2 Kings 2.1-14; Luke 9.57-62
I love our story for the morning - Elijah and Elisha … teacher and student ... it’s so wonderfully human …
Three times Elijah tries to get away from Elisha!
He has things to do … he doesn’t want Elisha tagging along.
Elijah finally relents, and off they go on the last hurrah … like a Rolling Stones concert at the Hollywood Bowl …
Note the direction of travel - from Gilgal and Jericho to the Jordan …
And then crossing over on dry land, to the east ... turning back the clock of history - the route used by Israel centuries earlier - when Israel left the Wilderness, after 40 years of wandering, to enter the Promised Land. Retracing these steps, Elijah takes Elisha to the beginning, the east side of the Jordan River.
From here to there … and back again … a rehearsal of the fundamental story.
Elijah knows it’s time … time to get his affairs in order, time to say farewell … to visit the schools, to see his students at work, now in their maturity, fulfilling the call of God …
Elijah knows it’s time … and Elisha tags along …
"Leave me alone” says Elijah, “can't you see I'm busy? I'm tired; give me a break; I’ve got work to do.”
Elisha has none of it ... he didn't like goodbyes ... Elisha knew this goodbye would be final ... he wasn't ready to give way ... he stayed with Elijah.
Goodbyes are hard …
Donna's father came to this country when he was 4 years old, 1911 … he came with his parents and seven siblings - he remembered a poignant moment at the train station in Winterswijk, the Netherlands - he was on the train, ready to go, looking out to the platform, and there was his grandmother, seated on a bench, weeping ... she knew she'd never see them again ... and that little boy looking out the window remembered the image for the rest of his life - Gramma on the bench, weeping.
I don't like goodbyes, either … I’m an emotional wreck when it comes to goodbyes …
In just such moments, we realize - life is fleeting and fragile ... the prospect of the last moment, woven into the fabric of time … the last embrace, the last kiss, the last goodbye, the last dance ... it's painful when time presses in upon us with such unrelenting force ... we know it to be true, like it or not; it's just the way it is … we know what the passage of time is doing.
LORD, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is.
So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
Elisha refused to let Elijah go ... until there were no more moments left.
Elijah is swept up in a whirlwind - separated from Elisha by a chariot of fire pulled by fiery horses ... an image of God … God in the divide … God on the boundary, in the gap, on the edge … between time and eternity … heaven and earth … life and death.
In a heartbeat, Elijah is gone.
Yet the story goes on …
Elijah leaves behind a hand-me-down cloak … as good as new.
Elijah’s mantle - a cape, a covering, a robe, a wrap - with fringes, embroidery - symbols of God's ordination ... the Prophet's work ... from one generation to another.
Today, we celebrate our Elijahs!
And hand-me-down clothes, as good as new.
I think of Burt, my Sunday School teacher … I must have been in second or third grade … Hope Reformed Church, Sheboygan, Wisconsin - in the church kitchen where our class met … I asked a question (no recollection what it was), and the class laughed - but it was Burt, my Sunday School teacher, who didn’t laugh … he took my question seriously … I don’t know what he said in reply, but I know that he affirmed who I was - that moment, so long ago, has never left my mind - I wear his mantle … he was my Elijah.
I think of Aunt Lala - her name was Sylvia, but in my mouth, it became Lala, and the name stuck - she was Lala forever … even as I was her Tommy.
She knew my mother was a mess … my mother, a harsh and jealous women, angry at the world, it would seem … abusive of my brother and me, and abusive of my father … looking back to those days, Lala always made me feel ten feet tall … and I’ll always be grateful … I wear her mantle … she was my Elijah.
Last week, at a study group, the question came up: “Who are those who have shaped your life?”
Three names came immediately to mind, three ministers from my youth:
Henry Ver Meer, tall and spare with a crown of white hair ...
Harold Colenbrander, sort and portly, with dark hair ...
Jerome DeJong - serious in demeanor and firm in his convictions.
All three are remembered for their intelligence, their passion ... two characteristics I have sought in my own way to embody - to know the faith as best I can, to proclaim the faith with heart and soul ... I wear their mantles … they were my Elijahs.
I could name any number of Elijahs … some known to me … many others unknown … who, in their own way, gave life to me … a mantle for me to wear.
In the larger sense of life, I can speak of creation, Christ, church - all three have given so much to me.
And, then, family, friends, and America - I am fortunate beyond words.
Elijahs all around me … I count my blessings, and I run outta numbers … I’ve got a closet full of mantles - capes and coats, wraps and cloaks … everyone of them, a gift!
Who are YOUR Elijahs?
Whose mantles you wear today?
Hand-me-down clothing, for sure … and good as new - love and kindness never grow threadbare … grace, mercy, and peace are always in style … compassion, commitment to the truth, a willingness to put life on the line for justice - mantles ready to wear - any time, any place!
Who are your Elijahs? To whom is owed a debt of gratitude?
With a question - about the future … who are your Elishas - who are tagging along with YOU? … looking to YOU, for a mantle to wear?
To God be the glory.
Hallelujah and Amen!