Whirlwind of Change
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
GONE IN A WHIRLWIND
Elijah was a religious leader, a prophet in the days when Kings ruled the land of Israel and Judah. What is important to know about Elijah, is as he went about his calling of holding God’s people accountable, he had in his possession a mantle. Now there were two meanings of a mantle in Elijah’s day. The first one is tangible, a piece of clothing that look like a robe. However there was a more significant symbolic meaning to one who had a mantle. Elijah’s mantle represented his calling of pastoral and prophetic leadership and authority.
Elijah was a prophet in the days when God’s people were divided into two kingdoms. Long gone were the glory days of David and Solomon. Kings were making selfish, poor decisions that focused not on God, but themselves. Elijah was the one who held them accountable. Elijah had a protege, whose name sounded close to his—Elisha. Elisha went wherever Elijah went, following in his footsteps, in awe of Elijah’s authority and leadership.
Elijah asked Elisha to stay behind as he journeyed, but every time Elisha’s response was, “As the Lord lives, and you yourself live, I will not leave you.” It seems Elisha’s greatest fear was that there would be a day when Elijah would be gone. He did everything he could to cling tight to his teacher and guide.
But change is inevitable. Change comes in a whirlwind. As they were walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended into a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha’s fear of being separated from Elijah had become a reality. The whirlwind of change came and the glory days were gone. Elisha watched it all crying out for Elijah, but soon Elisha could no longer see his teacher. The whirlwind of change brought Elisha to grief and as an outward sign of his grief he tore his clothes into two pieces. In an instant the glory days were gone. What would he do now?
GOD IS PRESENT IN THE CHANGE
Our call to worship this morning used words from Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; thought its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” These are powerful words to remember when the whirlwind of change surrounds us. God is present with us in the change as our refuge, strength, and guide.
Just a few weeks ago on Pentecost I preached on the gospel story where Jesus tells his disciples that change is coming and soon there will be a day when he will no longer be with them. Jesus tells them about their great advocate, the Holy Spirit, that will always be with them and guide them during the changes in their life. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.”
WHAT IS GOD CALLING ME TO DO
Today’s story of Elisha and the story of the disciples a few weeks ago facing change remind us that our calling as disciples of Christ is to faithfully embrace those moments of life that are full ambiguity, because do not fear, God is guiding us through it all. Knowing the good news that God is our refuge, strength, and guide in the moments of uncertainty and change; and knowing that God’s spirit is guiding us through new beginnings, it is worth asking ourselves in moments of whirlwind change, what is God calling me to do in this situation?
When God took Elijah up in a whirlwind, Elisha could have fled, he could have given up. But he didn’t. He knew that in this moment of uncertainty that God’s purpose was greater than his own desires.
Today’s story makes change seem so easy. Whirlwind of change happens, then we move on. But we don’t know how long Elisha stood on that bank and grieved that his teacher and friend was gone. We are never given a duration for how long it took for Elisha to go through the different stages of change. Between each verse could have been minutes, hours, days, or weeks. We forget that a lot can happen between two verses on a page.
After the stage of grief of the passing of the glory days, I would like to believe there was a moment in his grief where Elisha asked the discerning question, “what is God calling me to do in this situation?” The answer that came to him was…pick up the mantle. Elijah picked up that mantle and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.
Maybe hours or days later he reached another point where he knew he had his former teacher’s mantle but wasn’t sure what to do now, so he asked himself on the bank of the Jordan, “what is God calling me to do in this situation.” From that moment he begins to take his first steps forward to a new era, a new beginning. He takes the mantle that fell to him in a whirlwind and grasps it and uses it to continue to respond to the new ways God is calling him to serve in this whirlwind of change.
Whether we want to accept it or not, change is inevitable. We all have experienced moments of change in our lives. Change in schools, change in a family, change that happens where a loved one is no longer with us. Change can be difficult to navigate. I hope you all have found healthy ways to grieve and process difficult change. May today’s text remind you that God is present with you to guide you through the moments of loss and uncertainty. May God’s presence be a calm in the storm, a refuge and a strength.
This text is also reminding us that in moments of ambiguity and uncertainty we all have an opportunity to listen to how God is guiding us to pick up the mantle and carry on. Elisha heard God’s call to pick up the point where Elijah’s ministry left off. It wasn’t going to be the same anymore, but he picked up that mantle and began a new journey. There are lots of types of mantles in the world we live in, not just authority and leadership. There are mantles of compassion, comfort, laughter, strength, wisdom, courage, non anxious presence, and the list goes on. In the moments of change, know God is calling us to pick up the mantle of those people and places before us.
For us as a church the whirlwind of change has been blowing all around us. Last week Rev. Anna Owens had her last Sunday serving this church. A calling to something new for her husband Josh and for their family left us feeling like it all happened in a whirlwind. Maybe some of us are in still in the grieving phase, some of us are standing on the bank of the Jordan wondering what do we do next?
In about a month our fabulous director of music Carolyn Crandell will be retiring from her ministry here. For 21 years she has served this church, and there will be no doubt we will be grieving this change, and have opportunities to embrace the new.
Of course it is not just our church -- our town is in the middle of a whirlwind. Construction is everywhere. When you drive downtown you quickly come upon detours and closed streets. All around our property big new developments are brewing and change is coming.
This all became the most real on that early May morning when we all learned that Burger King closed. I want to be honest with y'all, before Kathy and I moved here we might have found ourselves in a Burger King on a few occasions. But since then Burger King has become my last minute stop where I might get a bite to eat between church services. When I would go in there, you would run into church members getting a cup of coffee or Sunday breakfast.
After church you would see a crew of people going in for lunch and extended fellowship with one another. It had truly become a mini outpost of church fellowship. Then in a whirlwind it was gone. The Sunday after it closed I watched people wander the church halls lost, looking for coffee. The after church lunch group did not know where to go together for lunch. As a church we tore our garments in two and grieved.
I know there are some Whopper enthusiasts out there, but I don’t think we all are grieving the same thing. Maybe it's the end of an era, maybe it's the uncertainty of what will happen next door, maybe its grieving the place where we had fellowship with fellow church members and friends. The good news is whether how important or how trivial our grief is, God is there to guide us and give us strength to pick up the mantle and move on to the new chapter.
It might be a stretch to say that Burger King had a mantle that needs to be picked up and carried on, but for our church it did offer a place for fellowship and sharing a meal together or coffee together. A few weeks after Burger King closed we decided to help those people who felt lost without their coffee and missing their faithful conversations with one another; so we provided coffee in the church. A reminder that we still have each other. The flame broiled smoke is gone and who knows what comes in its place, but the good news is God is calling us just like other changes that come in our lives to keep pushing on.
To help us move on and remember we can adapt our fellowship in new ways, the staff wanted to do something for the church. A big step in moving forward in change is naming the change, the grief, and acknowledging the new. So to help us move on the staff has something special in the works. Chris Sarkowski, who is an excellent cook, is making us some “flame broiled” burgers/sliders for punch on the lawn to help us toast the past of the life of the church and embrace the new together. As you enjoy some fellowship with friends remembering the past and all the change that comes in a whirlwind, I hope you all ask one another, what is God calling us to do now?