"Be Silent," Pastor Fred Kinsey
“Yes,” says Elisha, “I know that today the LORD will take my master away from me – be silent!”
It’s hard enough for Elisha to follow his mentor Elijah – to stick close by him, to hear the old man insist he can do it alone, go down to Bethel, then to Jericho, then the River Jordan – without him – even if he knows it’s just a test of his faithfulness, even if he’s staying strong and standing up for himself! But they won’t stop, prophets in every location they went to, kept coming out to warn him that God was about to beam Elijah up to the clouds – that is, the heavens – in a kind of water spout, or controlled tornado-of-a-whirlwind.
Somewhere inside of himself, though, Elisha, the young protégé, is convicted, that following in the footsteps of Elijah, this great prophet of Israel, is what he’s been called to do. But how can he really be sure? Why would he really want to? What on earth does it mean to be a true prophet, for the one true God?
The doubts he has, seem just as strong as the belief! Was he just continuing to follow, because he had already given up so much at ‘his calling,’ that day that Elijah had come by, and sort of casually tossed his mantle on his shoulders?
It felt like a tremendous honor at the time! Elijah had been coming by, more and more. They had had some incredible discussions, had argued and challenged each other, but mostly had really bonded. So when Elijah had anointed him with his mantle, called and designated him, as his next in line, Elisha felt as if he had, quite possibly ‘earned it’ too – and he was so caught up in the moment, that he immediately liquidated his assets, by burning up his plow, slaughtering and cooking his oxen on the fire, and actually, put-on his own going away party with his family and friends. He was, that excited, that sure, that ready!
But following Elijah now, down the hillsides of Judea, down to the holy places, like where Moses had first entered the Promised Land, and knowing that this was the moment of his greatest transition, and Elijah’s grandest transformation, it was absolutely the scariest thing he’d ever done. As much as the voices inside his head were telling him to run the other way, to go back to farming, anything familiar – he was able to somehow channel his anxiety, and focus his response, on ‘following,’ not giving-in to the temptation to leave the side of Elijah, but to go down to the River Jordan and accept his master’s blessing, walk into the unknown, fulfill his calling.
‘Then the Prophet Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water.’ And like Moses of old, at the Red Sea, ‘the water parted to the one side and to the other,’ and Elijah and Elisha crossed over, ‘dry-shod’.
By themselves, then, with the company of 50 prophets at a distance, Elijah asks his chosen one, Elisha what he might do for him, before being taken away. And without hesitation Elisha asked for, ‘a double share of his spirit.’ Elijah paused, and regarded his eager student: “If you see me as I am being taken from you, says Elijah, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”
And as the whirlwind swept Elijah up into the heavens, Elisha was able to watch – watch until he was gone – a tempest of fire and water. And now, truly alone, Elisha was mad with grief!
He had been afraid of this feeling too. And it made him all the more angry to remember the fellow company of prophets who had badgered him with their insistence, that he didn’t know that Elijah would be taken from him. He covered his ears, crying, be silent!
But that kind of anger could only turn into self-pity, and he had little time for that, now that he was wearing his master’s mantle, himself. His grieving would need to lead to acceptance, and a new way forward.
Face it, the view from the valley is the normal perspective we all live with. The visions of chariots of fire, and a whirlwind up to the heavens, are fleeting and rare. Never-the-less, a true vision of God, can carry us a long ways!
The journey of Peter and James and John with their LORD, seems to go – geographically anyway, in the opposite direction. The went from the valley up to the mountaintop, instead of down into the valley like Elisha, then watching Elijah go up! But after the long climb ‘up the high mountain apart’ from everyone else, Peter and James and John, see visions of the two great prophets, Elijah with Moses, talking with Jesus, who was transfigured before them. Jesus’ clothes had become ‘dazzlingly white, such as no one on earth could bleach them,’ says Mark. Is this a Tide commercial?
Actually, it reminds me most of Moses and the burning bush! The transfigured Jesus is a kind of a burning bush – lit up, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, but not consumed! And the voice of God will come from him, too. It’s an amazing moment! But doesn’t make much sense to Peter, who tries to understand and name it, and bring it under control, which was ridiculous – and finally he admits he’s simply terrified! Moses was afraid at the burning bush too, asking what God’s name was, but receiving only a mystery we are still talking about today: ‘I am who I am!’
Part of the mystery of the Transfiguration of Jesus, is how it’s connected to his resurrection, another mountaintop mystery, beyond our understanding, but hopeful and beautiful beyond anything else, in our lives of following!
It’s curious then, that what Peter admits, that “he was terrified,” is exactly what the women followers say at Jesus’ resurrection after they witness that the tomb is empty, and they flee, and “they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” A bold, if clumsy final word, to Mark’s gospel!
Do the women even go back to tell the other disciples? Even if they do, what happens? Are they as angry and depressed as Elisha was, when his master was taken from him? Is that all there is? What of the promise of Jesus to go ahead of the disciples to Galilee, back home to Capernaum, and meet them there?
Indeed, the disciples, women and men, would have to regroup after the resurrection. They could not – would not want to – wallow long in their sadness and confusion, either. The message of Jesus, his words and deeds, had changed their lives. His spirit was close by, and calling them, still. And his words, that Transfiguration Day, when they were walking back down the mountain into the valley and ‘he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen… until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead,’ now woke them up!
Now was not the time to ‘keep silent’ any longer. That’s what the disciples came to understand – maybe not right away, but gradually, as they reflected and prayed, discussed and grieved, the loss of their master.
And so, us too! We can’t, we won’t, keep silent any longer. We have been down to the valley. We know what it’s like to be afraid of our calling. We have grieved the loss of friends or family, those who been with us on our journey’s, and those who have fallen away from our calling to this place, this moment in time. But through our prayers and our hopes, we have received good news of a new way to reach out, in Food for the Soul – and new ways to praise our God, and share our joy – and new people to walk with on the way – whether up to the mountaintop, or down into the valley.
We are blessed with a company of fellow believers. Our perspective from the valley, is informed by our burning bush, or whirlwind, or mountaintop experiences, of Jesus. And we can rest assured, that our fellow travelers, will help us to carry the good news of our transfiguration and new life. And so now, we are silent no longer!