In the beginning was the Word.

Elisha left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Please, let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and I will follow you.” Elijah answered, “Go back! Have I done anything to you?”

I am so thankful you have chosen to worship with us this Sunday as we celebrate the Word of God, Holy Scripture.

A little bit of catechism is helpful here: In our Holy Church the Word of God is a sacrament. The basic children’s Catechism explains that the Word of God is important because it brings us closer to God, teaches us His Divine Will, makes our faith stronger, and tells us how we can enter the Kingdom of God.

The Catechism then goes on to quote several scriptures on the importance of God’s Word. Indeed, the Word of God is the seed (Luke 8:11); and Blessed are they to hear the word and obey it (Luke 11:28).

The adult Catechism repeats much of this and adds that the Word makes us better qualified to labor for the Kingdom of God.

Today we hear God direct Elijah to anoint Elisha.

This was a bit unusual. Usually, prophets had a direct encounter with God, but not so for Elisha. Elisha received no vision; there was no cherubim and seraphim appearing to him as in Isaiah’s experience; he did not get to stand before a burning bush and hear God’s voice like Moses. In fact, the call to prophetic ministry was brought to him by Elijah alone in Elijah’s casting his cloak on him.

Then something very interesting happens. Elisha runs after Elijah who was already walking away. He asks if he can say goodbye. Elijah’s answer seems odd: Go back! Have I done anything to you?” We might think, well yeah, you did, by casting your cloak on me. But here is the key to it all. Elijah in fact did nothing. Implied here is that God chose Elisha, and he could either follow God’s will or go back. Elijah’s words were humble – I did nothing, God called you. Now is the time of choice. Elisha choses God by destroying every tie to his old life, the oxen and plow. Hear too Jesus about following Him.

After he was anointed, Elisha was marked out for service to the Lord. Elisha did not immediately replace Elijah. Once the ceremony had taken place Elisha “went after Elijah and ministered to him” 

Elisha served Elijah before succeeding him as prophet. In that time Elisha learned the loneliness of the prophetic office. He watched Elijah’s message get rejected over and over. Yet in Elisha’s ministry great miracles happened.

What will the world miss out on if we do not burn the plow and commit to God’s way and give up our own? What do we learn from the call of Elisha and our adherence to God’s word? It is that we cannot sit on the fence. When God calls in the Spirit and the proclamation of the word, we must decide. Go back to the ordinary or follow. All of us have God’s call to answer, we all hear His word, we all have a choice to make, and there is a cost to pay. Elisha never regretted his choice for God’s word and way, and neither will we.

Blessed those.

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

One of the wonderful things about our Holy Church is the great emphasis it places on the Word of God. 

In September 1909 the Holy Synod of the Church developed an understanding of the preaching and teaching of the Word of God as having sacramental action. A later report of the Synod, printed in 1913 said: “Hearing of the Word of God preached according to the teachings of Christ the Lord and the Apostles, has sacramental force, that is, it causes in us the same effects as does the receiving of the other sacraments.”

The sacramental effect of the Word is included in the Church’s Confession of Faith (Article 7).

This understanding is based on the many references throughout Scripture, spoken by Jesus, relating the power of the Word. In fact, Jesus, as the Word of God Himself, comes to us in our hearing of the Word.

That union with Jesus in the Word is the very definition of sacrament, for a sacrament is an encounter with the sacred in a physical way. In baptism, it is washing with water, in communion the reception of the Bread and Blood of Life, in marriage the binding of the couple by the priest, in Unction the anointing and laying on of hands. In the Word it is the speaking and hearing. Each of these a physical manifestation of the encounter with God.

In our Church, our clergy are admonished to have proper preparation, intention, and conformity with the Gospel. Listeners too must be prepared and open to reception.

Today, Jesus speaks of the power of the Word and its effect on those who are properly prepared to receive.

If we receive without the intention of understanding, just frittering off the Word, we lose the grace provided to our condemnation. If we receive the Word with joy, and then walk away ignoring it soon after the hearing, or when confronted, set it aside, grace is lost, and we again fall to condemnation. But if we prepare, provide rich soil for the Word, and allow it to grow and prosper in us, then we have the fullness of grace that makes us effective Christians, bearers of the Word. We are fruitful carriers of Jesus. Blessed we are.