2 Kings 2.1-2, 6-14
Elijah knew the day was coming. The day that he would no longer be able to share his life and his ministry with his protégé and younger contemporary, Elisha. The day that God would take him away into heaven and Elisha would be left on his own. Elijah knew the day was coming soon.
The two prophets said their goodbyes to the fifty fellow prophets that accompanied them. As the fifty watched, the two figures strode toward the river. When they had become tiny figures in the distance, they watched as the elder Elijah took of his cloak, his mantle, and rolled it up. With it, he smacked the river and created a space of dry ground in the middle. Eyes bulging and jaws dropped, the fifty watched as the figures walked through on dry ground as if nothing out of the ordinary had just happened.
Elijah and his protégé continued to walk in silence for miles. Elijah knew that the time was coming soon. All of a sudden, he stopped. He looked into Elisha’s eyes. “Tell me what I might do for you, before I am taken from you.” It was a sincere and generous offer. He wanted to bless Elisha, to tell him what he knew, to share with him the power that God had given him. It was a desire and an offer that he had made and kept since he had chosen Elisha to be his protégé. To be his partner. To teach him how to be the hands and feet of God. But he knew it wasn’t his power to give. All he could do was share what he had.
They walked some more, and before he knew it, the time had come. He heard the chariots behind him and the horses and he knew they were for him. He had no more time to talk. To share. To laugh. To embrace. As the chariots and horses of fire swept him into heaven, he had time simply to tear the mantle from his shoulders and throw it aside. No ceremony. No words. But he knew that the words had been said. The relationship had been the ceremony. He smiled as he entered the whirlwind. Elisha would know where to go from here.
Today, I invite you. Be an Elijah…
Don’t let your age or your life experience define whether or not you can be a mentor. An example for others. Young adults can be an Elijah for youth. Youth for children. Elementary children for preschoolers. Preschoolers for toddlers. A 90 year old can be a mentor for a nine year old. Or a thirty year old can be a mentor for a fifty year old. Age or life experience don’t make it possible. A willingness to share and pour one’s life into the life of another. That’s what makes it work.
Be an Elijah…
Be willing to listen. Did you notice what Elijah said to Elisha. “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken away.” Not, “you know what you need, son?” He chose to listen to Elisha. He asked him what he needed. A healthy mentoring relationship is not pointing the finger and lording power or position over another.
That doesn’t mean you cannot assert your authority. No child needs a parent who just wants to be a buddy. And no student needs a teacher who just asks her what she thinks. But asserting that authority and knowledge in ways that begin with listening, of understanding, of asking, “tell me what I may do for you.” Who have you asked that question of this past week? Who can you ask it of during the week ahead?
Be an Elijah…
Be willing to commit. Elijah committed to a life of caring for and teaching Elisha. Yesterday, we remembered Susan Jones, who was well known as a powerful teacher and tutor and friend, both to the children that she taught and the international students who learned English from her. Her role was not simply in the classroom, but a commitment of care and service and Christ-like love. She was willing to commit. To go to the homes of her students. To help them find their way around town in a new city and a new country. To help them find a church community where they would be welcomed. She was willing to commit. She was an Elijah.
Be an Elijah…
Be willing to live beside. Elijah spent years next to his protégé, and not just occasionally, but consistently. It is the way that Jesus taught his disciples. That Paul taught Timothy. It is the best way to teach – to live beside. And it cannot be shortcut.
Many of us have some level of anxiety about the lack of young people in the church. We worry about twenty- and thirty-somethings who don’t attend ever or as often as we like. Carol Howard Merritt has written about this phenomenon in her book: Tribal Church: Ministering to the Missing Generation. A young pastor herself, she is actually very hopeful about the Church in the coming years. She believes that the Church can offer something that young adults find very few other places. Often isolated, alone, financially challenged, and overworked, they can find hope in communities of faith. She says that the church can offer communities that are attached, hospitable, and conversant. Attached in that we connect to God and to each other and to the needs of the world. Hospitable in that we are a friendly face to those who are alienated or alone. And conversant in that we share stories, give testimonies, and talk with one another about the life of faith…and just about life. To live beside. That’s what it takes.
Be an Elijah…
This isn’t a job for specialists. Every member of the congregation has a role in supporting children, and youth, and those new to the faith. We are all called upon to be Elijahs. It’s easy to say that “we have a youth group for that kind of thing. Let them handle it.” But that’s just the beginning. Kara Powell, Brad Griffin, and Cheryl Crawford have studied and written about what they call “sticky faith,” a faith that survives beyond high school graduation. And they have found that the one factor that speaks the loudest to young people is whether or not adults in the congregation care about their lives. Not their parents. Not their youth group friends. And not their school friends. Not their youth leaders. Obviously these groups are important first, but one of the biggest indicators of faith that sticks is when adults in the congregation at large make a point to build a relationship with them, and talk to them, and worship beside them, and listen to them, and write them notes of encouragement, and tell them through their words and their actions, “God loves you.” That is what makes a significant difference in the lives of young people. And that is something that we all can do. This isn’t a job for specialists! The more intergenerational the worship and fellowship, the more mature the faith. And the “stickier” it is when they go out into the wide, wide world. Adults to care. Adults who chose to be an Elijah….
Elisha knew the day was coming. He was already grieving. He knew that his mentor, his guide, his hero Elijah, would soon be taken away from him. And it broke his heart.
The elder Elijah kept trying to send him away, but he would not go. Again and again, he said the same words, “I will not leave you.” He had committed to this life. He had committed fully.
When Elijah asked him what he could do for him, Elisha did not hesitate. “Give me a double portion of your spirit.” He wanted to be granted the role of the firstborn, who received a portion double that of all the other sons. He wanted to be the primary receiver of the power of God. On the other side of the river, fifty others were jockeying for position, for primacy, for attention. Elisha simply wanted to walk in the footsteps of his mentor. He wanted to do the work of God in the way that he had been taught. He wanted God to work through him in powerful ways. In ways that he had seen him work through Elijah. Elisha wanted to join his legacy. And see God at work through him.
Before he knew it, the chariots were coming. He called out to Elijah, but it was too late for any more conversation or words. The fire and the whirlwind and then the silence. Nothing. He sat down in the dirt and tore his clothes in grief. He wept and screamed in anger. And he sat in silence.
In the silence, he heard something flapping in the wind. He looked over and saw it on the ground. It was the mantle of Elijah. The symbol of his God’s power in him. Elisha picked it up and saw the events of his life unfolding before him. He had been given a task. A charge.
He began walking, returning the path that he and his mentor had just walked together. Now he was alone. But yet, he wasn’t. The power of God had begun to surge in him and he felt his calling and purpose in new ways. When he reached the river, he knew just what to do. He learned from the master.
The fifty stirred as they saw one figure returning on the other side of the river. Now alone, the figure wore the mantle of the Master. They watched as he took the mantle off and rolled it up. He struck the river, and once again the waters parted for him. Again, eyes bulged and jaws dropped, and the fifty watched as one solitary figure walked through the waters and toward them.
Here was a new prophet. A remade man of God. Here was Elisha, and they could tell by the way that he walked that God walked with him.
Today, I invite you. Be an Elisha…
You must be willing to listen. This list is going to sound very similar to the ways that we can be like Elijah! Never stop listening. Never stop learning. Leonard Sweet says “we all need a Yoda.” Like the little green guy in Star Wars who mentored and taught Luke Skywalker, we need a teacher, someone we can learn from. Most of us know this innately, right? We know about those teachers and mentors who have made a difference in our lives. But at some point, many of us run the risk of thinking that we have it figured all out. Maybe it’s when we reach retirement. Or maybe around the time we have that third kid. Or when we reach our first year of high school. We become the experts. The mentors. Sweet reminds us that we never have it all figured out. We all need a Yoda! Again, they might be older than us, or they might not. With humility and grace, we must be willing to listen for ways that God will teach us through the voices of others.
Be an Elisha…
Again, a repeat: be willing to commit. Did you hear what Elisha said to his mentor. “I will not leave you.” He didn’t just say it once. He said it over and again. I’m not going anywhere. I am committed to making this happen. Now, many of us will nod our heads at this sermon and agree that it is a good idea. We may even tell people about it at work the next day. And then we are not going to do a single thing about it! “But I am so busy…” we will say. “I can’t make time for something like this!” What if that’s what Elisha said? “Good idea, Elijah…I’ll just stay here…that whole following-God-thing seems a bit tough anyway!”
God is willing to do incredible things through you, and willing to teach you immensely through the voices of others, but you have to show up. You have to make a commitment to make it happen. To find a spiritual mentor, or show up to Sunday school class, or listen in a new way to one who has been there all along. You have to say “I will not leave you,” to commit to learning and growing and listening.
Be an Elisha…
Finally, you must be willing to look for God at work. Our Yoda’s come in various shapes and sizes and forms. But we have to be observant and waiting. Who have you dismissed in the last week that might have had a word of hope or challenge or encouragement for you? Who just doesn’t look the part as someone who has something to teach you to share with you? After all, Luke thought that Yoda was too old, too strange looking, too silly to be a wise Jedi master. Maybe the people that we disregard are actually those who God has sent to us. Maybe that is God at work. If only we have eyes to see and ears to hear, miracles await.
If only we allow ourselves to be an Elisha…