2 Kings 2, Transfiguration B, February 15, 2015
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
I have had many mentors over the years. Certain clergy have touched me in special ways. Some couldn’t help it - they were assigned to me in seminary. Yet even they went out of their way to encourage me and challenge me.
Linda was my youth leader. She has this subtle boldness that I admire. Somehow, she can quiet a room of twenty teenagers without raising her voice. When I wanted to be just like her, she challenged me to become an ordained pastor - something she couldn’t do when she went to school in the 60s. Linda taught me what it really means to be a disciple of Christ.
Another Linda was assigned as my teaching parish mentor. She went above and beyond to continue to care for me long after her obligation was finished. We shared many long lunches sharing the joys and challenges of ministry. Pastor Linda showed me what devotion to God looks like.
Fred mentored me when I needed it most. On my internship, Fred and I were the perfect team. Not only did we share ministry leadership, but we also shared the same theological mindset. When problems arose within the congregation, Fred and I were each other’s main support. Pastor Fred guided me into the parish with help from the Holy Spirit.
These are three of my mentors. I have spent many long, wonderful hours talking to each of these three about my life and my ministry. Even more important, I observed these talented clergy in their congregations. They trusted me enough to join them in leading their flocks. I would not be who I am today without their influence.
And so it is with each of us. We each have special people who have gone out of their way to form us into who we have become. Maybe your mentors have helped you in your job. You might have had some of your own pastors who have helped shape your faith formation. Maybe you found inspiration in someone unexpected.
In our first lesson, we see a very special example of this. Elijah - I’ll call him by his original Hebrew name Eliyahu - is the mentor. Eliyahu is a well-known and respected prophet in the region. He raises the widow of Zarepheth’s son from the dead (1 Kings 17). He proves to all the Israelites that Baal is a false god by praying that the Lord might burn the sacrifice offered (1 Kings 18). Eliyahu experiences the Lord in the silence (1 Kings 19). Then Elisha became Eliyahu’s servant and apprentice.
Elisha learns all that he can from Eliyahu. We see in our lesson how closely Elisha follows his mentor, traveling together from place to place. Other prophets that they meet warn them that Eliyahu’s time on earth is limited. When Eliyahu asks Elisha what to leave him, Elisha requests “a double portion of your spirit.” Here Elisha is asking for whatever authority the Lord has given Eliyahu to perform miracles. Elisha is asking for the Lord to be with him. Eliyahu cannot guarantee this, yet he hopes that it will happen.
When they reach the Jordan River, we see Eliyahu perform one last miracle. He takes his mantle, rolls it up, and strikes the water. The river immediately responds, splitting so that the two can cross on dry ground. Then in a windstorm coupled with a chariot of fire, Eliyahu is taken up into heaven. Elisha cries out in grief.
This is where our lesson ends, leaving Elisha grieving on the far side of the river. But the story doesn’t end there! Gathering up Eliyahu’s mantle, he strikes the water just as his mentor had done. The water parts just like before. This is the certain proof that the Lord is with Elisha just as the Lord was with Eliyahu.
The prophets who witness this declare, “The spirit of Eliyahu rests on Elisha.” These men then look for Eliyahu but can’t find him, proving that Eliyahu truly is with the Lord. Then Elisha goes out and performs miracles of his own, including raising another woman’s son (2 Kings 4). He tells Naaman to wash in the Jordan so that the Lord might heal his illness (2 Kings 5). He continued to prophecy until the day he died (2 Kings 13).
This is an important story about passing on ministry. Yet what is most important is that we have little to do in this process. The Lord decides who will take up the mantle next. The Lord decides who will receive a double portion of the Spirit. The Lord decides, and all we can do is get caught up in the whirlwind.
When we transfer a ministry from one person to another, we may not have the dramatic flourish of Elisha striking the water with his mentor’s mantle. Sometimes, the transfer is a bit subtler. Take when I left my internship site, for example.
During that year of internship, I did a lot. I created a digital library for them, I reorganized their photo board, and so much more. So, at my farewell brunch, I passed a few small tokens back to the congregation. I gave the DVDs from the digital library to one member. I gave photo board supplies to another. I gave all of my photos to the archivist. These were small ways for me to show a change in leadership.
Dennis Tucker describes this in beautiful words: “In some sense, every community of faith stands opposite Jericho with a mantle before it. Occasionally, in rare moments, those who have glimpsed upward and seen the whirlwind of God are compelled to bend down and pick up that mantle, believing that now is the moment for them to strike the waters. The voice of the prophet is rare indeed these days, not because all of the prophets have ascended into the heavens, but because few choose to see the whirlwind, and fewer still choose to live as though it has changed us.”
So too here. Yesterday, a few council mantles changed hands. Although no items exchanged hands, the leadership roles did:
The mantle of Council President was passed to Holly.
The mantle of Stewardship was passed to Pam.
The mantle of Worship and Music was passed to Rhonda.
The mantle of Property was passed to Alan.
The mantle of Evangelism and Fellowship was passed to Christine.
Even as ministry here is changing hands, the Lord continues to be active among us, inspiring our work and answering our prayers. Just as the Lord passed the Spirit from Eliyahu to Elisha, may the Lord do the same for we people of Zion. Amen.