Archive for February 2018

2 Kings 2:1-12 2/11/18 Epiphany, Norfolk

There is a certain injustice to life with which we just have to live, sometimes. I stood up her last week and boldly declared that I had escaped preaching on the Transfiguration, having preached for two weeks on demons. Julia was stuck with the Transfiguration, as described in our Gospel passage this morning. What I didn’t take into consideration was that Julia just might get sick. And that’s exactly what she did. Well guess what! I’m still not going to preach on it. You’ll just have to come back in a year, because the Transfiguration is always our theme on the Sunday before Lent. So maybe next year someone we’ll deal with the Transfiguration, but I’ve done my duty with those two weeks of demons.

So, we’re going to talk about our First Reading from 2 Kings – the death of Elijah, and his ascending into heaven in a whirlwind. It beats demons, and it certainly beats the Transfiguration. And it’s also full of that wonderful imagery of “Chariots of Fire”, which some years ago became the title of a really popular movie and the popular theme song of the movie, “Chariots of Fire.”

Let’s start be getting Elijah and Elisha sorted out. It’s really easy. Remember them alphabetically by their names. Elijah comes before Elisha, alphabetically and chronologically

Elijah was a real person, a great prophet from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, in the 9th Century, BC. He gained great notoriety because he waged a battle against Jezebel, and won. She was the high priestess of Baal. Baal was the nickname for the God Hadad, the Canaanite God of fertility. And under Jezebel’s priesthood, the “order of Baal” had become really popular all through the Hebrew kingdom. And of course, this was in direct conflict with the Hebrew idea of one God. All of the prophets and priests of the time had tried to put the worship of Baal out of business. And they failed. Jezebel was just too powerful, and too popular. But Elijah had been able to do it. He fought Jezebel, won, and Baal was discredited and soon out of favor. It was assumed that Elijah’s faith in God was so strong that he was able to fight off and defeat this powerful, foreign, and wicked God, Hadad, with his awful priestess, Jezebel. Elijah was a hero throughout the land.

A huge amount of lore developed around Elijah. They said he performed all sorts of miracles, brought dead people back to life, predicted droughts, transported himself around by levitation, brought fire and armies out of the sky; thus, the “Chariots of Fire.” In addition, he denounced King Ahab for allowing foreign Gods to be worshipped in the land. And finally, he became head of the “prophetic guild”, which was sort of a “union” or “society” of prophets. The guild became known as “Sons of the Prophets”, and became a very powerful organization in the temple and the government, under Elijah’s leadership. And in the end, in our reading this morning, Elijah died and ascended straight to heaven in a whirlwind. So, Elijah was very special.

It’s interesting that when Jesus and John the Baptist began their ministries 800 years later, the first thing people asked both of them was, “Are you Elijah?” The people were looking for the return of Elijah, 800 years after his death. The idea was that the return of Elijah had to precede the coming of the Messiah. And that’s one reason the Jews don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah, even today. Elijah did not return, first.

But then, in our story of the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John recognize Elijah and Moses as the people talking to Jesus. How in the world would they know that? That Transfiguration just doesn’t make sense.

Well, let’s look at Elisha. He, also, was a real person. He was the son of a peasant, but apparently had some money, because he threw a banquet. You didn’t do that if you were poor. Elijah finds Elisha plowing a field, and calls him in the same way that Jesus later calls up his apostles.

God orders Elijah to ordain Elisha as his successor, and he “casts his mantel”, “mantel” meaning a “cloak”. He puts it on Elisha, and Elijah’s power is transferred to Elisha. Now, an interesting little item here – at the transfer, we find out that the “mantel” or cloak was woven out of hair. It was a “hair mantel”, and Elijah’s power was in the hair of the cloak. This is some of the old oriental mysticism that got picked up in Israel and Judah because the trade routes ran through the land. And the traders from all over the known world would gather around campfires with the Hebrews and share their lore. This “power of the hair” is oriental, and it appears again in the story of Sampson, whose great power rested in his hair. When his hair was cut off, Sampson lost his power. Anyway, Elisha promises to follow Elijah, and serves him faithfully until Elijah is taken up in the whirlwind in today’s reading.

It’s interesting that the last miracle that Elijah performed was parting the water of the Jordan River. AND, the first miracle that Elisha performed was parting the water of the Jordan River. That was seen as proof that the power had been successfully transferred. And both of these events are seen as linking back to Moses’ parting of the Reed Sea.

Well, Elisha also became head of the Prophetic Guild, and like Elijah, all sorts of magical and supernatural powers were credited to him. But the thing for which he was most noted was the idea that the Kingdom of Israel existed to fulfill God’s will. That was its only reason for existing, and of course, to know God’s will one had to listen to the prophets, of which he was the head. But if you did that, God would be happy.

Well, in today’s passage, Elijah has been told by God that his life and ministry is finished. He is going to die. His successor is picked, and now he just needs to follow through. He calls Elisha, and they set out on a journey together. Three times Elijah tests Elisha by telling him to stay behind. But Elisha stays faithful and does not leave his master.

The whirlwind is a popular OT theme. God hides in the whirlwind. Any wind blowing meant that God was nearby. And when it was time, the Chariots of Fire came down and separated them, and the whirlwind took Elijah up.

By the way, when Elisha dies about 50 years later, Joash, Elisha’s disciple, also sees the “Chariots of Fire.”

In Jewish lore, there is a huge amount of tradition around Elijah.

He is referred to, even today, as “The Angel of the Covenant”, and a “Chair for Elijah” is always present at a circumcision. At Passover, every door has to be left ajar in case Elijah returns and wants to enter. And last of all, the barking of dogs at night is supposed to mean that Elijah’s spirit is moving around.

I’m always fussing at Max, my Westie, for barking at raccoons all night. I’d better be careful. Maybe it’s not raccoons. It just might be Elijah’s spirit.


Posted February 13, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

Tucker House Christmas Party 2017

Posted February 6, 2018 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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