February 14: The Last Sunday after the Epiphany

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for February 14, was based on the below manuscript. The Biblical texts for the day were for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany.

Today from the Hebrew Scriptures
we have Elisha saying goodbye
to Elijah.
Elijah knows he’s leaving.
Apparently the schools of prophets
the congregations of God’s annointed
throughout the region know, too.
God is going to take Elijah up
by a whirlwind of fire,
and Elijah tells Elisha
“Stay here.”
The Lord has sent me as far as Bethel,
the Lord has sent me to Jericho
the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.
They make it to the Jordan,
and Elija emulates his predecessor Moses
and God continues God’s work.
Elijah takes his mantle
perhaps a tallit,
perhaps not too different from this cope,
rolls it up, strikes the water,
and they go to the other side.

They’ve made it to a liminal place,
the generic Place Beyond the Jordan,
and master and apprentice,
friends like father and son,
keep talking to one another.
Elijah asks Elisha
what he can do for Elisha
before he’s taken up.
Elisha asks for a double share
of Elijah’s spirit.
A double share
of the greatest known prophet
to the Israelites.
Elijah says
that if Elisha watches
as Elijah is taken away,
it shall be his.
As they walk and talk,
a chariot of fire separates them.
A whirlwind takes Elijah
to be with God,
not through death
but through being called.
Elisha watches,
will receive that double spirit,
but has lost his mentor,
father figure.
He’s asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit,
and rips his own clothes in half
when Elijah is finally gone.

Last week I talked about
how we’re tired.
This week it only seems worse,
We’ve endured another impeachment trial.
We made it through.
As Elijah and Elisha make their way
to the place God will take Elijah up,
Elisha keeps being reminded
that their time together is short.
“Do you know that today
the Lord will take your master away from you?”
“Yes, I know; keep silent.”

This impending sense of goodbye
is something we all encounter at some point.
This year we’ve said goodbye to Marcos,
and Claudia said goodbye to Rick.
In your various families,
you’ve said goodbye to people you love,
whom we may not have known.
We’re inching closer to half a million people
whose families have had to say goodbye
as a result of COVID19.
This doesn’t even take into account
the normal, natural order
of loved ones’ deaths.
There are also those
who tell their loved ones goodbye
as they leave for prison
for indeterminate periods of time.

Even with all the exhaustion,
the grief,
the forbidding warnings
the attempts to avoid thinking about it,
and the torn clothes,
God shows up for Elisha.
Elisha loses his mentor,
but gains a double portion of his spirit.
Not only does Elisha gain the double portion of Elijah’s Spirit,
he’s faithful to the end
and sees a glimpse of God’s full glory
in the chariot of fire.
Much more than that
and he would have died from awe himself,
but he knows the living God.
Knowing the living God,
he grieves.
And rightly,
no one criticizes him
for grieving what’s been lost.

“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.”
Determined to see his master to the end,
Elisha does not avert his eyes.
He’s promised that even as his master
is literally promoted to glory —
not even a euphemism! —
what he’s learned will be augmented.
He continued to follow Elijah
until God took Elijah away.
After Elijah’s departure
Elisha still has his memories and learning
and a double portion of his spirit.
He does not go into his prophetic work alone.
God is faithful,
and stays with him, too,
until the end.

Like Elisha in this text,
there’s a lot we’re grieving.
That we’re gathered the way we are,
is part of our grief.
From birthday parties,
to weddings and funerals,
to vacations that could bring rest
we’ve lost a lot over the last year.
Every time we’re reminded something like,
“Just because it’s snowed,
you are not immune from COVID19”
we may be tempted to say like Elisha,
“Yes, I know; keep silent.”
You may feel that way about my sermons
that remind us of COVID19 death counts
and problems of systemic racial injustice
particularly around policing.
“Yes, I know; keep silent.”

In our grief,
we have a friend like Elisha.
God in Jesus the Christ,
is with us till the end.
When we’re as tired as we are,
we can call on Jesus
whose glory is shown to the disciples
and who has sent us the Spirit.
We may not be taken up
in whirlwinds of fire,
but we have been given new life in Jesus.
Feel your grief.
Know it.
Rip your clothes
or make a plan to go to a destruction room.
Then look back to the empty cross,
back to the empty tomb,
back to the waters of life.
And remember.
Jesus whose glory
causes the disciples to fall on their faces
has assured us like Elisha to Elijah,
“As the Lord lives,
and as you yourself live,
I will not leave you.”

Leave a Comment