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Wednesday, June 26, 2019
Today’s Scripture Reading | 2 Kings 2:1–2, 6–14
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. 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. (NRSV)
When I read this passage I always think of the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire. It tells the story of two young runners training for the 1924 Paris Olympics. One of the runners, Eric Liddell, is a devout Christian and son of Scottish missionaries in China. The other, Harold Abrahams, is Jewish and determined to use his running ability to overcome anti-Semitism and class bias. Though very different in background, the two find common ground through their athletic pursuits, the power of friendship, and their serious engagement with religious life. The movie draws its title from a William Blake poem and this very odd and quite unbelievable text from 2 Kings.
In the 2 Kings text, we know that the two prophets, Elijah and Elisha, were at the center of much drama during the reign of King Ahab. In today’s story, Elijah is about to be taken up in a whirlwind by Yahweh. Elijah and his disciple and student Elisha are on the road to Jericho when Elisha requests that Elijah not leave him, as he is on his way to the Jordan, where he will cross over. In a dramatic crossing over, the two go to the far side through water parted by the power of God through Elijah. When they reach the far shore Elijah makes an offer: “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.” Elisha’s response: “I pray you, let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” A tough request, indeed, and the condition was Elisha witnessing the whirlwind and the chariot of fire, which he did.
Two prophets and two athletes—much drama in both settings. But both stories lead us to realize that God’s power and engagement in real life may just lead to miraculous outcomes. Both are glimpses of the miraculous, astonishing work of God’s encounters with humans. They bring us face-to-face with love so amazing that it asks for a faith that defies human assumptions. Yes!
God of whirlwinds and chariots of fire, may we be ready for an encounter with your magnificent enjoyment of us. And in our Christian life may we be faithful to you and bold in our witness to your glory and light. Amen.
Written by Lucy Forster-Smith,
Senior Associate Pastor for Leadership Development and Adult Education
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