Monday, July 1, 2013

Elijah and Elisah

2nd Kings 2: 1-14, OT page 332-333 Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 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 down to Bethel. The company of the 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 he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he 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 he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he 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.” He 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 he 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. Sermon From what I’ve heard, Bill Williamson was an excellent pastor here at First Presbyterian Church. He served this church for more than 20 years, and I am certain that I benefit from following in the footsteps of someone who continues to be so well-loved and who faithfully served this church and this community for so many years. However, I also often wonder if I am measuring up to his legacy, and when I wonder about that, I am thankful that at his retirement, that he was not swept up into heaven in a whirlwind. In the same way that I follow in the footsteps of Bill Williamson, so James Marshall follows in the footsteps of Lacy Coleman who served this church faithfully for over 40 years. Mr. Coleman is reported to have been able to fix anything here at First Presbyterian Church including the organ. His wit and wisdom are legendary, as is his strength. I heard a story about him pushing a piano from the first floor to the second all by himself – quite a legacy, but again, at least he was not swept up into heaven in a whirlwind, then working under his shadow would be even more intimidating. So also Renea Foster follows in the footsteps of Debbie Sherman who was such a mainstay in the church office that some claimed she was chained to the desk. Her voice is synonymous with this church for some, and when calling the church her voice is the one they still expect to hear. She is now enjoying her retirement, enjoying the gazebo that you bought her as a retirement gift, and I am thankful for that because if she had been swept up in a whirlwind on her last day in the office we would still have a vacancy in her position. And now today is the last Sunday for Wilmoth Foreman as our church organist. Wilmoth has served this church, off and on, since her children were babies. She has been through two organs, she learned to work with and plan worship with nearly half a dozen pastors between this church, First Methodist in Pulaski, and First Presbyterian in Mt. Pleasant. She has led music with various music directors, played innumerable choir anthems, accompanied who knows how many choir rehearsals, brought her musical gifts to funerals and weddings and Christmas Programs, and Wilmoth, more than anyone else has been like a back-bone to the music program of this church, as she has always been here to play when this church needed her the most. Who will play the organ after today? That’s one question that is easy enough to answer – next Sunday we will have a new organist who will occupy her bench, but will he be able to fill her shoes? I hope that today a wind will not blow to sweep her up into heaven or her legacy will be even more intimidating than it already is. As we have read this morning, Elisha was not so fortunate, and it’s not as though the legacy of Elijah weren’t intimidating enough already. Elijah was numbered among the greatest of Israel’s prophets having brought a child back from the dead, called fire down from heaven, and confronting the King to inspire his repentance. Certainly this is already a legacy impossible to replicate, a shadow cast by a great man that Elisha would not soon get out from under, and surely Elisha would want to work to get out from under it. I say surely he would, because that’s how most people are. The younger sister gets tired of constantly being compared to her older sister by all her teachers. Before she even turns in her first paper the expectations are set and intimidation weighs heavy. She’ll want to make a name for herself or feels as though she’ll suffocate under the weight of her big sister’s shadow. For sons it’s not so different. Should a son follow in his father’s footsteps, take over the family business, or even in the case of the Bush family, become the President of the United States, I can’t imagine many things more difficult than asking your father for help. No, the son will want to make sure that his dad knows he can do it on his own. He’ll want to show everyone, his father especially, that he is ready, that he can do it, and will surely wait until failure is obvious to ask for any kind of advice. Asking for help is surely among the most difficult things. When the shoes that you’ve been asked to fill are too big most will pretend that the shoes fit when they don’t, if not for their sake, for the sake of everyone else. As though it weren’t bad enough already, the thought of getting along without Elijah, Elisha also has to deal with the anxiety of every other prophet in Israel. Every place they stop the company of the prophets come out saying, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” I don’t know what Elisha wanted to say to these prophets, but if he’s anything like me, then when a group continually states the obvious that happens to be the very thing that I am fearing the most, responding with, “Yes, I know; keep silent,” sounds beyond polite. Should he have been around a group of people who didn’t need him to be brave I am sure he would have voiced his fear. Should he have been around a group of people who didn’t need him to start acting like a leader I am sure he wouldn’t have felt the need to sound confident. And should he have been around a group of people who weren’t dreading Elijah’s departure I’m sure he would have wept, but Elisha couldn’t weep – the heir apparent to the chief prophet of the nation can’t weep. Or at least he felt like he couldn’t. Be brave, be confident, don’t cry – that sounds like what a new leader should do – and certainly don’t ask for help. Now that’s not very good advice at all, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people who live by it, believing that pretending to know what they’re doing is better than asking for help – while Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you before I am taken from you?” And Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” I hope that our new organist will be able to play well. I hope that he won’t play so loudly that he’ll drown out the choir and you’ll all be saying that this thing needs a muffler. But more than anything else – I hope that he’ll ask for help when he needs it. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no shame in acknowledging your limitations There is no shame in asking for help. As a matter of fact – I am convinced that it’s only those who ask for help that stand any chance in this world, as the precondition for getting better is acknowledging that you aren’t perfect, the precondition for receiving forgiveness is acknowledging that you’ve done something wrong, and the precondition for salvation is not being a good person, but in acknowledging the fact that you aren’t. You see our world is full of fakes – people who don’t know how to do their jobs but are afraid to ask for help for fear that they’ll be fired, people who know deep down that they don’t have it together but are scared to death for fear of what will happen when their friends find out that they don’t, and plenty of people who think that only good people get to go to heaven when the Bible makes it absolutely clear that it’s the good people who are in trouble because if you’re good enough on your own you don’t have any need for the only one who can save you. Elisha asks his teacher for help – and don’t you know that it is in this moment that Elijah knows he picked the right man as his successor. And I need help, you need help – and it’s when we cry out for help that we receive it, and it’s when we pretend that we’re just fine that we are the most lost – for in pretending we risk never being found. Know that you can call on him for help. Call on him and know that when you are brave enough to call on him you can stop pretending, you can stop pretending that you are just find and that you’re doing OK, and in the freedom of that honesty know that you will receive salvation – for salvation isn’t given to those who deserve it. Salvation is only given to those who know that they need it. Amen.

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