“The Mantle of Ministry”
2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14, June 30th, 2019
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now these holy and ancient words from Old Testament, Second Kings, chapter two, verses one thru two and verses six thru fourteen.”
2 Kings 2:1-14
1 Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.
7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.
8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”
10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”
11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.
14 He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
“Having heard this lesson from our reading this morning, let us know open our hearts to their meaning in our lives today.”
“The Mantle of Ministry”
Today’s discussion revolves around the word mantle. For those of you that like sitting around a cozy fireplace in the wintertime, especially, if you are from the northlands of our country, we are not talking about that shelf over your fireplace; that’s a mantel. The spelling of the word mantle, in our scripture, puts the E after the L, not before it. Mantle, in the context of ministry is a symbol of one’s ‘calling’ into service to God. In ancient times the formal cloak a Rabbi or religious leader wore, was referred to as a mantle, signifying their formal role as a religious leader called by God to serve. The stole I wear around my shoulders is of the lineage of this custom.
The central figures in our scripture, the old Prophet Elijah and the new young Prophet Elisha, spelled with an S rather than the letter J. It is Elisha whom is about to put on the Mantle of ministry worn by the older prophet, Elijah. What is happening in this story is simply that the older Prophet’s time on earth was coming to the end; it was time for Elijah to join with God in Heaven. The younger prophet was anxious to follow in the footsteps of the older prophet. This sets the stage of our lesson. The younger man is excited about taking on the responsibilities which he has seen Elijah handle. Clearly, young Elisha is filled with the Spirit of God’s calling and is anxious and willing to take on the mantle of ministry! This is the type of excitement and energy that established this ‘our church’ one hundred and thirty years ago! It was that level of enthusiasm which compelled the early disciples of this congregation to accomplish the ‘fullness’ of ministry that our historical records speak about. The sense of calling was strong as they reached out to minister to the needs of their community. The same sense of calling and willingness continues to be needed to carry on serving the people of God with love and kindness. Those of us with the excitement and enthusiasm like that of the young prophet Elisha – is needed to move this ministry into the next decade!
Many of you this morning, you are perhaps thinking that this ministry, of which we are discussing, is only for formally called Prophets, Rabbis and Pastors. Yes, the fancy stoles, such as I wear and the prayer shales of Rabbis and the fancy garments from which the word mantle comes from, are meant for those who are formally recognized by a religious group for their ‘calling to leadership’ within their respective faith communities. Yet, the ‘call’ to ministry is something we all receive, at some level or another. When I watch Bess, Joan and Linda at work on a Monday morning, cleaning up the mess we leave on Sundays in the narthex and the church kitchen, as well as our restrooms, I see devotion to doing service, for the ‘love’ of serving God! Praise God for such ministries! Before I continue to point out what ought to be obvious to everyone, hear this question from a theologian named Michael Coffey. He asks us “Whose mantle have you had to pick up and carry?” Think about this for a moment. Being called into ministry is often out of necessity. Take for example the thankless ministry of cleaning up the church kitchen after a spectacular “Potluck Ham Dinner!”
As I look around our sanctuary this morning, I see volunteers at many and various levels. Two fellows are managing the audio-visual booth, ensuring that you all can hear my voice and even see my face; ensuring that you can get the full impact of today’s message. We have a volunteer whom works faithfully to put together our service outline and bulletin. Virtually all of the work of the ministry, within our faith community, is done by volunteers; except for my own salary and that of our Musician and our Music Director. The volunteers, whom went out to the Daily Bread to help serve meals this past Monday morning were doing ministry; they were answering a ‘call’ to serve the needs of the hungry. Over 250 are feed at that one soup kitchen every day. The call to ‘fill the bowl’ for the Humane Societies drive to feed and care for animals – whom have been abused or left behind is a ‘call’ – a call to serve the needs of these animals. Thank you one and all, every one of you whom have donated so generously! Forgive me if I have not mentioned your ministry which you fill, as every aspect of this our church is supported by a team of volunteers; unpaid workers who serve out of love and a sense of ‘calling’! A calling to follow in the footsteps of those whom have led the way.
Can you imagine what would happen if every volunteer in this church or any church really, as all churches rely on volunteers, consider what would happen – if – if they all left their area of responsibility to ‘someone’ else? I am often amazed at how some folks – would not even know what another is doing for this church – until that ‘someone’ is not available or is no longer able to do so any longer. As we, like most religious groups, seek out ways to expand our ministry, out into the community, into a neighborhood we are a part of, we still need to care for the basics that keep our place of operation operating. Although we are striving to balance our ministerial activities to reach out to more of God’s people, we still need this ‘base’ of operation.
Most religious groups depend on a base, a home base of operation. We, like others, we need to continually come together to pray and fellowship with one another, maintaining our connections as a fellowship and faith community. We all need renewal and we all need to stimulate our spiritual centers with the reading of scripture and a time of reflection and prayer. We need to continually reflect and think about what it means to be a ‘disciple’, what it takes to answer a ‘call’ to serve the people of God. We can not leave all of the ‘branches’ of ministry to tend to themselves. Nor can we leave it all up to ‘someone’ else to handle.
We are ‘all’ called to serve the people of God. In so doing we need to be faithful as we serve the needs of each other, even as we strive to be open and welcoming to all whom come to this place of worship seeking the teachings, the love and the fellowship of like-minded people. If you are one of the eighty plus followers who have been viewing our live broadcast via Facebook these last several months, we want you to know we pray that you too, are getting some form of ‘inspiration’ , some form of ‘message’ and or ‘teaching’ while viewing our broadcast. We pray that you will feel ‘part of’ our ‘outreach’ to serve and touch the hearts and the lives of others. May you also, accept a ‘call’ from the Living Spirit of God to ‘reach out’ and ‘serve the needs’ of your neighbors. Please feel free to share with others the love of God which we pray you are feeling this very day.
I recently read a clip from a pastor whom was seeking to point out in a unique way how important it is to understand what it means to ‘pass on’ the mantle of ministry to another. We need to be sure that as we do so, the intended receiver of this gift is ready and willing to follow in the footsteps of the one currently doing the work of ministry. Clearly, this is a main theme of our scripture today. As it is one thing to say you accept the ‘call’ of ministry; it is quite another to truly ‘do’ the ministry one is called to do! There are many examples of people whom say they have accepted a specific task or responsibility within the context of ministry. Generally, most volunteers here at our church, they follow through and put forth a great effort seeking to fulfill what they have agreed to do. Yet, sadly, now and then we hear a story of a volunteer or even a paid staff worker or pastor whom do not always engage their responsibilities in ministry with integrity.
Listen to the illustration one pastor offers up to make his point. Reverend Samuel Wells, (in a sermon at Duke University) speaks of this passage in the terms of a short story he tells of a Pastor whom had his assistant write his sermons. “The day came when the assistant ended the relationship. The preacher was reading his sermon (a sermon his assistant had written for him) and flipped the page to see only a simply note: ‘You are on your own from here!’” (Pause) I have never had anyone write my sermons for me, yet I do remember the Sunday morning, just before the service started, when I realized the printout of my sermon manuscript – was not complete. Halfway through my sermon my printer had run out of ink! Yes sir, realizing midway through a public speech that the remaining pages are blank – is really upsetting! Realizing that we are not prepared to do what we have agreed to get done is an eye opener! Accepting a responsibility is just that – a responsibility! Now and then, we may need to step aside when circumstances change our availability, in such a case we must step aside allowing another volunteer or coworker to fill the need. Generally, most whom step up to a task, in service to another, or for, a worthy cause, follow through or make room for another with integrity. To all of whom I speak – God bless you and thank you for your service.
A former Professor of Religion at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, Karla Suomala, recently wrote on the topic of “Transition is never easy.” Simply working with her engaging topic is thought-provoking! Our congregation, like a great many faith fellowships are continually going through transition! And, as we know, it is never easy! The fact we and others are in transition is a response to the changes within and without. Like the story of the transition from an old prophet to a new energetic one, we must continually fill the vacuum of those whom die or move away. Outside our fellowship the community we serve is also in flux and is constantly transforming itself! Our culture, our society is in constant change as well. These factors necessitate successful groups to adapt to the shifts and make changes. We like Elisha need to continually cry out asking for the Spirit of God to enhance our ‘calling’; even as we accept and take on the ‘Mantel of Ministry!