“Joining the Prophetic Parade”
2 Kings 2: 1-14 ~ Rev. Scott Turnbrook ~ June 30, 2019
Who doesn’t love a parade? The city of Toronto welcomed their victorious basketball team, the Toronto Raptors with a victory parade with people cheering at the sidelines and welcoming their champions. Parades are held to cheer on Santa Claus and the elves. Parades are held to celebrate different cultures, and tomorrow many communities across Canada will host Canada Day parades as they celebrate our wonderful country. The interesting thing to consider is how one participates in the parade. Some of us sit on the sidelines, holding their coffee in hand and taking it all in. Others participate on the sidelines; they exhuberently cheer and wave flags. But some actually participate and join in the parade marching along in full celebration. I would like, this morning, for us to consider a figurative parade that has unfolded over the generations…the parade of the prophets. Our choir sang a litany to the many prophets who have spoken God’s Word throughout the generations. And there has been a parade of prophets ~ generations of prophetic witness ~ who have spoken God’s Word to rulers at the risk of their very lives. In scripture, we think of Jeremiah and Isaiah with long documented lives as prophets. We think about the twelve (as they are often called) minor prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zekariah, and Malchi. And this morning’s text shines some light on some of the earliest prophets in scripture: the story of Elijah and the passing of his mantle to his successor Elisha. Indeed the generations have seen a parade of God’s faithful prophets who have spoken truth to power, comfort to pain, hope to the broken.
In the case of this morning’s text, we see a parade as the progression of prophetic responsibility shifts from one great prophet to the next. We spent last Sunday focusing on Elijah who demonstrated faithful witness as one of God’s prophets. He represented God’s honour to the point of even placing himself in harms way with Queen Jezebel and King Ahab. We recall the story of him fleeing for his very life, hiding in a cave and waiting for God to come and rescue him from this dire fate. Elijah’s story taught us of the importance of these ‘cave moments’ of hiding away and holding moments of “sheer silence” in order for God’s presence to truly be experienced. The parade; however, does continue and the ‘baton is passed’ eventually. Elijah’s young student Elisha has slowly been growing in wisdom and experience. In an earlier story, Elijah takes his mantle (similar to a cloak or robe one would wear) and throws it over Elisha as he is plowing the field (1 Kings 19:19). Elisha is getting closer to succeeding him. And in this morning’s text, we find that Elisha is now ready to move from being Elijah’s servant to Elijah’s successor as we see the prophetic parade continue.
The other prophets had been taunting Elisha “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” Elisha replies: “Yes, I know; keep silent”. The taunting continues again and again. And Elijah reassures his young protégé that all will be well. “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you”. As he knows the certainty of Elijah’s physical departure, Elisha has one final wish: a double-share of Elijah’s spirit…a final reassurance that Elijah will walk with him spiritually even after he is gone bodily. And as the dramatic occurrence of Elijah’s ascension upon the chariot of fire, Elisha tears up his clothes ~ a symbol of his servanthood ~ and he takes Elijah’s mantle as his own and continues the parade of prophets. You see…there was a big difference between having the mantle thrown over his shoulders when he was working in the field as Elijah’s servant and now tearing his clothes off and taking on the mantle himself. He is now ready…he is prepared…he joins the parade of God’s great prophets who will speak words of justice, peace and hope.
There is a powerful story of Giacomo Puccini’s final opera entitled “Turandot”. Puccini was in the course of writing “Turandot” when his health declined rapidly. Fortunately, he had many students working under him. Realizing his rapidly failing health and his desire to finish this splendid opera, he said to his students: “If I don’t finish “Turandot”, I want you to finish it for me”. After his death, the opera was promptly completed. At the world premier of “Turandot” in 1926, Arturo Toscanini (Puccini’s favourite student) had the honour of direct. The first half of the performance went off beautifully. However, at the point when Puccini died and his composition ended, Toscanini stopped the music…he turned to the audience with tears flowing down his cheeks saying “thus far the Master wrote, but he died” A vast silence filled the opera house. Toscanini managed a smile through his tears and he exclaimed “but his disciples have finished his work” and the opera continued. When “Turandot” concluded, the audience broke down into a thunderous applause.
I wonder if there is a great parade of prophets that yearns to continue through the generations. I’m not just speaking about Elijah to Elisha or Puccini to Toscanini, I am speaking about the parade of prophets that continues through the generations of faithful prophets like you and I. Have you ever thought of yourself as being a prophet? Have you ever thought of yourself as a vessel through whom God’s word might be spoken? If you haven’t…I would encourage you to consider this as a part of your faithful living as a follower of Jesus Christ.
It was the great 16th Century Spanish mystic, St. Teresa of Avila who offered the well-known wisdom that is worthy of repeating: “Christ has no body but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which He looks Compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet. Yours are the eyes. You are His body. Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Christ has no body now on earth but yours”. And our mouths are meant to be prophetic…to speak Christ’s words of hope…of justice…of forgiveness…of love.
I wonder…what it might look like for us to join the parade of prophets? To join the generations who have spoken God’s word, in sometimes challenging times? It’s not easy…but it’s not all that complex either. I was in the changeroom after a hockey game a month or so back. Hockey change-rooms can be a cesspool for male adrenaline and alpha behavior. I overhead a conversation that began with one fellow complaining about his wife…another fellow chimed in…and a litany of complaints about women ensued. And then one brave soul chimed in. ‘Hey…if you guys aren’t happy with your wives, why don’t you talk to them about it instead of bashing them in here?’ May I suggest that this person was prophetic as he witnessed to love and justice. We have all witnessed parents at the end of their rope in a grocery store lineup with their child. Occasionally, I’ve seen prophetic individuals speak up for the defenceless child: ‘hey…I’ve been there when my kid’s having an off day as well, but remember he’s just a little boy’. And it’s not always awkward conversations either. Sometimes it’s just about sharing your faith, authentically, with our family and friends. Do we wish people ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Merry Christmas’? Do we offer to pray for people that are having a difficult time? Do we invite them to church? Prophetic witness is about offering a voice to the voiceless; it is about speaking truth to power; it is about offering the love and compassion of Jesus that otherwise would not have been spoken. I think, as we look at the continued succession of God’s prophets, the call for all of us is to join the parade.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is an amazing German theologian who lived out his ministry amidst the Nazi regime. His participation in a plot to overthrow Hitler, resulted in his imprisonment and death. This prophet of the last century spoke about grace ~ grace that is cheap and grace that is costly. Bonhoeffer wrote: “Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace. Cheap grace is grace…without costs. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living incarnate Jesus Christ…Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which has to be asked for, the door at which one has to knock. It is costy, because it calls us to discipleship; it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs people their lives; yet it is grace because it thereby makes them alive”.
There is a parade going on. A prophetic parade that has been occurring through the generations. Elijah and Elisha…Puccini and Toscanini…Bonhoeffer…King…Teresa…and the list goes on. The question is will we join the parade or simply stand on the sidelines and watch. Come…let us join the parade!