Good morning, Friends!
Our Scripture today is from the Old Testament. It’s a part of the Bible where we don’t usually spend much time. It’s a story about two Old Testament prophets, named Elijah and Elisha.
Elijah was one of the greatest leaders in the entire Bible. He was right up there with Moses. But where Moses delivered the people from physical slavery, Elijah delivered them from spiritual slavery. Elijah called people back to the true worship of the Lord, when even the leaders of Israel were worshiping fake gods.
In some ways, spiritual slavery is the more dangerous of the two, because it’s more subtle. Spiritual slavery isn’t slavery to other human beings. It’s slavery to material things, and it’s slavery to ideas, to misconceptions, prejudices or delusions. Spiritual slavery is harder to fight, because you can’t kill a bad idea.
Elijah confronted kings. He threw out the false prophets, and he told people that the gods they were worshiping were no gods at all. Elijah called people back, to their true identity as a physical nation and as a spiritual family. He called people to repent in every area of their lives, and to remember the sacred covenant that God had made with them.
In the Bible, the prophet Elijah is an almost superhuman figure. He had great visions, and he did great works of power. Elijah somehow seems larger than life. When John the Baptist came along later, people thought that John was the prophet Elijah, who had come back again.
At the point where our reading this morning begins, Elijah has lived a long, faithful and active life. And instead of dying, Elijah says that God is going to take him up directly to heaven. He’s led a stormy life, and now he prophesies that God is going to take him away in a whirlwind.
Let me read the story to you.
Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from one of the mountains where people worshiped the Lord.
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 on down to Bethel.
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 Elisha said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”
But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho.
The 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 Elisha answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”
Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”
But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.
Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.
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.
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.”
Elijah 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.”
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.
Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”
But when Elisha could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 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.
When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.II Kings 2:1-15
That’s quite a story!
Elijah and Elisha. Elisha and Elijah.
The name Elijah means, “My God is the Lord.” The name Elisha means, “My God is Salvation.” These Bible guys take their names seriously!
Elisha’s been Elijah’s disciple for many years. Elijah knows that his time is almost up, and he tries to send Elisha away. But Elisha says, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you. . .”
So Elijah and Elisha start walking, and they come to the edge of the Jordan River. Now, this isn’t just a river, it’s a symbol as well. “Crossing the Jordan,” in the Bible, always stands for something miraculous. It’s the final step from slavery to freedom, from the desert to the Promised Land.
At the end of the Exodus, when the people of Israel came to the river Jordan, God made the river roll back, just like God parted the Red Sea.
Joshua had them collect twelve stones from the middle of bed of the River Jordan, one for each of the tribes of Israel, and when they reached dry land, Joshua set the stones up as a memorial.
In all kinds of hymns and spirituals, “crossing over Jordan” means dying, but it also means going to heaven. It means leaving your old life behind, and finding a new life.
So, Elijah and Elisha come to the river Jordan. Elijah takes off his mantle, his outer robe. He rolls it up, and he smacks the river with it. And the river rolls back on either side, and the two of them walk across the dry river bed to the other side.
After they cross, Elijah says to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken away.”
And Elisha doesn’t say, “Oh, please don’t go!” He knows that God is going to take Elijah. He says, “Please, let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”
There are a lot of Bible stories about what people ask and pray for. There was the time when Samson was a prisoner in chains in the temple of his enemies. His enemies had blinded Samson, and they were showing him off like a trophy and mocking him. And Samson prayed.
He prayed, “Give me strength this one last time, O God!” And he pulled the temple down on top of them all. (Judges 16:18-31)
When Solomon became king, he was overwhelmed by the responsibility. And God appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “Ask what I should give you.”
And Solomon said, “O Lord my God, you’ve made me king, but I feel like I’m only a little child. I don’t know how to go out or come in. And there are so many people here, too many count. Give me an understanding mind to govern your people. Help me to discern between good and evil.”
And God said, “Because you have asked for this, and not for riches or for long life, or the lives of your enemies, I will give you a wise and discerning mind; and if you walk in my ways, and keep my commandments, I will lengthen your life.” (I Kings 3:3-14)
Or here’s another prayer, the story of two women, Naomi and Ruth, a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law. They went through all kinds of hard times together. Their husbands both died. There was a famine.
Naomi decided to go back to her people, and live in poverty. She told her daughter-in-law that she was free to go home to her relatives, and try to make a life for herself.
But Ruth said, “Do not ask me to leave you, or turn back from following you. Where you go, I will go; where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16)
So, when Elisha asks Elijah to give him a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, there’s a long tradition of making these kinds of requests. But Elisha’s request really stands out.
So much of the time, we feel that people in “the old days” were greater or better than we are today. The people of old were more perceptive, more spiritual, more courageous, stronger in faith, made better choices, and were more articulate about things of the spirit.
We have this underlying suspicion that while we may be economic giants, we’re spiritual pigmies compared to the people who had less money, but more soul.
Where are our saints? Where are our witnesses? Where are the real leaders? Where are the people of golden voice and granite faith? We look around all over the place and we see leaders with hearts of stone and feet of clay, instead.
Where are the people today like Washington and Lincoln? Where are the people like Mother Teresa or Elizabeth Fry? Where are the people like Lucretia Mott, who said, “I long for the day when my sisters will rise, and occupy the sphere to which they are called by their high nature and destiny.”
Most of the time when we pray, we pray for God to help us with our personal problems, to help us with the limited, local issues we face every day. Sometimes we stretch ourselves, and we pray for God to help with accidents or natural disasters.
What would it be like if we were to pray the kind of prayer that Elisha prayed? He didn’t just ask to take over from his master, Elijah, and keep on running the show. Elisha asked for a double portion of the spirit that Elijah had.
Think about that prayer for a minute.
“Lord, give us a double portion of the spirit of the prophets we read about!
Give us a double portion the strength of the women and men of old!
Give us a double portion of the courage of the great witnesses of faith, who saw the victory of God’s hand where other people only saw defeat and death!
Give us a double portion of the visions people had, who saw armies of angels ready beside them!”
In the book of Acts, it says that “Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young people shall see visions, and your old people will dream dreams. . .” (Acts 2:17)
Give us a double portion of what you have promised, Lord!
Jesus said that if we have faith, we can move mountains. Jesus said, “Those who believe in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater works than I do. . .” (John 14:12)
Make this promise come true!
What if we prayed like that?
We shouldn’t be moping about the great days of the past. We should be praying for a double portion of the spirit of the great leaders, the great prophets, the great people who walked with God.
Our vision should be of the great people who are ready to be gathered, not the small remnant we see today.
We need to believe in the visions that God sends us. We need to listen to the voice of God. We need to pray great prayers, big prayers. We need to pray for the things which God is longing for, eagerly longing to give to the world – things like justice, truth, faith, peace, hope, love, and joy.
We need to pray for the things which God wants – for a community which welcomes everyone in the name of Christ, with no enemies, no outsiders, no one cast out, only friends.
We need to pray for wars to be won without weapons. We need to pray for the walls to come tumbling down. We need to pray for God to deliver us, and pray for God’s people to follow where God has opened a way.
We don’t need to pray for limited visions, or for lesser goals. We need to pray for a double portion of the Spirit which God gave to the prophets of the Bible, the Spirit which God gave to both women and men, to young people and to older people.
We need to pray for all of this, in Jesus’ name.
It says that when Elisha asked to receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, that Elijah replied, “You have asked for a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted to you. If you take your eyes off of me, it will not.”
That’s part of the prayer, I think. That’s part of the discipline. Elisha walked with Elijah, for a long time. He saw Elijah, when Elijah was having visions and dreams. He listened to Elijah, when he was telling people God’s message. Now, Elijah said, “Don’t take your eyes off me, if you want to get the spirit that you’re asking for!”
It says that “a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.” Kind of like a tornado – maybe like the kind of fire tornado we saw on the news last week out in California.
But Elisha kept his eyes on Elijah, and cried out to God, until he couldn’t see Elijah any more.
And when it was all over, it says that Elisha took off his own cloak, and he tore it in half. He wasn’t going to wear his old clothes any more. He wasn’t going to go back to the way things were. He wasn’t going to be the old person that he’d been. He was going to believe in what he prayed for. He was going to believe in the reality of the vision that he’d had.
He took off his own cloak, and he put on Elijah’s cloak, that had fallen from Elijah when the Lord took Elijah up in a chariot of fire. And he walked back to the river.
And when he got there, he took Elijah’s cloak, and he rolled it up. And he smacked the river, just the way Elijah did. And the river rolled back on either side, and Elisha walked across through the middle of the river on dry ground, just the way he did the first time, with Elijah. Just the way the people of God did before, with Joshua and Moses.
He had the same Spirit. He had the same God by his side. And when people saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha. . .”
I’d like to ask you to think about whether God has any less power today than God had in the past.
Think about whether you’re open to receiving visions, or not.
Think about whether you just want to wear your own clothes, your old clothes, your everyday clothes, or whether you’re willing to take on the clothing of the prophets, the witnesses, the peacemakers, and others you’ve heard about.
What would it be like, to wear a whole different physical, mental, emotional and spiritual outfit than the one you’ve been wearing every day?
Think about what you pray for, and whether your prayers need to be a lot bigger.
Think about what it would feel like, to pass through the water, and instead of drowning, or instead of staying forever on one side, what would it be like to say, “God has brought me through this”?
What would it be like, to pray for and to receive a double portion of the spirit of the apostles, the teachers, the healers, the interpreters who we read about?
What if our wonder turned into prayer?
Think about all these things, and whatever else God puts in your mind and heart. And let your prayer rise, like a chariot of fire, to the very heart of God.