Sermon Options: February 11, 2018

January 11th, 2018

A Double Share Of The Spirit

2 Kings 2:1-12

Each one of us gathered here today comes bearing the echoes of great people in our lives. Each one of us bears the mark of someone who touched us in a powerful way. It might be a mother or father, a grandparent, or an aunt or uncle. It could be a neighbor who took you under his or her wing, or a teacher, or even, dare I say, a pastor. If you’re really blessed, you might even receive more than one such fellow traveler. The blessings of such people walking with us on our journey cannot be underestimated.

Such people come as mentors and partners. They come willing to give of themselves, and they come eager for you to grow into who you are meant to become. For me there were many such blessings, but one in particular was my father. As a pastor himself, he was key in my accepting the call to ordination. More than that, though, was the onsite training I received as I watched him pastor churches and people throughout my childhood.

Dad never tired of uttering a long series of truisms he had collected during a half-century in ministry, most of which have proven themselves in my own years in the pulpit.

For me, Dad was a giant. Hardly perfect, but fully wonderful, and now that he’s gone, I often think that if I could ask for one more thing from him, it would be for a double measure of his spirit.

I would stand with Elisha, who was bidding his master and mentor farewell. And rather than more time with Dad; rather than one more lesson or story; rather than some codification of all the learning, it would be a deeper taste of his spirit that I would request. A double measure.

Think with me for a moment. What would it mean in your own life to receive a double measure of the spirit of your mentor, best friend, or teacher? What would it mean to receive a double dose of that spirit of helpfulness, caring, attentiveness, and affection? Think how much it meant for you to have received the Spirit already, and then multiply it times two.

For my own part, it is hard to imagine what that would look like. Some, I think, might feel indulgent or even selfish. Others might say, “Open the gates; I can use all I can get!” What would you say? How would you feel? What would happen with this flood of abundance that would come your way in a double measure of that spirit?

Do you know what Elisha did? He picked up the mantle of Elijah. He stepped into his master’s shoes. He took that double measure of the spirit and went on to his own journey of greatness and service to the Lord and the people.

To we who have had the benefit of great teachers and friends like this, the question comes as to what we have done with the great gifts we have received. What will we do with the gift of spirit, double measure or not that we have received as pure grace? Are we to go on and try to fill the shoes of our benefactors? Are we to take the gift and use it on our own unique journey? Or are we take that gift and offer it to someone in the same way it was offered to us? What do you think?

Perhaps our answer is found in each of these three. Perhaps some of us receive the call to fill the shoes of our mentors. How many of us have chosen our work because of someone else who did that work? How many teachers are teachers today because of a teacher they once had? How many people saw someone who was admirable doing admirable work, and were influenced by that? Elisha moved on to take up the mantle of Elijah because of what he saw Elijah doing, and because he knew who Elijah was as a person.

It could be, of course, that we might take the beneficence and gifts offered to us and use them in our own unique way as we move through our life’s journey. A preacher friend of mine once came to me rather astonished because one of his youth group members had gone on to be a great mathematics professor. “What’s so astonishing about that?” I asked. “Well for one,” said my friend, “he says I was an inspiration, and for two, I know nothing of mathematics.” This young man had his own gifts, and took the spiritual clarity and depth of faith given by this pastor and claimed it for his own.

Finally, of course, we can receive these gifts and then turn around and offer them out again. We can make it a point to work with young people, to mentor and guide them. We can be the heroes we had when we were younger. We can give the gift of self, a double dose of our spirit to those who are starting their journey. Perhaps the best way to honor those who gave themselves to us is to turn and give ourselves to others.

Of course, all three of these responses intermingle and join in our lives as we respond to the goodness of others around us. Let us consider the ways that we are turning to carry on the gift. Some in this community are doing this with grace and beauty. Some already seek to return the gift by giving it to others. Are you a mentor to someone now? Are you a special friend or confidant? Could you give yourself to teaching in our church school? Don’t respond with the all-too-easy, “I can’t teach....” Perhaps you could sign up to work with youth ministry or take on a student as at tutor. Think hard now. Move into prayer. Discern with your God how you might offer a double measure of your spirit to someone in your life, someone in our community, someone who will benefit beyond measure.

Remember the story of Elijah heading for the river. He keeps telling Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha refuses time after time. Finally when they are at the river, Elijah asks him if there is anything he can do, and since he cannot ask the prophet to stay with him, he asks for a double measure of his spirit.

Think of the love, the connection between these two. Imagine the power of the master and student relationship. Picture yourself as mentor and guide and imagine someone so struck, so moved by you that at your parting all they want is a double measure of your spirit.

Friends, it’s not your pastor’s job to write you out an assignment this day, but it does fall within his job description to challenge you to prayer. If you are already in a relationship like this, nourish it. If you are not in one now, I challenge you to consider it in prayer. For it is not only our own personal spirits that we pass on in these wonderful teaching relationships, we pass on the powerful Spirit of God.

As we teach and model patience, as we teach and model love, as we teach and model compassion, as we teach and model the ability to laugh and sing, we pass on the Spirit of the living God! As we do this, person by person, the world is healed a little more each day.

Let us be in prayer as we consider Elijah and Elisha. Let us accept the mantle of the prophet, of teacher, of mentor, and of friend. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Left Behind . . . But Not Without a Trace

2 Kings 2:1-12; Mark 9:2-9

In the spring of 2007, one of the leading CBS drama series was titled Without a Trace. The weekly episode centered on an FBI division that focuses their work on finding missing persons. Every week a mystery unraveled as the FBI team successfully unearthed clues and pieced together the puzzle of who, what, where, why, and how a person went missing. Not every episode ended happily, but within less than sixty minutes the competent team of investigators found the missing person and uncovers the mystery.

In another play on words, the transfiguration texts remind us of a New York Times best-seller from the last decade, Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind series, based on the dispensationalist view of the Apocalypse. In his stories of the second coming of Christ, Christian believers are raptured from the earth and taken to safety in heavenly sanctuary, while the rest of earth falls into chaos from the so-called “Great Tribulation” of Revelation. Today’s texts bring to mind both the suddenness of Elijah’s transporting from the earth in a fiery chariot and his reappearance in the glowing transfiguration event with Jesus. The symbolism of these two events is rich with analogies as we think about how in the world these biblical events begin to apply to faith-filled living in the twenty-first century.

We have always had preachers who pointed us toward eternity, but the message of Jesus calls us more powerfully to the now. The ending of both of these biblical stories points us to a more profound message than waiting for a future deliverance from the challenges of the here and now. Elisha doesn’t want to be left behind; he pleads for a reminder that he’s not alone, and Elijah offers him both the mantle of his authority and a double portion of his blessing. Peter, not knowing what else to say, offers to build three tabernacles for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah so that they can all stay on the mountaintop, only to be told to follow Jesus, who promptly leads them from the mountaintop into the valley. This is a powerful image that real faith is not lived apart from real life.

“I know I’ll never be the same again . . .” the wonderfully naïve youth witness declared after a spiritually rich camp experience. “You’ve just got to go to our retreat; it will change your life,” the enthusiastic evangelist exclaimed of the seventy-two-hour weekend spiritual experience after he had returned home. However, others were not so convinced of their need to have their lives changed, particularly if this witness was an example of the finished product.

Since the days of Moses and the commandments, God’s people have valued mountaintop experiences, those seasons when our spirits have been lifted and our hearts encouraged. We long to continue in the presence of God. Whether those places have been retreats, camp-meetings, civil rights protests, ministries of justice and peace, revivals, lay missions, Walks to Emmaus, or Volunteer in Mission projects—you name it, we don’t want to come off our mountaintops.

We have a similar emotional response when a trusted spiritual leader— who has mentored us, led us, and imparted spiritual wisdom to us— leaves. Our anxiety rises. We fear that if our leader leaves (or much worse, suffers some moral failure), then so also might our spiritual blessings. Without our spiritual head we feel lost, with no momentum and no clear vision. We feel alone. But God reminds us, “I am with you.”

Time and time again Elijah says to Elisha, “Stay here.” In the same spirit, the voice from the transfiguration cloud says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

One can almost hear Jesus say as the cloud lifts, “Okay, let’s go, time’s wasting.” There’s too much to do, too many places to go, too many people to feed, and too many who need the gospel. We can’t linger too long on the mountaintop.

Now let’s be clear; we need time for retreat. Those who continue to call for action without time apart miss the balance of the Christian life. Jesus took time away. Jesus took his three friends up to the mountaintop. Jesus understood the necessity of time for prayer, meditation, reflection, and spiritual rejuvenation. To neglect those times in our lives is to jeopardize our mental and spiritual health and our ability to continue in our mission. Too many Christians throw themselves into projects, advocacy, mission trips, and church programs without proper times for “R&R” (rest and relaxation).

One of the lessons we have learned from the devastating disasters of the last fifteen to twenty years has been to call out the caregivers from the round-the-clock giving to a time of retreat. Constant ministry depletes even the strongest commitments.

Following Jesus takes us to:
• quiet places of prayer
• long days of feeding the hungry
• nights in lonely gardens and angry storms
• the ecstasy of mountaintop retreats
• back down the mountain into the valley of need

To follow Jesus requires that we:
• deny ourselves
• watch after ourselves
• take up our crosses
• remember that we are never alone, but always in the power of the Holy Spirit

To follow Jesus means that although we are to stay behind, we are never left behind. To follow Jesus means that although we may feel alone, we are never alone.

To follow Jesus means that while we long for his spirit, we are filled with His Spirit.

A famed gospel singer reminded us that even if we never were promised heaven or eternal life, following Jesus is worth everything. Why? Because living in a world of darkness we have seen the light. (Guy Ames)

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