2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Now the LORD was going to take Elijah up to heaven in a windstorm, and Elijah and Elisha were leaving Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, because the LORD has sent me to Bethel.”
But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives and as you live, I won’t leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
6 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, because the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.”
But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives and as you live, I won’t leave you.” So both of them went on together. 7 Fifty members from the group of prophets also went along, but they stood at a distance. Both Elijah and Elisha stood beside the Jordan River. 8 Elijah then took his coat, rolled it up, and hit the water. Then the water was divided in two! Both of them crossed over on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “What do you want me to do for you before I’m taken away from you?”
Elisha said, “Let me have twice your spirit.”
10 Elijah said, “You’ve made a difficult request. If you can see me when I’m taken from you, then it will be yours. If you don’t see me, it won’t happen.”
11 They were walking along, talking, when suddenly a fiery chariot and fiery horses appeared and separated the two of them. Then Elijah went to heaven in a windstorm.
12 Elisha was watching, and he cried out, “Oh, my father, my father! Israel’s chariots and its riders!” When he could no longer see him, Elisha took hold of his clothes and ripped them in two.
13 Then Elisha picked up the coat that had fallen from Elijah. He went back and stood beside the banks of the Jordan River. 14 He took the coat that had fallen from Elijah and hit the water. He said, “Where is the LORD, Elijah’s God?” And when he hit the water, it divided in two! Then Elisha crossed over. (CEB)
A Double Share
This past Wednesday, I spent an hour and a half on the phone with one of the high school girls from my former church in Fort Wayne. She was at camp at Epworth Forest this past week, and she called me in the middle of camp because believes she heard God call her to ministry.
That’s a good phone call to receive.
So we talked a little about God’s call, the kinds of ministry God’s people can do, and discernment. Right now, she’s sensing a call to ministry, but the kind of ministry she does is something she’ll have to discern along the way. It could be ordained ministry as an Elder. It could be ordained ministry as a Deacon. It could be a variety of ministries as a Lay Person.
When she asked me if I ever thought she might end up doing ministry, I answered that I always had the expectation that every youth in our youth group would end up doing ministry. I told her I hoped my answer didn’t sound too cheap, but that is what I thought. Every baptized Christian is called to ministry. Every baptized Christian is a member of the royal priesthood of Christ. As an ordained Elder in Full Connection with the Annual Conference, part of my job description in the United Methodist Book of Discipline is to equip lay people to fulfill the ministry to which they are called through pastoral support, guidance, and training.
So, yes. I fully expected her to be involved in ministry. If I didn’t, I don’t think it would speak well of my work as a pastor. Yet, what her ministry looks like depends upon God’s continued guidance and her continuing discernment of the call she heard and felt from God.
In one sense, this story about Elijah being taken up in a whirlwind is a story of call. Not Elijah’s call, but Elisha’s. Elijah took Elisha as his successor a few chapters ago in 1 Kings 19. He followed before asking to go back to kiss his parents goodbye. But he also slaughtered his oxen to show that he was breaking completely with his old life.
He followed Elijah for several years, including the dealings with King Ahab and Naboth’s vineyard. He was there as Elijah’s servant when King Ahaziah sent companies of 50 soldiers to retrieve Elijah by force, but Elijah called fire down from heaven to consume two of the companies and their commanders. Elisha has gotten some pretty good on-the-job training, but he followed not fully or clearly knowing what God’s will for his life was. Verse 10 makes it clear that Elisha had no guarantees. He had to follow God’s call in the best way that he could understand it. Now that Elijah is going away, the question remains, what kind of successor will Elisha be?
It seems as if everyone knows that Elijah is about to be taken away. In verses 3 through 5, which—for some reason—this lection skips, two separate companies of fifty prophets come from different cities to tell Elisha, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master away from you today?” (CEB). Each time, Elisha answers, “Yes, I know. Don’t talk about it!” (CEB). Part of the grieving process is a denial of reality. It seems that’s what Elisha is doing here. He knows the time for Elijah’s departure is near, but he doesn’t want to talk about it.
Then, in verse 7, a third company of prophets comes out, but they stand at a distance. The progression somewhat mimics how Elijah dealt with the companies of Ahaziah’s soldiers. In two cases, Elisha shut them up. But in this case, the third company stands silently. In a sense, they tell Elisha that, whether he is ready to deal with it or not, Elijah is about to be taken away from him.
Three times before this, Elijah tested Elisha’s resolve by saying, “Stay here, for the Lord has sent me…” And each time, Elisha responds with a traditional solemn oath formula, “As the LORD lives and as you live, I won’t leave you.” (CEB).
Elijah rolled up his mantle and struck the water of the Jordan so the two could cross over on dry ground. Elijah asks Elisha, “What do you want me to do for you before I’m taken away from you?” (CEB). Reality can no longer be ignored. This is the place and time to which Elisha’s call has led him. God called, Elijah mentored, but now Elisha must choose for himself the way he will follow God’s call. Elisha’s answers, “Let me have twice your spirit.” (CEB).
Now, this is one of the places where I have to somewhat disagree with the way the Common English Bible translators have rendered the text. They translate this as “twice your spirit,” and some have taken this to suggest that Elisha is asking for twice as much prophetic power as Elijah had. People have even tried to count up the number of miracles Elijah did and compare that to the number of miracles Elisha did. The problem is, counting them up really depends upon your definition of a miracle.
Some have counted eight miracles of Elijah and sixteen for Elisha. He did twice as many! He got twice the spirit of Elijah! But—and I kid you not—others have counted fourteen miracles for Elijah and twenty-eight for Elisha. It makes me wonder if we’re reading the same Bible. The thing is, if you want Elisha’s miracles to be twice the number of Elijah’s miracles, you’ll probably find a way in your head to make it work by defining one thing a miracle and another thing not. I’ve tried counting them, too, but I always end up getting so lost in the story that I forget I’m supposed to be counting.
But, it doesn’t really matter because Elisha is not asking for twice as much spiritual prophetic power as Elijah had. He’s actually asking for two-thirds, or a double-share, which is the legal inheritance given to a first-born son that is discussed in Deuteronomy 21:17. In ancient Israel, the oldest male child received a larger portion of the inheritance. What Elisha wants is to follow directly in Elijah’s footsteps. He wants to be Elijah’s heir. The reason Elijah responds that Elisha has asked for a difficult thing is that this kind of inheritance is not Elijah’s to give. Only God can give such a thing. Only God can confirm Elisha as Elijah’s prophetic heir.
So Elijah tells Elisha that it’s possible, but it depends upon vision. If Elisha sees him as he is taken up, then it will show that God has granted Elisha’s desire and confirmed his call to be Elijah’s successor. If Elisha doesn’t see him, then it shows God has other plans for him. The only way to find out is to move forward and see what happens.
When Elijah is taken up, Elisha sees, and he cries out to Elijah by calling him “Father!” It’s one way of showing Elisha’s desire to be Elijah’s prophet heir. But the larger proof came when Elisha took up Elijah’s mantle, struck the water of the Jordan, parted it, and walked across. It proved God had granted Elisha’s request and confirmed God’s call upon his life.
Call is still an important aspect of life in the church. Call is what leads people into ordained ministry. Call is what leads people to begin new ministries. A few years ago at Aldersgate UMC in Fort Wayne, a high school kid felt called to feed people, so he invited other youth and adults to come alongside him to build a ministry called Me-N-U. Every Thursday a troop of volunteers descends upon the church. A rotating group of cooking teams prepare the meal on different Thursdays. Others set up tables and chairs. Others greet and seat guests. Others serve the food. Still more clean up. On one team, we had a surgeon doing dishes. Me-N-U serves hundreds of quality, free meals each month to hungry people.
Another high school kid saw all of these hungry people coming into her church. She felt called to start a garden so we could give out fresh produce to the people who came to the Me-N-U meals. So she gathered people around her, wrote a proposal to the Trustees and Church Council, and we built box gardens on the church property and started to grow organic produce.
My wife felt called to make a difference in people’s lives, and one very practical way she could do that was the coffee industry. Coffee is the second most heavily traded commodity in the world next to oil, and it’s an incredibly unjust system where the hard-working farmers who grow the coffee are fleeced. Whenever you buy coffee that is not Certified Fair Trade, you participate in fleecing these farmers. So, she started selling Equal Exchange coffee at Aldersgate, and within a year, she had built it from nothing into the top 5% of sales for Equal Exchange nationally.
In addition to selling fairly traded coffees, teas, and chocolates, Equal Exchange donated 15¢ for every pound of coffee she sold to the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Ten years ago, people in this church felt called to start a fair trade store. So people got together and established Bridges of Hope, which has given thousands of dollars to mission and ministry while helping to support the livelihood of hard-working people around the world.
Call is an invitation to follow. Who are you inviting and mentoring to fill your role when you’re gone? Elijah had Elisha. Moses had Joshua. Jesus had the disciples. When the high school kids who started Me-N-U and the vegetable garden went to college, those ministries evolved. Others had to step up and take their place. When Joy and I moved down here, she gathered others together in order to fill her role in the Equal Exchange program. In 2017, several people are going to rotate off of committees in our church. If you are rotating off, who are you inviting and mentoring to take your place? If you aren’t serving on one of these committees, how might your abilities empower the ministry and work of our congregation if you did serve on one of them?
In what ways are you being called to serve our God and our neighbors? It doesn’t matter how big or small the call might feel at the moment; what matters is whether or not you’re following that call as best you know how at the moment. Call always involves seeking. We don’t have all the answers; we simply work toward discerning God’s will as best we can.
I don’t know what kind of ministry the girl who called me from camp will end up doing. But I have confidence she is, and will continue to, follow God’s call as Elisha did. She’ll seek the answers to her questions. She’ll discern God’s will for her life as she walks through it one day at a time. That’s my hope for each member of this congregation, too.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.