Scripture: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ! It’s so exciting to meet you face to face in this house of God. I heard many wonderful things about this congregation and its members from Pastor Gary and Arlene Christopherson who is the Elgin District superintendent. I met several of you when I came here for picture taking. All of you were so kind and friendly to Chris and me, and I am so thankful to God for the opportunity that we can share our faith journey together.
I chose today’s sermon text from this week’s lectionary reading. Many churches share the same Bible passages every Sunday from the lectionary. I think this passage teaches us many things about pastoral transitions in churches today. This Bible story is about the fear of an uncertain future followed by a departure of a great teacher and mentor. The teacher was Elijah who was a mighty prophet of Israel and who had exercised tremendous power on behalf of Yahweh in the midst of a dangerous time in Israel. The marriage of Ahab, one of Israel’s wicked kings, to Jezebel had introduced into Israel the Baal cult, which threatened to destroy the very existence of the God of Israel. Most prophets of Yahweh were killed and most followers were compelled to hide in caves.
During this time Elijah fought against Jezebel and worshippers of Baal and God showed miracles through him to prove God is the only God. But the time came when Elijah had to leave this world. All his disciples had worried about their future after Elijah’s leaving. Because they were also prophets they knew the time was coming.
Separating from their teacher, especially from their spiritual leader was very scary. I think you understand the fear that Elijah’s disciples experienced. You just sent away your beloved pastor and respected spiritual leader. Maybe you feel confusion and sadness. I understand your pain because I also just left the people whom I built up deep and loving relationships through a common faith journey in a local church.
In this situation we need to have courage and keep our hope in God and to set our spiritual eyes on God’s word. If we don’t hear God’s word seriously and if we don’t live out God’s teaching in our lives, we lose the direction and meaning of our faith journey.
Let’s go back to today’s Bible passage. When the time came that God took Elijah up to heaven there was a big whirlwind. Fifty of Elijah’s disciples stood at some distance from him and watched what happen to Elijah. But only one disciple, Elisha, followed the teacher until the very last moment. He was not afraid of the big wind. Because Elisha kept following Elijah, Elijah told him “I am going far away, don’t follow me.” But Elisha answered him, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” Elisha followed Elijah from Gilgal to Bethel and to Jericho and to Jordan. Because Elisha didn’t leave him, finally Elijah asked him, “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.”
Elisha wanted to share the faith journey with his teacher until the last moment. But what does it mean to share a faith journey? Elijah and Elisha showed us the real meaning of sharing a journey. It is sharing wisdom, blessing, and trusting each other. On the journey Elisha asked his teacher to give him a double share of his spirit. He was not afraid to ask his teacher for blessing, power, wisdom, and all spiritual things. And Elijah was not afraid either to share his spiritual leadership. In church we share our faith journey together. Don’t be shy to ask for blessing. Don’t be afraid to share your spiritual experiences and maturity.
We are chosen people and a holy priesthood. We are all ministers of God’s church and his mission. There is no reason we should be shy and hesitating. I will not be afraid to ask you for your help and wisdom for my ministry here. I will not be timid in sharing my spiritual leadership with you either. I want to build up a trusting relationship with you for God’s church. Please don’t stand at some distance and just watch me like fifty of Elijah’s disciples did. We need Christian courage to ask each other for help and guidance.
When Elijah and Elisha kept walking and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses came down from heaven and took Elijah. Elisha was so shocked and sad at losing his teacher but he found that Elijah left his mantle for him. He picked up the mantle of Elijah and came back to the Jordan River. He remembered that Elijah struck the water with his mantle and the river was parted in the middle. Now Elisha did the same thing that his teacher taught. He struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” The water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over the river.
The teacher Elijah left, but he left behind his spiritual power with Elisha. In the United Methodist church pastors keep moving and enriching the life of local churches through increasing diversity of spiritual gifts and experience. I believe pastor Gary’s ministry has blessed you so much here. But now it’s your time to have courage to pick up the blessings he left as Elisha picked up Elijah’s mantle and used it. Elisha didn’t keep it inside. He used it to part the river. It takes trust and courage to act out our learning and faith. We have faith, but we need to practice and act out the faith.
The good news is that we have the eternal teacher in our faith journey. He is Jesus Christ. He promises that he will never leave us alone. He is the eternal source of all wisdom, power, and blessings. He loves us so much that he died on the cross to save us. To be saved by him means we live with him forever. He keeps calling us, “Don’t be afraid. I send you on a mission. Go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” As our true and eternal teacher, Jesus invites us to follow him and do his mission. Let’s have courage to let him know all our requests and to follow him wherever he leads us.