Today we meet the great OT prophet Elijah. We meet him in our text right after the account of God revealing Himself to Elijah. The Lord told him, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LOrd, for the LOrd is passing by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains and shattered rocks before the LOrd, but the LOrd was not in the wind. After the wind came an earthquake, but the LOrd was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the LOrd was not in the fire. After the fire there was a soft, whispering voice… It was in that soft, whispering voice that the Lord appeared and then Elijah wrapped his face in his cloak and went out… With Elijah, we learn a very powerful lesson: the sinner is not converted through zeal, the law, and punishment but our gracious, merciful, patient good Lord converts sinners through the friendly and gentle voice of the Gospel; yet, storm, earthquake, fire, law, wrath, and punishment–the Law– must proceed the Gospel, which takes hold only in a broken and contrite heart and conscience.
But why this event? Why did the Lord come to Elijah in that soft, whispering voice? –Elijah was at his wits end. He had been a very zealous preacher of God’s word to the Israelites, but they abandoned the covenant, they tore down the Lord’s altars and killed the prophets–and now Elijah fears that he is the last one who is faithful to the Lord and that he is next in line to be killed. So what does the Lord do? –He seems to ignore what Elijah had just said and instead gives him a task: he is to anoint a king over Aram; he is to anoint Jehu as king over Israel; and he is to anoint Elisha as his successor. That’s the answer to Elijah’s lament over the faithlessness of the people? That’s the answer to his fears that he alone is left faithful to the Lord? –The Lord gives him work to do?!
But there is a great spiritual truth here we do well to remember in our lives. When we are in despair; when we begin to think “what’s the point?”; when we begin to feel sorry for ourselves–what is happening? –We are focusing on self; we are turning inward on ourselves and making ourselves the center of our thoughts. What does the Lord do here with Elijah? He directs his attention away from himself and toward the task that He then gives him. This serves us well, too. When we begin to focus on self and turn inward and feel sorry for ourselves, then let us turn our attention outward, toward others; let us then show kindness to someone, help someone in need; in short, let us live out our faith and let our faith lead us into good works–works of love for the neighbor. Let us be in the Lord’s service.
Today we focus our attention on one task the Lord had given Elijah to do: You will anoint…Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah as prophet in your place. Receiving this command from the Lord we read: So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. Elisha was doing the plowing with 12 teams of oxen in front of him, and he himself was driving the twelfth team. Elijah crossed over to him and threw his cloak over him. Here we learn that the to-be prophet Elisha was a farmer, plowing the field. Obviously he must have come from a wealthy family to have 12 teams of oxen; and to have enough land to require 12 teams of oxen to plow it. And then we read: Elijah crossed over to him and threw his cloak over him. Evidently the prophets were recognized by their cloaks. It must have been a sign of their office. We get perhaps a glimpse of that in the way St. John the Baptiser is described [Mt. 3.4]: John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. In any event, when Elijah threw his cloak over Elisha, Elisha knew exactly what it meant: that he was to be a prophet and to follow Elijah. Although it was Elijah who crossed over to him and threw his cloak over [Elisha], it was really a call from the Lord Himself to Elisha to be a prophet, Elijah’s successor. Remember: the Lord told Elijah: You will anoint…Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah as prophet in your place. He was to be in the Lord’s service.
Dear Christian, the Lord has called each of us into His service–not as a prophet, like Elisha was–but He has called each of us to follow Him and to be His dear Christian and a child and heir of heaven. The Lord did this at our baptism. There in Holy Baptism the Lord came to us and called us to faith in Him. Not only did He call us to faith at baptism, but in and through Holy Baptism He created that faith in us, faith that knows and trusts in Him and receives His gifts and blessings. In and through holy Baptism our Lord washed away our sins and brought us into His holy family; in baptism we have been united with Jesus and His death and resurrection and we are united with our fellow Christians.
Baptism may not look like much–a few drops of water and a few words–but it works great and wonderful blessings. Think of that prophet’s cloak that Elijah threw over Elisha. It didn’t look like/ seem like much. But it symbolized that Elisha was now a prophet. Not only did it symbolize that Elisha was a prophet, but it actually brought it about that Elisha was now a prophet. He got it! He understood that it wasn’t just a symbolic action but he was then called to be a prophet and was a prophet– for what did he do? –Then Elisha left the oxen and ran after Elijah.
In the same way, Holy Baptism doesn’t just symbolize something. It effects what it symbolizes. In Holy Baptism, water is poured on us. That is not merely a symbol of our sins being washed away. No! In baptism our sins are actually washed away. And like we heard last week, our sins are forgiven and we are clothed with Jesus. His holiness and righteousness cover us. And just as that water was poured over our head at our baptism, that didn’t just symbolize the Holy Spirit being poured out on us. No! In Holy Baptism the Holy Spirit and His gifts are poured out on us richly and abundantly. St. Paul is very clear [Ti 3.5,6]: according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior. At our baptism, God called us into His service and equipped us.
It doesn’t end there with baptism. God calls us to serve Him in various ways. Obviously Elisha was one of those who remained faithful to the Lord when the vast majority of people rejected Him. And now, through Elijah, the Lord was calling him into a service other than farming. Here is a marvelous example for us: let us always be ready at every moment to follow Jesus when He calls us–be it for something big or small. May we greet each day with the prayer: Lord, use me someway today in your service. Let us always be aware of ways the Lord is calling us to serve Him–usually in serving others. But may we also remember that not everything we think is from the Lord is actually from the Lord–so let us pray for discernment, that the Lord make it clear to us. Yes, dear Christian, we are in His service. It began with our baptism and it continues all throughout our life!
As God calls us into His service, there is a complete change or shift in our lives! We see that in the case of Elisha: Elijah crossed over to him and threw his cloak over him. [That’s his call! And the response?] Then Elisha left the oxen and ran after Elijah [And then it goes even deeper and further. Elisha makes a complete break with his past]…So Elisha…took the team of oxen and slaughtered them. Using the equipment from the oxen as fuel, he cooked the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he got up, followed Elijah, and served him. This is really a good picture of what the call to follow Christ really is all about; of what being a Christian means for us in our daily lives. With Elisha, there is no hesitancy. He understood that he was to be a prophet of the Lord in very different and hostile circumstances. That’s what it means–and always has meant–to be a Christian. We see that in today’s Gospel, with these hard sayings of Jesus: there is a cost to following Jesus, to being in His service. Are we willing to accept it? Let us hear again Jesus’ hard words at the end of today’s Gospel: No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.
For Elisha there is a complete break with his past–he no longer needs his oxen or farm implements any more. The oxen he slaughters for sacrifice–and what wasn’t needed for sacrifice, he gave to the people–boiling up the meat using the yoke and wooden parts for the fire.
That is a beautiful image of what being a Christian is and daily living out our baptism and calling as Christians. Being a Christian and living for Christ means giving Christ our all. It means giving Him daily our hearts, souls and bodies. It is a turning away from self. Before conversion, or living a life apart from Christ means that we see the whole world revolving around us: the whole world revolves around our ego, our needs, our projects and plans, our likes and dislikes. Everything has to revolve around us. Look how frustrating that type of life is and look at how unfulfilling it really is in the end. There is never any satisfaction. But when Christ calls us to follow Him like He does at our conversion and baptism, and daily by the call to repent, to turn away from our sin, how different our lives are. There is that complete break. We fight against sin. We strive to put down our sinful wants and desires. Now Christ is our all in all. His will is ours. We see ourselves as we are as baptized Christians–wrapped up in Christ. St. Paul writes [Gl 2.20]: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. This life–in His service–is the life that is most free and most fulfilling.
Elijah crossed over to him and threw his cloak over him. Yes, Elijah threw the cloak, but that he did so was at God’s will and command: You will anoint…Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah as prophet in your place. So when the cloak was thrown on him, it wasn’t Elijah’s call but God’s. The same way when we were brought to faith and the same way when we are called daily to follow Christ in repentance and faith–it is God calling us. Just think what that means: if you aren’t a Christian and hear the call to come to faith and you refuse– or if you are a Christian and hear the call to repent and yet you don’t, you are refusing God–the almighty God of heaven and earth. If we do this, we are putting ourselves above God; we are making ourselves to be God. It is a very humble thing to say, “Yes, Lord!” like Elisha did here. Then Elisha left the oxen and ran after Elijah. To be in the Lord’s service means humility but how blessed it is!
And the thing is, God gives us joy as we serve Him. What wonderful peace we have with that clear conscience with the forgiveness of sins! What a great joy we have as we strive to do the Lord’s will–knowing that we are doing the will of God almighty. What a joy to know that the God we serve loves us and is working all things for our spiritual good and to bring us finally to Himself one day in heaven. What a joy to know that we are the children of God and that we reflect His holiness in our lives. And the wonderful assurance we have is that to the one who faithfully obeys the Lord, to that one He gives more joy to his service and in his service. Serving the Lord is never drudgery. Think of Elisha–before called to the Lord’s service would he have killed two oxen and destroyed their equipment? Hardly! But it’s all different now. Serving the Lord changes our perspective–giving us a heavenly perspective– and gives us joy. What a glorious change happens as God calls us to serve Him! The Lord called Elisha; He also calls us! INJ