You may not know the name Gabriel Nagy, but Gabriel Nagy is a man from Australia whom I assume you would find fascinating talking to about the twenty-five years of his life between 1987 when he disappeared and 2012 when he was found again. It’s just that it likely would be difficult for him to tell you much about his life because something in his life caused him to develop amnesia. He forgot who he was or where he was from, and he started wandering aimlessly around the continent of Australia until he finally came into contact with a pastor and a church, where over the course of time he was able to remember his name. You could imagine what a shock it was to his family and friends twenty-five years later to hear that this man — whom they long thought was dead — was alive! Obvious questions like where did he go and where has he been were questions that weren’t obvious for him to answer, at least at first. All he could do was move on into the future after he was found and try to figure out the past before he was lost.
The prophet Elijah didn’t suffer from amnesia, but he did appear again quite a bit after he disappeared in our sermon text — not twenty-five years later, but almost nine hundred twenty-five years later on the mount of Transfiguration in our Gospel reading, where he and Moses were talking to Jesus, who was giving Peter, James and John a glimpse of the glory that was his as God in human form. But in our lesson for today from the book of 2 Kings we see how Elijah left not just his friends and family, but the entire earth, when he was taken up to the heavens in a whirlwind. Where did he go is the obvious question that we – and a lot of people – might like asking this man of God who was given the honor of appearing with the Son of God just a few months before Jesus would seemingly disappear from the earth himself. I would suggest, however, that that question is a question that can wait until we get to see Elijah ourselves, because the Bible doesn’t comment on that. What the Bible does do is make it clear that what is important for us to know is what happened before he disappeared and what happened after he reappeared. Let’s ask God to help us learn more about that so we can be sure that we will be with Elijah some day and, most importantly, so that we will be able to be with Jesus in that place everything in our lives right now will be totally clear. It all gets down to someone telling us things to prepare us for when they are gone.
Did you notice what Elijah did to prepare people for when he was gone? What phrase did you hear a few times in connection with the people that Elijah and his successor Elisha visited? “The company of the prophets.” These companies or schools were apparently places where prophets were trained in God’s Word. The three places we know where there were such schools are mentioned here: Gilgal, Bethel and Jericho. Maybe it would make it easier for us to picture what’s going on here if we saw on a map that they were in comparable locations to Mequon, where our Seminary is, and Watertown, where Luther Prep is, and 84th and Bluemound, where Wisconsin Lutheran High School is. The distances weren’t as far as that, but they were walking, not driving, and they then ended up by the Jordan River, which would be like going from Wisconsin Lutheran High School to the Milwaukee River or Lake Michigan. Elijah was making a last-time trip to basically say farewell to these students, many of whom were about to see something very special as they stood across the Jordan River.
We don’t know the curriculum or classes of those prophet-students, but we can imagine the kinds of things Elijah could teach them to prepare them for their future work when he was gone, all of which centered on the power and love of their holy Savior God. He could tell them about the time he was on a mountain called Carmel, on which God used him to totally defeat and humiliate four hundred fifty prophets of the idol named Baal by telling them to pray to their god and asking him to consume all their altars with fire – something Baal obviously could not do, because Baal was just a figment of their imagination, even though so many people felt that Baal was the cool god to follow because following Baal meant you could engage in every kind of sexual practice imaginable. But then, after drenching the altar he had built with water again and again to make it humanly impossible for fire to destroy it, Elijah called upon the Lord God in heaven: “Answer me, O Lord,” Elijah said. “Answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” – which is exactly what the Lord God did, sending fire from heaven that burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, the soil and even licked up the water in the trench around the altar. There is no God but the Lord God – the Savior God.
The King and Queen of Israel named Ahab and Jezebel did not turn back to the Lord, however, and they made it their goal to kill Elijah, causing him to run for his life and to eventually rest under a tree. Elijah could also prepare his students for down times by telling them that it was there that he prayed to God that God would let him die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. But God sent an angel to him under that tree, an angel who gave him something to eat for his body so he could be prepared for some words that God would give for his soul, words that would tell him that he still had important work to do for God, words that included telling him that he should anoint someone to someday take his place – words which led him to another man of God – this man named Elisha, who was with Elijah on his farewell trip through Israel – and who, like fifty others from those schools of prophets, we are told, was allowed to see one more miracle when Elijah rolled up his cloak and struck the Jordan River so that the waters parted and they could walk through on dry ground – and they then saw this great prophet of God taken up into the sky in that whirlwind.
It is no surprise that Elisha would call out to Elijah as he was leaving, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel.” “Elijah, you have been more important to us than any army of the land, because you have fought for our souls – and you have told us that God has won the victory. We will someday go where you are now going.” Interestingly, after the words of our lesson, we are told that the cloak which Elijah used to separate the waters of the river Jordan fell down to Elisha as Elijah left, and Elisha then used that cloak to strike the water and do the very same thing himself. The waters divided! That, basically, was in answer to his prayer to receive a double portion of Elijah’s spirit – a way of saying, “Let me be shown to be your heir and successor,” something which those students showed they understood by bowing before him.
Is there really anything different in your life or mine? The events may not be as dramatic, obviously, but they may seem as dramatic to us at the time, right? At times we have spiritual highs where we experience those mountain-top moments of things going well for us when we are convinced that God loves us and that he has forgiven all we have ever done wrong and that he takes care of us, leading us to say, “You, Lord, truly are God” — as well as the spiritual lows that come from wondering if God himself is suffering from amnesia and if he even remembers who we are or what we prayed about just last night. “I have had enough, Lord,” may not be spoken from under a tree, but it may be spoken by us when someone we thought was a friend was not, or when someone we have always looked up to failed, or when someone we thought should not yet die, did die – just as we might say the very same thing when we wonder how many more times we have to deal with the same problem or answer the same question or follow the same path in life that seems to lead to the same nowhere dead end as every other path in our life seems to lead.
That’s why the most important thing to think about is what happened after Elijah reappeared those many centuries later, because what happened after that experience on the Transfiguration Mountain was what Jesus used to help us be prepared for when he was gone.
In the Gospel today Mark tells us that Elijah and Moses were talking to Jesus on that mountain. We aren’t told the words of their conversation, but in his Gospel St. Luke says they were talking about his “departure.” That word “departure” means they were talking about the “outcome” of what was going to take place in these next months. Jesus left that mountain conversation to make his final push to the cross and grave, the journey which we will soon make with Jesus during our Lenten worship in the days and weeks ahead. Why would he do something like that? Why would he do that when so often you and I disappear spiritually and act like we have amnesia about how God wants us to live or what he wants us to believe? Why would he do that when, even after we come back to our senses, we so often go back to the senseless things of worshiping our own desires and pleasures as our gods, thinking that they can bring fire down from heaven and give us the joy and happiness that we so dearly want?
Jesus did all this so that we can be prepared for the outcome of our lives, now that the outcome of his life has been accomplished and he is gone and is back in heaven. Jesus did all this because he loves us. He loves us so much that he didn’t want us to wander aimlessly in life and forget our name – child of God. He loves us so much that he didn’t want us to miss out on the joy of having the many opportunities to show kindness to someone, to be patient with someone, to spend time with someone. He loves us so much that he didn’t want us to forget how kind and patient he has been with us — how willing to spend not only time with us, but even his life for us, so that we never have to be afraid that the many sins we have committed against him will be remembered by him. You see, if we could say God has amnesia, we could say it’s that he has chosen to forget what we have done wrong against him, because he has chosen to remember what his Son chose to do in doing everything right for us as a Savior from sin. The question is not, “Where did he go” when we wonder about God’s love. The question is, “Where will we go?” as we thank him for it. Because of Jesus we will go to heaven. Because of Jesus we will go forward in life showing how happy and thankful we are that we will be going to heaven. Because of Jesus we will want many others to join us on our journey to heaven. All that is what we want to help ourselves – and everyone else—never forget – both while we are here – and when we are gone! Amen.