meet are not waiting for you to convince them thatthey should follow Christ. They are waiting for you to show them
that you are convinced to follow
Christ.” This is the most powerful witness that you and I offer to the world.
Well, this was
Elijah – convinced, living a powerful life, walking with God.
our scripture opens, Elijah is coming to the end of his life. The old prophet
begins a journey on foot: from Gilgal, through Bethel, then past Jericho. In
the final step of his journey, Elijah parts the waters of the River Jordan
recreating Israel's arrival in the Promised Land and Israel's escape through
the waters of the Red Sea. Unlike the journey out of Egypt, Elijah is carried
away by God’s chariots, not the chariots of Pharaoh. Through this symbolic
journey, Elijah gathers up the great history of God in Israel and carries it to
symbolic journey, which ends with him being carried into heaven, stands as a
reminder that our history as a nation is also lived before God. We see our days
as work and rest; news reports sound much the same day to day; progress is
undermined by uncertainty. We miss the hand of God among us by attending to the
details. Elijah gathered up the great history of Israel, then, carrying all of
that, he was caught up to heaven. What a reminder to all of us that our story
is held in God’s hands.
II. At every place he could, Elijah would say to
Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has sent me further.” Ordinarily, a prophet’s
disciple would follow his master’s instructions to the letter. He was not to
question or ask for explanation; he was expected to obey. But Elisha, sensing
that his old master was about to be taken from him, refused. “I will not leave
you,” he answered more than once.
APPLIC: I hope there are people in
your life that you feel this way about:
counsel you trust,
whose path you will happily follow for yourself,
·People who turn
your life in the best direction possible.
II. From the
story in the Bible, you get the sense
that both of them knew what was about to happen: Elijah knew that God was about
to take him home; Elisha knew that his master was about to be taken from him.
They talk as if they are playing a bit of a game with this. Neither of them
wants to talk about Elijah dying; talking about death is hard. So, instead of
saying it plainly, they play this game: “Stay here; I have been sent on.” And
the younger prophet, responding to the master whom he loves, “I will not leave
you.” There is something very endearing about their exchange, but I think there
is more to this exchange than the affection between them.
I think I hear Elijah saying to his
young disciple, “Are you sure that you want this life?” Are you sure you want
to be the voice of God in Israel? Or as the Bishop put it this week at annual
conference, “Are you convinced?” This is our question as well.
·Are you sure you
want this Christian life?
you sure you want to care about the things and the people God cares about?
you sure you are ready to have your heart broken by the brokenness of this
you sure you are ready to come clean with the people in your life about your
·Are you sure you
are ready to step outside your comfortable neighborhood and circle of friends
to welcome the people outside the boundaries of life?
this gentle game with his disciple, Elisha, telling him over and over, “Stay
here. God is sending me further on,” as a way of telling him that he must be
sure if he follows in the way that Elijah had chosen. We too have to be sure.
Here, the church is beautiful; the music inspiring, but the life that comes
with following Christ will take your whole life to live enough.
[APPLIC:] Following Christ must
change our habits and our values.
will lead us to make friends with the friendless and the least in this world.
·Christ will lead
us away from our comfortable places into His places.
III. 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.
Only two times in God’s story had
the waters been divided to provide a way through:
the Red Sea on the day the children of Israel escaped slavery in Egypt;
the Jordan River on the day the children of Israel crossed into the Promised
each case, the dividing of the waters so that the dry ground could appear was
the miracle of God. In the biblical mind, only God has the power to divide the
waters from the waters and bring forth dry ground. In this story of Elijah
crossing the River Jordan, it is a sign that God is opening the way where
Elijah could never go by his own power. It is a reminder that following in
faith will take us in God’s holy way.
The fearsome truth is that following God will
take us to places that only God can imagine going.
·We will find
ourselves following where we do not know the way.
·We will find
ourselves walking with people through difficult times that we would not
will find ourselves building for a future that we will leave for others.
will happen as we follow faithfully the way and the path that God has prepared
for us. Like Elijah, we will find God opening the way before us.
Well, Elijah rolled up his mantle;
with it he struck the water; and the water parted so they could walk between
the waters on dry ground. Everyone knows there is no magic in a rolled up piece
of cloth; it was the work of God in the hands of a servant of God. With that,
it was enough to part the waters.
[APPLIC:] This is the way
miracles still happen: ordinary things in the hands of servants of God.
IV. When they
had crossed over, Elijah asked the younger Elisha what he could do for him.
Elisha responded: “I want a double share of your spirit.” Now, Elisha was not
being greedy and asking for more than his share. In that time the eldest son
was expected to receive a double portion of the father’s inheritance. At the
death of the father, the eldest was supposed to step forward to take the place
as the father of the family or the tribe or the village. All the authority but
also all the responsibility rested upon his shoulders.
Elijah asked his younger disciple,
“Are you sure?” Are you sure that you want to take up this path and this task?
When Elisha assured him that he was sure AND he was ready, Elijah directed him
to watch as he was taken up by God. If he saw Elijah being taken, then the
double portion would be his. With that, the responsibility would be his.
At annual conference,
there comes a moment at the retirement recognition when one of the retiring
preachers, wearing the stole of an elder, kneels, recalling this story. Then,
the older pastor takes off the stole and places it upon the shoulders of one of
the new pastors. It is a powerful image for us; it reminds us that we of the
older generation will one day slip off the signs of our ministry and place them
upon the younger.
This led me to
think about the changes that are happening among us just now.
·This is the last
Sunday among us as two of our pastors.
Sunday, we commission two new Stephen Ministers and one new Stephen Leader.
these pastors’ leaving is not the end – not the end of their ministry and not
the end of our ministry. In the manner of Elijah passing his mantle to Elisha, these
pastors pass the mantle of their Church Street ministry now to these Stephen
Ministers and to two pastors you have not met.
Further, their ministry is not
something reserved for clergy. This ministry is shared among us all. Baptism is
the ordination of the laity – a life-long ordination that sets us apart for the
service of God. This ministry calls for the best from each one of us if it is
to have life and impact in this community and the world.
Each generation passes its ministry
along to the generation that follows.
members and older Sunday School classes pass
the ministry along to the younger.
pastors pass their ministry along to the new ones.
who have carried the burden for a time pass it along so that others can join
Elisha tears his clothes and grieves the loss of
his spiritual father. He has to grieve and he has to face the fear of picking
up the mantle. Then, he picks it up and, as he finds himself doing the things
Elijah did, he begins to trust that the same Spirit at work in his mentor is
now at work in him.
It is a time of change.
The mantle of those who have gone before us waits for us to take it up. Whose
mantle will you pick up as your own? Who are you preparing now so that they
will be ready to carry on with the work of God’s kingdom after you?