Picking Up The Mantle
Pastor Leslee Fritz
2 Kings 2: 1-2, 6-14
In February of 1969, Al and his wife Marilyn, boarded an Eastern Airlines flight in Newark, NJ with two of their five children – one-year-old William and two-year-old Juliet. For Al and his family, this trip to Miami would be part work, part vacation.
So you can imagine the family’s surprise when the captain came on the PA system and announced that the flight wouldn’t be going to Miami after all, but would instead land in Havana, Cuba at the request of the two hijackers on board.
Now, in 1969, this was not all that unusual an occurrence. In that year alone, there were nearly three dozen attempted and successful hijackings on flights originating in the US. In fact, the FAA even created a task force that year to deal with this growing problem.
But this was the first time Al and his family had experienced it. Needless to say, it was a frightening moment. But as Al surveyed the cabin, he was struck by the reaction of the other passengers.
Or should I say, the lack of reaction of the other passengers.
No one seemed overly upset.
The captain’s voice had been calm as he announced the change in destination. The stewardess, being held at knifepoint, originally looked frightened but then seemed to relax.
Interviewed by the Associated Press the next day, Al remarked, “Looking back at the experience, the unbelievable thing is the way everybody took it as one big joke. We saw the knife but everybody was cool and calm, just a little annoyed at the delay.”
Some on board reported an almost celebratory atmosphere as people laughed and joked with one another as the plane headed for an unknown fate in Communist Cuba.
What could cause a planeload full of people to react so strangely in the face of danger – to laugh and joke with hijackers?
Well, it seems that many of the folks on board had recognized Al as Allen Funt, the long-time host of the popular television series, Candid Camera. So they had assumed that they were the butt of a practical joke, and that somewhere, hidden cameras were filming their reaction to be used as a part of some upcoming tv special.
Thankfully, most of us won’t ever face an airline hijacking situation. And if we do, hopefully we won’t make light of it based on case of mistaken understanding.
But there is an important lesson to be learned from the folks on Eastern Air Flight 727.
Perception matters, doesn’t it?
The lens through which we look at the events happening all around us helps determine our reaction and our response.
All of us … everyday … face situations where we may have little to no control over the circumstances we may find ourselves in, but our reaction and our response will help define who we are and what path our lives may take.
That is the exact place where the prophet Elijah and his protégé Elisha find themselves in the verses that Pam just read for us from 2 Kings.
This is really the end of Elijah’s story. We have followed his story through much of the book of 1 Kings and the beginning of 2 Kings. We’ve watched him battle King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. We listened as he’s prophesied the fall of Israel and we’ve empathized as he ran away in fear only to be told by God that he had to go back.
Now, Elijah is nearing the end of his work and his life and he knows it. He has already, at the request of God, chosen his successor … Elisha. He has been mentoring and training Elisha and now is on a farewell tour of sorts.
While it is easy and natural to focus on Elijah, who by the end of the story has been carried off to heaven on a chariot of fire … this morning, let’s focus on Elisha. The one left behind. The one expected to pick up the mantel and continue doing good works in the name of the Lord … without his mentor and spiritual leader.
That’s a situation we can identify with today, can’t we?
Being the ones still standing in the same place … but without the person we’ve learned from and growth in faith with … needing to pick up the mantel of discipleship and faithfulness and move forward.
So what can we learn from Elisha that can inform how we manage this transition we find ourselves in today?
First, Elisha grieved his loss. The scripture says he tore his garments which was a symbolic gesture of grief at that time. Whenever we experience change, transition or loss, we have to give ourselves permission to feel it.
But despite his grief, Elisha had a decision to make. At that moment right after Elijah was carried off by the chariot, Elisha could have decided he was done and simply walked away to return to his life on the farm. Instead, he reached down, picked up the mantle (the cloak that represented God’s call and the responsibility of being a prophet) and went forward.
But immediately, Elisha found himself separated from those he needed to work and those whom he was called to lead.
Remember, he’s on the wrong side of the river. Getting back across the Jordan River represented Elisha’s first test.
This is both a literal and a figurative hurdle to get over. This isn’t the first time the Jordan has played a key role in beginnings. The Israelites couldn’t
enter the Promised Land and begin the new life that God was leading them to until they had crossed the Jordan River.
And here stands Elisha, ready to begin the next phase of his life … once again confronting the waters of the Jordan River.
With confidence, Elisha approached the river and called on God to give him the power he needed to get past this roadblock.
How is it possible that in his first moments on his own that Elisha could feel so much confidence?
Elisha could approach that river with confidence because more than anything else, Elisha had not forgotten. His fear and anxiety over what lay ahead for him had not erased his memory of God’s faithfulness and God’s power.
Too often, our worry about what comes next gets in the way of our remembering where we’ve been and what God has already done for us.
It happened to Elijah. Earlier in the story, back in 1 Kings, God literally reigned down fire upon the false prophets of Queen Jezebel killings 850. Despite witnesses this amazing display, Elijah gets scared a short time later when his life is in danger and he runs more than a hundred miles to hide in a cave.
His fear, his anxiety, made him forget that God is faithful.
And forgetting God’s past faithfulness makes it hard to put our trust in his future faithfulness, doesn’t it?
So, we cannot let our anxiety get in the way of our remembering.
When my father passed away nearly 8 years ago, my brother and sister-in-law asked if we could end his funeral by singing the hymn, “Great is thy Faithfulness.” It seemed an odd request at the moment. But what an amazing gift that was. In the midst of the grief that comes with loss … in the midst of our anxiety about how his loss would impact our family’s future, we stopped for a brief moment to remember God’s faithfulness to us.
The Rev. Andy Stanley, founder of North Point Ministries says it like this … “Jesus followers should be the most confident people in the room.”
If we believe our eternity is all worked out, we should be confident about today and about tomorrow.
If we believe God knows our names, we should be confident about today and about tomorrow.
If we believe that we are all sons and daughters of God, regardless of where we live or what we have, there is a confidence that comes with that.
For we know that God does not change. And we know that God does not fail.
And we remember.
The American painter, John Sargent, once painted a panel of roses. It was just a small picture, but it approached perfection according to the critics. Although he was offered a lot of money for it on many occasions, Sargent refused to sell it. He considered it his best work and was very proud of it. Whenever he was deeply discouraged and doubtful of his abilities as an artist, he would look at it and remind himself, "I painted that." Then his confidence and ability would come back to him.
Each of us needs to find our “panel of roses” – a song, a prayer, a memory, a memento. Something to remind us.
So that no matter what worry or anxiety challenges us – whether its money or relationship or job or children … or church. Whatever it is, the first step to combatting it – to keep it from controlling us and our decision-making is to remember.
Though we grieve the departure of someone we cared about, we remember that God is faithful.
Though we wonder about what the “new guy” may be like, we remember that God is faithful.
Though we worry about where all of the changes we’re experiencing will take us, we remember that God is faithful.
My time in this church has been very short. So I don’t have the institutional memory that many of you do. Many of you have been here a long time … some since the beginning.
You’ve seen God at work in this place.
When you dreamed about what this building could look like, you felt God’s faithfulness.
When you imagined what a partnership with Wesley Campus Ministries could look like, you felt God’s faithfulness.
When you’ve welcomed new pastors and said goodbye to departing pastors, you felt God’s faithfulness.
So all we have to do as we receive a new pastor and we confront the changes that will be asked of us through the VCI process is to remember. Remember … that God is faithful.
We do not face the future … whatever it may bring … alone. God’s got this and He’s got us. All we have to do is remember.