The Message, June 26, 2022: "Take Up the Mantle"

The Message, June 26, 2022: "Take Up the Mantle"

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
June 28, 2022


“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.

            When 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 God.

            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 begun.

            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 lessons.

            First, we do not measure success according to the world’s standards. “Success” is measured by being faithful to the call of God.

Second, 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 Kingdom.
It means being willing to do what we are uniquely gifted to do.
It means being faithful to the call.

            I 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 Church