May I speak in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. Please be seated.
We all want someone to rely on. This much is true. We want someone to encourage us, to befriend us, and even mentor us through the various stages of our lives. Growing up, I often found that desire fell on the shoulders of my older brother, Andrew. From a very early age, not only did I want to play with him and the older kids, I also wanted to be him or at least a smaller version of my big bro. I noticed from the very beginning that he was someone who was good at sports and school. He had an outgoing personality that many flocked toward. Despite any faults he may have had, I was blind to them, because he had a characteristic that I found infectious. Andrew was authentic in everything he did and with every person he met.
So, as a younger sibling, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I became a copycat, which I assure you he loved. “Hey Andrew, whose your favorite baseball player? Ryne Sandberg of the Chicago Cubs? What a coincidence, he’s my favorite player too!” With much weeping and gnashing of teeth, he later convinced me that I knew nothing about baseball and that he should pick out a favorite player for me. His choice for me was Cal Ripken, Jr. and score one for my big bro, because ever since then I have been a fan of the very disappointing Baltimore Orioles.
And that’s how it went for a very long time. Andrew was the first to try something new and I was happy to follow in his footsteps. Whenever he made a mistake, I learned what to avoid. Whenever he had a success, I learned safer avenues to take when growing up. But, it’s funny to note how things change. Circumstances arise, interests diverge, and life goes on. As my brother moved on to college, a job, and creating a new family, I had to find the courage within myself to go my own route and explore unchartered territory. I needed to trust in the wisdom I had gained from him and the good within myself to plot out my own course and figure out what life had in store for me. Like my brother, I had many successes and many failures, all of which were scary, but ended up shaping my abilities and resolve for the better.
Mentors move on and mentees must inevitably become the mentors of tomorrow. When I look at our reading in 2 Kings, I see this same point of transition. It is a story where one era ends and the next is yet to begin. Elijah, one of the most powerful and notable prophets in the Hebrew Bible is informed that he will be taken away.
And although we tend to focus on what it meant for Elijah to have ascended to God, I find the greater story lies within what happens to his apprentice, Elisha. Elisha had been by his master’s side for over 10 years. He witnessed miracles done by his hand through prayer, he witnessed prophecy, and even times where Elijah saved a life or two. Elisha learned a lot from his master and he loved him and when he knew that Elijah would have to leave, he did not know what to do. Three times he was told to stay put, but he followed Elijah anyway. Even when others reminded him that Elijah must leave, he rejected the notion and said, “Stop! Keep quiet!” And at the pinnacle moment, when Elisha sees his master being lifted away from his presence all he could do was rip his clothing, raise his hands to the heavens, and ask, “What do I do now? How can I possibly go it alone?”
These are questions that many of us have shared at various points in our life. These are questions that even Jesus had as we look to the gospel. Countless times in the gospels we see Jesus pulling away to be by himself in prayer. During his transfiguration, we find him surrounded by the celestial presence of Moses and Elijah. Jesus was communing with his mentors and gathering strength to go about his mission on earth. Yet, after a short period of rest and contemplation, he inevitably had to decide for himself on what to do next. Would he be willing to come down from the hill knowing his fate, but not the full extent that was to take place? Would he be willing to act on God’s love and God’s justice, while basically going it alone? Luckily for us he did, and the same goes for Elisha who soon found his voice and ability to minister to God’s people in his own way.
It is that first step, however, that is always the hardest. It is a time where we must mark the end of one journey and wait for another to begin without knowledge of what is to come. This is a reality that falls on all of our shoulders as members of Christ’s body on earth. We, as a congregation, are called to work together and every year dare to support each other, while finding out the changing needs for the surrounding community. We, as individuals, must dare to not see church simply as a time to be fed, but a time to strengthen our own voices and boldly leave this building trusting God’s work and power within us. We must have the courage to let go while holding on to where we’ve been; the courage to bring about God’s love and God’s justice to others even when we are unsure of ourselves or our own opinions.
Still, I know the way of action and service is hard, even scary at times, but the path that God has made for us is already set. We have it engrained within our souls from the time of our birth and within our past experiences to go about doing God’s work on earth. Knowing that you will always have the opportunity to rest and come back to God for refreshment as Jesus often did in the hills of the Galilee, I ask you to look at the examples of service we see in our scripture readings today. Know that their story is your story and your story is theirs. Know that we all face the challenge to enact God’s love not only within ourselves, but with the world outside these church doors.
Today when you go home, reflect on the things that cause you moments of pause or fear, but also look into the gifts you have to offer up for a better world today. Lay claim to your voice, stay true to your heart, and with God’s help, dare to take that first step and start a new journey in faith.