I once learned of a pastor who published a “Five More Minutes” podcast - where he’d write up and share the few tidbits that didn’t quite make it into his sermon and died on the cutting room floor. I envied the idea, as despite being on the longer side - my sermons stubbornly remain around 30 minutes, despite my target of 25 - there are always a few darlings I have to kill that don’t quite make it to the final draft.
Now, after cutting my sermon length to reduce the service length due to Covid-19 concerns, even more darlings have to be culled! Even though, again, my target of 15 minutes wound up being 20 minutes long...maybe I should just always plan for my sermons to be 5 minutes too long. So, at least for this week, I decided to pick up that idea from that pastor and share what I would have if I had “five more minutes.”
One thing caught my attention in particular at the end of our passage, 1 Kings 19, this past Sunday. We learned about who God is when we hit our limits, studying the story of a worn-out prophet Elijah who meets God at Mount Sinai. After encountering God’s power, presence, and provision, at the very end of the story Elijah is commanded to go anoint Hazael king of Aram, Jehu king of Israel, and Elisha to be his successor. Immediately, Elijah goes and invites Elisha to be his successor...but he never goes to anoint the two kings! In fact, those anointings don’t happen for quite some time; Jehu isn’t even anointed until 2 Kings 8, after Elijah is taken to heaven in 2 Kings 2.
Different interpreters had different takes on this. Was Elijah disobedient to God? Is Elisha shown to be more faithful than Elijah by how eagerly he responds to his prophetic commission, and then goes and carries out Elijah’s tasks? However, nowhere in the story are we told that Elijah is in the wrong, or disobedient towards God (usually, especially if the story is about a biblical hero, the writer makes very clear when they’ve messed up - see King David in 2 Samuel 11-12). I’m not so sure that the point of the story is Elijah disobeyed. In fact, I think the point is to show that “obedience” might not be so narrow as we imagine it.
Perhaps Elijah’s mission was to make sure that the two kings wound up anointed, not to do it himself. After all, the reason he comes to God in 1 Kings 19 is he is so burned out that he desperately needs help - he had abandoned his servant at Beersheba and fled to the desert alone, and was immediately told “the journey is too much for you”. Surely God wouldn’t respond to a burned out Elijah by saying, “Now, get back out there and work HARDER!” Could he instead be saying, “I have a few people who are lined up to help complete the tasks you’ve started - and it’s up to you to get the ball rolling!”?
Elijah trained up Elisha. Elisha, having been raised up as a prophet, goes to inform Hazael of his future as king in 2 Kings 8. Then, Elisha himself sends another prophet to go anoint Jehu later in the same chapter. They delegated tasks. They didn’t do it all on their own. They raised others up to accomplish God’s mission. They brought other people in. Perhaps the point, when we are at our limits, is NOT go out and work harder, NOT to go out and do better, NOT to go out and go it alone - but to invite others into the journey, to raise up and train others as leaders and volunteers and helpers, to equip others to help accomplish the mission of God.
For a long time, I thought my job as a pastor would be one day to pastor a big church...and evangelize a ton of people...and preach a bunch of great sermons...and be responsible for the spiritual development of all my people...and so on and so forth. After my secret heresy has been challenged by other fellow pastors, mentors, and by the leadership development culture in our denomination, I’ve been starting to wonder if my role is more to equip the people in the church to be leaders and ministers themselves - because we do far more together than we do on our own. (This is basically what Ephesians 4:11-16 is all about!)
When we’ve hit our limits, our “do better,” “be better,” “work harder,” culture would have us get back out there and just perform, push ourselves, prove who we are. But God invites us to something different. To invite others on the journey; to equip and delegate tasks for others to help; to not go it alone, but have friends to help us accomplish the mission God has set out for us. Perhaps the reason that Elijah didn’t go anoint Jehu and Hazael was not at all that he failed; perhaps it was that he finally, finally learned that a life of faithfulness to God is not something you have to do alone.
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