This month's Pompey Chimes announced the appointment of Peter Hancock, Archdeacon of the Meon in our Portsmouth Diocese, to be the next Bishop of Basingstoke.
We too are looking forward to Bishop Christoher becoming our Bishop.
It is almost a year since Stephen retired, and we continue with the inter-regnum, seeking God's appointment of a Vicar for our churches, here at St. John's and the Minster.
Changes occur in Church leadership today.
Our Old Testament reading in 2 Kings is about a change of leadership in the office of prophet.
Prophets in the Old Testament
If we look at our Old Testament passage and the chapters that surround it, it becomes clear that there were schools of prophets, at least 50-strong in number, located at a number of different places, Gilgal, Bethel and Jericho.
At one point the King of Israel was able to gather a group of 400 prophets to ask God whether he should go to war. In our day it would be like the US and British governments consulting the Church more about Afghanistan and Iraq
The prophets responsibility was to listen for God's voice and to speak it to the people- not necessarily predicting the future: not merely a fore-telling, but a forth-telling. This parallels with our preaching ministries today
We find however that in Israel there were prophets willing to speak what the king wanted to hear.
Those who did deliver an unpopular message, remaining true to God, were sometimes imprisoned like Micaiah who was put on rations of bread and water.
Delivering God's word to God's people is a responsible task
Whether the Old testament prophets; or Bishops or Clergy and ministers in the Church or those gifted to preach or evangelise in our world today.
It is not to be done lightly. And the temptation to please people will be there:
R T Kendall in his book “The sensitivity of the Spirit” lists four pitfalls that preachers can fall into, and a fifth, correct way:
1 Preaching down to the people: ie patronising them
2 Preaching up to the people: when the preacher is intimidated by the people-
3 Preaching for the people: in an effort to entertain.. to please
4 Preaching at the people: which Kendall says is cowardice, an abuse of privilege- taking advantage of the platform the preacher has been given, and forfeits the power of the Spirit. He says the pulpit, like the communion table belongs to the Lord, not those who minister.
When a preacher is tempted to do this, he says “I hope so and so is there, because they really need to hear this message” and will be disappointed to find they are not in Church on that occasion.
5 (and the right attitude) Preaching to the people (which must include the preacher addressing him or herself)
This is when the preacher faithfully delivers the message they believe God has given them and leaves the Spirit to do the work he alone can do in applying it to someone's heart- and probably in a very different way than could possibly be conceived.
When we get our new Vicar,
when we listen to those who bring God's message week by week, we need confidence
that they aren't trying to please us,
nor talk up
or down to us,
they are not trying to please us or entertain
nor at us,
but give God's word to us in the power of His Spirit.
And our responsibility is to hear that voice of God coming through for ourselves and act accordingly- deepening our faith, challenging our action, clearing our doubts...whatever.
Elijah and Elisha
At the end of 1 Kings and beginning of 2 Kings, we find a change of leadership: Elijah had been the foremost prophet of all the numerous prophets in the land, and now he was handing over to Elisha.
Elisha was busy ploughing, with one of twelve yokes of oxen- a considerable entreprise in those days.
My father could plough with a pair of horses, though latterly that was for ploughing matches, which are still popular today in rural ares, and there is one here on the island.
One thing he would say about ploughing in a straight line was that you had to fix your eye on a point- perhaps a tree, and keep heading toward that point- in that way you ploughed straight furrows
Elijah identifies Elisha, - no word is actually recorded- Elijah simply throws his cloak around Elisha, and the symbolism is understood that he will be Elijah's successor.
There was initial reluctance on Elisha's part, like Jeremiah and Moses “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah- please send someone else!
As a sign that he was never to return to his agricultural life, he slaughtered the pair of oxen, and used the wooden plough for the fire on which they were roasted. With a kiss for his parents and this shared meal, he sets off with Elijah- not an easy task to contemplate, knowing some of the confrontations Elijah had had with the likes of Ahab and Jezebel and the prophets of Baal.
There was no turning back. This is so often the case when God calls people for a job; It was true for the disciples who left their fishing boats and nets, or their Tax-collecting business to follow Christ.
Elijah and Elisha's relationship during this period was characterised by:
Elisha was the successor in waiting to the office of foremost prophet; It would seem that Elijah resumed wearing his cloak- as he used it for later miracles.
Elisha becoming Elijah's faithful attendant- possibly for around six years- “who used to pour water on the hands of Elijah” (2 Kings 3:
Elisha sought a “double-portion” of Elijah's spirit, as one might if you served someone you really respected and wanted to emulate them.
On a deeper level, they established a “father- son” relationship, so deep that when Elijah
was taken up to Heaven, Elisha cries out “My father, my father!”
Elisha was his own man
Elijah was one of only two people along with Enoch, not to experience a physical death, but to be “translated” to Heaven..
Elisha as Elijah's successor was very much his own man:
Physically they were different: Elijah with his prophetic cloak; Elisha choosing garments of hair (like John the Baptist)
Elisha was jeered for his bald head by the youths; perhaps Elijah was more “follically blessed” !
Elijah was a son of the desert; Elisha was from an agricultural background in the fertile Jordan valley
Elijah was more soliatry; Elisha liked company
Elijah chose a cave on a mountain where he would find God's presence and hear His voice; Elisha accepted a woman's hospitality and the room that she set aside.
Elijah liked silence; Elisha liked a musician playing a harp;
Elijah was known for grand miracles: the challenge to the prophets on Carmel; Elisha's ministry comprised many acts of mercy;
Elijah's ministry began with a prohecy of drought; Elisha's begins with healing a source of water
Elijah was often the enemy of the king; Elisha often the welcomed friend in the palace as counsellor and confidante;
These were different prophets for different times, using their different physical characteristics, temperaments, likes and dislikes, backgrounds and experiences for different periods of Israel's history..
One of the blessings of having shared ministry is that each person brings themselves to that ministry:
their whole person in the service of God's people.
When we get our new Vicar, and our new Bishop, when Peter Hancock becomes Bishop of Basingstoke they will be as different from their predecessors as Elisha was fro Elijah, and we need to give them the freedom to be themselves- God's person for this present time.
We do our clergy and ministers, anyone who is serving God, a disservice when we live in the past, harping back to a former ministry that was visibly blessed, or someone we found it easy to relate to. We cannot live in the past, any more than Israel could when the prophetic office passed from Elijah to Elisha.
Different times require different men and women of God, and we need to let them be themselves, and to be ourselves, free to serve God and each other in the power of His Spirit.
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