Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Sermon I Didn't Preach

Today, I went in ready to preach another sermon only to be reminded by the texts in our bulletin that I had prepared another sermon for today, so as not to double the texts that my guest preacher used last week.
So here is the sermon I had intended to preach today, until I realized otherwise.

Sermon title: “Life in the Spirit”

Sermon Notes:

This summer we are going to learn from the prophets. As one of the most misunderstood spiritual gifts, and yet one of the most fascinating I took this opportunity to jump on the lectionary to share some of the discoveries we have through the prophets of the Old Testament.

The most fitting beginning really is here with Elijah, as the archetype of Prophet. In fact, when people now reference Jesus as the summation of prophet priest and king the images brought forth are those of Elijah, Moses and David.

Elijah had a function similar to that of a current Bishop. He was responsible for the prophets throughout the region. He is just finishing his rounds of the local temples, and we see the fruits of those visits shortly with the presence of the other prophets. Elisha is the Bishop’s Assistant, following and doing the bidding of the Bishop as needed for the ministry at hand.

1 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."

Prophecy hears God’s call, but sometimes wants to put its own interpretation on it. For this reason we want prophets and prophecy to understand and be active in the Internal/External Confirmation process.
But Elisha said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.

Do you hear the other scripture passages Ruth, “Whereever you go, I will go, your people will be my people and your God will be my God.” and Jesus, “Where I am going you cannot go.”?

6 Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan."
And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So the two of them walked on.

Once again we hear the popular refrain that Elijah has that he is hearing God’s call that it is time for him to go. We do not know if he is shunning Elisha as a test of faith, as protector, for surely God would sweep all in Elijah’s presence into heaven as well, or whether this is just wanting to go and die alone.

7 Fifty men of the company of the prophets went and 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.

The prophet draws a crowd as he goes. Recalls the past and moves into the future, with the parting of the seas, as Moses did and as it was done for the crossing of the Jordan River with the Ark of the Covenant in Joshua. But the memory is only part of the story, nbot the story itself. Miracles become part of the commonplace for the prophet. They see them, create them and make miracles part of the everyday, that others might see God as clearly as they do.

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.

The prophet is always in service to those who follow, as Elijah is here with Elisha. Remember your inheritance laws, and the story of the Prodigal son, where the younger son asks for his portion, or the story of Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons, or Jacob and Esau and the story of their inheritances? The eldest son gets a double portion of the inheritance, before it gets doled out to the others. Elisha is not asking for twice what Elijah had in his ministry, just the portion that belongs to the eldest son.

10 "You have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise not."

Elijah recognizes it is not his ability to give spiritual gifts, but God’s alone, and yet if Elisha is there when Elijah is taken he will have been in the presence of God, shown steadfast friendship and should be deserving of such a gift. How would it be for us to search after God and those with Gifts so closely that when the time came for us to receive our inheritance God gave us a double portion of those whose gifts we emulate.

Additionally Elijah does something that is very foreign to us today. He chose his successor. Bishops today are chosen by the people, guided by God. Elijah treats this very much like a kingship, as have some of our models: Peter, Paul, Wesley and Schuler. The real test comes when the people have to decide whether that is the person they are going to follow. Again recognizing that internal and external confirmation of leadership.

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 went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw 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 own clothes and tore them apart.

Elijah has come to the end of his life and his friend is there, and his friend, who is like a son, lets Elijah know the time has come. We should also remember in this the Chariot of Fire that Ezekiel saw, and that Enoch, the father of Methuselah was also taken to walk with God, rather than die. We see and hear the Chariots as the harbingers of the incredible. And here we begin to see what happens when the new leader rises up to take his role with the people. Elisha begins by mourning the loss, and stripping himself of the old as he rends his clothes.

13 He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. "Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

He takes up his new mantle as the leader of the prophets, and goes to see if there is external confirmation of the internal change he hs felt, as he goes to the River Jordan and does as his master had done to part the seas. He takes chances with the miraculous because it had been done before.

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 look 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, "do not send them."

17 But they persisted until he was too ashamed 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?"

Elisha immediately sets himself apart from Elijah. Elijah was not going to change his mind in anything, for anyone. Elijah was also willing to send people to their death for the glory of God, regardless. Elisha is a prophet with the spiritual gift, and shows that Spiritual Gifts cannot be cloned, but instead are shaped by the individual and by God to meet the needs of the people at the time they have come to serve, and the people are never going to be the same.


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