Elijah’s Mantle Falls Upon ElishaPosted: June 30, 2013
ELIJAH LARGER THAN LIFE
Today’s lesson is the very last scene in the cycle of stories around the figure of Elijah. Elijah was larger than life. He called down fire from heaven, deposed leaders, anointed Kings. He survived drought, threats of assassination, brought a child back to life, and talked with God on Mt. Sinai. Elijah mentored his successor, and he was even bodily assumed into heaven without dying in a fiery chariot. This last episode contributed to the belief that Elijah would return to earth to herald the coming of the Messiah. To this day Jews leave a vacant chair at the Passover Table and a cup known as Elijah’s cup in case Elijah should return. The children at the Passover dinner are sent to open the front door and call for Elijah to invite him to the meal. Elijah is still larger than life.
ELIJAH A LONER
Elijah during his life time was also something of a loner. As far as we know he was not married, had no children or family. When he challenged Ahab and Jezebel he hid in the wilderness by himself, where ravens brought food for him to eat. When he challenged Ahab to a contest with the 450 prophets of Baal, he brought no companions entering the competition alone. When Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life, he fled to Mt. Sinai to hide in one of the loneliest places on earth.
ELIJAH & ELISHA
When God encountered Elijah at Mt. Sinai he gave the prophet three specific measurable tasks: to anoint Hazael to be King in Syria, to anoint Jehu to be King in Israel after the death of Ahab and Jezebel, and to mentor Elisha son of Shaphat to become the new prophet in Israel. According to tradition Elisha was apprenticed to Elijah for about four years prior to the older prophet’s departure into heaven via the fiery chariot. The text doesn’t tell us much about their relationship, until Elijah was making ready to leave our earthly plane of existence. But it appears that with Elijah once a loner always a loner, for as the time drew near for his ascension into heaven he kept trying to get away from Elisha. “Tarry here, I pray you; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel. . . Tarry here, I pray you; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” Elisha understood that his prophetic inheritance depended upon staying with his master until the end.
ELIJAH’S MANTLE FALLS ON ELISHA
In my ministry I have noted that some people when they are dying wait for everyone to show up before they die, while other folks will wait until everyone steps out of the room, or goes for dinner, so they are alone, when they breathe their last. If Elijah could have arranged it he would rather have been alone, but Elisha stuck to him like white on rice. At the very end as the fiery chariot carried Elijah away his mantle fell upon Elisha, who inherited according to the text a double portion of the prophet’s power.
LEADERS ARE NUTURED & MENTORED
Our story this morning is a metaphor about leadership. How are leaders called in the faith community? Spiritual leaders are not born, they are not self-proclaimed, nor do they emerge by accident. Leaders in the faith community are nurtured and mentored to become leaders — God calls and the community mentors. Our scripture this morning is especially relevant because Bobby Kates is here today and he begins his internship with us tomorrow. Bobby grew up here in Huntsville. He now lives in Dallas, Texas, where he is a member of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ a congregation with four campuses and over 5,000 members – the largest congregation in the United Church of Christ.
BOBBY HEARD THE SPIRIT’S CALL
I will allow Bobby to tell his own story, but a few years ago Bobby heard the spirit calling him to ordained leadership in the United Church of Christ. So he enrolled at Brite Divinity School in Dallas, and he is a Member In Discernment of the South Central Conference of the United Church of Christ. Most of Bobby’s church experience has been with large congregations. He is wise enough to realize that when he graduates from seminary, he is not likely to be called to pastor a 5,000 member congregation. So, he has come to us to gain some pastoral experience in a smaller church. Ministering in a big church is different from serving in a smaller membership congregation. So our job in exchange for some free labor he is offering to us is to mentor him. I will try to do my part as pastor to mentor him in pastoral ministry, but we need all of our members to help in mentoring Bobby. All of us regardless of whether we are ordained or laity are called by God to be ministers, to serve in the Body of Christ. And each one of us has a unique gift we can offer to Bobby during his time with us.
EVERY MEMBER MENTOR BOBBY
Marsha can help him learn how a care giving committee can offer care for the members of the congregation. Linda can help him learn about our extravagant welcome. Zig can help him learn about discipleship, advertising and websites. Matt can help Bobby learn about property concerns. I am hoping Ruth will share with him her knowledge about organizing Sunday School for a small membership congregation. Rebecca and Scott can help him learn about promoting missions. And most of all I am hoping that by rubbing shoulders with our Moderator Bill Green that Bobby can learn about non anxious prayerful leadership.
Besides the formal lay leaders of our congregation every member of this community of faith has gifts and experience you can share with Bobby as he learns about the care and leadership of the Body of Christ. Please welcome him and play a role in his mentoring.
BOBBY CAN HELP US
And we must remember the learning can go both ways. Some of us have experienced webinars about Stewardship led by Coy James from the Cathedral of Hope. Well Bobby knows Coy James and he is familiar with giving strategies that might inform our own stewardship practices. He also has an intense interest in church music, and he has just finished a course at Brite Divinity School in Christian Music. If we are open and willing to learn from Bobby, he will bring unique gifts and ideas to us.
MENTORING LEADERSHIP IN OUR CONGREGATION
At this point I want to turn from our mentoring relationship with Bobby Kates and talk about mentoring leadership within our congregation. As I said earlier in the sermon, spiritual leaders are not born, they are not self-proclaimed, nor do they emerge by accident. Leaders in the faith community are nurtured and mentored to become leaders — God calls and the community mentors. The Statement of Faith says: God calls us into the church to accept the costs and joys of discipleship, to share our gifts with each other and in the service of God by serving others. As I say, when we receive new folks into membership, I believe God calls us into a particular congregation, because that faith community has gifts that we need on our spiritual journey. God also calls us into particular congregations, because God has given us gifts that are needed in that faith community for the mutual up building of the Body of Christ.
FAITH IS NOT A SPECTATOR SPORT
The challenge we face as a congregation is to welcome new people, help them in prayerfully discerning their spiritual gifts, and then mentoring them into using those gifts to serve God by serving others. Faith is not a spectator sport. God doesn’t need more pew sitters. We have to be involved. We have to offer ourselves in service to others in order to discover the spiritual blessings God is offering us.
NEW EYES BRING NEW PERSPECTIVES
So how do we mentor people into leadership? First, we learn to move over and make room for new people in leadership. When the same people hold the same positions year after year, it’s hard to generate and implement new ideas. You know the seven last words of the church: “we’ve never done it that way before!” Did you also know the seven next to the last words of the church: “we tried that and it didn’t work!” Sometimes things don’t work because we don’t have the right people to make them work, or sometimes it just isn’t the right time yet. New eyes bring new perspectives and new resources to meet challenges. And sometimes new people can make something work, because they don’t know it isn’t supposed to work.
THEY DIDN’T KNOW IT COULDN’T BE DONE
A mathematics student overslept and arrived at his final exam late. When he arrived there were two extra-credit problems on the board. Knowing he needed every point, when he finished the regular final, he worked and worked on those two questions on the board. Finally, he did complete one of the problems, and handed in his test, when the professor called time.
The next morning the professor was knocking on his dorm room door. The extra credit problem he had worked was one of two previously unworkable problems the professor had put on the board to inspire his student. The student who had found the solution to the problem did so, because he didn’t know it was supposed to be unworkable. Just so in the life of the church new eyes bring new solutions, because they don’t know that it can’t be done.
PERMISSION GIVING ORGANIZATION
Second, we can take the risk of becoming a permission giving congregation. Organizations often fall into the trap of placing so many obstacles in the way of any new projects people just give up. We certainly have an obligation to exercise prudence in our life together as a community, but an overabundance of caution will kill creativity and enthusiasm.
Third, we can learn to be a forgiving congregation. Not every idea is going to work. And when something isn’t successful we can be forgiving rather than blaming. Remember Thomas Edison tried over 10,000 different materials for the filament for a light bulb until he found a commercially viable solution. The church finds itself in uncharted waters in our rapidly changing culture, and we may need to try many experiments until we succeed in finding our way into the future.
WE’RE ALL IN IT TOGETHER
Fourth, we need to all be in this together not sitting on the sidelines criticizing the performance of others. When we live in community, we share the costs and joys of discipleship. When we find an idea that works, we can all rejoice together. When we experience a failure, we all pull together to find a new solution to the challenge. Attitude makes all the difference.
Fifth we can develop a style of prayerful leadership. True leaders are not the people who believe they are the smartest people in the room. True leaders are people who begin every meeting, every encounter, every endeavor with prayer. True leaders are less interested in their own ideas than they are in helping the community to discern the will of God. The book we are using in our re-visioning process, Holy Conversations, is a prayerful approach to planning. As we pray, and listen for God to lead us, I believe new ideas and solutions will emerge that will carry United Church into the twenty-first century. Let me invite you then to pray with me.