2 Kings2:1-2,6-14,Psalm 771-2,11-20,Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Luke 9:51-62
Anointed for Duty, preached by Rev. Peter Courtney
Sometimes one of the perks of a long tenure is the privilege of anointing one’s successor. God told Elijah to anoint Elisha, just as he told him to anoint various kings from time to time in the past. God appointed Elisha as the new prophet, but Elijah confirmed him by anointing him for the duty.
Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. By asking for a double measure, Elisha is getting in line to be a true successor. After such a long tenure it would be easy for people to wish we had the old guy back. Elijah is not coming back, at least not in God’s time. People who get whisked off to heaven in a chariot of fire don’t come back for funerals and weddings!!
Here at St. Augustine’s we are in the final stages of ministry succession, we hope. None of our former rector’s was assumed into heaven in a Hummer chauffeured limousine, nor have any of them tried to anoint their successor. Each of us has our own view of the graces and deficits of our former prophets in this place, including the current interim. Each of us hopes that the new priest who comes to join us will be wise enough to ask for a double portion of the gifts we liked in our former clergy. This is often where the challenge for the new priest lies. The varied expectations of each congregant are based on their personal experience with former clergy; those they appreciated and those they didn’t. One of the purposes of having an interim is to “break the cycle” even if only a little. One of the gifts God has given me is the capacity to be different from any priest you have ever seen before. I have received a double portion of “different” or as one of you told me recently to my delight: “You such a huge mess!”
It is important for us all to remember that Elijah, the most revered prophet in Israel, the one for whom a seat is reserved at every Passover Seder, absolutely infuriated his largest pledgers. You remember Ahab and Jezebel the power couple whom we talked about a couple of weeks ago? Elijah spent a lot of his tenure hiding out in a cave out in the woods. We might enjoy noticing a parallel in the story of one of Georgia’s most famous Anglican clergy-people, John Wesley, who had to sneak out of Savannah at night for fear his would-be-father-in-law was going to have him arrested.
I think the best we can expect is not an Elijah, but an Elisha. He is the one who dutifully followed Elijah all over Palestine from Jericho to Bethel ending up finally in Jordan. No matter where they went there was a crowd of nay-sayers telling Elisha he was hitching his career to the wrong guy since God was going to take him away. Every time one of the gloom and doom types spoke up Elisha said “I know that, leave me alone. I know what I am doing.” What Elisha was doing was being faithful to his mission. And it wasn’t just his mission, but he was fashioning himself after his hero, Elijah, from whom he asked for and received a double portion of prophetic gift.
The good news is that the chances of us receiving a faithful priest are pretty high. Faithfulness is one of the more common gifts exercised by our clergy. The not so good news is that we often are not content with faithfulness. We want so much more. When our priest does not have this or that gift, or has it and doesn’t know how to use it in our midst, that is where the ministry of baptized is so important. Our mission is to spare ourselves and our new priest a retinue of Job’s companions like the ones Elisha had to endure; a bunch of people pointing out what wasn’t going to work. We need people who are part of the solution. Notice at the end when Elijah and Elisha get to Jordan and the mantle falls on Elisha, the prophets, all 50 of them are standing at a distance. That is what we don’t need. We need the faithful in the pews standing by the water and crossing over on dry land to help our new leader use his or her gifts. Then truly it comes to pass that we can all say together: “Truly the mantle has passed from our former leader to the new one.”