2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14; Psalm 77: 1-2, 11-20; Galatians 5:1, 13-25; Luke 9:51-62
The Rev. James M.L. Grace
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Last month I completed a four-year term as a board member of an institution affiliated with the Episcopal Church. It was an enjoyable experience for me, but at the end, I was grateful to rotate off, and in doing so, I noticed a slight weight of responsibility lifted from my shoulders, which felt nice.
I know many of you, particularly those of you who have served on the Vestry, can relate to that wonderful euphoric feeling of finishing out your three-year term of Vestry service. I have yet to meet a Vestry member in any church I have served, who has finished out their Vestry service with tears in their eyes. Wait, that’s not correct, I have seen tears of joy, but never tears of sadness.
Leadership and responsibility are meant to be shared, and all of us are called, for a season, to lead in some way or another, just as we are called to step down from positions of responsibility so that others may take our place. Today we hear a story from the book of 2 Kings, that describes a transition in leadership from one prophet (Elijah) to another (Elisha).
Elijah was a prophet of the ages. He raised a widow’s son from the dead, he contended with, and ultimately triumphed over the priests of Baal (a Canaanite storm god). If that were not enough Elijah courageously confronted the wicked and arrogant Ahab, king of Israel, and his sinister wife, Jezebel, who wanted Elijah murdered. In a grand final act to Elijah’s story, Elijah becomes the only prophet in the Hebrew scriptures to designate his successor. And he chose Elisha.
Elijah and Elisha journeyed to the Jordan River, where Elijah removed an article of clothing called a mantle, which was a similar to a cape one would wear to keep warm, something we don’t need to worry about wearing in June in Houston. He took his mantle, wrapped it up and struck the water of the Jordan River with it, and the waters parted, and they crossed.
For those of you familiar with that other story in the Bible involving water miraculously parting – yes Elijah’s act is an obvious homage to what Moses did at the Red Sea. After a triumphal exit involving a chariot of fire, Elijah drops this mantle (the same one he used to part the Jordan) and Elisha retrieves it. To test if he is really the prophet’s successor, Elisha rolls up the mantle and slaps it onto the Jordan River, which parts just as it did for Elijah. The mantle of leadership is passed from one to another. The succession plan worked!
What does this story communicate to us today? I have two answers, and will be brief in sharing them. First, this story reminds us that there is a time and a season for everything. There is a time to lead, and a time to step aside. The property and finance committees of this church are living into this time-honored truth, having recently adopted three year terms of membership.
Secondly, perhaps most practically, the reading today is opportune moment to inform you all that in a few months we will be passing the mantle of leadership from one to another in terms of leadership at this parish. While we won’t be providing mantles or bodies of water to strike them upon, or even fiery chariots to whisk away those parishioners rotating off committees and Vestry, we will provide more ordinary symbols of succession in leadership: ballots and pencils.
Yes, I am speaking of our annual parish nominations, which are way off in the distant, November 10, to be precise. Yet, it is not too early to be thinking about who among you all feel called to serve on numerous committees that will have openings come November 10. Are you skilled in administration, passionate about ministry, or love this church? You might think about serving on the Vestry. Are you a numbers person? The Finance Committee will have an opening in November, as will the Property Committee, and more.
If you would like to be considered for these or other committees, you may nominate yourself or someone else by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and the Nominations Committee will review all names before presenting a ballot for all members to vote on November 10. That date seems a long time from now, I know, but our Fall will be busy, and November 10 will be here before any of us realize. Prayerfully consider how God might be calling you to serve at this church.
And to those who are serving now – those on our Vestry, Property, Finance, Liturgy Committees, and more - thank you. Thank you for wearing the mantle. Thank you for wrapping it up and slapping the waters with it. What waves you all are making! The waters are parting before you. AMEN.