By Pastor Bryan Niebanck
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.”2 Kings 2:9
If there’s anything that needs to be in top shape when it comes time for the harvest, it is the combine. If there is anything that needs to be in top shape when it comes time to plant, it is the tractor and planter. If anything goes awry, it could make for a pretty poor day, especially when you want to keep to an optimal schedule. Any farmers that you may know can tell you exactly how this works. But here is something that is always true: No matter what troubles you have been given, or no matter how much rain prevented you from doing any work, there is still that work to do when conditions are right. There is no looking back, and little grieving. You get right back out there and keep moving forward.
We cannot focus on what we cannot change about yesterday. We would never have time to think about the present and future. What we can do is adapt how we handle tomorrow. If you have a bad habit, unfortunately we cannot go back in time and prevent you from ever starting that habit. There is nothing to be gained from lamenting about how it began. There is much to be gained in planning how to change it today. In the same way, there is no point lamenting what we did not get done yesterday. Our time is better spent working on getting what we can get done today. Habits, to-do lists, services like calling a friend or neighbor, and so much more, will never go away. Most of us realize that there will always be more than we want to get done in a day, but there is never enough time to do it if you plan on getting a full night’s rest.
I am sure that Elisha wanted more time with Elijah, but he realized that he had run out of time. Instead of lamenting all the time that was gone, however, he merely responded, “Yes, I know; Keep silent” (2 Kings 2:3, 5). He refused to dwell on the inevitable, or what was already occurring. Instead, when the opportunity came to learn and better himself still further from Elijah’s presence, he took it: “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’” (1 Kings 2:9). He knows that he cannot change the fact that Elijah is leaving, but he realizes that he can change and grow his spirit to help himself be as faithful and as strong as his mentor. He is thinking about how he might be better equipped to lead the people of God when Elijah is gone.
There is also a significance in the fact that Elisha did not want to stay behind when Elijah told him to. Three times, Elijah told Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me on;” yet Elijah responded with the same words each time: “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you” (2 Kings 2:2, 4, 6). Three times, he was offered the opportunity to stay back, and three times, he committed to follow. It has a harrowing resemblance to Peter denying Jesus three times on the day of the crucifixion, except here, we have the opposite. Elisha gives the answer that Peter should have given. He was a very faithful follower and would not abandon his master, wanting to glean every possible nugget from him that he could for his own teaching before he ascended to heaven.
What Elisha shows in 2 Kings is quite impressive and inspiring, though we may feel more like Peter at times. We see the world and we think about it, either frightened about what it may do to us if it saw our faith or struggling to understand how good can exist in the face of evil. Peter was afraid for his own safety that night when he denied Jesus three times. Maybe Elisha was not under the same extreme circumstances. But we cannot avoid the fact that some times are difficult, and will even discourage us from being who we want to be, when we are under high stress.
When we read our selection from Psalm 77, it may appear at first glance to be a praise song. Yet actually, it is a lament song. The lectionary cuts out the first part of the psalm where the most lament occurs. The Psalmist cries, “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (Psalm 77:1-2, 8-9). This is more like some of us find ourselves today. And interestingly enough, Elijah seemed to feel this way too in the selection that we just read last week. He was asking the Lord to let him die (1 Kings 19:4). So what we feel today about the world is not a new thought at all. Christians have been dealing with this trouble before there were even Christians. It goes back to Elijah. It goes back to Moses. It even goes back to Isaac, Abraham, Noah, and even probably Adam and Eve. Throughout all our history, people have wondered why God has not acted at times and where God’s compassion is.
I had a classmate in seminary who had lost everything. He lost his kids in a fire along with all of his possessions. Soon after that, his wife divorced him. He did not even enjoy his job much after that. But the one thing he did not lose was church. The church stood by him and supported him. He tells of how this support made him want to offer this support to others. He quit his job and showed up at seminary. He could have let the world defeat him, and not many people would have blamed him, or, as he decided, he could resolve to make a difference by entering the ministry. Like Elisha, he is thinking about how he could be better equipped to help people. Like Elisha, he is not thinking about what he could have changed, or what he cannot now change about the past, but on the difference he can make for God’s church in the present and in the future. To use the analogy of the plow, he kept his hand to the plow rather than giving up and getting off it. He kept traveling on his walk with God. He kept planting seeds for God’s kingdom. We read today about Jesus on the way to Jerusalem. He was rejected in a village of the Samaritans. But he did not command fire upon them, as his disciples suggested (Luke 9:54). Instead, “they went on to another village” (Luke 9:56). Although Jesus expressed frustration over not having a place to lie his head (9:58), he said to a potential follower, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). This is our first challenge for ourselves for today. How can we stop thinking about how unlucky or how undeserving we are, and start thinking about how to equip ourselves for work in God’s kingdom? Yes, you are worthy. You are worthy to know God. You are worthy to work for God, no matter what you might say to yourself. What steps can you take to give yourself the tools that you need to do ministry? Do you need an understanding mind? (1 Kings 3) Ask it. Do you need a double share of Elijah’s spirit? (2 Kings 2:9) Ask it. Do you need to try something new? Ask the Lord in prayer to give you the strength and courage.
It may start in crying out to God. And that is completely acceptable. We may have to lament before we can ask for tools. Did you know that in the Bible, the phrase “Moses prayed” does not exist? Instead, Moses always “cried out” to God. Maybe it was because he was always under a lot of stress. Maybe it was because the Israelites did not treat him right. But he always cried out to God. Psalm 77 is a perfect example, especially if you read the whole psalm. I will say it again; God doesn’t care exactly what you say to him or how you approach him. God cares that you are seeking him in the moment that you find yourself in.
I will conclude by navigating through the dramatic turn in the psalm’s focus. He says in verse 11: “I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.” He then goes through over the next several verses to describe why God is such a great God. Is that something that you might need to do? Remind yourself why God is so great. Engage in prayer by coming to God – whether in the silent and/or unexpected ways that we reviewed last week, or in the crying aloud, lamenting, and musing that we reviewed this week. Crying out to God, lamenting, and musing is definitely still connecting with and to God. And deepening that connection is God is our task at hand as Christians. Deepening that connection with God and learning how to better equip ourselves for our calling is our task at hand. Stop mulling about the bad from the past; start mulling about good that can be done in the future.
We often ask, what’s in it for me? We are conditioned to ask this. The act of praise inherently thwarts this vicious cycle and says, “Hey, it’s not always about you!” It brings our focus back from ourselves onto God, which is where it should be all along. It brings our focus back from how we feel mistreated or slighted in the world, and onto how we can be made better through God. We need to be reminded of this often; it is about God, and God acting through us. It is not about us.
As the Psalmist prayed, there was a definite movement from “I” to “Thou” and from “despair” to “orientation.” Perhaps your own prayers can follow the same trend. Start with what troubles you and why you may be angry at God or disturbed. Then slowly, as in verse 11, call to mind the deeds of the Lord, remember the works of old, meditate on God’s work, and muse on God’s mighty-ness. Turn the focus from you, and onto how you may be equipped to be an even more useful part of developing God’s kingdom.
The United Church of Christ has a slogan: That they may all be one – boundaries and barriers fall on Pentecost and unity breaks out when the Holy Spirit comes to “remake the world.” When we focus less on ourselves, and more on our maker, those boundaries do fall, we are all on the same playing field, seeking the same goals, serving the same God. It is less about why I didn’t get what I deserved while someone else got what they didn’t deserve. It is more about God’s way, for God’s way is holy. The plow may shake and the plow may break, but together we press on through the challenge and keep moving forward to leave a legacy for God’s glory. Our own plow breaks, whether we deserved it or not. God’s plow, however, never will, unless we all turn in our plowshares. May all glory and honor be to God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
2:1 Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.
2:2 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.
2:3 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.”
2:4 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.
2:5The 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; keep silent.”
2:6 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.
2:7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.
2:8 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.
2:9 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.”
2:10 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.”
2:11 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.
2:12 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.
2:13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.
2:14 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.
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-20
77:1 I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me.
77:2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.
77:11 I will call to mind the deeds of the LORD; I will remember your wonders of old.
77:12 I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds.
77:13 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God?
77:14 You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples.
77:15 With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah
77:16 When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled.
77:17 The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side.
77:18 The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook.
77:19 Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.
77:20 You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
9:51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.
9:52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him;
9:53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
9:54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”
9:55 But he turned and rebuked them.
9:56 Then they went on to another village.
9:57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
9:58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
9:59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
9:60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
9:61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”
9:62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”