Passing on the Mantle of Faith

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, June 26, 2022
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

    In 2014, Pastor Frank Reisinger, the pastor who baptized me and had served the church where I grew up for twenty years, passed away after a long illness with Lewy-Body dementia.  His daughter offered me this chasuble, in fact, the very chasuble Pastor Frank wore when I was baptized. How could I not accept such a wonderful gift, even though the colors are pretty ‘70s, it’s really much too large for me to wear, and I don’t wear chasubles anyway.  In case you are wondering what a chasuble is, it’s this poncho-like liturgical garment the presider of Holy Communion can wear.  Pastor Frank’s chasuble is a tangible reminder to me of the faithful servants of the Church who have gone before me, and that it is a privilege and responsibility to serve in this line of work.  As you might imagine, following in the footsteps of someone who was a well-loved pastor serving in the same church for decades is an intimidating task.  In fact, I am a very different pastor from Pastor Frank, and that’s OK.  These are very different times for the church than the early 1980s when the church was scheduling baptisms almost weekly and each grade had its own Sunday School classroom with regularly attending students.  For me, this chasuble represents the passing on of the faith and leadership to the next generation with the same kind of commitment to serving the Lord and his church but adapting to what the current needs of our time requires.  The faith that Pastor Frank had in me is just one of many in the great cloud of witnesses cheering me on, with Christ himself behind me, before me, and within me! 
    Our first reading for today in 2 Kings focuses on the transition from one prophet to the next as Elijah is taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot as Elisha watches.  The mantle of Elijah literally passes to Elisha.  Now you might have no idea what a mantle is just as you might have been wondering what the heck a chasuble is!  It was an outer cape or cloak made of animal fur worn by a prophet as a sign of their God-given power and authority.  Like a pastor, there are still some professions today that have distinctive clothing to help us identify a person’s role – a doctor’s white coat, a judge’s black gown, a police officer or mail man’s uniform.  Elisha gets Elijah’s prophet mantle.
The Lord has already told Elijah to anoint Elisha as his successor in chapter 19 of 1 Kings, and Elisha follows Elijah faithfully with unwavering commitment before his ascension.  He asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, which doesn’t mean he wants to be doubly more powerful than Elijah, rather, he is referring to the Mosaic law’s requirement that the firstborn male heir receive double of what the other children receive – Elisha wants to be the head prophet to continue the Lord’s work in Israel as Elijah’s successor.  And as it turns out, the Lord grants Elisha’s request.  The first half of the book of 2 Kings is full of fascinating stories of how the Lord works through Elisha just as God worked through Elijah – healing the sick, curing diseases, performing miracles so that widows can feed their children and even raising people from the dead.  We see in today’s reading how Elisha is able to part the Jordan river just as Elijah does earlier, just as Moses parts the Red Sea and Joshua crosses on dry land to the promised land.  In many ways, Elisha is the Joshua to Elijah’s Moses.  While we don’t lift up his role as a prophet as much as we do Elijah, he will go on to serve the Lord and the people of Israel over fifty years, continuing Elijah’s work to encourage people to be faithful and committed to the one true God rather than turning to worship false gods.  Elisha’s job, just like Elijah’s, is not easy.  The kingdom of Israel is in turmoil, false gods are everywhere, and the threat of war is constant.  God calls Elisha not to be perfect, but to serve him faithfully.
    As we gather for our annual meeting as a congregation this morning, the story of Elijah’s transition to Elisha calls us to reflect on a few questions as people of faith.  We, too, are not called to be perfect, but faithful. Who passed their mantle of faith onto us?  We don’t have to be anointed prophets or ordained clergy to serve the Lord faithfully where we are, and we don’t need special clothes, let’s remember.  We have all been clothed with Christ at our baptism, after all and anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit.  What have we learned or what has been passed down to us that we can use to live out our faith in our daily lives today?  And how are we passing on the mantle of the faith to the next generation, knowing full well that how we did that 30-40 years ago might not work in the same way today?  To all of you who faithfully serve our church as lectors, readers, on the altar guild, counters, council members, Sunday School teachers, office assistants, helping out with fellowship hour or simply inviting your friends, family, kids, and grandkids to church activities – you are passing on the mantle of faith.  Thank you!  When we share a link to our Facebook livestream, consider offering alternate worship services or educational opportunities beyond Sunday morning, and supporting our Nursery School, we are passing on the mantle of faith.  Thank you!
    The basic message of faith that we have to share remains the same.  Jesus reminds us of this in our gospel for today – despite our best attempts to be good and faithful people, none of us by our own efforts are fit for the kingdom of God.  Rather, Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem to go to the cross to die and be raised for us so that regardless of our deserving or undeserving we may enter the kingdom of God.  Because we have been welcomed by Christ with open arms into his eternal kingdom, we are invited to be a part of God’s kingdom work here on Earth – your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven, as we say in the Lord’s prayer.  Elisha was not the same person or prophet as Elijah, but God specifically called each of them in their own time to be part of God’s kingdom work.  You have been called by God because of the unique gifts and talents you have been given by God to do the Lord’s work right here and now.  Hold on to the mantle of faith God has given you and trust that God can use you!
The work we have before us is daunting.  Our community is incredibly diverse, including religiously diverse – not everyone is moving to town looking to join a church these days.  Fewer and fewer people are interested in being a part of the institutional church.  We have a building to maintain and a staff to manage on a shoestring budget where we wonder some days if it will be enough just like the widow in Elisha’s day wondering what to do when the oil runs out.  We don’t typically experience the kind of miracles we hear about through Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus with chariots of fire ascending into heaven.  But it is no less a miracle when a person confesses faith in Christ who had none before.  When someone shares an answer to prayer, despite the odds.  When we pass a deficit budget year after year and yet somehow find ourselves looking at a balance sheet with roughly the same amount in our savings account.  When an anonymous donor makes an astoundingly generous contribution to finish our windows project so that we can focus on God’s kingdom work beyond building maintenance.  Renewing our Nursery School license so that we can get back to our mission of offering quality, affordable, full-time faith-based early childhood education!  When we stop a moment to reflect, the miracles indeed abound.  The same Spirit of the Lord who anointed Elijah and Elisha is still at work among us, thanks be to God!  Jesus never promises that the journey of faith would be easy, but he did assure us he would be with us always.  He assures us that we always have a double portion of his Spirit as joint-heirs with him as children of God.  Let’s continue with Christ in his kingdom work.  Amen.