‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ 2 Kings 2:14
The story of Elijah and Elisha is a story always appropriate at the end of a school year, it is about a teacher-pupil relationship drawing to a close, about the pupil facing the reality that he must face the world without the one who had been his guide and mentor, about the pupil being forced to go out and take the initiative himself. Elijah has been teaching Elisha and the time has come for Elisha to start out on his own, but Elisha doesn’t want to know about it.
Elijah tells him three times, ‘Stay here’, in Second Kings Chapter 2, and three times Elisha says to Elijah, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’
His friends tell him twice that Elijah is to be taken away, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you ?’
Like any of us faced with a parting and the pain that the parting will bring, Elisha does not wish to dwell on the subject, ‘Yes, I know’, Elisha replies, ‘be silent’. It is possible to imagine his tone of voice as he speaks to them, it is a voice of irritation and of hurt. He knows what is coming, he does not need them to remind him of it.
Elisha realizes that the time has come for him to take the lead, that the initiative is now with him, and he doesn’t want to let go.
Taking the initiative yourself is sometimes not easy, sometimes it is painful, sometimes it is frightening, sometimes there will be moments when we ask, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’
I remember being instituted as rector of a parish on 26th June 1989, twenty-four years ago last Wednesday. It was a wonderful summer evening, the countryside around looked perfect, the view across the sea to the Mourne mountains was something from a picture book.
At about 11 in the evening it was still daylight, the last of the people had gone home and I was left standing in the parish hall with the two churchwardens. They were cousins, big countrymen of few words, who called me ‘Mr Poulton’, (seven years later one of them still called me ‘Mr Poulton’, he could never quite adjust to the idea that a clergyman might be addressed by his Christian name).
Standing there, I realized that I was 28 years old and I was on my own in looking after this small rural community. I remember feeling almost a sense of fear and panic at about what I was taking on and a great sense of loss that I would no longer be with the rector who had been so kind and helpful during the previous three years, my Elijah had now gone.
But my feelings that evening would have been no more than a tiny fraction of what Elisha would have felt when Elijah was gone. What happens in the story of Elisha is a lesson to us in getting up and getting on with things.
One of the most important parts of the story is what immediately follows Elijah’s departure. We read in Verse 13-14 that he picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. ‘Where 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.
The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said in Verse 15, “‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’ They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him”.
Elisha could have stood, as I did in June 1989, and felt bewildered and lost that he had been left by himself. Elisha could have made numerous excuses as to why he couldn’t continue. If he had been a church leader now he would probably have first organised a memorial for Elijah; then perhaps he would have held seminars on what Elijah’s legacy meant; and perhaps, after a period of reflection, there would have been a conference on moving forward without Elijah.
Elisha does not sit and ponder, he takes the cloak of Elijah and he gets on with the work that God has given him.
We need Elisha’s initiative. Churches decline if we wait for someone to come along with a magical solution.
Elisha could have been nostalgic in the way that clergy often are. He could have sat and talked about how everything was different in the past, how nothing was the same as it used to be, he could have said things would be different if everything hadn’t changed, but he doesn’t.
‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ the ground before him God of Elijah?” he asks. He knows where God is, he knows that God is with him.
Everything has changed.We can moan that things are not what they used to be or we can say, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ confident that God is with us and that God is waiting for us to act.
Inheriting Elijah’s spirit, as Elisha did, means God equips us to do the work he has given us and that we can have no excuse to sit and do nothing.
‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ – he’s with you and he’s with me and he’s waiting for us to do his work.