Welcome to the Church
Hymn: God has spoken by his prophets (tune Ebenezer)
Call to worship and welcome
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;
let the whole earth tremble before God. Psalm 96:9
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24
Good morning! We come together as God’s people, wherever we are, and we come together to praise God, to pray for each other, and to seek God’s word for our lives.
Prayers of adoration and confession
The psalmist says: (Psalm 145)
‘I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever’
Let us pray:
Creator God, we glimpse your beauty
In the wonders of creation: in the sunset, in the night sky, in the smile of a newborn child
We sense your power in thunder crash,
lightning flash and ocean’s roar.
Creator God we praise you
Precious Jesus, we see your love
stretched out upon a cruel cross.
We stand in awe at your sacrifice,
pure love poured out for each one of us, and for all humankind.
Precious Jesus we praise you
Holy Spirit, we see your power
in lives transformed, hearts on fire.
We listen for your still, small voice,
Comforting us, guiding us, calling and calling us.
Holy Spirit we praise you
You are always with us,
through good times and bad,
Your presence fills our needs.
Every day we praise you
Through all the hours of the day,
you are with us;
in decisions we must make,
in the things we say,
in the actions we undertake
Your wisdom fills our need.
Every day we will praise you
As we lay down to rest
at the end of the day,
you are with us,
as we lay our fears and burdens at your feet,
Your peace fills our need.
Every day we will praise you
Friends, Christ our Lord calls all who love him
earnestly to repent of their sin
and live in peace with one another.
Therefore, let us confess our sin
before God and one another, as we pray together:
Almighty God our Father,
we have sinned against you and one another;
we have sinned in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
In your mercy forgive what we have been,
help us to correct what we are,
and direct what we shall be;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Assurance of Forgiveness
Sisters and brothers, St Peter declares:
You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood,
a holy nation,
God’s own people,
in order that you may proclaim
the mighty acts of God
who called you out of darkness
into marvellous light.
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy. (1 Pet. 2:9-10)
So hear Christ’s word of grace to us: “Your sins are forgiven”
Thanks be to God
Hymn: Blessed assurance
<Prayers of intercession>
<Bible readings: 2 Kings 2:1-12, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6>
Message: A double share?
You might remember a couple of weeks ago, we had some trivia questions, and one of them was which two Old Testament figures never died. The answer was Enoch, from Genesis 5 (Gen 5:24) and Elijah – and we’ve had in our reading from 2 Kings this morning, the story of Elijah not dying.
And in fact, the story gets straight to the point: “Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind” (2:1) so everything that happens is in the context that Elijah is going from this world to heaven – not by dying, but by God’s direct intervention.
The story we have in today’s reading isn’t so much about Elijah, it’s about Elisha, but it’s important to know where Elijah fits in.
Elijah of course was God’s faithful servant and prophet for years. God worked miracles through him, so his ministry was more than just prophesying. The scriptures don’t give us any background on him, except that he is described as a ‘Tishbite’ – which might sound exotic tribe or something, but simply means in Hebrew ‘my God is Yahweh’.
As we read the story of Elijah in 1 Kings, his main task is challenging the worship of Baal, but also King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.
1 Kings 18, describes a a contest between the prophet Elijah and the priests of Baal. Elijah challenged the priests – they would kill a bull, and so would he, and then they would offer it to their respective gods.
You’ll probably know the story: The Baal priests went first, putting the pieces of their sacrifice on wood, and they prayed to Baal, but there was no answer. And then Elijah prepared his offering, on a rebuilt altar, putting the pieces of the bull on wood, and then had water poured all over it. Finally Elijah prayed for God to let the people know that the Lord was God.
And we read that God sent fire down and the people were impressed. But Elijah was not the forgiving sort, and he was zealous: He had the priests of Baal seized, and killed them all. All 450.
Jezebel was not happy and gave orders that Elijah be killed. So he fled and hid on Mount Horeb, and had an encounter with God there: The still small voice of God. And God encouraged Elijah, and one of the things he tells him to do is anoint “Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place”.
Then at the end of Chapter 19, Elisha enters the story. He’s ploughing in the field when Elijah finds him, and Elijah takes off his cloak and puts it on him – and so Elisha becomes Elijah’s follower, his helper and his disciple. And ultimately, as we’ve heard in the reading today, Elisha becomes Elijah’s successor.
At the start of today’s reading, Elijah sets out from Gilgal and heads towards Bethel.
Gilgal was the first place the Israelites came to in the promised land, and it served as a base for Joshua.
But as they leave Gilgal, Elijah tells Elisha to stay there, while he goes on to Bethel. In Hebrew, literally, the House of God. “Beth- El”. And if we go back to the book of Genesis, Chapter 28 tells us that’s where Jacob had an encounter with God in a dream.
Elijah doesn’t want his disciple to go with him, but Elisha says “No, I’m going with you” – well, he says it much more forcefully: “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
So they travel together all the way to Bethel. And there they meet a group of prophets, who go up to Elisha and say – “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” – I don’t know if they’re concerned that he may not know, or if they are worried that if Elisha is with Elijah when God takes him – he might be taken too – or hurt in the process.
But Elisha doesn’t want to talk about it.
Having got as far as Bethel, Elijah again tells Elisha to stay there: Verse 4 “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But again Elisha responds: “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
And so they go to yet another significant site, to Jericho – now Gilgal and Bethel may not be that well known, but Jericho is. Many of you will know the “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho” song from Sunday school. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down. And if you remember the story that the song is based on, Joshua didn’t win through military might, he won through faithfulness and God’s power.
And again, in Jericho, there’s a company of prophets who warn Elisha that Elijah is going to be taken away from him.
And again, Elishah doesn’t want to talk about it.
You might think this story is getting a bit repetitive… and it is, because in verse 6, Elijah said to Elisha “Now stay here; the Lord has ordered me to go to the Jordan river”
But Elisha holds firm “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
Last stop: The Jordan River. The Jordan that the Israelites crossed to enter the promised land. The Jordan that separates the wilderness from the land of Canaan. And as we look back at it, the Jordan where John would later call the nation of Israel to repentance and baptism, and would baptise his cousin Jesus.
The Jericho prophets followed them to the bank of the river. Elijah took off his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water – and it parted… and Elijah and Elisha crossed. From the promised land, into the wilderness.
Verse 9 tells us 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.”
A double share.
That might sound a bit greedy. But in Jewish tradition, the firstborn son – the heir – received a double share of inheritance. So if there we two sons, the elder would receive two thirds, and the younger one third. If there were four, the eldest would receive two fifths, and the others one fifth each. And so on.
So the double share identifies Elisha as wanting to be Elijah’s heir. He wanted to be more than another prophet – and don’t forget there were many prophets around –there were fifty back on the other side of the river, and others back in Jericho and Bethel.
And I think the request for the double share means Elisha wants to be all Elijah was and more. To build on Elijah’s work.
It is a big request.
Elijah tells his disciple that he has 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.”
He knows that such request is not his to grant. He can’t transfer his calling to Elisha – God has to grant it.
Elijah also knows that God is going to take him away, so he effectively hands Elisha’s request to God. If you see me taken away, then you will receive it, he says”.
And so they walked on, talking.
And we read that “…a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.”
But Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”
Sure enough: He saw Elijah taken up…
But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
Tearing clothes is a Jewish sign of mourning. Elisha grieved the loss of his teacher; Elijah might not have died, but he was still gone.
In spite of Elijah’s urging throughout the journey, Elisha stayed with him until the end, and staying with him until the end enabled him to receive Elijah’s inheritance – a double share.
In a way, I guess, everyone gets a single share of life – and while some single shares will be far better than others, they all come to an end. But Jesus offers each one of us a double portion of life – the chance to be born again – or born from above if you prefer that term.
Whatever discouragements we face in our own lives – or indeed whatever temptations we face just to remain where we are – we need to keep moving forward and keep our focus on God.
Had Elisha stayed at Gilgal or Bethel or Jericho or even simply on the other side of the Jordan, then he wouldn’t have received his double share. And so it is with us: Jesus calls us to follow him, to receive the gift of eternal life. But we can’t just follow him for a little while and expect to receive it. We need to be with him right till the end.
Elisha didn’t simply arrive on the scene one day and decide to be a prophet. Elisha followed Elijah. He was Elijah’s helper and his disciple. He learned from the prophet before him. He built on the work of the one that went before him.
In the verses that follow this morning’s reading, Elisha goes back to the Jordan, strikes the water with Elijah’s mantle – and the water parts, and he crosses back.
To where the fifty prophets from Jericho are waiting… “Elijah’s power is on Elisha!” they say, then “Let’s go and look for your master” they say. Elisha tells them Elijah is gone.
They don’t accept it… and go looking for Elijah. They search for three days, and then go back to Elisha who says “Didn’t I tell you not to go.”
If Elijah is gone, you won’t find him.
So why did they go? Well, they knew Elijah. They respected hem. So even though they knew he was going to be taken up, and even though Elisha told them that Elijah had gone, they still wanted him. Elijah was who they knew. Elisha certainly had certainly received Elijah’s power… but even so they didn’t really know who he was.
Things had changed, and they weren’t happy.
Which is a very human response. We miss what we had, and fear what’s to come.
And while we must remember the past and learn from it and build on it, we mustn’t dwell in it. We mustn’t pine for the past while we miss the opportunities the present provides.
The fifty prophets knew that Elijah was going, they saw that Elisha had inherited his power… and yet they wanted to go and look for Elijah.
They remembered the miracles that God had done through Elijah, but they should have been concerned about what God could do through Elisha.
Of course, people often have similar views of the church. We remember what happened in the church 25 or 50 or a hundred a years ago, and wonder why the same things aren’t happening today.
Well, we don’t have the people or the resources that we had 25 or 50 or a hundred years ago. But we have different people. We have new people. We have technologies and access to knowledge and access to communication channels that we wouldn’t have dreamed of 50 years ago.
Let’s not go looking for Elijah, when Elisha is with us.
We need to use yesterday as a track record, not as a medal of achievement or as a benchmark. Whether it is of something you did or something that someone else did, the past is the past.
We need to be persistent, like Elisha was. It would have been easier for him not to keep going on with Elijah. No one in our reading encouraged Elisha – all the people did was try to make Elisha quit, but he continued on determined to get a double share. Determined to follow in Elijah’s place, and take on his teacher’s mantle. And brave enough to keep watching even as the chariot of fire took Elijah.
Let’s try be like Elisha. Let’s not be content with what we have done – or with what others have done. Instead let’s go forward together and claim our inheritance…. Our double share of life.
Jesus died for us, once and for all, and John tells us that “to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,”
Let each one of us claim or reclaim that right today, and every day.
Song: Jesus, God’s righteousness revealed (This Kingdom)
Offering and prayer
Loving God, you have been generous to us beyond measure. All that we have comes from you.
The money and time and effort we give here and elsewhere, we offer to you. Guide us always as your faithful servants as we proclaim your glory, and help our neighbours.
In Jesus’ name,
May the love of the Lord Jesus draw you to him;
the power of the Lord Jesus strengthen you in his service;
the joy of the Lord Jesus fill your hearts;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be upon you and remain with you always.
Next Sunday: 21 February 2021
Mark 1:9-15, Psalm 25:1-10
Theme: “Following God”
Lectionary Readings for next Week:
Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25: 1-10
1 Peter 3:18-22, Mark 1:9-15