Pastors Sunday Message

Childhood Heroes

2 Kings 2:1-12, Mark 9:2-9

The familiar inner circle of Peter, James, and John receive another confirmation of the divine Jesus as he is transfigured. In eight short verses, the transfiguration is linked to several other parts of God’s redemptive drama. This story ties Jesus to Moses and Elijah, has hints of baptismal language, and in Markan style, declares this One to be the Son of Man.

I tried to remember and list all my heroes, and I had a hard time determining who had the larger influence over my life. Like many, my earliest heroes are my parents. But I tried to list the others. Batman and Superman surely made the list. Don’t laugh; I’m not talking cartoons I mean the real ones—Adam West against Caesar Romero as the Joker and the real Superman: George Reeves who I watched in many a rerun in black and white and color. The winner for me was Superman. I would run through the house with a towel safety-pinned around my neck and jump off the ends of the sofa.

As we mature, our heroes change a little. The next one I can remember is Willie Mays, and although not the Home-Run king Henry Aaron was, he was still my favorite. Next was Bond...James Bond. Now come on, when you are a teenager, nothing is cooler than Bond. If the situation required that he know how to speak Russian, then Bond knew Russian. If it required knowing how to fly a plane, then he could fly it. If it required knowing the fox trot, then Bond could dance. Bond kept the world free from harm, never got his tie messed up, and ended up with the pretty girl in the end. As a teenager, that is about as cool as it gets. Of course, as I started playing music professionally at the age of 14, Rock stardom appealed to me; traveling the world, earning a living with your passion, and of course, getting the pretty girl.

As, I matured, got married, and had children; exploring seemed to be the cool thing to do. Later on as the songs of faith and the call started singing in my life, I looked for new models. I was challenged and fascinated by new heroes, among them were some of the more prominent spiritual leaders of the day, such as: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Billy Graham. My heroes had changed again. But I never met any of them. What would that have been like?

Elisha had the chance to know his hero. He walked with the greatest hero of the Jewish people in his day. Elijah, you remember, led the dramatic contest with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel. All of Israel remembers the contest; God answered Elijah’s prayer on that day. Elijah called on God for fire, and fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice on Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 18). It was a high day. Elijah was God’s prophet and the people’s hero. We see in our text, toward the end of his life, Elijah the old prophet walks along with the younger Elisha.

The story has all the dramatic signs you would expect of Elijah’s final scene. He tells Elisha, “Stay here for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan” (2 Kings 2:6). Elisha will not stay and abandon his hero in the last moments. A company of fifty prophets follow at a distance and watch the slow walk of the aged Elijah and his edgy young companion. They watch as Elijah takes off his cloak, his mantle, and touches the waters of the river Jordan.

No longer completely amazed at the power given to Elijah, they do go silent as the waters part and the two men walk on dry land to the other side. Elisha has a thousand questions but can only remain silent until asked, “What may I do for you?” Maybe this question is what distinguishes the truly called ones. I don’t know that I could trust my answer if someone who had been given that much power asked what I wanted. Elisha answers, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit” (2 Kings 2:9). He asks Elijah to leave him the blessing of leadership and power that allows for continued demonstration of the goodness and power of the one true God. The request will be granted only if Elisha sees Elijah being taken from him. They walk some more.

Then the winds pick up and Elisha cries out as he watches the chariots and horsemen and the fierce whirlwind that take Elijah away. In grief, Elisha tears his own clothes. Then Elisha picks up Elijah’s mantle, calls on the Lord, touches the water with Elijah’s cloak, and in sight of the fifty attending prophets, walks on dry land to his new role of leadership. What a great story. There are parts of my own story that I find throughout that drama.

The loss of great leaders has led to grief for many. When great leaders retire and die we sometimes fret about whether life can ever be the same. I have watched great men and women participate in the enterprise and wonder if I could but half measure up. Personally, I have found myself afraid of fulfilling the work, even though I know that God is at work in the world bringing peace and reclaiming lives. Sometimes when I have seen Elijah’s mantle in front of me, I have been afraid to pick it up. Because, what happens if I pick it up and hit the water with it and nothing happens?

But the part of this story that interests me the most is not a part of today’s text. Further along in the story, the fifty prophets insist on sending a search party for Elijah. They can’t believe he is gone. Although Elisha insists that a search will be fruitless, they persist and search three days for Elijah. They just can’t accept that a chapter is closed. They can’t move into what God wants to do in the present and future because they are guilty of believing that God’s great work belongs to a day that is over. These fifty remind me of the folks who still hang around Graceland insisting that Elvis is still alive. They can’t move past an era that is over. They can’t open their eyes to what is going on in the world now. Maybe, therefore Elisha had to see Elijah go away. Maybe he had to know for sure that the era was over.

It is embarrassingly simple of me to think that the heyday of the church was when I was a child and churches were full and we all looked alike. I had a happy childhood, and they were good and abundant days, but my hope is always too small if it is in reverse. Is there a part of us that has given up on God doing something big in the present? Elijah did not represent God’s final great work, although some people thought so. God was still at work redeeming the world. Later, God would come to earth as a human—a person. God is still at work today, and God’s greatest work may still be ahead.

I mentioned with regret that I never got to meet any of my childhood heroes. The irony is that the great hero of my adult faith is trying to meet me! Like Elisha, I follow a hero who ascended and wants to give me a portion of his spirit.

Jesus also wants us to pick up a mantle and do something important within his great drama of redeeming the world. My hero is trying to meet you too, and his greatest work may be ahead of us, if we do not miss it because we are looking behind us.