2 KINGS 2:1-2, 6-14
1Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.
6Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on. 7Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you." Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." 10He responded, "You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not." 11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, "Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
13He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
Picking Up the Mantle
Two weeks ago we used as our text a passage of 1 Kings that involved King Ahab, Jezebel, a vineyard owner named Naboth and the prophet Elijah. Remember I asked who had heard of that passage before and understandably about three fourths of you said, “Never heard of it.” I’m going to ask the same question with this passage. Anyone ever hear this before? I bet a few more have heard this story. But for those of you who are new to this one. Here are the important points.
Elijah, the super prophet of his age, was walking along with Elisha, the newbie, and they came to the Jordan River. About fifty other guys in the prophet guild are trailing along. At three points in the trek Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; for the LORD is calling me further along.” But Elisha swears, "As the LORD lives, I will not leave you." They come up to the Jordan River. Old Elijah took off his cape and he rolled it up and “whap” hit the water. The water divided to the right and the left and Elijah and Elisha walked together across on dry land. The fifty other guys lag back on the wrong side of the Jordan. Perhaps they were just spiritual spectators. Once they were across Elijah turned to Elisha and said, “Well, before I leave you, Elisha, what can I do for you?” Elisha said, “I’d like a double portion of your spirit.” Elijah said, “Well, Elisha, if it happens, it happens.” And then all of a sudden from out of the heavens came a fiery chariot swooping down pulled by flaming horses and it picked up Elijah, sort of like a celestial rollercoaster, and it shot up into the air, and the cape that was on Elijah’s shoulders flew off and it went floating down to the ground. Young Elisha walked over and picked up that cape and walked over to the Jordan River and, standing exactly as he had seen Elijah stand, he rolled up that cape and he went “whap” and the waters parted to the right and to the left and Elisha walked over.
Some may not remember this story but most of you know the phrase “to pick up the mantle.” It means to carry on a job. It is a gift and a responsibility, to say “I’ve got it now. I’ll carry on.” Whether we like it or not, ready or not every one of us is picking up mantle’s along the way. Every change in life, every turn of age and every turn of time involve us evolving into new roles. Life is dynamic. If you want things to just stay the same then let’s all invest in some cryonic freezing technology. But being cryonically frozen looks a lot more like death than life. Because, life is growth and change. So if we choose to live, we better learn to do change and transform well.
I remember a powerful moment of transition in my own life. After my mother died. My three siblings and I were taking a quiet moment together before we went downstairs to face my mother’s funeral. The house was full to overflowing with friends and relatives. The few days since her death were so hectic. Just the four of us were upstairs in my childhood bedroom in our old farmhouse. My brother looks around at our small circle and he said with great insight. “We have just stepped up.” In a flash we all understood that for our family, he meant we had stepped into our parents generation. We inherited their mantle. Whatever family relationships we carried through, however we lived our lives, it was up to us, not my mom, not my dad, not anyone older or wiser or more prepared. It was us now. How do we grow into the roles God has in mind for us?
Elijah and Elisha can give us a hand here. In this tiny, crazy story we see some of the things that help us step up. First, find a mentor or let a mentor find you. I pity people who don’t have a rich faith community. I have had many jobs over the years and I have had professional mentors that nurtured and helped me in the workplace. But there is a profound difference when people mentor you spiritually. They don’t teach you what to do as much as how to be. This place is thick with mentors. I can look out and most of you have taught me something. Agnes Peebles and I did breakfast at the Kaufman House. For years I prayed with a prayer group every Wednesday. I’ve puzzled and talked and contemplated how to live in Faith Groups and Devotional Groups. I’ve watched and learned how to walk through grief and illness with many of you. I’ve learned how to move from problem to finding the solution. I’ve had before me the power of tender love and lifelong learning. I’ve learned how to be hopeful, loving, giving. I look out and see a sea of mentors. But of all the Calvin mentors, one mentor is extraordinary, Graham is a mentor that I have valued in a special way. Because he has had a hand in all the familiar aspects of Calvin we often don’t acknowledge the miracle that is a healthy church. But it is his leadership that has framed it all. I have such gratitude for his quirky combination of tremendous vision and hope combined with an practical, workable, step by step approach to life and work. We are truly blessed to have that rarest of things in Graham, an original thinker with a kind heart.
This is a wonderful environment to live and learn. So look around. Spot someone who is living richly, has some skills, some experience or a view point that is life giving and plant yourself where you can learn. Say, “As the Lord lives I will not leave you.” And soak up some goodness.
Mentoring is entirely unique. Elisha is not a carbon copy of Elijah. Mentorees are not clones of their mentors. It’s not like being an Elvis impersonator where you mimic someone. Elijah is so open-ended with Elisha. His final words are simply, "Tell me, what can I do for you?” Elisha replies, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” It sounds like “I want to be you – to the second power. I want to be you – squared.” But Elisha goes on to bring his own style to his role as prophet laureate of Israel. Elisha is not as pugnacious and flamboyant as Elijah. Elijah was always righting the great wrongs of the world. Elijah spent most of his ministry in someone’s face; King Ahab, Jezebel, the Priest of Baal. Elisha’s ministry was helping people, demonstrating God’s power through caring. Elisha would be found more often with the common people as much as with great kings. Great as mentors are, you make your own decisions. Three times Elijah gave Elisha the chance to leave, saying, “You’re free to go your own way.” Each time Elisha said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.”
Mentors can come in surprising forms. Too often we are looking for the Luke Skywalker/Obi Wan Kenobi model, an older wiser mentor and a young apprentice. This is a great model but it is not the only model. But we rob ourselves of rich lessons by being so narrow. This past week I spent lots of time with my Vacation Bible School classes. In every class I learned something that I needed to know; how to have more fun, how to be a good friend, how to enjoy simple things. I learned lots from my small mentors. My friend, Peter’s oldest son, Joel, is a genius with computers. As a high school senor Joel met with someone who desperately wanted to learn computer skills. The social network and emailing and photo sharing were really important to her. Joel was 17. His student, Alice, was 93. Mentoring can have amazing surprises and sometimes in the best mentoring it is unclear who is mentoring who.
There is a habit of great people that we should imitate. They talk to the dead. Great people are formed by those who go before. Barak Obama wrote a book called Dreams From My Father about his own father. All his life, Abraham Lincoln talked with the founders of this country. Winston Churchill talked with the Duke of Marlborough. Theodore Roosevelt talked with the men and women who settled the West.
Since we are talking about picking up a mantle and because the Pirates are doing so well that we are all baseball fans again, we should mention Mickey Mantel. Mickey Mantel was tremendously influence by his father, Mutt Mantel. At the age of five. Mickey’s dad would pitch to him left-handed and he would bat right handed. Then his grandfather would pitch right handed and Mickey would bat left handed. Mickey’s father and Grandfather both died in there 40’s from Hodgkin’s Disease. While Mutt got to see his son move up to the big leagues he didn’t live to see all of Mickey’s success. But Mickey admitted that he talked to dad whenever he was on the road in hotel rooms. Mickey would go over the game and hear words of encouragement or humor or insight in his father’s voice. With great people in times of great need the dead come alive and looking over their shoulder with encouragement and example.
This opens up new realms of possibilities. If you didn’t have such a great dad, borrow Corrie Ten Boom’s father from The Hiding Place. If you didn’t have a great mom, let Catherine Marshall give you sage motherly advice from her book Beyond Ourselves. Can’t pray deeply seek out some mentoring with Father Thomas Keating. Want to live a deeper spirituality learn from the Quaker, Thomas Kelly. The world is deep in mentors
We have mentors from beyond this life too but in scriptural terms we call it the great cloud of witnesses. It as though in this sanctuary, we have an invisible balcony. In our lives we have an invisible ceiling. Those we love, those we admire, and those whose lives have been important to us are sending encouragement and inspiration. Roman Catholics believe this strongly with their veneration of the saints. We Protestants aren't quite so sure how it all works out. But the Word of God teaches that we get strength and encouragement from the greats who have gone before. I know it is true for me.
Over 15 years ago I was a functional agnostic. I had lost the knack of faith. In a faithless world, I was lonely in the universe. I came to Calvin and found mentors in faith that nurtured me. I really came to Calvin for the older women, who with love and kindness and just being themselves mentored me. Now I have a great congregation of faith models. I am rich with the wisdom of ancient and modern Christians. This is the life that enables me to pick up my mantle.
“Whap” the River Jordan and cross over to a richer life.