Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 10, 2010

Sermon on 1 Kings 19:19-21


Text: 1 Kings 19:19-21


If you ever have “one of those days” and need a little bit of perspective on your problems, just check out the lives of some of the Old Testament prophets.  God’s messengers in the Old Testament had plenty of “those days.”  The frightened and timid Moses was called to proclaim God’s will to stubborn Pharaoh, but he never was able to change the obstinate oligarch of Egypt.  Isaiah, according to tradition, was martyred by being sawn in half.  Jeremiah was once thrown in a cistern and given death threats just because people didn’t like what he had to say.

Then there is Elijah in today’s First Lesson (1 Kings 19:14-21).  Elijah had just had a successful showdown with the prophets of a false god named Baal, and 450 of those prophets of Baal lost their lives as a result.  But the wicked king and queen of Israel were very much in favor of Baal and all of the pagan, immoral behavior that went along with Baal worship.  So Elijah found himself on the run for his life, essentially fleeing from the government.  At the start of our First Lesson, he was down and out, thoroughly convinced that he was the last faithful follower of the Lord God.

In these down-and-out circumstances, the Lord not only encouraged Elijah, but he provided a successor for him who would learn from him and eventually carry out his prophetic work.  That successor, Elisha, proved to be as committed a follower of the Lord as Elijah was.  The lesson that Elijah learned from this experience is one that we do well to learn from.  Even in tough times and difficult circumstances, the Word of God calls us to follow Christ with complete commitment!


Today’s First Lesson began with Elijah’s complaint.  Instead of tremendous success for his faithful ministry, he saw nothing but tremendous opposition.  He is physically tired and emotionally worn out.  So what does God do with Elijah’s complaint?  He ignores it!  He ignores it altogether and tells him to get to work.  His task was to appoint two men to serve as the new kings of Aram and Israel, and to appoint Elisha to be his successor as prophet.  So Elijah travels east of the Jordan River to locate Elisha. 

Elisha appears to have come from a wealthy family.  Anyone who had the money to own the necessary equipment to plow a field with twelve yoke of oxen at that time in history was certainly not hurting!  Elijah shows up on the scene and finds Elisha hard at work with the others who were each driving a pair of oxen.  That’s when Elisha received his call to serve as the Lord’s prophet.

This afternoon my family and I will be traveling to attend the installation and ordination service of the new pastor at our WELS congregation in Modesto.  At an ordination service, the new pastor has a stole placed over his shoulders as a symbol of his pastoral office.  This practice, which has been around Christendom for some time, is not all that different from what Elijah did in our reading.  He placed his cloak around Elisha.  A prophet’s cloak was a symbol of his office, and placing a cloak on another man was a symbolic way of saying that God was calling this person to be his prophet.

So how did Elisha respond to God’s call to serve?  “Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. ‘Let me kiss my father and mother good-by,’ he said, “and then I will come with you.’  ‘Go back,’ Elijah replied. ‘What have I done to you?’”  Is it possible to misunderstand Elisha’s response, especially in light of the Gospel for today’s service (Luke 9:51-62)?  In the last two verses of that reading, Luke wrote, “Another [person] said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.’  Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’”  Jesus rebukes his would-be follower because he could see into his heart and know that he was merely looking for an excuse to postpone following Jesus.  Elisha, however, was not trying to postpone following Elijah.  And Elijah’s reply was not an expression of disappointment; it was more of a colloquial statement: “What have I done to you to stop you from saying farewell to your family so long as you accept this call to serve the Lord?”

Despite potential misunderstanding, we can see Elisha’s complete commitment to follow the Lord by his actions.  He burned his plowing equipment—burning his bridges behind him, in a sense.  He slaughtered his pair of oxen and held a farewell feast for his family and friends.  And after the farewell feast was finished, he served Elijah as his understudy until Elijah’s service came to its conclusion.


Most of you in this building don’t have a call to serve in the ministry, but you do have a call from God.  You have his call to be a part of his family of faith.  Just because you are not a called minister in the church does not mean that your call to faith is less significant or that it takes less commitment.  Your call to faith gave you something more important than a pastor’s stole or a prophet’s cloak.  Your call to faith has placed the robe of Jesus’ perfect righteousness over you—and that is something we dare not take lightly or shake off with a shrug of our shoulders!  For along with the Holy Spirit’s call that brought you to faith in Christ came the call to live as God’s own child.  The apostle Paul wrote, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Ephesians 4:1), and in another place, he wrote, “[God] has saved us and called us to a holy life” (2 Timothy 1:9).  God has not only called you to faith, but he has also called you to live a holy life—a life that is in line with the faith he has placed in your heart.  So how will we respond to that call?  Will we respond with the complete commitment of Elisha, or with the excuses and self-made exemptions of the people Jesus dealt with in today’s Gospel?

The Eighth Commandment calls us to take others’ words and actions in the kindest possible way.  Yet how easily we ignore what God has called us to do!  We can assume the worst of others’ motives—even others in our own family or our own congregation.  Our sinful nature is so corrupt that we can become thoroughly convinced that our baseless judgments of others are irrefutable facts, and we arrogantly assume that our own brothers and sisters in faith are guilty before proven innocent.  And on top of it all, we gladly spare no expense telling others where someone else stands in our judgment.

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments call us to be content with whatever blessings God has given us.  Even in a recession, when we ought to be thankful for what we do have, our sinful nature can look at the newest electronics and the latest fashions and be more than willing to spend big bucks on whatever fleeting thing we want at that moment.  Those same hearts would hardly think twice about cutting back our gifts to support the Lord’s ministry.  Our sinful nature is so corrupt that we can become offended at the suggestion that our priorities are out of proportion with our faith.

Jesus himself calls us to feed our faith with the gospel, the good news of his saving work for us on the cross that he delivers to us in his Word and sacraments.  We wouldn’t dream of starving our bodies for a week at a time, but we hardly think about the spiritual starvation that we are willing to subject our souls to.  After all, I have so many “more important things” on my schedule.  Does God really think I have time to read and study an old book that doesn’t always make sense to me?  But if there is anything more important than God, haven’t we broken the First and greatest Commandment, which calls us to put God’s will before our own whims and wishes?

Isn’t it a wonder that God would even call us to be his child rather than eternally condemn us for childishly running away from him?  But now—surprise of surprises!—look and see what God has done for us!

From eternity, God the Father called his Son to be our Savior.  Jesus Christ, his Son, obeyed the Father’s call to enter this world as our Savior, kept his Father’s commandments to the letter, and “became obedient to death—even death on a cross” for us (Philippians 2:8).  At the baptismal font, God called you to be his own son or daughter and made Jesus Christ, his Son, your brother.  At your baptism, you were clothed with the robe of Jesus’ righteousness that erases your sin and eliminates your guilt from his eternal record book.  

Despite every logical reason God has to disown us, he forgives us through his Son!  Despite every reasonable reason God has to reject us, he has called us into his heavenly kingdom through faith in his Son!  What an amazing and gracious call we have received!

God has also called you to be holy.  And notice how he not only graciously forgives your sins through faith in Christ, but he uses that forgiveness to enable you to follow Christ with complete commitment.  He fills your mind with the knowledge of his grace in his holy Word, and he fills your heart with the peace of his forgiveness in his holy Supper.  His Word and Sacraments not only build you up in faith, but they enable you to follow Christ with complete commitment each day.


Another WELS pastor tells the story of a young man in the military who found his congregation and took the Bible Information Class to become a member of the church.  This man initially asked the pastor to preach more about the Christian life; he felt that the pastor was talking too much about Jesus and not enough about what we do for Jesus.  The pastor would politely respond, but he really didn’t change his message or his preaching.  Sometime later, the same young man said to the pastor, “I know I kept asking you to talk more about how I should live for God, and I know that you just kept preaching about Jesus’ work and God’s forgiveness.  The funny thing is that now, the more I hear about what Jesus has done for me, the more I want to live for him.”

Isn’t that the point?  If you want to follow Christ with complete commitment as Elisha did, then see and receive what he has done for you.  See what he did for you at his cross and tomb, and receive what he has done for you in his Word and sacraments.  And then, with grateful hearts, go out from his house of God and be what he has called you to be.  Go out from this house of God, and with faith renewed, follow Christ with complete commitment!  Amen.



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