Passing the Mantle 6/27/10

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Luke 9:51-6


I.       The Old vs. the New

Several weeks ago, I mentioned that this congregation is part of a very large percentage of our denomination that is facing an all-too common issue in the church: we are aging.  We, as a body of Christ, can do everything right (offer all the right things, study all the right texts, be welcoming, do mission, etc. etc.) and we will be dead in ten years.

Today’s passage in Luke sounds awfully familiar – move on, follow God, don’t look back.  Jesus is downright harsh in his insistence that nothing stop the work for the kingdom of God.

Our passage with the two prophets runs with a similar theme (of Old vs. New) but, I find, is more practical, believable, and pastoral.  These two individuals both struggle with the persistent passage of time that brings change to all times and places.

II.       Elijah – the “Old”

A.       The Struggles of accepting limits

Elijah struggles with letting go.
Just as Moses had trouble with realizing that he had done his task: he had brought the people to the Promised Land and now it was time for Joshua to take over the role of leading the people.
Elijah has been told by God to anoint Elisha as his successor.  Instead, he simply tosses his mantle over the young boy’s head (story)

Finally, when the boy asks to be named as the primary beneficiary of Elijah’s prophetic prowess, Elijah comes to realize a very important thing:  we do not choose our successors – even though he had tried to act as though this day would not come, that his days of being a prophet would not end, that day had in fact come.  Although he had failed to anoint Elisha as his successor, Elisha had come to understand this as something important. 

We do not choose our successors.  We cannot control how they do ministry, what they choose as their focus, or how ‘church’ should be ‘done.’  Elijah realizes that it is not he who gets to pass on his power to just anyone … God will do the choosing, the guiding and shaping.  God will be able to be present with that successor better than any mentor ever could be after the time has come to leave.

This is an important thing for us to remember.  For the people we mentor (Whether they are youth, our friends, or our children), it is not up to us to do their growing and insure that they become something specific … instead it is up to us to complete the task God has given us, to anoint the chosen successor and plant whatever seeds of wisdom we have found in our journey. 

III.    Elisha – the “New”

A.  The struggle to accept a call and find our vision

Elisha has quite a journey … he first has to discern that he is, in fact, the proper successor to Elijah (because Elijah has not told him that he has been chosen by God, remember).  He does not know that this is his call, perhaps his destiny, if we want to be Calvinistic about it.

What he does know is that he cannot abandon his mentor – not even the three times that is asked to remain behind.  He has an idea of what discipleship to the Lord might cost him and it is something he is willing to undertake.  (Grief over his mentor …)

Then, when he asks for the “primary inheritance” (the double share of Elijah’s spirit), he does not even get a direct answer, he gets a “Watch and Wait” kind of answer.  So he does and he wonders if it’s enough:

Elisha has no guarantee that God will give him the same gifts that Elijah received … Elisha must discern God’s will by participating in events.  He must watch the chariot and the whirlwind.  He must pick up the mantle.  He must attempt to part the Jordan.  Elisha confirms his call through his actions.[1]

Discerning God’s call is not something that always happens easily and is answered in one single instance … answering the call that God has placed on your life is something that takes a lifetime to develop.  It requires us to ask each and every day, “How can I honor God today? And to what or where do I feel called?”

It reminds me, in fact, of my super all-time favorite quote that comes from the poet Rainer Marie Rilke.  He is writing (at a young poet’s request) in order to impart his wisdom.  And he basically says: be patient with yourself.  Do not try to find the answer, because even if you found the answer today you might not be ready to hear it.  But by living the questions, and asking those questions each day, gradually without even knowing it, you will live into the answer and the solution you have been seeking all along.[2]

This is what it means to find the vision that Elijah thinks is so important.  It is not that we see the chariot and know that we know have the authority that has been passed on to us.  “Elisha suggests that we may have to discern God’s will through action.”[3]  Instead, we look for God and see glimpses of glory and then act out of those experiences and pray that God will illuminate the path before us.


IV.     Resolving the Old/New Conflict

This, then, is what we find out about the tension between the old and the new: both are faithful ways to live and interact with God’s world.  We must honor the past, listen to our Elijah’s, be a mentor to others, and embrace God’s deliverance when it comes.  “Part of our own personal spiritual discipline must be the discipleship of others who might assume our mantles, as Elisha assumed Elijah’s”[4]

And we must move into the future: we must listen to God beyond the faith that was given to us by our mentors; we must continue on in our grief and find how we are best faithful in the present circumstances and trust that God will make himself known to us and guide our steps.

A.     What does this mean for our church today?

This is the kind of passage that can mean lots of things for us:

  1. Identify who were/are your mentors.  What have they taught you? 
    What did you NOT learn from them?
  2. Who are the people that you mentor?  Are you intentional about sharing your faith? 
    What about your faith is essential for you to share?
  3. Are we looking for glimpses of God each day? 
    Have we seen chariots of fire and taken up the mantle?

These are the kinds of questions that we should be asking ourselves each and every day so that we might live into the answers and proclaim God’s kingdom a little more intentionally and with a little more joy.

Let us pray,
God, each day brings some new challenge to our lives.  We pray that we might find ways to continue the wonderful ministries that you have started in us, that we might honor all that our past has taught us and that we might have the courage to continue to learn about your kingdom and how we might serve you better.  In Christ’s name, Amen.


[1] Haywood Barringer Spangler in Feasting on the Word, 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14.

[2] Paraphrased from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Marie Rilke.

[3] Spangler in Feasting.

[4] Carrie N. Mitchell in Feasting on the Word, 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 


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