Rev. Lisa Straus Inheritance June 26, 2002
A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked me if I knew what text I would be preaching on my first Sunday in my new church. I explained that the lectionary contained this very passage that Katie just shared with us. She asked me if that was planned on the part of the lectionary – planned that the story of the transition, the inheritance, the transfer of power, between Elijah and Elisha would coincide with the United Methodist transfer of pastors from one appointment, one church, to the next. I answered her that, no, the PEOPLE who created the lectionary did not plan this, but surely, surely, the Holy Spirit had a hand in THIS passage being available for THIS day.
I want to take us a few pages back in this story, when God told Elijah that it was time to anoint his successor and that Elisha was THE one. Elijah came to Elisha, who was already at work, a farmer – plowing a field, preparing it for planting in the hopes of harvesting a good crop and Elijah placed his mantle or cloak around Elisha’s shoulders. Elisha knew immediately what this meant. He knew the implications of the prophet, Elijah, placing that mantle around his shoulders…
Elisha asked permission to “kiss his father and mother goodbye”. Elijah granted this to Elisha, and scripture tells us not only did he say goodbye to his parents, but Elisha “took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh and gave it to the people, and they ate.” Elisha prepared his family, friends, and neighbors for his departure. He spoke to them. He shared a meal and celebrated with them. He kissed them goodbye.
I was in the worship center of the church in Buda UMC, working, preparing the worship center for post-COVID in-person worship. It was our first Holy Week, our first Easter, in-person since 2019. We were preparing the worship center for a larger, Easter attendance – kind of like, Elisha, preparing for a good harvest, if you will.
I was with one of the church members working on this, when my phone rang. I looked down and saw that it was my District Superintendent, Andy Smith, calling and without answering that phone, I knew, I knew the implications of his call. I excused myself and answered from a private room. When Andy Smith confirmed my suspicions that this was THAT call, he introduced me to Greg Hackett, the District Superintendent of the San Antonio area. That at least gave me some geographic hints as to where I would be moving.
Very quickly they explained that my name had come up in the cabinet in JANUARY to be the next pastor at Laurel Heights. In JANUARY! (This call came in MARCH!) But they held back announcing it. You see, Andy Smith knew, he pushed back a bit. He talked about the projects we had underway at Buda. About my daughter’s wedding that took place on June 11. About my 8-week Sabbatical scheduled for this summer. He said the timing wasn’t great for me. So, the Cabinet agreed to not announce, to keep discerning, to see if the Holy Spirit brought someone else to them. In March, the Cabinet decided it was go-time, so Andy & Greg made that call to me.
I am grateful that, like Elijah allowed Elisha time to prepare, the Cabinet’s timing gave ME time to prepare. To prepare my family, friends, neighbors, and Buda UMC for my departure. I spoke with them. I celebrated with them. I kissed them goodbye.
After Elisha said his good goodbye, the text says: ““Then he set out and followed Elijah and became his servant.” This was an apprenticeship time for Elijah to TEACH Elisha what he knew, what he might expect, what he could do… For them, it was years… up to six, many bible scholars think. Paul and I, we had months, but we took advantage of them. We called, we texted, we emailed, we zoomed, we met over coffee. With as much diligence as we could, Paul and I committed to as easy, as seamless, as peaceful a transition and transfer of power as possible.
Most of all, we wanted YOU to know and experience this and that is why, last week, Karen Angelini and Katie Myers intentionally removed Paul’s stole and placed mine on my shoulders here in this very space before you. It is unusual for United Methodists to do this in such a way. More typically, a Methodist pastor leads worship in the church they are leaving one Sunday and then that pastor turns around and leads worship in their next church the following week. With no overlap. No sharing, or minimal sharing, of information. Since the moment we both knew of this transition, Paul and I planned for it to be different. More intentional. More informational.
I want to acknowledge before you that Paul and I have known each other for quite some time. Our paths have crossed in ministry and our interactions have always been fruitful, deep, and they always left me longing for more. More time. More conversation. More fruitful results.
Our scripture today also mirrors this. Elijah tried to essentially ditch Elisha, telling him: “Stay here!” Stay where we are. Go no further with me. But Elisha would not be deterred. He doggedly followed Elijah! Even when the other prophets traveling with them tried to warn him, Elisha kept following Elijah.
Why? What was Elisha after? What more was he longing for? More time? More conversation? More fruitful results? I don’t know. I don’t KNOW, (PAUSE) but I can imagine! The two traveled to the edge of the Jordan River and “Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and the two of them crossed on dry ground.”
Once they were across the river, Elijah turned and asked 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.”
“Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” That is no small ask… Elisha was asking his mentor, Elijah, for more… more gifts, more power, more success than Elijah himself had experienced.
If I can accomplish half of what Paul has accomplished across his career as well as his time here with you, I will feel good about it. But please know, my goal is always to accomplish a double-share. I am not someone who likes to settle.
But here is the thing. Elisha, when he continued the work Elijah started, he didn’t do it on his own. No. He took that group of advisors, the company of prophets, the text calls them. Elisha had them with him, throughout his time as prophet of the people of Israel and Judah. He did receive that double-share of Elijah’s spirit. They say he performed almost double the miracles. Scholars say his ministry was twice as long as Elijah’s. But Elisha did not work alone…
Like Jesus, who surrounded himself with disciples in his work, his ministry. And like the disciples whom, when Jesus decided it was time to divide and conquer, he sent the disciples out, not alone, but in pairs to do the work. Like Peter and Paul who both traveled with companions in their work. Doing this work of God, none of them could do it alone.
Nor can I do the work of Laurel Heights UMC alone. If I am to accomplish what I hope to here, if WE are to accomplish what we hope to here, I need ALL of you. Yes, the staff, but I also need each and every member and visitor and guest of this church to take up this mantle with me. To join me in the double-share of the work ahead of us.
That is why, over the past few days, I have been cutting green ribbons. Praying over these green ribbons. And as the choir sings their song in a minute, we are going to pass baskets. And I am going to invite you to take up this mantle with me. Please, don’t pick up one of these ribbons because everyone else is. Take one because you are committed to loving the people of San Antonio with me. Take one because you want to see this church thrive. Take one because you want to be the hands and feet of Christ out in the world. (PAUSE) If you are joining us online and you would like a ribbon, call or email the office and we will send one to you. We need everyone engaged in this work! This city, this state, this country, this world, needs each one of us engaged in this work of loving our neighbors.
Just as last week, Paul removed his stole, and I took up mine. I am inviting each one of you to join me in the work ahead by taking up these ribbons and placing them like a mantle or a stole on your shoulders. Wear it on your shoulders today, then find somewhere to place, to tie it – the door handle as you leave your home, your steering wheel – somewhere where it will remind you of our pledge to move forward yoked in the work of ministry. Amen!