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Sermon: Passing The Mantle

A sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill on June 26, 2016.

6th Sunday after Pentecost; Year C: 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Ps. 77:1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love. 

Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen.

        I don’t expect everyone to realize this, but believe or not, I have been here with you at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill for almost four years!  It’ll be four years in three weeks.  And for those who may not know or do not remember, I was called to Immanuel during the interim following the departure of Sam Faeth, the former rector, to assist with the transition to the new rector, who isn’t so new any longer.  Fr. Randy Alexander, 10th rector of Immanuel, has been here almost three years.

          Churches go through the process of transition, when former parish leaders leave and new congregational leaders are called.  The time of interim ministry in a parish is primarily for the community to grieve the loss of a beloved pastor, or perhaps recover from a bad relationship, to gauge where you are, to ready for where God might take you, and to brace for change.  It happens everywhere.  Sometimes well, and at other times, not so well or thorough enough.  And it takes time.  God is constantly acting and the Spirit is always moving, hopefully guiding communities and relationships, vestries and committees, leaders and followers. 

          Change happens, torches get passed on, and mantles get handed off from the last to the next.  An effective way to facilitate change, even as the game moves on with the primary players remaining the same, is through succession planning.  This is something I learned through my twenty-six+ years of private sector business world experience before God laid on my heart, ‘I have plans for you.’  And in my coming to Immanuel, where “God is with us,” I started to act as a new set of eyes in an established community, asking why we did this or how do you do that? 

          Today’s readings ask us to move into new directions of faithfulness to God. They ask us to believe great things and to trust that God works creatively and redemptively in our own freedom.  They ask us to live by the Spirit and in life-giving, not legalistic or guilt-producing ways, and to expect great things from ourselves as well as from God.

          Our readings take us into the realm of the mystical, miraculous, and magical; the realm of paranormal experience.  Elijah is caught up in a whirlwind and ascends into heaven.  The prophet is delivered from mortality to dwell in the house of God.  Elisha asks for a “double portion” of his mentor’s spirit and is given a sign, and then goes forth with the same miraculous powers to shape the world.  Like Moses before them, the Divine Force is great with Elijah and Elisha, who can now part the waters, with God’s help.

         

We affirm Elisha’s request to “give me a double portion of your spirit.”  Such a request challenges us to ask God for great things, to get our ego out of the way, and let Divine Providence move through us.  It’s clear that we often settle for ‘less’ when we should be seeking ‘more.’  We should be leaning on divine energy and inspiration to empower our congregations.  Elisha’s request invites us on a daily basis to ask, “What great thing will you do in my life today, O Lord?” and “What great thing will I do today, O God?”  Expecting great things from God does not diminish our power or responsibilities, it increases them – in a world where God asks – and needs us – to be companions in healing the earth one act at a time. In an open-system universe in which the future is partly left up to us, we should expect great things from God and ask great things of ourselves, and from our congregation.

          The words of Psalm 77 reflect the community’s cry for divine presence. They have heard – like us – the stories of healing and rescue, and they need it now. Obviously, we understand these stories differently than the ancients did, but we can still lean on God to inspire, guide, and energize our own efforts.  We need a power and wisdom greater than our own to tackle today’s global and local crises.  Leaning on God does not diminish our power and responsibility, but energizes us to be channels of blessing and healing – instruments of peace and creative transformation – in our world.

          The Galatians passage celebrates Christian freedom, freedom from the confines of legalistic traditions, guilt, and shame, and freedom for life-transforming behaviors.  The way of the Spirit opens us to the world, frees us from ego and individualism, and inspires us to bring greater unity and community to the world.  While Christians need to respect the separation of church and state while affirming diverse religious paths, we also need to let our Christian values shape our politics and civil involvement.  Our freedom as followers of Jesus is not revealed in phrases such as “don’t tread on me,” “it’s my property and my money,” or “it’s my life and I can do what I want with it” – these are the ways of death, according to Paul, because they destroy relationships and communities.  We need to balance individual desires and freedoms with the common good of the whole.

          The Christian life teaches us that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Yes, explore your destiny and achieve much, but remember that creating healthy communities is as important as your own well-being.  We need to move from individual and community loyalty to the vision of world loyalty.  South African freedom hero Nelson Mandela said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

          In the Gospel, Jesus’ words are particularly challenging ones.  We all have obligations and we need to honor our responsibilities and commitments to our families and loved ones.  The realm of God is found in everyday relationships of fidelity, support, and healing.  And we love God by loving those around us.  Still, we must accept the uneasy conscience that Jesus provokes even as we take care of our children, our parents, our neighbors, and go to work on a daily basis.  Few of us will sacrifice “everything” for God’s realm.  Those who do “sacrifice” should not succumb to a sense of spiritual superiority.  We can’t take the bite out of Jesus’ words, and we need to continually ask ourselves as we check our bank accounts, drive children to school, pick up our grandchildren, and act as responsible members of society, “Are we looking beyond our own self-or-family interest?  Do we see God’s way of life in our way of life?” We need to be willing to adjust our course to be faithful in our time and place – in economics, spiritual practices, and congregational loyalty.

          Today’s readings certainly ask a great deal of us.  They also represent a vision of alignment with God’s Vision that unleashes divine power and the ability to be faithful to God in ways that we have not previously imagined.  We are called to think in larger terms of ethics, social responsibility, living in the Kingdom, and personal empowerment.           

          Yes, it’s from the Second Book of Kings that we get the phrase, “Passing the mantle.”  Eventually, that will mean something to Avery Grace McCaslin who we will welcome into the household of God this day through the sacramental rite of Holy Baptism.  Her parents, godparents, and, in fact, all of us present today who respond with that resounding “We Will!” (and it will be resounding) will join in the tradition of passing the mantle of faith and discipleship on to Avery Grace.  We expect that the spirit of discipleship, leadership, and evangelism will pass to the next generation.  It was passed on to us, and we are to pass it on, or at the very least, share it with one another.

          The focus of this day through our reading of Scripture is the tremendous cost of discipleship.  Elisha is given the burdensome mantle of Elijah, but rises to the task and carries on Elijah’s ministry.  Paul proclaims that we are free in Christ, but emphasizes that as Jesus’ followers, we are called to use that freedom for good.  With God at work within us, the fruits of the Spirit can grow.  In the gospel, Jesus makes it clear that the life of discipleship requires no less than everything.

          We have no good apart from God.  That makes our Lord’s call to follow him an invitation to freedom.  This is freedom to revel in the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, and the like.  This is the path of life.

          You yourselves, by virtue of your own baptism into the death of Jesus Christ our Lord will share in the powers of his resurrection as we look for his coming again in glory.  So I ask you:  How will you live this legacy today and tomorrow and in the years to come?  You have been given that double portion of the Spirit.  How will you use it?

          In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  AMEN.