Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Mentor and the Mantle

2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-15
You know the value of mentors if you have ever had a mentor in your life.  Whether that person was an intentional mentor or a person took up that role simply naturally that person played a significant role in your life.

My mentor was Mary.  We meet occasionally for Mexican food and to catch up on life.  Years ago, in 1992, Mary interviewed me for an educator’s job at the former YWCA of Eastern Fairfield County now the Center for Women & Families.  I had no experience but a heart for the work so on a wing and a prayer Mary hired me.  As she was wrapping the interview up she said, “Oh, how do you feel about training police officers?” 

I must have had a dazed look on my face because she followed that question with another, “How difficult can that be?”  That was not the last time that I was asked that question by Mary.  In fact, even today, it is one of the hallmarks of our relationship. 

Mary taught me many things: how to listen and educate; how to meet people where they are in life; how to use my creativity in unusual ways.  She also helped me to find my own unique voice since I had never spoken in front of a group.  Oh yes, she also showed me how to keep my cool in front of 40 police officers, with guns, who didn’t want to be at a mandated training for domestic violence.  Mary and I laughed mostly as I watched her lead and direct the YW. 

A mentor teaches by word and example and acts as a sounding board for those deeper issues that inevitably arise.  A mentor gives guidance and encouragement.  A mentor can be a friend.  A mentor is someone who will not give up on you because he or she sees the divine spark within you.

Elijah was a mentor to Elisha.  In the story of Elijah, he bests the prophets of Baal and then runs for his life and hides in a cave.  But in a still small voice God tells Elijah to get back to work.  That’s when 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.

Syria attacks Israel then Israel defeats the Syrians.  An unnamed prophet tells King Ahab that they’ll be attacked again.  Sure enough that happens and finally there is peace between Israel and Syria.  Ahab dies because he is hit with an arrow.  His son rises to power and for a brief time the kings of Judah and Israel get along.  So we pick up the scripture…

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."

Well so we see that Elijah tries his best to shake off Elisha but his devoted follower just wouldn’t take the hint.  Both Elijah and Elisha were active during a time when there were hundreds of other active prophets, ‘guilds’ you might call them.  And as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago 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.  And, overall, this was not a time of peace so Elisha didn’t want to leave Elijah. 

Moreover, Elisha was not being greedy.  He was asking for the inheritance of a first born who always got a little more.  He wanted to be Elijah’s principle heir for prophetic power. 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.  Elijah, the wise prophet understands God’s almighty hand is involved in his abilities.

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.
“Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, comin’ for to carry me home”.  Up, up and away in a flaming chariot and Elijah was taken 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. 

Now it’s up to Elisha.  As much as he wanted it he had a choice you know, to pick up the mantle or leave it.  But he did not shrink from his new calling. Elisha learned well and he used the mantle in the same way Elijah did and a miracle occurred.  The LORD was present and prepared Elisha to reach down and pick up the mantle off of that muddy riverbed at the Jordan.  He was equipped with what he needed to continue the work of YHWH (God) for the kings of Israel and Judah.

Isn’t that the way though?  God always prepares us for what is coming next in our life.  We may not see it at the time.  But when we reach a plateau as we always do, and we don’t know quite exactly what is coming next, we can take that opportunity to stop and look around.  Here we can look below to see where we have been, and who has helped us along the way. How God has been present-bidden or not.  The plateau is a breather.  So take a big exhalation!  And then take a big inhalation because here on the plateau our present is at hand to view and even perhaps our future is revealed.  And we don’t think that God pays attention! 

An acquaintance recently was telling me about her 30 year career at IBM before she retired.  She outlined every step along her career path telling me how God called her to one place in the organization so she could learn a new skill set for the next position she took at IBM.  Sometimes she had a mentor, other times not.  But after thirty years, which she says, flew by, she was satisfied with her work, the relationships that had been formed along the way and she was ever so thankful for the guidance and steadfast love of God who got her from one place to the next.  She had a choice you know and every time the mantle had been handed to her she took it.

We have a choice too. The courage to take that mantle is formed in relationship with God and our eagerness to embrace the unknown. People teach, help and encourage us along the way, these are the mentors of our lives. And the good ones know when to launch us into our future.  Elisha had no clue what was to evolve but he did take up that mantle and he was ready thanks to Elijah. He also, more importantly trusted that the Lord would do for him what the Lord did for Elijah.  And it was so.     

After the mentoring do not doubt that God isn’t there helping, preparing and guiding you along the way.  God is.  God gives us gifts and sends people to us from whom we can learn. 

What mantle do you yearn to pick up?  The mantle of justice?  The mantle of compassion?  The mantle of health and well being?  The mantle of Christian living?  The mantle of rest?  The mantle of love?  GO FOR IT!

Bidden or not, God is present (anon)
Bidden or not, the mantle lies before you.  The choice is up to you.

Amen and Amen.

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