2 Kings 2:1-14
- Let me begin with a confession.
- This isn’t a completely new sermon. A lot of it comes from the last time I preached on 2 Kings 2.
- That was1998—20 years ago… I had been the student-chaplain of a nursing home in Buford, GA for about a year—and I preached this sermon the last time was there. It seemed like a good text for saying good-bye to them.
- I’m going to read you most of what I said to them and the reflect on it from today. Here’s what I said in 1998…
- When I began my work as a chaplain, I had not had much experience with death. While I had had grandparents pass away, I had never been with anyone when they died and I certainly had never touched a dead body.
- In the preceding year and a half (1996-1998), that has changed. I have ministered to people in times of fear and of death. I have had the privilege - and the burden to be with people as they have died.
- Some people die quickly in their sleep. Others have long illnesses. Often family members are told that death is coming, when their loved one is given months, weeks or even just days to live.
- So it is for Elisha in 2 Kings 2. The very first line of the passage tells us that it is the day Elijah will be taken. First one band of prophets and then another come and ask Elisha “Do you know that today is the day?”
- In each case Elisha answers “Yes, I know; be silent.”
10.Good-byes are like that. When we know they are coming, we don’t like to talk about it. We may get angry with doctors, or nurses or friends who try to push us, to make us admit that someone we love is leaving us.
11.Elijah seems to feel the same way. Three times, Elijah tries to leave Elisha - saying “I have to go to Bethel, to Jericho, ... over the Jordan.” Perhaps he wanted to sneak off, to exit quietly, to avoid the pain of parting.
12.But Elisha is insistent. Three times he says: “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” This is a beautiful and profound declaration.
13.First phrase, “As the Lord lives” seems extraneous. The Lord always lives. But it shows the centrality of God in each of their lives. God is at the center of both their love for each other and of the parting which is to come.
14.The second part “as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” is perhaps more to the point. It signifies Elisha’s intent to spend as much time with his loved one as he could. To make the most of whatever time they have together.
15.We know from this story that Elijah and Elisha must have been very close. When Elijah is taken, Elisha calls out “Father, father!”; Elijah was not really his parent, but this shows us that their bond was that close.
16.1 Kings 19 tells us how they met. Elijah was going through a very dark time; he even wanted to die. He complained to God that he was lonely and full of fear. Then God told him to go and take Elisha as disciple and successor.
17.It is no wonder then that they both tried to avoid the pain of saying good-bye - and surely the most final, most terrifying kind of good-bye is the death of a loved one.
18.I daresay everyone here has experienced death. It may be grandparent, parent, brother, sister, friend, husband, wife or child.
19.Sometimes it comes suddenly, without warning, with no chance to say good-bye. This can be very hard; sometimes there are regrets, sometimes there is much unsaid that we wish we had said.
20.But other times, death comes slowly. We know that the person is going to die. Some of you [in Buford Manor Nursing Home] have had roommates in this place who have declined and slowly died. You have lived with them, knowing they were going, just as Elisha walked with Elijah on their last day together.
21.This is a very hard thing, and I want you to know you have my respect for enduring such hardships.
22.Elijah’s parting is described as a “whirlwind”, and so I think are all good-byes. They signify change and chaos - and grief. Elisha tears his own clothes in his searing, intense grief. Surely the spinning image of his mentor leaving felt like it burned into his mind. <p>
23.But do you remember what Elisha asked Elijah for? He said, “Let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”
24.Coming over the Jordan, Elijah parted the waters to cross. After he picks up Elijah’s mantle, it is Elisha who parts the waters to return, signifying that he has taken part of Elijah with him - a powerful part.
25.Personally, I’m still waiting for my teachers at seminary to teach me how to part a river; they haven’t done it yet.
26.But there is a sense in which we do inherit the spirits of those who have been with us, of our parents, grandparents, and our teachers. What they have taught us stays with us and helps us throughout our lives.
27.I know that this is true for me; what my family and teachers and friends - both living and dead, have taught me has become a part of who I am. They have changed me forever.
28.I am sure that if you think about yourselves, you will remember that qualities from your loved ones are a part of you too.
30.End Quote. That’s most of what I said in 1998.
31.I went on from that point to thank them for welcoming me and sharing their stories with me. I told them that just as it was hard for Elisha and Elijah to say good-bye, that it was hard for me to part from them because I had grown fond of them.
32.I ended by saying “I will take with me a share of your spirit, maybe even a double share. I assure you that whatever you have benefited from my ministry here, I have benefited at least as much.”
33.And you know what? That has turned out to be absolutely true.
34.There are four people I remember quite well.
35.There was Mary, who was so very pleasant and easy to be with. She made me a simple Christmas tree ornament of an angel that I hang on my tree every year—and think of her.
36.And there was this woman who was so far gone that on a good day she was asleep and on a bad day she screamed most of the time. She taught me that there were people I couldn’t help.
37.And there was this guy in a wheelchair and his wife. He loved to talk about the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. No matter what Bible passage we were supposed to be talking about, he would exlaim how Jesus turned the woman at the well into an evangelist. “She helped save that whole town!”
38.And there was Helen—she was my favorite. Helen had dementia. Most days she was quite cheerful. But there was this one day she realized how much capacity she had lost.
39.She was inconsolable as she reminisced about how she used to teach math and read Shakespeare—and that she could no longer do any of that.
40.The next day she was back to her typical self, all that anguish forgotten.
42.I’m sure they must all be dead by now. It is 20 years later and they were aged even then.
43.Even the nursing home has been closed.
44.But I do feel like I have taken part of their spirit with me. It seems to be a common belief across cultures, that our loved ones somehow live on in our hearts.
45.But as a Christian I believe there is more to it than comforting memories.
46.I do believe in the resurrection of the dead.
47.Our Mark passage—no one really knows exactly what the Transfiguration is all about.
48.But I don’t think that it is a coincidence that it comes after Jesus speaks about the cross—about suffering and sacrifice.
49.And Peter, not yet as spiritually mature as Elisha, resists the whole thing with all his might. He argues with Jesus about the cross.
50.Then up on the mountain, he wants to freeze-frame the moment by building booths so they can stay there forever.
51.Anything to avoid the pain and the loss.
52.But it was not to be so. Not for Jesus, not for Peter, not for us.
53.Those of us who are past the mid-point of life are easing toward decline and eventually death.
54.We can resist it like Peter.
55.Or we can accept it, doing our best to live well and to die well, to share our spirit with those we love.
56.I believe in the resurrection of the dead.
57.No one really knows what the Transfiguration is all about.
58.But I’m wondering if it is a pre-figurment of our resurrection bodies, a sneak peak at what will happen with Jesus as the first-fruits of the resurrection and also of what will happen to us.
59.Today, at least for me, it represents a hope that I will see those four friends from Buford Manor Nursing Home again—and I will see them at their best, better than they ever were in life at any age.
60.This will happen when the Son of Man comes again in the glory of the Father.
61.We will be united with God and with each other in some new way, some intimate way, some powerful way… it will be dazzling as no power on earth can make it.
62.I’m looking forward to it. Come soon, Lord Jesus.