I really love the reading from 2 Kings today involving Elisha and Elijah - despite the fact that their names are so close in pronunciation that I have to be careful to keep track of who is doing what. You'll notice I had a couple extra verses read than what's in the bulletin. Those two verses are crucial to understanding Elisha and Elijah's relationship. And their relationship is what I love most about this reading.
Elisha is eager to learn everything he can from Elijah; Elisha admires Elijah's prophetic abilities and his devotion to the LORD. Elisha becomes Elijah's closest companion - follows him around like a puppy dog. Elisha vows to never leave Elijah's side; he can hardly imagine life without him. Elisha will do anything to carry on Elijah's work.
I'd venture to guess Elisha feels Elijah saved his life, because the course of his life has been changed forever due to him. Elisha feels indebted to his mentor, Elijah.
And so, when the people say over and over to Elisha, "Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?" Elisha tells the people, "Yes, I know; be silent." This is a sanitized way of saying, "SHUT UP!" which are words I never let my kids say because it's so disrespectful and degrading, but in this instance they seem apropos.
The thought of losing Elijah is more than he care bear. Plus, Elisha must be having an identity crisis. Who is he without Elijah? Certainly he hasn't learned or become all that he could be if Elijah stuck around longer, which is why he requests a double portion of Elijah'
s spirit. I
t would be easy to read Elisha's request as an arrogant demand to be better than Elijah, to surpass him in every way. Be the best prophet ever.
But I think in this moment Elisha believes he needs more of the spirit that has been given to Elijah by God because he's just not good enough. He believes he is starting off at a lower point than Elijah, has less gifts and talent. He needs double what Elijah had just to be on level ground with him.
Whatever it was that sustained Elijah through his joys and sorrows, whatever it was that emboldened Elijah in the face of controversy and comforted him in silence, whatever is was that made him into who he was - Elisha wants that.
Heck, I want that. There are plenty days I think I'm failing as a mother, as a friend, as a pastor, as a wife.... Basically there are plenty of times I'm failing to be the person God calls me to be.
So, I get where Elisha's desperation rises from.
Anyway, we all know the story - Elijah gets swept up in a whirlwind of chariots and horsemen, leaving Elisha's side before Elisha thinks he's ready. And then there the extra two verses I had read this morning: "
He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He 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."
As Elisha stood on the shore, "Now what?" must be racing through his mind, followed closely by, "What in the world have I gotten myself into?"
It is now his time.
As the waters parted for Elisha and he ventured that first step into his new life, God's spirit propelling and him forward, Elijah must've smiled down on him. Proud of him.
And Elisha probably sighed a heavy, gracious 'thank you!' up towards heaven, to his mentor Elijah and to his God. As Elisha lived out his part in God's story I am confident that he realized that he does not bear the mantle of God alone.
None of us do.
Initially I was thinking of penning what I believe Elisha's thank you note to Elijah would've said, but as I thought about what he would've said, I couldn't help but think of all the people to whom I should say 'thank you.' People who believed in me even when I didn't, people who have corrected me for my own sake, people who have taught and nurtured me, people who cared for me and loved me when I hardly loved myself.
People who really saw me for all my gifts and promises, and all my warts and failings and still chose to be in relationship with me, and sacrifice their time and their resources for me just so I might reflect a fraction of what God has in mind.
As I remember these people, the list is long, which astounds me somewhat.
It makes my heart grateful. Grateful to God and grateful for their particular ministries, and grateful for all the people who walk with us through this thing called life.
am grateful for James Adkins, my band director in high school. He had more energy and passion than the Energizer Bunny. He taught me there's power in a positive attitude and believed that I really could make a go of it in music (which I did for awhile). He always had a jar of candy fireballs on his desk and to this day they remind me of him. And when I was homesick in college he wrote me a letter on music staff paper to remind me that I had a gift, not to give up, and to keep on keeping on. I'm pretty sure that letter is folded up in a high school yearbook somewhere.
I am grateful for my own pastor, Phil Hirsch. Some of you may know him. He saved my life. Which sounds dramatic, but it is true for me. I have thanked him many times over the years, but it never seems enough or adequate. His compassion for people is enviable and his love for Jesus pervasive. It made all the difference in the world to me that in his own subtle way he mantled me for ministry.
I am grateful to Kristin Largen, who was one of my systematic professors in seminary... and taught me that you could wear amazing pink shoes and be a woman and a pastor and smart all at the same. Although mostly she believed that I had a unique voice that the church needed and would never take less than my very best.
I am grateful to my children. Carter taught me to be a mom and about sacrificial love. Jackson taught me how to embody grace and compassion. Cooper taught me to hang on tight through change and to fight for what you believe in. And little Maddie has taught me that holding out for hope can be really painful, but it's worth it.
And my husband and my parents...
There are a couple other significant people, but I might embarrass them in public thanks, but they probably know who they are. Truthfully, there are many people I could thank. Many people who have believed I could part the waters (figuratively speaking) and speak of God's love, promise, and grace.
We are all here because someone - or many someones -lived the story of Christ in their own unique way, quietly passed it on to us through teaching, guiding, and nurturing, and compelled us to follow. We all have our Elijahs for whom we give thanks!
You all just listened to me recount parts of my story, but my story, while connected to your story, is not your story, not your 'thank you' note. So this week I'd like you to try something...
I have a blank thank you note for each of you. I'd like you to write a thank you to one person who shaped your life, who believed in you, who God used to chisel you into who you are today. This person can be anyone - younger or older, within the church community or outside of it, a family member or someone you haven't seen in years. Let the mantle they handed to you rest with promise and expectation on your shoulders and I want you to tell them why it matters to you, why they matter to you.
And I want you to send it to them. Not via email or text. But through the old-fashioned postal system.
I know it seems silly and maybe a little uncomfortable, but I think it'
I hope you will take this risk. It will mean a lot to them to know that their voice lived on in you and that you recognized that they gave you part of their spirit.
As I close, I'd like to also say that I am grateful for Elisha, who followed and stuck by Elijah until the very end. I'm grateful that as he held out the mantel of his mentor over the waters he challenged God, with, "Where is the God of Elijah?" Daring God to show up and do something in his life.
And God responded to him with a definitive, "Right here. Let's get moving."
So, I pray that you might take up the mantle that has been passed on to you and trust that the spirit of those who have handed it to you lives within you. And may you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the mighty God of Elijah will show up for you as well.
With bold confidence I say - I know God will. He always does.