Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, May 21, 2017
Scripture Reference: II Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Sermon: Elisha and the Passing of the Mantle
They say it is the stories that shape us. Perhaps that is why I often say I had no chance – I was bound to go into the ministry. Like so many other families, our family would sit around the table at mealtime sharing stories: stories about the family, stories about the day’s activities. Growing up surrounded by clergy I heard stories about the ministry – the countless blessings one experienced working in the church, but I also heard about the challenges and cost to living a life in ministry. Quite frankly, even though I knew God was calling me into ministry, even in high school, I wasn’t sure I wanted to after hearing some of the stories. It would be years before I was ready and willing. I was much more like Moses, Jonah, Jeremiah, people called in the Gospels; I was holding back, naming every possible reason why I shouldn’t go into the ministry, why I wasn’t ready, why this wasn’t the right time. I certainly didn’t have the commitment or confidence of Elisha.
Elisha was committed to carrying on the ministry of Elijah, of continuing to proclaim God’s word. He wanted to do as Elijah had – telling the story of God’s faithfulness and calling others to be faithful to God, even if it meant challenging kings and others in authority to change their ways. Elijah even tests Elisha’s commitment – ordering him to stay, to not continue on; three times he does this, and each time Elisha refuses. For Elisha there is no hesitancy. He picks up Elijah’s mantle knowing all that it will mean for his life – all the promises and all the challenges it holds, but he does so knowing how important it is to keep telling God’s story.
There have been countless others who have picked up the mantle, who have continued telling the story of God. Our very presence here today is witness to their work, their ministry of passing the good news on. Over the years the church has seen lots of changes in leadership, but with all of these changes God and God’s story has been constant. Every leader brings a different style, has different gifts to offer, but their commitment to serving God, their commitment to give witness to God’s love and grace is the same. Elijah was much more of a solitary figure whereas Elisha was always in the company of others, or consider John and Charles Wesley. John was much more serious, preaching about a life of discipleship and accountability to the Gospel. Charles, however, was a bit more relaxed, often telling of God’s grace through song. Their styles and gifts were different, but they were both committed to being a witness. They both wanted others to know the story and promise of God’s faithfulness. It is true even for us today.
We are here today because others, like Elisha, have picked up the mantle. They have continued the ministry of telling God’s story. They have shaped us into the church we are today because they told the story – the story of God calling us to live, the story of God’s love, the story of God’s forgiveness, the story of God’s Kingdom, but they each did so differently. Just consider for a moment the people in your life, the ones who have shared the story of God and God’s people with you. How did they share the good news with you? Did they tell you stories in Sunday School? Was it the way they lived, or how they served in the community? Paul reminds us in Corinthians that as the family of God we all share the same story, we all are called to do the work of God’s Kingdom, but we all have different gifts, different means of telling the story. It’s not surprising then there have been changes in the church, different ways of ministry to pass on the good news. That will always be true, but we will continue to tell the same story.
We share the same scriptures. We offer the same prayers every time we come around the table and font. We do as Jesus commanded: we remember. We remember the life of Jesus, the sick he healed, the oppressed he freed, the sinners he forgave, the meals he ate, the death he died, the life he lived. We do as we are called: singing and declaring the wondrous works of God giving us life whether it be in the very beginning with the waters of creation, the new start and promise of faithfulness with a rainbow, a life of freedom from slavery, or in union with Christ. We remember, we tell the story, God’s story, our story, the story that has changed and shaped our lives.
But we also remember the invitation – follow me, to pick up the mantle, to pick up the cross and continue the work of Jesus. Will we? Will we have the courage of Elijah and Elisha, and all the saints before us? Will we use our gifts to tell God’s story?