“Stay With Me – Sermon 2”
2 Kings 2:1-15, 1 Peter 5:1-5, Mark 1:21-28
Sermon delivered by Pastor Daniel Mejia
St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church
February 1, 2015
Just the other day Michelle and I were having a conversation about cool musicians and artists that we both like and admire. Our conversation took us to a place where we had to pause for a moment to ask ourselves a simple question: Why do we admire certain artists/musicians/famous people in the world? Our responses ranged from the simple fact that they are very talented at what they do, they have a great sense of humor, or they are attractive, to finally, we could see ourselves being friends because they are simply cool. In my case that person is Stephen Colbert. I find Stephen Colbert super funny, super witty, super smart but also, I really like the fact that he is a practicing Catholic and very involved in his parish. And in his own funny way – some disrespectful – he cares about issues of inequality, racism, sexism, and faith that divide our country and the world. I have shared with Michelle that a dream of mine is to have a chance to meet him in person and have a conversation about his faith, his work habits, and the things he does to be creative. Michelle says that I’m a little obsessed with him; she actually says that I’m infatuated with him. Now, if you really want to see what infatuation looks like, we need not look further than the relationship between prophet in-training Elisha and well established and experienced prophet Elijah.
In today’s Hebrew scripture we encounter a mentor and his student – Elijah and Elisha. Elijah, the great prophet who you may recall was fed by ravens, challenged the prophets of Ba’al, and stood up to King Ahab and Queen Jezebel by calling them out for murdering the prophets of God. Elijah is the one to whom God appeared at Mt. Horeb in the stillness, and he also performed many miracles through God’s power and spirit in him – including the one where the jar of flour and oil never became empty so that a widow and her son would survive the drought.
And yet, even if you are a great prophet like Elijah, you are not immune to the effects of being human. It came time for Elijah to be taken up into heaven, and to pass on his ministry to another. This is the one certainty of life. The one commonality that holds us all together. There comes a point at which we will no longer be on this earth. We will all come to die, to leave this world that we love. Of course Elijah, has a special way of leaving the world that is unlike any other that we know of. But still, he too, leaves. Of course Elisha and Enoch are not yet finished.
Now, here comes the young and inexperienced prophet in-training Elisha: the apprentice. Initially, their relationship was not easy. Elijah showed no signs of wanting to share his knowledge, his time, or to work with Elisha. But it didn’t matter because Elisha & Elijah were yoked together, placed in a special connection by God. And Elisha was there to pick up Elijah’s mantle and continue God’s work.
Elijah knows that his time on earth is coming to an end, he is about to be taken away by God, and so he asks his student Elisha if there is anything he can do for him before he is gone. Elisha says, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” In other words, Elisha is asking to be treated as Elijah’s principal heir, and to receive the same authority and spirit of God that Elijah had. (NIB Commentary). That request, however, is not up to Elijah, it is up to the Lord, but Elijah lets Elisha know how he will know if the request is granted.
Can you imagine standing there with your mentor, one whom you have come to love, or perhaps even someone you considered your father and watch them slip away/be taken from you? Our experience with this is being taken away through death, rather than being taken away to heaven in a chariot of fire and horses of fire, and yet the end result is the same for Elisha. Elisha is now alone. His mentor has passed on, and has left Elisha to continue the work. Elijah left him with guidance as to how to serve God.
And Elijah has left behind his mantle. A mantle is a very full cape that is attached at the neck and extends to the floor. It’s a type of outer garment… but it is also used to convey authority. Elijah’s mantle functions in the same way as Moses’ staff did. Elijah’s mantle had separated the water that helped Elisha and Elijah cross the Jordan River to the spot where Elijah was taken up. It was a symbol of the power and authority given to him by God. When Elijah first called Elisha to follow him and be his successor, he threw/spread his mantle over him. After Elijah is taken up to heaven, he leaves his mantle behind, laying on the ground.
To honor him, Elisha picks up Elijah’s mantle and puts it on. He brings it back to the Jordan River that Elijah had parted earlier with the mantle, and asks for the God of Elijah to reveal himself as he too, strikes the water with the mantle. Just like before – the water parts. The God of Elijah is with him too. Again, God’s spirit and authority rest on him. Elisha decides to honor the memory of Elijah and carry on his ministry knowing that he too, has been called by God.
Yes, this is more than a story of a role model, because that’s not even close. It does paint a picture of a reality that God calls each of us toward other people so that we might help them to know and understand the story that God has been writing in their lives.
This past week in my seminary class that I teach with students doing internships at churches and nonprofits, one of them shared with the class a very interesting idea. One of the students, who is an older adult and a trained social worker, has had in the last few years to mentor the newbies at her nonprofit. My student is a lovely and caring person who doesn’t mind sharing with the new staff under her supervision all the practical knowledge acquired throughout the years. But she began to notice that all the people that she has been training these past 3 years only last 6 months at work because every person she has mentored has gotten a promotion. Sure, if you are a cynic, you could say that the people she mentored were better qualified than her and that’s why they got the promotion before her; but I can tell you that’s not the case. My student is not afraid to share with the people in her office the gifts and wisdom that God has given to her. She is not afraid that by sharing her knowledge other people may get better jobs or more money than her. She is happy to simply become a channel of God’s grace where her wisdom and experience flows without restrictions to others. The joke in her office is that if you want to get a promotion or a raise ask her to be your mentor.
I have personally benefited from having in my life many people like Anna who pour into me without fear their love, their faith, their knowledge, and their experience; and because of that I’m a better person. And because of those loving mentoring relationships, I picked up the mantle of faith just like Elisha and stood before the water, remembering over and over again that God still parts the water… and God is still calling us to come to the other side, and God is still asking us to pour into others in such a way that they can learn from us.
God has given us gifts, not just for us to enjoy, but to pass on and give away. There is in this place right now, great wisdom. There is great compassion. There is great mercy. There are missionaries sitting right here this morning. We have motivational speakers here, comedians, craftsmen, and caregivers. Can’t you see? We are this great body of Christ, created by God to bear fruit, and we are called to make a significant difference in the life of others by pouring into them and mentoring them into what God has created them to be. And we can’t let our pride or our fear keep us from passing the story on into the hearts and minds of those around us.
I was told once that when a person of great wisdom dies it is as if an entire library goes up in flames because of the knowledge, wisdom and experience that is lost. The good news is that it is never too late to let Jesus’ presence surround you like a mantle. A mantle that can protect you and at the same time this mantle can be used to protect and serve others. May we receive the mantle that is passed on to us of the story of Christ, and may we share it by pouring into others, by making a difference for them today. Amen.