Taking on the mantle

Just as Elisha’s glimpse of God’s reality enables him to take on the prophet’s mantle, our glimpses of God’s kingdom empower us to become disciples. (Listen.)

I’m going to let you in on a secret: There are times when I hate being a grown up. Sure, I get to drive and spend money; but if I make a mess, I have to clean it up. When I drop something on the floor, I have to pick it up. If I do something wrong, I have to put it right. If I’m hungry, I have to cook; if I’m bored, I have to find something to do; if I’m lonely, I have to arrange a playdate; if I’m tired, I have to put myself to bed. When I see a job that needs to be done, it’s usually me that needs to do it. I know I look reasonably competent, but half the time I’m just bumbling around, trying to work out how to serve the church or write a sermon or love my enemy or do any of the other things I’m supposed to do. There are days when I wish a great big mother would drop down out of the sky and clean up my messes, bake me a plum cake, and tell me what to do.

So I love this story about Elisha. He knows that Elijah – his spiritual father, his key teacher, his wise friend – is about to go away. And he can’t bear it. Elijah’s a giant. He brought down fire on the altar, and rain from the sky. He spoke God’s truth to murderous kings and vindictive queens; again and again, he recalled Israel to God’s reality. And Elisha knows that when Elijah goes, he will need to take on this work. But he can’t possibly fill Elijah’s shoes: the prospect is terrifying. No wonder he tells the company of prophets, who so helpfully tag along and remind him that his master is about to be taken away, to shut up.

On the banks of the Jordan River, Elijah asks Elisha what he needs: “A double portion of your spirit!” says Elisha. And maybe he was claiming the inheritance of the oldest son, or maybe he was simply saying, “Make mine a double! Because to do your work, I’m gonna need it.”

Whatever he meant, it gives Elijah pause. Then he says, “If you see me being taken from you, you’ll get it; if not, you won’t.” And the chariot of fire and the horses of fire come between them; and Elijah is swept up in the whirlwind which marks the presence of God.

Elisha sees it all. He sees the power of God in the fiery chariot and flaming horses; he sees the presence of God in the whirlwind; he sees a glimpse of God’s realm as Elijah is swept to the place where sorrow and mourning and death are no more.

In other words, he sees as a prophet sees – God’s power, God’s presence, God’s realm – and it is this which fills him with spirit and gives him the courage to grow up. To pick up Elijah’s mantle. To walk to the Jordan. To give it an experimental whack. And to discover that he, too, is empowered by God’s spirit to proclaim God’s truth and to do God’s will.

We live in one reality, a reality which proclaims that wealth is to be hoarded, the rich are blessed, and everything is for sale. It’s a reality which insists that men do valuable work, that women’s work is mostly unimportant, that women should be decorative, and children spoiled and ignored; a reality which blames people for their suffering, and makes scapegoats out of vulnerable people, and maintains that hate speech is an act of freedom.

But even in this reality we catch glimpses of God’s truths: the power of love; the importance of forgiveness; the extraordinary abundance of life and grace. Even in this reality, we encounter our Lord Jesus Christ in those whom we love and serve. We sense the sweet heaviness of the Holy Spirit as she fills the room, encouraging, consoling, and making us, just for a moment, whole. We see signs of the kingdom among those who share resources, and advocate for the powerless, and serve the sick, the suffering, the grieving, and the dying with gentleness and respect.

And when we glimpse these signs of God’s power, presence and realm, we are seeing as a prophet sees; for this is what disciples do, in whom Christ’s spirit dwells.

It is these glimpses that I live for, and which give me the strength and courage to keep growing up. To sort my mess, and feed my people, and love my enemies, and do my work. To take responsibility for my life and become the adult I am called to be, the adult we are all called to be: a disciple with eyes to see signs of the kingdom, a heart to serve it, and lips to proclaim the good news of this life in Jesus Christ.

My childhood was long ago claimed by the whirlwind. The mantle of discipleship is on my shoulders. I’ve been wearing it for many years now: and the older I get, the better it fits. But every now and then, it still weighs upon me. I feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of adulthood; I face chaos and confusion.

Then, I go back to this story. Like Elisha, I look for glimpses in this world of God’s power, God’s presence and God’s realm: a teenager with autism playing gently with a baby; a woman advocating for a trans woman with dementia; a kind word between former enemies; a person visiting a politician’s office and delivering cake. I see and remember these signs of the kingdom, and I rejoice and give thanks and tell others about them. I don’t need to ask “Where are you, Lord?” because the answer is clear: God is here. God is here.

And in this confidence, I roll up the mantle, and give the chaos an experimental whack. And as the waters of chaos gradually recede, I find myself walking on dry paths, heading straight into the promised land. Ω

PRAYER OF ASSURANCE: God’s power, God’s presence and God’s realm are breaking into this world even now; God’s good culture of mercy and love are yours for the asking. So open your eyes, turn to God, and know: Yours sins are forgiven. >> Thanks be to God.

A reflection on 2 Kings 2:1-15a given to Sanctuary, 30 June 2019 © Alison Sampson, 2019. Image © 2008 John August Swanson, found here.

Hello, friend

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