I don’t know that this is a familiar story. It is a fun story, but it is not often the text chosen for preaching. I think it is not often chosen, because we don’t want to think about a leader leaving those he has been teaching. When many of us think about Elijah, we think about his presence with Moses on the hilltop when Jesus is transformed before Peter, James and John.
Elijah was a great prophet of the Old Testament. He prophesied during the 9th century. He is the third great prophet of the Old Testament. His story comes after the work of prophets like Moses who led the Hebrew people into Canaan and after Samuel who anoints David King. Elijah is known as a miracle worker and has tough messages for the kings.
Elijah was the head of a school of prophets. When we come to 2 Kings, Elijah is going to the school to meet with the prophets. His close understudy, Elisha is with him. Elijah and Elisha leave Gilgal to go to the prophets’ school. Elijah tells Elisha to stay behind, but he refuses. So, Elijah and Elisha go on to Bethel. Elijah prepares to leave and tells Elisha to stay with the prophets. He again refuses and the prophets tell Elisha that the Lord is going to take Elijah away. He tells them to be quiet.
Elijah and Elisha go on from Bethel to Jericho. There is another school of prophets in Jericho. Elijah asks Elisha to stay there and he again refuses. The prophets tell Elisha that the Lord is going to take Elijah. Elisha tells them to be quiet. Elijah and Elisha go on to the Jordan. 50 prophets from the school follow them to the Jordan.
Elijah rolls up his cloak or mantle and strikes the water of the Jordan with it. The water parts for Elijah and Elisha to walk across to the other side. There, on the dry ground, Elijah asks Elisha what he can do for him. Elisha asks that Elijah bequeath to him a double portion of his spirit, the spirit of miracles and prophesy. Elijah warns Elisha that he is asking for a gift that carries great burden. Then a chariot of fire and horses of fire come and swoop up Elijah into Heaven. After Elijah was taken up, Elisha rolled up Elijah’s cloak or mantle, struck the Jordan water with it and passed across to the dry ground on the other side.
There are 2 men in the Old Testament who do not die. The second man is Elijah who is taken up in a great wind of chariots and horses of fire. Does anyone know who the other man is? It is Enoch in Genesis 5: 24. The Bible says he “walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.”
Before God took up Elijah, God had prepared prophets to follow him and continue the work of prophesy. God had raised up Elisha and the other prophets in the school. God did not leave Israel without prophets and He will not leave the church without leaders.
I want to go 2 directions with this text. First, I know some of you are growing weary of leadership. I know some of you are wanting to move into new roles of mentoring rather than carrying the load of leader. Last year, we took a break to discern God’s vision for us. We didn’t take a break from the stuff we’ve been doing, but we took a break from doing new stuff. I know some of you are ready to take on a different role. There will come a time when you can.
During Advent, I prayed everyday a special prayer to the Archangel Gabriel that he add to the number of disciples in our fellowship. I was very pointed in that I didn’t pray for just more people. I asked for more disciples who would be workers and leaders. I couldn’t figure out why my prayers weren’t answered. I haven’t been able to figure out why we’re doing all this outreach and we’re not drawing in new people. All the church transformation programs that cost thousands of dollars or the latest books tell church leaders to become missional if they want to grow. We are very mission-minded.
I think you might have been praying the same way I had been. You too are asking for more people or more workers or more givers. But, we’re not growing the way we’d like to grow. This week the answer came to me. We are not called to receive disciples; we are called to make disciples. We’re not meant to just have more people in our crowd; we are called to bring more people into our community. We’re not just meant to have more people in worship; we’re called to bring more people into a life-transforming experience of Jesus.
So, I want us to start praying differently about growth. I want us to start praying for more people to be drawn to us so that we can make disciples of them. We have to be very sure to pray with the intention that we will make disciples of them. I am going to write a special prayer that I will pray every day asking God to draw people to us that we can make disciples of. I will share it with you in the newsletter next week and I am going to pray that prayer everyday while I am on Sabbatical.
That’s the second direction I want to go this morning. Sabbatical. I am able to take this time away, because God has raised up leaders within this congregation who can preach, teach, pray and visit while I am gone. I thank God for your gifts and thank you for your willingness to share your gifts with the congregation. I wanted to again talk to you about what Sabbatical is, what I will do while I’m gone, and what you can expect from me.
Sabbatical is a Sabbath. In the Old Testament, Sabbath is the 7th day of the week. It is said that God worked for 6 days creating all of creation and rested on the 7th. We are all called to take a rest from our work. That 7th day, we are to devote to God and rest. God knows that we need a time to recharge and renew before a new week. God created within us a desire to worship and to connect with Him. On the 7th day, if we take the time to rest, we can have time to devote to God.
Sabbatical is an extended Sabbath after a period of work. Most Christian denominations afford their pastors a time of Sabbatical. It is typically 3 months after 5 – 7 years of service. I asked for 1 month after 3 years, because I knew you had not done a Sabbatical before. I think it is better for pastors to rest more frequently than for longer periods.
Sabbatical is not an extended vacation. I know there have been ministers in the past who have taken their 4 weeks of vacation consecutively during the summer. They go visit family or go the beach. I am not taking a 4 week vacation. I am not going to the beach or to visit my family. This month is a different type of rest than I get on vacation.
Like vacation, Sabbatical is a time for me to rest from the daily activities of ministry. But, it is also a time for me to reconnect to God in a time and space that doesn’t draw my attention back to the daily activities and demands of ministry. It is a time for me to explore new spiritual practices and restore other practices that help me strengthen my relationship with God. It is a time when I can clear my mind of the daily intercessions and focus my prayer life on receiving new inspiration and vision for leadership. If you have more questions about Sabbatical, ask Scott when he is here in 2 weeks. He just got back from Sabbatical and can give you his perspective.
During the month, I will be going to Black Mountain, North Carolina. We have rented a cabin there for me to stay in the woods for 3 weeks. I will be 8 minutes for the Disciples retreat center Christmount. I have been in contact with the retreat center about coming to visit for reading and devotion. There are several other retreat centers and camps nearby.
While I am away for 3 weeks of the time, I will be writing, studying, reading, and praying. I will continue that work at home during the last week of Sabbatical. As I said, I will be praying for our numerical growth so that we can have people among us to make disciples of. I will be praying for each of you. I will be praying for ways in which God would like to use me for leadership. I am taking with me several books and a list of books I’d like to purchase. I am not sure at this point if I will be reading ministry related books or renewing my love of reading by reading books for my own pleasure.
I will be writing a 30 day devotional called 30 New Days. I’ve talked about this before. It is a 30-day devotional following a 30-day New Testament reading plan. Each day will have a devotion based on a Scripture from that day’s reading. I will print the 30 day reading plan in the newsletter if you would like to read along with me next month. I am inspired by people’s stories so I will try to meet one new person each day whose story may inspire the devotion for that day. I will be studying some of the texts from the Bible reading for that day to write the devotion. When I return, I should have a rough draft of the devotional.
I am taking a little doll called Flat Sally with me. She is Flat Stanley’s friend. I will take her picture everyday with someone I’ve met or somewhere that I’ve been reading and studying, like the Black Mountain chapel at St. Arbucks. I’ll post her picture to Facebook everyday with an update of that day’s happenings. If you’re on Facebook, and haven’t already, send me a friend request so you can keep up with Flat Sally. If you’re not on Facebook, ask others who are about where Flat Sally has been and what she’s been up to.
Unlike Elijah who left Elisha, I will return to you. In the Sabbatical policy we adopted last year, I agreed to return to you if afforded the time of Sabbatical. The policy requires me to stay at least one year following Sabbatical. However, I have no plans of leaving anytime soon, so you’re stuck with me when I get back. Now, I’ll leave with you my stole, you might say my mantle. I will pick this up when I return, but leave it with you as a sign that I am going to return. Let it be a sign that I remain with you in prayer and spirit and that I trust your gifts for leadership while I am gone.
There is a responsive reading in your bulletin. I’ve asked Lisa Schultz, our board chairperson, to lead us in that litany. It is a time for us to say to one another that we are going to pray for each other and that I will return to you.