“Take Up the Mantle”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Did you have a favorite teacher when
you were in school? Most likely you did. And, if you are like me, you probably
had a few of them as you moved through your academic career.
In elementary school, it was Mrs.
Black. I do not remember much about her, except that she was super nice.
Ironically, Mrs. White was super mean.
In my early high school years, my
favorite teacher was Mrs. Mary Charest … Madame Charest … my French teacher.
She was very nice, and she made learning fun. She called us all by the French
translations of our names. Of course, there is no French translation for Scott,
so she called me by my middle name, Guillaume … William.
The Mrs. Charest was promoted to
Vice Principal … and she was not nearly as fun anymore.
Later in high school, my favorite
teacher was Arthur Gage, my Physics teacher. Yes … Physics! I always loved
science … still do … by Mr. Gage was very engaging. He had a good sense of
humor and he had after-school workshops called “Physics is Phun” in which we
did a variety of very cool experiments.
Because of Mr. Gage’s influence, I
decided to go to college and pursue a degree in Physics. It turns out that
physics is NOT that phun. Obviously, that did not work out.
After I changed my major … to
Political Science … My favorite professor was Dr. Adeleke Atewologun. His
family fled Nigeria under the cover of darkness and sought sanctuary and a
better future here in the United States. Many of my classmates despised him
because he was tough. He pushed us to excel, to do better, to be better. He
pushed me to be better, and I always appreciated that about him.
In our scripture lesson this
morning, we hear about another teacher/student pair … Elijah and Elisha.
Some of you may not have heard of
Elisha before, but we all know Elijah. Elijah was a great prophet among the
people. We have all heard the story about how he confronted the prophets of
Ba’al on Mount Carmel and defeated them proving that Yahweh … the God of Israel
… was and is the one true God.
Elijah performed other great acts of
power … miracles … throughout his ministry. As we heard this morning, his
ministry was drawing to a close. Certainly, Elijah must have been aware of
that, God was definitely aware. At the end of First Kings, Yahweh spoke to
Elijah and told him to anoint the young Elisha. And then Elisha promptly joined
Elijah in his ministry. (1 Kings 19:19-21)
They were both highly regarded among
the school of prophets, as well as by the rulers of the people. Their influence
led to an awakening among the people during a dismal time in their history.
Through the corrupt reigns of Ahab and Ahaziah, God entrusted them with the charge
to lead the people to righteousness.
we encounter the pair this morning, Elijah was nearing the end of his time on
earth. We are not certain what dynamic was at work here. I know that the
interpreters and commentators do not agree. Some postulate that Elijah was not
ready to anoint his successor and point out that he may not have even anointed
Elisha as Yahweh had instructed.
Personally … I have trouble
accepting that supposition. I cannot imagine Elijah disobeying the Voice of
Others suggest that Elijah was
testing Elisha to determine his worthiness, perhaps wanting to see if he would
remain faithful. Again, I struggle with this notion. It was Yahweh that had
faith in Elisha and lifted him up to Elijah. It seems unlikely that God would
have sent an inferior candidate to follow the important work that Elijah had
The third theory that I came across,
and the one that I believe is most likely, is that Elijah was teaching Elisha
how to be strong and self-sufficient. In much the same way that Dr. Atewologun pushed
me to be a better student, Elijah was pushing Elisha to be strong. He would
need to be strong in the coming years.
And as we heard, Elisha was
faithful. He would not be dissuaded. He would not be turned aside. He stayed with
Elijah as he traveled through the region. And again, as we heard, Elijah then
asked him, “What do you desire of me?”
And Elisha replied, “Please let me
inherit a double portion of your spirit.”
To our twenty-first century ears, it
may sound as though Elisha is being greedy. He wants to be twice as powerful as
Elijah?! But that was not what Elisha was asking.
A double portion, or a double share
was what was traditionally given to the eldest son from his father’s
inheritance. Elisha was not asking for twice Elijah’s power, he was asking to
receive the portion that was due the eldest.
And Elijah responded with his final
lesson. “What you ask is a difficult thing. Yet if you see me as I am taken up,
it will be granted, if not, then it will not.”
Again, our contemporary ears can
understand the words, but we fail to understand the meaning. Elijah was not
saying that if Elisha witnessed or viewed his departure, he would
receive what he asked. What we need to understand is that the word that Elijah
used is actually understand. Elisha was essentially asking to be
formally named as Elijah’s successor. And Elijah was saying that the young
would-be prophet would need to understand the nature of the event and the power
that was involved.
Because the reality was that the
power … the spirit … was not Elijah’s to give. It was God’s. The power that
Elijah possessed was given to him by God. Therefore, if Elisha is to receive
the same spirit, it would also have to be given by God.
And it was.
Elijah was lifted up into the
whirlwind and departed this physical life and ministry on earth.
Elisha tore his tunic in the
traditional act of mourning as his teacher and mentor left him. Then he picked
up Elijah’s cloak ... his mantle … and rolled it as Elijah had done. Then
Elisha touched the water of the River Jordan and parted the waters just as his
teacher had done.
Elisha saw and understood and was
therefore granted his share of God’s power. Elisha went on to have a long
tenure as a prophet of Israel, nearly fifty years. Elisha performed many acts
or power, many miracles, that were similar to those performed by Elijah proving
that he possessed the same spirit.
So, what is the ‘so what’ that will
make this message more than a history lesson or a Bible study? I see two
First, we do not measure success
according to the world’s standards. “Success” is measured by being faithful to
the call of God.
God has fashioned each of us perfectly for the unique roles that we will fulfill
in our service to the Kingdom of God. We are not called to BE Elijah or Elisha.
We are fashioned … created … to be uniquely you and uniquely me.
We can be inspired by the work of Elisha but
we do not have to BE Elisha.
I have shared the story of my friend
George Ortiz in the past. He is the former U.S. Marine that started a feeding
program for the hungry and the homeless in Providence, Rhode Island. What I may
not have shared was that the name of the feeding ministry is The Elisha Project.
He took his inspiration from one of
the stories of Elisha’s ministry. It was a time when the armies of Israel were
in the desert and the horses were dying of thirst. God instructed Elisha to dig
ditches, so Elisha rolled up his sleeves and dug. Then God filled the ditches
with water and the horses and the army were saved.
That is what it means for us to pick
up the mantle. It means to be willing to roll up our sleeves in service to the
means being willing to do what we are uniquely gifted to do.
means being faithful to the call.
wear the robe and the stole, but we all pick up the mantle. We all share in
this ministry. The world needs your spirit. The world needs GOD’S spirit. Let
us roll up our sleeves and start digging. Amen.
Congregational ChurchUCC, SACO MAINE12 BEACH STREET | SACO, ME 04072207-283-3771