More with Us Than with Them
2 Kings 6:15-17
More with Us Than with Them
November 6, 2016 All Saints Sunday Maple Grove UMC
This Old Testament reading is part of a larger story. The king of Syria has come to believe that the prophet Elisha is spying on him, or more like Elisha can read his mind. Elisha seems to know where the Syrian army will be before the Syrian army knows, and this inside information has led to victories for Israel. So the king of Syria sends some people to take care of Elisha. In fact, he sends a whole army to take care of Elisha.
Elisha is holed up with one unarmed servant in a place called Dothan, which is surrounded by Syrian horses and chariots—they’re everywhere. The servant naturally is terrified. "Alas, Master!" he says, "What are we going to do?" But Elisha is cool as a cucumber: "Don’t be afraid," he says, "There are more with us than there are with them." And Elisha prays, "O Lord, open his eyes that he may see." And when the servant looks again, the hills are filled with chariots and horses of fire. Not in any typical way, but there were more with Elisha than with the entire army of Syria.
What kind of story is this? It’s not the kind of story about which we ask, "Did this really happen?"1 I mean, probably not, in just the way 2 Kings tells it. But on another level, this story happens all the time. Let me tell you what I mean.
We often find ourselves in the place of Elisha’s servant: frightened, outnumbered, so aware of danger everywhere. We look around and the forces gathered against us seem overwhelming. We feel that way, perhaps, on All Saints Day, both personally and collectively. We’ll read the names today of twenty-three souls, but it may be just one of those names that sends your life reeling, or the name of someone not on this particular list at all. And you may feel alone and helpless. A candle is such a fragile light, when all you want is to see that person once again.
And we feel it collectively. Year after year there are long lists of names. And some of us can look around and remember who’s not here now, and some have been here long enough to remember when the pews were filled in a way they no longer are. The United Methodist Church has been declining my whole life. The traditional church is kind of up against it these days, and like Elisha’s servant, it’s easy to feel weary and beleaguered.
All of that is true, in its way—I don’t dispute it. But only let Elisha pray, and look again: and the hills are filled with horses and chariots of fire. Look again and our hearts are filled with the presence and love of our dearly departed. Look again and the church is filled with those whose names we’ve read but whose spirits are with us still. Yes, it’s easy to feel alone and overwhelmed, but only let Elisha pray and look again: there are always more with us than there are against us.
Only let Elisha pray and there on those hills around us, why, there’s Lloyd Fisher still tap dancing and Twyla still leading the social concerns. There’s Kathleen Shaffer making blankets for babies and there’s Chalice Taylor cheering the choir on. And there’s Newton Fritchley still preaching like these new guys never will, and there’s all those faithful souls in the 1940s who built this sanctuary we worship in today.
Here’s what I believe: I believe those horses and chariots were there all along; the servant just didn’t see them until Elisha prayed. And I believe we too are always surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses; we just don’t always see them until the prayer is prayed. There are always more with us than against us. So let us pray: Open our eyes, Lord, that we may see. Open our eyes, Lord, that we may see. Amen.
1 See Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home: Preaching Among Exiles (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 67.