Independence Sunday 7/1/07

“These Tar Heels”
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

“Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel .” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel . 6Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan .” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan . 8Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground. 9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. 13He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan . 14He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.”  NRSV

oday is Independence Sunday, the Sunday before Independence Day, which falls on Wednesday this year. The idea of loyalty and resoluteness is the moral ideal which this story teaches.  Elisha, declared over and over that he would always remain faithful to his senior, Elijah.

Soldiers in battle often are called upon to hold the line, at risk of death. Likewise, if we are faced with a moral dilemma we must draw a line in order to keep the calling of God upon our lives.

Growing up in North Carolina I learned early on that there would be times in life when we would have to stick firm to the truth when it would be easier to run and hide. Our public school teachers would brag about how North Carolina Civil War infantry stood strong as if they had tar on their heels, as other states Confederate soldiers ran and hid. This is why The University of North Carolina Tar Heels Basketball teams are always made up of players who fight until the final buzzer of the game.

Elisha assumed a faithful and loyal position. As a result he was proclaimed Elijah’s heir and was the recipient of Elijah’s mantle, or his cloak, his symbol of authority. This concept of holding the line applies today.

I have underlined in the printed and online version of this sermon the many times in just nine verses how often Elisha declared his support and loyalty to his mentor.

In our text we find the old prophet Elijah asking the young prophet Elisha to stay with him and support him as he is nearing death. Elisha makes a sacred vow that he will stay with him and that he will stand firm. (v. 1-10)

However, there are times to fold the flag and leave the battle. When Richard Nixon was elected President during the Vietnam War, our nation was being pulled apart by various factions. Democrats and Republicans wondered what Nixon might do. President Nixon made perhaps the best decision that could be made under the circumstances: he declared victory and pulled our military out. There are situations when we need to stand firm and there are times when we must pull back. 

We have to know when it is God's will to defend ourselves; or, when it is best to fold the tents.

During this Independence Week, we need to pray for wisdom from our leadership to know how to deal with the current crisis in the Middle East. It is a complicated situation and only God can help us find a way where peace can emerge. The Good News is that God does hear and answer our prayers.

Most of the tension we face globally is related to religious differences. When Marilyn and I made our first pilgrimage to The Holy Land in 1968, we stepped into a war zone. The six day war was when Israel defeated the Arabs almost before they got started fighting. We recall one young boy who kept begging for “Amelikan Dollars.”  He had a serious look on his face one day, and asked, “Why do you Amelikans come here, do you not know that this is a war zone?”

Today, a growing war zone has covered a third of the globe and militants and terrorists, want the whole world to be at war. There may not be any way out of this Armageddon. We do know from experience of  many wars that peace only occurs when decent people of peace-loving nations take the helm and lead others to the peace table. Thankfully, we have the option to negotiate first and fight only if necessary. Let us make this a prayerful Independence Day holiday. And let us teach our children to always be loyal, true and resolute as we look for ways to be peacemakers in a hostile world.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
Independence Sunday 7/1/07