Rev. Rodger McDaniel is the pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Cheyenne.
These are excerpts from his sermon last Sunday morning.
2nd Kings 2, “Elisha took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.”
The last prophet for whom God parted the waters was Moses. Now it is for this little known, seldom preached Elisha.
Elisha had many of the same qualities, many of the same powers, much of the same authority as Jesus of Nazareth and but for one especially dark incident in his life, we might honor him in much the same way.
The Gospel of John records the first of many of the miracles of Jesus. It was at a wedding when Jesus changed the water into wine. 2nd Kings records the first miracle of Elisha as the day when he turned polluted water into pure.
” 19Now the people of the city said to Elisha, “The location of this city is good, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” 20He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21Then he went to the spring of water and threw the salt into it, and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have made this water wholesome; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” 22
It was the first of Elisha’s many miracles. Elisha is approached by a woman whose husband has died. “Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but a creditor has come to take my two children as slaves.” 2Elisha said to her, “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”
All she has in the world is a single jar of oil. In much the same way Jesus filled the vessels with new wine, Elisha tells her to find all the containers she can and go into her house and fill each with the oil from that last remaining jar which by the word of Elisha provided a never ending supply of precious oil. The oil from that one jar provided more and more oil until the containers were no more. “She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest.”
Then a Shunammite lady befriended Elisha. Described as wealthy and provides hospitality to Elisha.
This kind woman has no son and her husband is elderly. He blesses her with the conception of a son who later dies. “When the child was older, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19He complained to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20He carried him and brought him to his mother; the child sat on her lap until noon, and he died.”
When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33So he went in and closed the door on the two of them, and prayed to the Lord...3 3and the child opened his eyes. 36Elisha said, “Call the woman.” When she came, he said, “Take your son.” 37She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground; then she took her son and left. 21
Elisha now returns to Gilgal where he finds a famine. The people are starving. This story conjures memories of Jesus feeding the multitudes. Elisha too fed the multitudes.
A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” 43But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” 44He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
But…Elisha is barely a memory today. Why is that? It’s because we know one thing too many about him.
I am reading an autobiography of Malcolm X who was once asked how he could defend Elijah Muhammed against charges of womanizing in the Nation of Islam. “A prophet, he said, “must be weighed in the balance. Is right to toss out years of good because of one’s indiscretion?”
Elisha’s one discretion? This is a prophet who restored diseased water to purity, raised the dead, fed the hungry multitudes with a few loaves…but one day while walking to bethel, Elisha encountered a group of children. They did what children often do…the jeered him and made fun of his bald head. They called him “baldhead.” Go away Baldhead, they yelled. It seems like an annoying but harmless taunt. But it caught Elisha at an apparently bad moment. The scripture says he “cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.”
A life dedicated to God, doing good, healing and feeding and teaching…lost in memory to a single regretful incident. We do that, don’t we? We do that all the time to celebrities. Tiger will not be remembered for his unparalleled ability to play golf. Greg Mortenson will be remembered, if at all, not for building schools in Afghanistan but for the embellishments he included in his bestselling book. For all the good Elisha accomplished…the she-bear incident is what he is remembered for if at all.
Perhaps we have trouble weighing their lives in the balance of the good they’ve done because we can’t weigh our own lives in the balance.
Our lives can become a reflection of our regrets…those moments we’d like over, the things we said we wish we hadn’t, things we did that stung someone we love then…and us even now. Regrets over things we didn’t do, choices we wish we had made, lives we wish we had shared. My guess is that to his dying day, Elisha was not able to see the face of the boy he raised from the dead, or the smiles of those he fed but not a day went by when he didn’t relive the mauling of those children by the bear set upon those boys by his own curse.
Was he good or bad? It’s important to go back to the theme with which we started out Bible study. If you don’t know the Old Testament, you will never understand Jesus. Jesus came to announce God’s covenant…we are all sinners and fall short…not any of are all good or all bad. But we are all forgiven.
We can let go of our regrets and be thankful for those times in our lives when we did what God called us to do when we loved a neighbor like ourselves, fed the hungry, comforted the grieving, celebrated Jesus in our lives. That is the mantle Jesus left for us. In God’s eyes, we are never defined by our regrets, but by the faith that allows us to move forward, to try again, to be redeemed.