Staunton Mennonite Church
2 Kings 2:1-12
1Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah 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. 3The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” 4Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” 6Then 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. 7Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then 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.
9When 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.” 10He 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.” 11As 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. 12Elisha 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.
Everyone knows that Jesus is a golfer, right? One day Jesus and Moses were at the Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters Tournament, and they found themselves teeing off on the 15th hole, which is a 530 yard, par 5. Moses and Jesus hit their first shot and Moses decides that he better lay up. But Jesus is going to try to make it over the water hazard, to which Moses says, “There’s no way you can make it to the green from here.”
Jesus answered, “Sure I can. I saw Tiger Woods do it in 2002.” So Jesus hits the ball and sure enough, it goes into the water. So he goes to Moses, and he asks Moses to part the water so that he can retrieve his ball, which he does, and Jesus plays it from there.
The next day Moses and Jesus find themselves on the 15th hole again in the same situation. And again, Moses lays up and Jesus decides to go for the green. Moses says, “You’ll never make it from here.” And Jesus replies, “Sure I will. I saw Tiger Woods do it in 2002.” Kerplunk! In the drink.
So Jesus asks Moses again to part the waters so that he can retrieve his ball, which he does.
Moses and Jesus go out golfing on the third day, and again find themselves in the same position. Moses tells Jesus, “You’ll never get over the water from here.” And Jesus replies, “Sure I will. I saw Tiger Woods do it in 2002.”
But this time Moses says to Jesus, “Okay, but if you hit it in the water, I’m not going to part it for you to retrieve your ball.” Jesus agrees and he proceeds to hit the ball into the water.
Just then two other golfers come driving up in their golf carts and they come to Moses and they ask him, “Hey, isn’t that Jesus?”
Moses replies, “Yeah, but he thinks he’s Tiger Woods.” (That joke was borderline blasphemy, I know. But I thought it was kind of funny.)
Friends are important and they are good for more than just a golfing partner. We need friends to share our joys and concerns with. We need one another to experience the highs of life, and we need one another to help us to get through the lows of life. We need friends who are willing to part the metaphorical waters for us when they are able, and we need friends that can help to keep us grounded, to remind us of who we are.
Today I want to look at the passage above from 2 Kings to look at the friendship that Elijah and Elisha had developed. And I hope to see that we are called to stick with one another, especially when things are going bad and the future is unknown, even if our own lives and well-being might be in jeopardy. I call this, “When the going gets tough, your friends keep coming.” And I also hope to show that Jesus redefined who our friends are.
Our scripture for this morning tells us about the last days of the prophet Elijah. Elijah was a great prophet who was bold in his critique of the leaders, like Ahab, for allowing the worship of false gods in Israel. Elijah is known for his interesting way of preaching God’s message, through things like challenging the Baal priests to an offering contest to see whose god was the true God. Elijah was so sure of his God’s power that he drenched the offering with water and God still sent down a great fire to consume the offering.
So Elijah was a bit of a strong-willed guy with a strong connection to God. In our scripture for today we find that God tells Elijah to go from Gilgal to Bethel. After receiving this message Elijah tells his protégé, Elisha, the one he had been mentoring, to stay behind. But Elisha responds, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they go together to Bethel.
Now we can’t say for sure why Elijah wants Elisha to stay behind and we can’t say for sure why Elisha is so set on going with Elijah. But I would bet that they both wanted to do what they wanted to do for the same reason: because they were expecting Elijah to be taken away by God at any time.
We can see in our scripture that both Elijah and Elisha know that Elijah will soon be taken away. So do the other prophets. The thing is that nobody seems to think that anybody else knows that Elijah’s time is short, even though they all did know. However, even though both Elijah and Elisha seem to know what is going to happen, I am sure that there were still a lot of questions about how this whole thing was about to go down. Elijah couldn’t have known if it was going to be painful for him or for anyone else. Elijah couldn’t have known if there would be thunder and lightning, or if fire would come down from heaven and consume everything in its path. This kind of thing doesn’t happen every day, so there must have been a lot of questions in the mind of Elijah and in the minds of everyone that knew that Elijah was about to be taken into heaven. And questions can be scary. The unknown is often scary. Which brings me to my first point.
When the Going Gets Tough, Your Friends Keep Coming
So I believe that this fear of the unknown is why Elijah is trying to make Elisha stay back where things are safe. He’s thinking, “It’s best if you don’t stand too close to me. We don’t want to see you get hurt, just in case…” But Elisha is being a true friend. He knows the dangers involved in being close to his mentor. But he makes the proclamation that he will not leave the side of Elijah. And they repeat this whole scenario two more times when Elijah is called to Jericho and then to the Jordan. Elijah says, “Better keep your distance.” To which Elisha responds, “No chance, buddy. I’m sticking with you, even if this might be dangerous; even if it kills me.” And if you don’t believe me that they feared that there was some kind of danger, look at verse seven. There were fifty other prophets that were following Elijah and verse seven tells us that they weren’t any too interested in getting close to Elijah, likely out of fear of what might happen to them.
I think that this says a lot about the friendship that Elijah and Elisha had formed. Elijah cared so much about Elisha that he didn’t want to see his friend hurt, so he was willing to go through whatever laid before him by himself. And Elisha was so worried about his friend and mentor Elijah that he wasn’t about to bail out on him when things got scary.
Unfortunately this isn’t the way we normally operate, is it? How many of us would be like Elisha, sticking close to his friend through thick and through thin, even if your own life might be in danger? And how many of us would be more like the other 50 prophets that followed Elijah and Elisha to the Jordan, keeping our distance to make sure that we are safe? Everyone wants to be your friend when you’re on top of the world, and when they think that it might be beneficial to them. But as soon as we feel like we are in danger, either physically or that our social status might be in danger, that we might not be seen as cool, hip, or whatever the kids are saying these days, we often bail out on our buddies. A real friend sticks with you, a pseudo-friend watches from a safe distance.
We can see this very clearly in the story of Jesus on the night that he was handed over to the authorities to be tried and later crucified. Jesus would have had a similar relationship with his disciples as Elijah would have had with Elisha. It was a mentoring relationship where they grew to know one another on a very deep level. The disciples cared about Jesus deeply, much like Elisha cared about Elijah. But when the disciples’ own well-being was threatened, what did they do? They scattered, they ran and hid. Look at Peter. He even denied knowing Jesus three times to save his own skin. I think we could all learn from Elisha the way that friends should respond in the middle of dangerous or unknown situations. Because when the going gets tough, your friends keep coming.
Who are my friends?
But Elisha was not the only one being mentored by Elijah. Our scripture today tells us of a large number of other prophets, some who were residing in Bethel and some who were residing in Jericho. But regardless of where they lived, I would bet that they all had learned from Elijah, and probably claimed to be real close with Elijah when they were talking to one another. I can imagine them sitting around the well, “Oh, yeah, me and Elijah went out the other day and we were prophesizing together, making it stop raining and stuff, raising a widow’s son…” But as Elijah and Elisha pass through these cities, these groups of prophets come out to Elisha and each time they tell him, “Hey, do you know that Elijah is going to be taken away from us today?” They seem to be implying that maybe Elisha needs to be keeping his distance. It would be for his own good to do so.
So not only is Elisha hearing it from Elijah that he might be unsafe if he stays too close to him, the other prophets seem to be suggesting that Elisha would be a lot safer if he just stayed away from his friend and mentor. That is what we call “peer pressure”. These other prophets who would have likely called Elijah their friend when things were going well, now were advising Elisha to get out while he could.
We need one another. Life is tough and it doesn’t necessarily get any less tough. Even if we are following Christ, serving him daily with our lives, we are not guaranteed that life is going to be easy. Actually, one of the few things that Jesus does promise us as we follow him in this life is that we will have to bear our own crosses. But when things get tough for someone else, we have this internal instinct that tells us to get our while we can, to distance ourselves from them. Save ourselves while we can. Protect our image, our money, our whatever. And others will even encourage us to do this, much like they encouraged Elisha to bail out on Elijah. But we need to fight this urge to protect ourselves at all costs. We need to get over this instinct to look out for number 1. But I think that Jesus shares a parable that tells us how a true friend should act, even if that “friend” is someone we have never met before.
That parable is of the Good Samaritan, where the least likely one to stop and help a beaten and bruised man did just that. And the point that we can all get from this is that a real friend, even someone who has never met us before in our life knows that the difference between being a true friend (or a neighbor as Jesus calls him) and being a pseudo-friend is asking “what will happen to me if I stop to help?” vs. “what will happen to him if I don’t stop to help?” (Adam Hamilton, as quoted on “Jesus Creed”.)
I sometimes wonder why I waste so much time reading various websites, but every now and then I find nuggets that I can latch on to. Such was the case this past week as I read on ESPN’s website the story of a basketball game in Wisconsin.
Johntell Franklin, a senior on Madison High School’s basketball team lost his mother to cancer on Saturday, February 7th of this year. Franklin had originally made the decision to sit out a game that same evening, but changed his mind and chose instead to play on the same day of his mother’s death.
Franklin showed up during the second quarter of the game, but his coach had not put Franklin’s name in the scorebook because he was not expected to play that evening. Rules indicate that a player can be added to the game book after the start of the game, but a technical foul is to be assessed against the coach and two free throws rewarded to the other team.
The opposing team from DeKalb Illinois was aware of Franklin’s situation and asked the referees to overlook the infraction. But the referees didn’t really have a say in the matter. The rules are the rules. So while the referees really didn’t have a say in the matter, the DeKalb team did.
The DeKalb coach asked in a team huddle who wanted to take the free throws and when he did, a senior raised his hand indicating that he would take the shots. The coach asked him, “You realize you’re going to miss, right?” The player shook his head in an understanding way.
So they are all set up for a technical foul shot, meaning that the DeKalb player is standing all alone at the free throw line, while everyone else has to stand away from the basket. The Madison players were standing near their bench, watching the DeKalb player take the first foul shot, only to be surprised by what they saw.
The DeKalb player set up for a normal free throw, but only shot the ball two or three feet in front of himself and the ball rolled past the basket. The referee picked up the ball and handed it to the player for his second shot, and he did the same thing again.
What an unselfish thing to do. In a society that values the self above all other, this young man, a senior in high school, refused to pad his own stats, and instead made his own stat line look worse; those missed free throws went into the stat book. In a society where winning is everything, the DeKalb player made the decision to miss two freebies, and in the end, his team lost the game. But in the end, he made a new friend. http://sports.espn.go.com/highschool/rise/basketball/boys/news/story?id=3914375
We need each other. We need to be like Elisha, fully committed to one another, not bailing out when things get tough for a friend because we are worried about what it might do for us physically or socially. We need to be committed to each other, even when it seems to be the unpopular thing to do, like it was for Elisha. And perhaps we need to reconsider what we mean by friend or neighbor, just as Jesus shows us with the Good Samaritan.
We need each other. Where would we be without the other people that make up the church worldwide? What would we do when we find out that we have cancer if it wasn’t for the love and support of others? Where would seek help when we have a minor stroke? Where could we find assistance when we have a child and the household chores don’t stop? Where could we go when we lose our job and the mortgage is due on the first of the month? When things get tough, friends keep coming. The thing about friends is that we don’t have to go looking for them when we need them. Much like Elisha showed Elijah, friends are already there.