Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Mantle

2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-15
 He Qi
 This is the final story that we will hear in the Elijah saga.  Although it’s been a rather disjointed series I hope that you get a picture of this important prophet.  A lot has happened since last week’s story of Elijah besting the prophets of Baal and then running for his life.  After Elijah ‘gets back to work’ out of the cave he runs across Elisha plowing his field.  Elijah puts his mantle on Elisha indicating that now Elisha has been called to duty.  Elisha says goodbye to his family and becomes Elijah’s assistant.  This is about nine centuries before Jesus.  Elisha’s got a lot to learn.

Not long before the LORD took Elijah up into heaven in a strong wind, Elijah and Elisha were leaving Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, "The LORD wants me to go to Bethel, but you must stay here."  Elisha replied, "I swear by the living LORD and by your own life that I will stay with you no matter what!" And he went with Elijah to Bethel.  Elijah then said to Elisha, "Now the LORD wants me to go to the Jordan River, but you must stay here.”   Elisha replied, "I swear by the living LORD and by your own life that I will never leave you!" So the two of them walked on together.

Fifty prophets followed Elijah and Elisha from Jericho, then stood at a distance and watched as the two men walked toward the river. When they got there, Elijah took off his mantle, then he rolled it up and struck the water with it. At once a path opened up through the river, and the two of them walked across on dry ground.
After they had reached the other side, Elijah said, "Elisha, the LORD will soon take me away. What can I do for you before that happens?"  Elisha answered, "Please give me twice as much of your power as you give the other prophets, so I can be the one who takes your place as their leader."
"It won't be easy," Elijah answered. "It can happen only if you see me as I am being taken away."
Elijah and Elisha were walking along and talking, when suddenly there appeared between them a flaming chariot pulled by fiery horses. Right away, a strong wind took Elijah up into heaven. Elisha saw this and shouted, "Israel's cavalry and chariots have taken my master away!" After Elijah had gone, Elisha tore his clothes in sorrow.

Elijah's mantle had fallen off, so Elisha picked it up and walked back to the Jordan River. He struck the water with the coat and wondered, "Will the LORD perform miracles for me as he did for Elijah?" As soon as Elisha did this, a dry path opened up through the water, and he walked across.

And so begins Elisha’s prophetic ministry. 

If you noticed Elijah tries his best to shake off Elisha but his devoted follower just wouldn’t get the hint.  Both Elijah and Elisha were active during a time when there were hundreds of other active prophets, ‘guilds’ you might call them.  If you were to align prophet activity with the geo-political world and the lifespan of Israel you would see high prophetic activity when the Ancient Near East was not at peace in the divided Kingdom of Israel and Judah.  And, overall, this was not a time of peace and Elisha didn’t want to leave Elijah because he was a novice and needed encouragement and mentoring. 

But endings must happen before beginnings can start and when it was time for Elijah to take his leave Elisha asks for the same powers that Elijah had.  Elisha was not being greedy.  He was really asking for the inheritance of a first born who always got a little more.  He wanted to be Elijah’s principle heir. But the request is difficult for a human to meet, this Elijah acknowledges.  He knows there is more at stake here than what he alone can provide, you see Elijah knew that God’s almighty hand was the progenitor of his abilities.  It was God alone who performed miracles through Elijah.

And as they walked Elijah was taken up, up and away in a flaming chariot to heaven.  The prophetic legacy of Elijah has been passed now to Elisha in this miraculous succession.  The mantle, which had become the symbol of authority and power was no longer Elijah’s but was in the hands of Elisha.  The proverbial torch had been passed, the baton handed off.  Elijah let go of his mantle and Elisha picked it up and continued the prophetic ministry forward.  This is quite a story of succession.  Of leadership preparing one to the other for the difficult tasks ahead that God will ask them to perform.

Soon enough, and we all know how quickly time passes, we will be passing the mantle of church on to the future generations, not just OCC but the larger church?  How do we want to do this? How will we prepare today so that when we pass the mantle to our children’s, children’s, children we will leave it better then when we found it?  If you were a boy scout or a girl scout you will be familiar with that concept.  Clean up your campsite, get things in order, leave no trace of trash but leave it a place of verdant growth and hope.  We need to get the church in tiptop shape so that it can be passed on.   

But what might that look like given the fact that ‘church is changing’?  No doubt the look and feel of church is really shifting.  Overall fewer people are finding it a place of renewal and strength but I don’t think this is because God’s message of transformation, forgiveness and hope are irrelevant and dead.  Right now this world is in dire need of transformation, we know that if we listen to the news and especially the events of this past week with the Treyvon Martin case.  Something much larger is happening and we have yet to figure out what that something is. 

Phyllis Tickle asserts in her book, “The Great Emergence”[i], that every 500 years the church goes through a major upheaval and shift.  Five hundred years ago the church witnessed the Great Reformation and the birth of Protestantism.  Five hundred years prior to that was the Great Schism where we know the Eastern church split and birthed Roman Catholicism, and yet another 500 years before that was Gregory the Great and the Fall of the Roman Empire where he did much to clean up after the fall and get it into shape.  So it looks like we have entered into another 500 year shift since the Reformation happened in and around 1517 CE.  So if you don’t know what’s going on, this may be it!

The church or Christianity as expressed in church changes but not without pain, not without controversy and not without disappointment and fear. This might just be our source of confusion as to why people don’t come to church.  Because something much larger is at play.

And it is in this discombobulated time that OCC must figure out who we are and how we would like to pass the mantle on.  Don’t despair, be of hope.  We have a great opportunity before us as we enter a time of evaluation and discernment as a church and we will do our best to understand how God wants us to be a worshipping and faithful community. 

Come September we will have the opportunity to do some visioning about our future.  About who we want to continue to be and who we want to grow into.  About how we want to carry out the mission of this church and the Gospel message while adapting to the change around us.   About when we pass the mantle what do we want it to look like for those who will undoubtedly think different than us and use different ways of communication.  I encourage you to begin to think about it now.  Our beloved church is really not ours to lay claim to, it is God’s beloved church.

This might seem like an onerous task but it is not.  Let’s vision out five years, maybe ten.  We all will have different ideas and yet with collaboration we can prayerfully cast a future that God intends for us, a future that will be spiritual and faithful, life giving and transformative.

Bidden or not, God is present. (anon)
Bidden or not, the mantle is in our hands.  Let us ready it or the future and those who will pick it up.

Amen and Amen.

[i] Tickle, Phyllis.  “The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why”.  2008. Baker Books, Michigan.

No comments: