Invited: Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 19:15-21)

This summer I preached a series called “Invited.” In the next 5 posts I will share my ideas concerning the texts that shaped the sermons. In this series my goal was to encourage people to invite others to experience God by overcoming cultural awkwardness, personal vulnerability, and whatever else that prevents us from mentioning our personal experiences of God in conversations. I picked the passages that illustrate 1. how little it takes to extend invitations; 2. how most of the “work” is done by God once the person answers the invitation and gives God a try, and 3. how amazing the consequences could be of just one encounter with God! Here are the 5 stories about invitations that I covered: 

  1. Elijah inviting Elisha to follow him (1 Kings 1:15-21)
  2. Philip inviting Nathanael to meet Jesus (John 1:43-51)
  3. Moses inviting Aaron to lead exodus (Exodus 4:10-17)
  4. Samaritan woman inviting her town to meet Jesus (John 4:19-42)
  5. Paul inviting us to the communion table (1 Corinthians 11:17-34)

These five stories have the same plot trajectory – a person who has experienced the presence of God in a powerful way invites someone else to share in this experience – and the results of these invitations are life-changing. 

To introduce the story of Elijah and Elisha, I carefully read a few previous chapters to understand what is happening in Elijah’s life at the time. After Elijah’s encounter with Baal’s prophets that resulted in their slaughter at his hands. Terrified for his own life, Elijah leaves his assistant and hides by himself in the desert. I can spot a couple of common signs of depression in his behavior at that time – he alienates himself, he wishes for his own death, he is apathetic (“He lay down and slept under the solitary broom bush.” 1 Kings 19:5). 

God finds him in this state and in their conversation tells Elijah to find Elisha who will replace him as a prophet of God and who will have a lot of power (1 Kings 19:16-17). Some translations (such as CEB) speak of Elisha as a successor. The word we discuss is תַּחְתֶּֽיךָ which is translated as “in your place.” Basically, deeply depressed prophet Elijah is told by God to get up and anoint his own replacement. Needless to say, this invitation was not warm and fuzzy. 

When Elijah finds Elisha, he is working on his field. Elijah throws his coat on him. I am well aware of the scholarship done on the possible symbolic meanings of this gesture, but none of it negates the awkward and absurd nature of this action. What I find fascinating is that Elisha is able to decipher this gesture as an act of invitation from Elijah. It gets worse. When Elisha asks for the permission to say goodbye to his parents, Elijah is rude in his response. Overall, the invitations itself is a disaster. Elijah does not explain the purpose of his visit or the possible consequences of Elisha’s decision to follow him and replace him (eventually). Honestly, I am shocked that the invitation worked. 

Not only Elisha follows Elijah, he immediately demonstrates the signs of transformation of his priorities in life. He turns from tending his field and securing the provision for his future, to slaughtering the oxen and burning the equipment to feed the people. The immediate needs of others become more important than his own or of his family. Yes, answering a call to ministry could his hard your family’s pocket (#preacherrant). The acts of slaughtering and burning serve as symbolic end of previous life and beginning of new – serving God as a prophet.

The invitation worked not because Elijah was convincing, overall he appears to be an angry jerk. The invitation worked because God has called Elisha and prepared his heart probably long before Elijah showed up with his old dirty coat. I wish we knew what was on Elisha’s mind when he spent days in his field.What did he pray about? What did he ask of God? What was his faith journey like? As always, the Bible leaves me with unanswered questions – and I continue to wonder.

Telling this story allowed me to talk to the people about ways in which they could invite people to experience God, even when we ourselves are not at the best place in our lives and our invitations may come across as awkward. Seriously, you hardly could screw up an invitation more than Elijah did, but it worked – and I find hope and encouragement in that. 

Here is the link to my sermon. 

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