The Rev. H. Lionel Edmonds
May we pray. Heavenly Father, we thank you for this day. This is a day which you have made, and we rejoice and are glad in it. Bless your Word in the name of our Savior. Amen.
I want to thank those who are responsible for me being here today, and to say thank you on behalf of the District for all of the work that has been done by this branch of God’s vineyard. When I was asked to come, I was given a couple things. One, I was given a time limit. And I see they kind of mean what they say because there’s a clock—a Westclock— staring at me. And I think they have set the timer as well. So I’m going to hasten. I was asked to be brief, but I’m usually brief anyway. I know that’s hard for you to believe, me being Baptist, but I used to be Lutheran. Missouri Synod Lutheran at that!
The Scripture I would like to read for you is taken from the Old Testament, I Kings chapter 19. And one of the old preachers’ sayings is, if you have a short sermon, have some long Scripture verses. However, I’ve just got a few verses. This is taken from the time when the prophet Elijah was sent to call Elisha to do the prophetic work of carrying on the movement of God for social justice in the nation of Israel.
It reads, “So Elijah went and found Elisha, son of Shaphat, plowing a field. There were twelve teams of oxen in the field, and Elisha was plowing with the twelfth team. Elijah went over to him and threw his coat across his shoulders and then walked away.”
I just want to talk with you, for twelve and a half minutes, about the psychology of clothes. When I was a young boy growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a number of years ago, one of my favorite things to do was to wait for my father to go to work. He was a foreman at International Harvester, the first African American foreman in that company, and as soon as he left the house—and I might be betraying my age now—I would run into his closet to get that green and suede leather sweater, which was one of his favorite articles of clothing, and I would put it on. And by some mysterious transformation in my mind and in my imagination, I no longer was Lionel Edmonds, but suddenly I got transformed into being a Little Herb. And all because I had my father’s green sweater on.
And the longer I wore that sweater, the more I began to assume my father’s personality, even to the point of when my mother was in the kitchen reading a newspaper I would walk into the kitchen and I would use my best imitation of my father’s voice, and I would say, “Juanita, what do you think you’re doing? Get up and get me some breakfast, and don’t forget the coffee.” And those were the last words I remembered. And I saw stars and little birds flying in the air.
But the symbolism, the psychology of clothes, and what they mean in the way of metaphor and simile is what this Bible story here wishes to impress upon us. Clothes are a symbol of what lies behind them, a power. Elijah had a coat, and the coat symbolized power, prophetic power, social justice. It symbolized standing in the gap between the haves and the have-nots. And it came a time when his work was complete, and so God told Elijah he had prepared somebody to take his place, and that person’s name was Elisha. And so Elijah went and found Elisha who was at work in the field, and Elijah took the coat—his coat—and placed it on the shoulders of Elisha. And therein began the psychology of clothes; that began the spiritual development of Elisha to become a prophet to the nation of Israel, a spokesperson of Eternity, an ambassador of the Almighty.
And what intrigues me about this tremendous calling is that it happened in an ordinary place. Elisha was at work in his father’s field. He was not off in some glamorous location. He was not off somewhere in the hallways of academia. He was on the countryside; I’m quite certain he was nowhere near a place like this, a cathedral. But oftentimes, God moves in mysterious ways.
And so God bypassed all of the monuments of society of that day. He bypassed the places of importance, as God often does, and he picked out someone who seemed to be insignificant; but they were busy at work in the place where they were. There’s a deep spirituality existing in the place where you are. Oftentimes, our eyes have scales and our minds are covered by a dark curtain that says where we are is unimportant. But it’s good to know that wherever we are, at any point at any time, that place is a potential holy ground. All that is waiting is for us to plow the field where we are.
Elisha was busy plowing the field. That which was a treasure within his life was buried, covered up, as often it is the case with our lives. Our treasure is buried, covered up. But God has a way of giving us the gift and the opportunity to begin the work of plowing the field where we are. And as we plow this ordinary field, we shall uncover some buried treasure. Dr. Martin Luther King was plowing the ordinary field of a pastorate in Birmingham, Alabama, and yet that’s where God decided to move the world by the voice and the ability of a small man who had a rich treasure buried within him. Dr. King plowed the field where he was.
Jesus was born in an insignificant place, the writer says, a little town called Bethlehem. It was overlooked by the powers that be, but Jesus plowed the field where he was. And because he understood that greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world, and because he plowed the field where he was, God took his son called Jesus, and 2000 years later, here we are, in a place where we lift up the holy name of our blessed Savior. But it all began because Jesus plowed the field where he was.
There’s a lot of talk today about purpose, destiny, and gift. And if you look at this text, Elisha didn’t run after the gift. He did not run after the work. But because he plowed the field where he was, his gift, his work continued.
The great mystic theologian Meister Eckhart says once we begin to live for God, the things of God will pursue us. And those things which we used to run after shall run after us, and those things that we used to run from, begin to run from us. The things of God follow the people of God.
And so I say to you, as I look at the clock, there’s no need to go looking for God here, there or everywhere. God is where you are. Your soul is greater than this place of worship that we are in. When God looks at you He sees a reflection of God’s self. And the place where you are working is holy ground. There is a gift within you, perhaps covered, perhaps buried, but if you begin to apply yourself to that spiritual relationship that God has invested himself in you, it shall come to pass.
I’d like to leave you with a poem that I wrote for this day:
The creative Divine spark exploded in me
Then all division ceased to be
I then saw the glory of His handiwork
Fresh imprints of His Holy Presence, always present
Whenever we center and wait in solitude
A minute becomes a millennium
Centuries turn to seconds
Then our souls and the Savior’s become one
We begin to understand
That in everything
God is waiting
To give us all that God is