Hand Me Down Mantles And Succession Plans, Old First Sermon 06.26.16

Hand Me Down Mantles And Succession Plans, Old First Sermon 06.26.16

2 Kings 2: 1-2; 6-14 and John 14:8-14

A friend of a friend, someone I just met this week, after he’d learned I was a minister,
he asked me “in that way” ‘to explain what being religious is really about.’

‘In that way’ wasn’t with that tone of interest or hope,
which really means, “Gee, if I could only figure this out,
I might like to try faith.”
Rather, it came off clearly as a challenge;
What he was really saying was:
“So you are a minister;
I bet you can’t say anything that makes any sense to me.”

In such cases, I often avoid talking first about God,
Because God to someone who does want to hear anything convincing in the first place is in our secular age fairly inexplicable.

Instead, I say that,
‘mostly being religious is about recognizing our connectedness.
The opposite of, or rejection of isolation.
And self-sufficiency.
None of us is ever really alone.”

In our tradition,
it’s commonplace these days to understand “sin” as “separation” —
…To sin is to be cut off from someone important
(and, when you really think about it, who isn’t important?)
… or to sin is to be cut off from something essential or crucial.

Faithfulness then is making — or at least recognizing — one’s connections,
A web of grace that holds all things together and aloft,
and that we can begin to glimpse, perhaps more with our hearts than our eyes.

and from that revelation —
becoming accountable for one’s position
and responsible for one’s role.

Often that’s a reality in present time, in the here and now —

~ The recognition that I share this planet with 7 billion other people
Who have just as much claim and right to it as me (or any of us and everyone else!).

~ Or closer to home, that the food on my plate to fuel my bodies
and to ride my bike (since I don’t use gas in a car!),
and the energy that runs our homes —

…All that and so much more
is only available to me or any of us
from and through an incredibly complex system,
All the absolutely necessary players, workers, drones of which
we will never all know. Much less like.

Do we really hold-on-to the reality?
…that our daily needs — our daily lives — are only met in our dependence on others?

Don’t we hold on to the reality of our connection
When we remember we have a responsibility to those who find themselves without the basic needs for life?

Do you ever think how every moment — this Sunday morning for example —
… how every moment inevitably gathers a unique assembly of people
never to be repeated ever again?

Even if all the same people — no more; no less — were here next Sunday, if wouldn’t be the same.

* * *
But this same interrelatedness is also true before us and after us.
None of us is an island in time, as Richard said introducing the Confession.

I mean, we’re connected to our forebears by all they made possible for us to be
just as inextricably as to those who will come after us,
…How we prepare a world for them,
Or for this sermon, perhaps better, how we prepare them for the world.

(hence our advocacy for school funding! — sign the letters to the House Appropriations Chairs!
And join us in Harrisburg on Tuesday).

*******

I sometimes think of all the apparent coincidences that made for my parents meeting
and in time for their having me and my brothers.

But if you go back further, factoring in all the chances
that brought together their parents and grandparents…

….Taking all of that in, it’s not very long, I suspect,
Before each of us becomes almost a statistical impossibility…

Not only totally dependent on those who came before us,
but also the product of a whole bunch of chance occurrences falling into place….

The same is true for the generations to come after us:

What we do or fail to do,
often by chance as well as by intention,

ALL OF THAT will become the possibility and the reality
not just for our children,
But our children’s children way past the 7th generation.

Do you feel that responsibility?

This passage of Elijah and Elisha reminded me
we are all part of a lineage.

We are here because someone —
most likely many “someones” —
Recognized value and potential — sacred holiness — in us,
and undertook to make sure that we could see the same in ourselves.
They saw and felt a responsibility towards us —
Undertook ‘to tell us a story that compelled us and called us to become who we are.

And in our turn,
may we get the opportunity to return what I want to call “that generational favor,”
By identifying that grace and giftedness,
and being present to and supportive of someone who is coming up after us…

Elijah and Elisha make me think of the many mentors
I’ve had in my life.

People who believed in me,
even though I was a sort of lost and lonely child.
People who nurtured me,
taught me,
Corrected me…
…people who “saw me.”
Really saw me:.
The gifts I had or didn’t have, but needed.
And the work I could do.

But they didn’t stop there.
They then chose to be in relationship with me,
to develop a friendship,
To serve as mentors,
to sacrifice their time and their resources for my benefit.

That’s what the story of Elijah’s passing his mantle to Elisha gets me thinking about.

Are there other peoples’ mantles that you have picked up and carried?
Mantles left for you
or maybe that you even asked for —
That you have wanted to
or ‘knew you had to’ pick up and carry?

For some of us it’s in our professional lives.

I’m a minister in some sense because of the ministers who were there for me,
who have been important to me.

On Father’s Day each year, I give thanks for my biological father
Without whom I wouldn’t be here,
But truth be told, who couldn’t ever be much of a father to me.

But then there are four men — Coleman, Don, Jack and Fred
Who in my young adult years became like surrogate adopted fathers for me.

3 of them were clergymen.
Is it any surprise that I made it into ministry?

Or maybe the mantle you carry is a role in your family.
Some of us are trying to be parents differently than how we are parented.

But I love, love, love
to hear the stories of people
who are deeply committed to a way of parenting like their parents.
…trying to raise their kids pretty much how they were raised.

BECAUSE they mean
in thanksgiving
and appreciation
and love
to emulate their own parents.

To pass on the blessing bestowed on them to their children.

Or maybe it’s more amorphous — a way we are in the world —

One of your talks of how your life has been influenced deeply by church and books,
Because of a librarian who as a teenager in town in western PA introduced you to a larger world.

I have another friend whose sense of herself as an intellectual
comes likewise
From a teacher who offered
her an alternative to the narrower world prescribed for a woman in her family.

Sometimes, I think, the mantles we carry,
They aren’t given to us, so much as foisted on our backs,
Or even draped over our shoulders before we notice…

How many of us in our adulthoods recognize that a large part of who and how we are
Was formed in our childhoods by our families of origin —

Those families needed us to play some role,
To serve some function that in time
We not only excelled at,
but it often became much of who we were…

Have you accepted the hand-off of a baton
and run the race willingly
as if it was the most natural passing of the torch possible?

Or have you experienced some responsibilities
you would never have picked for yourself,
But chose to take on
or ended up taking on, nonetheless?

Or maybe, like Elisha,
you realized you were the heir apparent,
and everyone else did too.

But you were overwhelmed and afraid,
worried about the size and difficulties of the goals
that were being set before you?

Friends, our lives are balancing acts in so many different ways —

The quick moment we get to act
in between being inheritors,
And the benefactors for our heirs

For in time,
we do grow up (or let’s hope so!),
We do what we do,
Become who we are,
And because we are part of a lineage,

It becomes our turn to return this generational favor, as I have called it:
To have the same sort of effect that was had on us,
To mentor,
mold,
direct,
lift up
some of those who are coming behind us.

Are there people who you have taken on,
Not so much as projects,
But as a privilege?

My friend Jane Ann and I met
when I served at Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims
right after seminary.

It was a tumultuous time in that congregation’s life,

And even though I was just out of seminary,
I helped her put some of the trouble
that was going on at church in perspective.

A year or so later
she started talking about going to seminary.
I wondered if my help
hadn’t prevented the church from losing another talented potential leader.

For the years of her education
and her first years in ministry,
I felt an incredible responsibility to help her develop as a pastor.

I had a similar feeling last fall
When I realized that big John and little John
were clearly both called into ministry —
because I asked them, “when are you going to seminary?”
and they already had answers.

So we had John squared preparing for ministry.
And we at Old First had already been mentoring Haeman.

And last year, we sent both Katrina and Margaret off to seminary…
And Ian’s working out some sort of call and vocation too.

That’s a lot of next generation leadership this congregation is providing for the church,
Thanks be to God.

(By the way, Margaret will be with us next Sunday,
Home to see her mom in Princeton and to worship with us, her home congregation.)

So thinking about all of this,
Elijah and Elisha,
And those who have mentored us
and those whom we mentor…

It occurs to me,
That we might do well to think our lives in two distinct temporal directions:

First of all,
living aware and responsible to those whose mantles have we picked up.

And second,
Responsible to our duty, what will we leave for those behind us?
Or, perhaps better, who will we lift up?

I want us to take a moment this morning to offer gratitude
for those who so served in our lives, our Elijahs.

Who lived their stories in such a way,
and shared them with us, for us.
Those who we remember,
because long after they are gone,
they continue to provide strength and sustenance and guidance for our paths.

In a moment of prayer,
perhaps we could name them, our benefactors, out loud —
Giving thanks to them and to God
for how they have been there for us,
And shaped us and sent us into the lives we are living…

I will begin with Coleman, Don, Jack and Fred who I already mentioned.
But there’s Mrs. Alsbury, my 3rd grade teacher who recognized this lost and lonely kid.
And Mr. Zuchowski, my Weblo scout leader who gave me permission to not go on since I wasn’t enjoying scouting —
my first sense of liberation and it being ok not to please everyone.
And the parents of all the kids who entrusted me to babysit.

Do some of you have names to offer up in thanksgiving?

(People began naming folks’ out loud.)

And I want us to pray also this morning
for those who we hope to raise up,
To influence,
to help develop and to show their full potential.

We might be naming our children,
our students,
young people here at church,
junior co-workers,
anyone we hope in time
will take on some role or duty that we have found important to make central to our lives…
…That they will carry our mantles forward.

I will begin naming John and John, and Margaret and Katrina, and Ian and Haeman.
But also Jane Ann.

Are there people to name and for whom you want to ask God for a double portion of spirit for your ability to lift them up:

(People named names from the pews, but fewer and quieter.)

Elisha knows, as we should also appreciate,
that his mentor, guide, master and father-figure
isn’t going to be around forever.

In fact, Elisha, and everyone else too, recognize that
Elijah’s time has come.

I think Elijah himself probably knew his time was short.

We have such a short time really.
In between growing up and going away.

Don’t we want to be serious about figuring out who we are
And what we are to do?

And if we’ve gotten some good way to that end,
Don’t we want to ask ourselves,
who we might bless (not burden!)

by recognizing in them the gifts,
Perhaps even preparing them for
walking further than we can,
but sharing the same mantle?

And if so,
then what would be the double portion of spirit
We can bequeath them,
With which we can bless them?

People pass on spirit to those behind them all the time.
Parents to their children.
Teachers to students.
Mentors to disciples.
Initiators to initiates.

It is inevitable, or let’s hope so.
Because mantles haunt or herald certain relationships forever:

The older must move on,
And the younger must pick up the tasks,
Do things even the greatest before them could not have done.

Spirit,
Authority,
Empowerment,
Commitment,
Responsibility —
They must be passed on,
Not as burdens,
But as blessings
To be taken up with courage and trust.

I am grateful for Elisha,
who stayed close,
followed and learned from Elijah til the very end —
Absorbing and grasping,
watching and waiting.

For Elisha, who with trembling hands,
held the mantle of his mentor
and tested it out on the waters saying,
“Where is the God of Elijah?”

Might the God of our Elijah’s show up for us as well.
As we in turn show up for our Elisha’s.
Amen.