Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Truth Goes In
Summertime, separate summer sermons, mostly from Lectionary, preached June 26, 2022 at the 930am worship
Have you heard about Elijah, how God lifted Elijah in a whirlwind? Do you know about Elisha’s place in that story?
Let’s listen for the word of the Lord from…
Scripture 2 Kings 2:1-18
2 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “You do know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”
4 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.
5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” And Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.
7 Fifty men from the company of the prophets (also) went (but) stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. 10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you watch me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah rode up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha watched this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it, (saying) “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16 “Look,” they said, “we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and search for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.” “No,” Elisha replied, “don’t send them.” 17 But they persisted until he was too embarrassed to refuse. So he said, “Send them.” And they sent fifty men, who searched for three days but did not find him. 18 When they returned to Elisha, who was staying in Jericho, he said to them, “Didn’t I tell you not to go?”
This is the word of the Lord… (Thanks be to God)
Sermon Truth Goes In
When Elisha felt the cloak of Elijah on his shoulders the first time, he knew the symbol. The prophet was choosing a student. But I doubt Elisha knew the real weight of the cloak. The cloak of a prophet stands out in public, much like the camel hair of John the Baptist did, much like the collars Caitlan and I sometimes wear do today. It isn’t worn as a sign of power but of service. It isn’t a symbol of authority but accountability. The prophet’s mantle carries no privilege, only responsibility.
One chapter earlier, when Elijah put his cloak on Elisha, Elisha had been plowing two oxen. Elisha feels the cloak and says yes. He makes a fire with his farming equipment, slaughters the oxen that had been pulling it, cooks the oxen, throws a feast for his coworkers and families, surrenders his old life, and follows.
Does Elisha really know what he is saying yes to? To follow Elijah is to speak truth against those in power who lead with lies. Elijah had just confronted King Ahab over the lie Baal is god. To follow Elijah is to feel alone in the truth, constantly outnumbered and attacked by other leaders and the people who believe them instead. Elijah had just confronted hundreds of false prophets to Baal in front of a crowd of people. To follow Elijah is to leave a safe and simple life and become a public advocate for God’s ways all across the country. Elijah was pulling Elisha from a family farm to a national stage. To follow Elijah means you can’t be neutral or quiet. You have to side with truth and speak it loudly, no matter the consequences. Elijah’s life was threatened by King Ahab and the people who still believed the lie Baal is god.
Now, Elijah understood what saying yes meant for Elisha. I think Elijah was feeling guilty for putting this weight on Elisha. “Elisha, I am going on to Bethel. You stay here.” “No, I will go with you.” “Elisha, I’m going to Jericho, you stay.” “No, I am going.” “Look, I’m going to the Jordan, you stay.” “NO, I’m going with you all the way.” At every step, Elijah tries to give Elisha a way out. But naïve Elisha keeps staying close.
Even the people try to warn Elisha. “You know Elijah’s a goner right?” “Yes, I know, now shut up!”
At the Jordan, Elijah takes that same cloak and strikes the waters. They part, as they did for the Israelites when they were slaves of Egypt. The two cross over on dry land, and on the other side, Elijah asks, “What do you want?” Elisha says he wants double the stamina, the conviction, the faithfulness of Elijah. “You have asked for a very hard thing. If you can bear to watch me all the way to the end, it will be yours. But if you cannot, if your turn away, it will not.”
Truth is like that. It must be seen and sometimes it is hard to watch, hard to hear. If we turn ourselves away from truth, we gain nothing. If we face truth, hear it, it changes us for the better, but that change feels disruptive. A husband tells his wife they have a problem… If she can hear it, see it, all the way, they can recover. But if she turns away, denies it, dismisses, downplays it, she might lose herself, her husband, her marriage. A manager tells her boss how the company has made a big mistake. If the leader hears her, sees the mistake, accepts it, he can name it to the leadership team and give them assignments to start taking steps to correct it and prevent it from happening again. But if the leader won’t hear it, won’t look at it, fears it leaking out, or tries to sweep it under a rug, he and the company and employees could lose everything.
One who follows a prophet is invited to watch hard things and hear the truth. Becoming a prophet is not magic. It’s not like the cloak had magical powers, or as if Elijah transferred magic to Elisha through his eyeballs if they watched. A person becomes a prophet when they do not turn their eyes from hard truths or slam their ears shut to hard truths. When truth enters a person, it has a power like a catalyst. A catalyst when added to normal chemical ingredients starts a chemical reaction that cannot be stopped or reversed. Truth does that in us. Add truth, and our normal ways of thinking and feeling are changed for the better, and cannot be stopped or reversed. Like the chemical reaction, their may be some heat. At the end, we are different, ready to try bold things that kings and their lawyers, leaders and their minions will resist.
When we come here together, like this, the prophet we follow, Jesus of Nazareth, is trying to interrupt us in the middle of our normal routines and anoint us all as prophets. I imagine Jesus saddened when someone says no thanks. I imagine Jesus discouraged but passionate when he has to challenge or confront us over our smaller gods. And I imagine Jesus scared for us when we dare say yes. Like the prophets in the city said, do we know what happens to Jesus? Yes, we know, now shut up before we lose our nerve. Even if Jesus told us to stay behind, would we say, “No, I’m going with you all the way?” When we got there to the end, would we dare watch, listen, absorb the truth and let it change us? Would we see what misused political power and religious arrogance do to the true God among us? Would we be changed bu truth and spend the rest of our lives trying to unravel the broken systems that do not lead the way to the kingdom of God, or would we turn our faces, and go home unchanged?
The invitation to this table is like a prophet’s cloak across our shoulders. What would we burn to follow? What would we prepare and share with others? Do we dare look and listen to the truth, and let it dig deep into our bones and our souls, that God in the flesh came among us and showed us how to live like citizens in the kin-dom of God, like brothers and sisters in the family of God. But those with political and police power, and those with religious position conspired together and duped the people into following a criminal and crucifying a Christ?
When you come to this table today, feel the weight of the prophet's mantle on your shoulders. Listen to the words Jesus spoke about his brokenness. Watch as the body is broken and given away to feed the people. Keep our eyes and ears open all the way. Let it go in and change you.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever more, amen.
Now, blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night this moment and forever more. Amen.