Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday, Year B
Based on 2 Kings 2:1-12a
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Our first lesson today is a story of two great Israelite prophets, who served God in the Northern Kingdom, during the ninth century before Christ. This is a story rich in wisdom and insight. We come into this story at the end of Elijah's prophetic ministry, and towards the beginning of Elisha's ministry, as the successor of Elijah.
We're told that three times the Lord sent Elijah out: to Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan. Three times Elijah was faithful to God's calling, and obediently went where God sent him. We're also told that Elisha, the disciple of Elijah, followed his master three times by going with him.
When Elijah tells Elisha to stay behind, he is testing Elisha's loyalty. Elisha responds to Elijah's test by speaking an oath of loyalty. Three times he says: "As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you."
God also calls us to be faithful, and to go out into the world wherever he sends us ~ to be his witnesses like the prophets Elijah and Elisha. God, at times, tests our loyalty too, just as Elisha's was tested. How faithful, obedient and loyal are we when God calls and tests us?
The following story, told by Elie Wiesel, in his book, The Fifth Son, illustrates the importance of faithfulness, obedience and loyalty. " In czarist Russia, there lived two Jews who had vowed to remain friends unto death. And so, when one of them was accused of subversive activities, the other hastened to exonerate him by taking the charges upon himself."
"Of course, they wound up in prison together. The judges were obviously confused: how could they condemn two men for the same crime? The case attracted the Czar's attention. He ordered the two Jews brought before him and this is what he said to them: 'Don't worry, I am going to set you free. The reason I asked to see you is that I wished to meet two men capable of such great loyalty. And now,' continued the czar, 'I have a favor to ask of you: take me as your third partner.' "
"Commented the Rabbi of Rizhin: This is the deep and beautiful meaning of that Biblical verse: when two people love one another, God becomes their partner."
This story illustrates the deep loyalty and partnership that we see in our first lesson between Elijah, Elisha and God. It seems to me that Elisha and Elijah serve as good models, examples of what so many people today are lacking and searching for ~ what so many people today really need is a true friendship and partnership based on loyalty.
Relationships often fail because when they're tested, selfish interests come before loyalty towards each other. Often we are tempted to ignore God's call to go somewhere else ~ both geographically and in the relational sense. So, we make excuses and try to rationalise them ~ yet God knows the truth, and keeps calling us, in spite of all our resistance.
Or we are tempted in other ways, by listening to other voices, but not God's voice. We like what some of those other voices say: "Stay where you are ~ it's easier, it's more fun, it gets you more successful results." "Don't listen to God ~ God is too demanding, God's ways are too difficult, too outlandish, too dangerous."
It's true that loyalty does not always produce quick results. It's also true that the fast-paced, rapid-changing world in which we live will continue to put pressure on us not to be loyal to God and to one another. The world will continue to try and convince us that loyalty is an old-fashioned, out-dated relic of the past, which may have served its purpose long ago, but now is no longer needed or necessary.
However, our first lesson does tell us that in the long-run, loyalty is worthwhile and necessary. Over the long haul, loyalty is rewarded. It's not until the end of Elijah's life on earth that he asks his disciple Elisha if he would like some reward for his loyalty. Elisha responds by saying: "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit."
This is an interesting request because at that time it was common for an eldest or heir to ask for a proper portion of inheritance. When Elisha asked Elijah for a double share of Elijah's spiritual gifts, it was Elisha's way of saying that Elijah was like a father to him. Their relationship was very close, Elisha loved and respected Elijah so much that he wanted to be like him.
Elisha remains loyal to the end and is rewarded first, by seeing Elijah taken up to heaven in a whirlwind by a chariot of fire and horses of fire ~ how many folks get to see something like that? Second, he is rewarded by the gift itself ~ a double share of Elijah's spirit.
We may never see chariots and horses of fire. Yet, do we not receive a similar reward for our loyalty to God and each other as Elisha's reward for his loyalty? It seems to me that we do. How many of us have received a double share of the spiritual gifts that, say, our grandparents or parents or teachers or other leaders were given? If we loved, respected and were loyal to our grandparents or parents for example, chances are that we have been influenced strongly by them ~ their spiritual gifts have rubbed off onto us or have been inherited by us.
This story of Elisha receiving a double share of Elijah's spirit is really a story of the power of example. Children, from an early age, love to mimic their parents. When they grow a little, they love to play follow the leader. When they become teenagers, they often think and act like their most popular peer. When they grow into adults, they continue to be influenced by their leaders, by people whom they trust and respect.
Albert Stauderman underscores the power of example ~ as opposed to merely talking ~ in the following anecdote: "A woman once said, 'I just don't understand it. My husband never came to church, and every week I would scold and scold. Then I just gave him up for lost and never mentioned it again. Now he comes every week. Why?' " Clearly, the power of example, in this particular case ~ and likely in a lot of other people's lives too ~ was more effective than only talking.
The most powerful example for us is the life of Jesus himself. He has taught us in his words as well as his actions how to live. Just as it was proper for one prophet to be like another prophet ~ in a similar way, it's proper for us disciples of Jesus to think, speak and act like Jesus himself. As disciples of Jesus, through our baptism, we have inherited a generous share of his spirit. We have received his spiritual gifts to help us go where he wants us to go; to do what he wants us to do ~ just like Elijah and Elisha before us.
May we remain loyal to our God and each other. May that loyalty draw us into closer, more loving relationships with God and each other. May we be rewarded for our loyalty with the necessary spiritual gifts, which empower us to serve God, each other and the world better.
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