Sunday’s Sermon: The Take-Away

Texts for this sermon:

2 Kings 2:1-14 and Mark 9:2-10

  • Alright, ya’ll, I know I usually start off my sermons with a story, but our Scripture readings this morning have already presented us with two crazy, epic stories that feel like they came straight off a couple of movie sets.
    • First we have …
      • Two guys journeying together – mentor and his apprentice
      • Hear the tense movie music as they go along
        • Tension between the 2 of them – Elijah trying to get Elisha to stay behind: Stay here. God has sent me on to Bethel … Jericho … the Jordan. → Elisha continues to refuse: “Not on your life!”[1]
        • Tension from the outside, too – every time they stop, all these other prophets pulling Elisha aside in every place: Did you know that God is going to take your master away from you today? … Did you know that God is going to take your master away from you today?[2] → Did you know? Did you know? Did you know? Whisper whisper whisper.
      • Finally reach their destination – drama really begins
        • Elijah takes off his robe, rolls it up, smacks the river and parts the water so he and Elisha can cross to the other side of the Jordan
        • Then, as they’re walking and talking together, a chariot of fire swoops down out of the sky, comes down in between Elijah and Elisha, snatches Elijah up, and carries him off into the sky. … What?!
    • 2nd crazy Bible story:
      • Another mentor with a few of his followers up on a mountaintop
      • More drama
        • First, Jesus starts glowing – not just that cute pregnant-lady kind of glow … really glowing!: His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. His clothes shimmered, glistening white[3]
        • Then, all of a sudden, there’s more than just the 4 of them on the mountaintop – joined by …
          • Moses, one of the greatest fathers of faith
          • Elijah, the prophet who never actually died!
          • There they are … just chatting away with Jesus!
        • Out of nowhere, this mist – “light-radiant” cloud – engulfs them and a voice resonates from the cloud itself: This is my Son, marked by my love. Listen to him![4]
        • Then, just as suddenly as they appeared, Moses and Elijah are gone again and they’re headed back down the mountain with Jesus. What?!
    • Seriously, ya’ll … what more dramatic stories can you tell? And the drama in both of these stories stems from the same source: God interacting with the people in the stories. And, friends, God still reaches down into our lives, touching us, inspiring us, speaking to us and through us. And whenever we encounter God – just like Elijah and Elisha, just like Peter and James and John – our lives cannot remain unchanged.
      • Now, sometimes, like Elisha, we expect the encounter – remember all those whisperings from the other prophets: “Did you know that God is going to take your master away today?” – Elisha’s response every time: “Yes, I know it.”[5] → Elisha knew something was going to happen that day. He was expecting an encounter. He was expecting God to act, he just didn’t know how.
      • Sometimes, though, that encounter blindsides us – disciples experience → left “stunned by what they were seeing,” and “looking around, rubbing their eyes”[6]
  • Any encounter with God leaves life-changing take-aways
    • Like goodie bags for parties – little take-away baggies with all sorts of fun things in them (candy, stickers, little toys and trinkets) → Any and every encounter between kids – birthday parties, Halloween parties, Christmas parties, neighborhood picnics – all now carry the expectation that no child will walk away empty-handed. Elisha didn’t walk away from his encounter with God empty-handed. Peter, James and John didn’t walk away from their encounter with God empty-handed. They came away from their encounters with God with take-aways that changed their lives, and like Elisha and the disciples, our encounters with God leave us with powerful, life-changing take-aways as well.
  • First take-away: blessing
    • Subtle blessing in the gospel story → You see, today’s passage follows on the heels of Peter’s critical declaration: “You are the Christ, the Messiah!”[7] but for Peter, that was a leap of faith. He didn’t have any proof to back it up. So this encounter that we read today blesses him with divine confirmation of that testimony.
      • Blessing of reassurance
      • Blessing of affirmation
    • Flip side – Elisha asks for it explicitly: Elijah said to Elisha, “What can I do for you before I am taken away from you? Ask anything.” Elisha said, “Your life repeated in my life. I want to be a holy man just like you.”[8] → Now, I have to be honest with you. The good Minnesotan in me finds this asking uncomfortable. It’s a bit too forward, a bit too audacious, a bit too brazen
      • Pastor and contemporary Christian writer Maryann McKibben Dana points out the flaw in this kind of timidity: Too many good-intentioned Christians seem willing to make do, to go without, to give without ceasing, while refusing the balm they need.[9] → helps us understand that it’s okay to ask God for a take-away
        • Healing … guidance … strength … peace … blessing → We ask these things for other people, but how often do we feel like it’s okay to ask them for ourselves?
        • Certainly works out for Elisha – Elijah’s response: “If you’re watching when I’m taken from you, you’ll get what you’ve asked for. But only if you’re watching.” And so it happened … Elisha saw it all.[10]
        • Jesus’ encouragement: Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.[11]
  • Second take-away: new information/new outlook – a revelation → This is the disciples’ experience.
    • God’s proclamation may sound familiar to us: “This is my son, marked by my love. Listen to him.”[12] – same words that are spoken when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, but remember, Jesus was alone at that point. None of the disciples had even joined Jesus yet when he heard God speak those words to him on the banks of the River Jordan. So this proclamation is new information for Peter, James, and John. → can’t help but learn and grow after a revelation like that
    • Hundreds of ways that we learn and grow in our own encounters with God, too
      • Learn about ourselves – who we are when it counts, what we can do and what we can endure
      • Learn about our faith – our places of comfort, our growing edges, our questions and hesitations, our sources of strength
      • Learn about God
    • But what about when it’s a lesson we don’t want to learn? We may not like it, but sometimes that experience – that revelation – involves challenge, discomfort, even pain.
      • Elisha = perfect e.g. of this – Elisha’s response to Elijah being scooped up by the chariot of fire: Elisha saw it all and shouted, “My father, my father! You – the chariot and cavalry of Israel!” When he could no longer see anything, he grabbed his robe and ripped it to pieces.[13] → hear intimacy, grief, longing in Elisha’s experience
        • Maryann McKibben Dana: What [Elisha receives] is the awareness that whatever Elijah has taught him up to now will have to be enough; he must go on alone. What he receives is grief. … Elisha will go on to do great deeds, to be sure, but for now, his mantle is one of sorrow.[14]
  • In the midst of that sorrow, in the midst of that boundary stretching, we find the development of a third take-away: a new calling.
    • Dana said it: Elisha will go on to do great deeds.
    • Text says it, too: Then [Elisha] picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him, returned to the short of the Jordan, and stood there. He took Elijah’s cloak – all that was left of Elijah! – and hit the river with it, saying, “Now where is the God of Elijah? Where is he?” When he struck the water, the river divided and Elisha walked through.[15] → kicks off Elisha’s ministry
      • 60 yrs. as God’s prophet in Israel
      • Ministry characterized by humility, love for God’s people, and faithfulness
    • Happens today, too – Here If You Need Me[16]
      • Story of Kate Braestrup
        • Husband Drew was a Maine State Trooper planning on going to seminary to be a pastor after he retired → killed in a car accident in 1996
        • As she journeyed through her grief and loss, Kate encountered God and heard her own powerful and particular call to ministry. After struggling through seminary as a newly-single mom of four children, Kate became the very first chaplain for the Maine Warden Service, a law enforcement agency dedicated to serving and protecting the public as they enjoy Maine’s incredible natural resources as well as serving and protecting those incredible natural resources from human exploitation.
        • From sorrow and pain, Kate’s take-away was a new calling to be God’s presence of prayer and compassion in other people’s places of fear, anxiety, and pain. – chaplain for anyone interacting with the wardens but also a chaplain for the wardens themselves
  • And in Kate’s story, in Elisha’s story, in the disciple’s story, in our own stories, we find the final take-away: new life … resurrection. This is the point. This is the grand plan. Friends, this is the forest and the trees.
    • Through her new calling, through her continued faith, through her interactions with God in her career and in her children, Kate Braestrup found a new life and new love.
      • Doesn’t erase or replace love she lost → honors the life she had by continuing to live anew
    • Why did Elijah and Elisha mediate God’s message to the people of Israel? To help them find new life by returning to God’s way and walking in God’s love.
    • Why did Jesus take Peter, James, and John up to the mountaintop? To give them a glimpse into God’s plan for a new life of everlasting love.
    • Why did Christ come at all? – Titus: Our Savior Jesus poured out new life so generously. God’s gift has restored our relationship with [God] and given us back our lives. And there’s more life to come – an eternity of life![17]
    • Friends, this is the word of God – the Good News, the life-giving, life-changing Word. May it be a take-away blessing for each and every one of our hearts. Amen.

[1] 2 Kgs 2:2, 4, 6.

[2] 2 Kgs 2: 3, 5.

[3] Mk 9:3.

[4] Mk 9:7.

[5] 2 Kgs 2:3, 5.

[6] Mk 9:6, 8, 9.

[7] Mk 8:29.

[8] 2 Kgs 2:9.

[9] Maryann McKibben Dana. “Last Sunday After the Epiphany (Transfiguration Sunday): 2 Kings 2:1-12 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 1. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 436.

[10] 2 Kgs 2:10-11a, 12.

[11] Mt 7:7 (NRSV).

[12] Mk 9:7.

[13] 2 Kgs 2:12.

[14] Dana, 438.

[15] 2 Kgs 2:12b-14.

[16] Kate Braestrup. Here If You Need Me. (New York, NY: Back Bay Books), 2007.

[17] Titus 3:6-7 (emphasis added).