This past Father’s Day, a Texas man and his 13 year old son spent the afternoon bonding in a meaningful way – on the golf course. As the father prepared to hit his ball off the tee, he never imagined that he would ace the par-3 6th hole and achieve the elusive hole-in-one that every golfer dreams of. But he did. And what could possibly make that moment any better for that father? Perhaps the fact that his 13 year old son, who prepared to shoot from the start of the very same hole, managed to get a hole-in-one, too. Proverbs tells us that if we train up our children in the right way, when they are older, they won’t stray (22:6). I would say that, in a sense, this story seems to support that nugget of biblical wisdom. This particular father who enjoys golf, helped mold and train his son according to the rules and techniques of the sport. The result of such training was the reward of them both playing well, hitting the hole-in-one.
As Elijah and Elisha spend their final moments together, we see the end of a relationship that bears many similarities to a relationship between a parent and a child. God instructed Elijah to anoint Elisha in order that he might become prophet in Elijah’s place. Elisha leaves his family and vocation behind and becomes Elijah’s servant, spending years witnessing Elijah’s work as a prophet. As God is about to take Elijah away from his friend and companion, Elisha makes one final request: give me a double portion of your spirit.
To me this is a beautiful exchange. Elisha, who has spent years as Elijah’s student and companion, wants to be recognized as the legitimate heir to the power of God gifted to Elijah. He wants what any son wants – an inheritance. But notice that Elisha isn’t interested in inheriting property or wealth, but spirit. He wants what Elijah is passionate about. You see, not only is Elijah a powerful prophet, he is also inspiring to others – inspiring in such a way that Elisha wants what he’s got, and a double portion of it. I see beauty here because this passage gives me a vision and a hope for the future of the Church. This passage offers a mandate to all who feel God calling them to follow Christ.
Can you see yourself as an Elijah? Can you see yourself as someone assured of their God-given power and freedom in Christ, who recognizes the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, who will willingly follow Christ into the hard places, and who will then offer guidance and direction to those who are new to the faith you continue to grow in? Can you imagine what our church, our community, and our world would look like if we all committed to being Elijah’s, mentoring Elisha’s who would one day succeed us, taking up our mantle with a double portion of our spirit?
I can see it. I see it every day with people who feel the call to act out their faith in deliberate ways, and help those around them understand why they are different. Yet, there is room for us to continue growing into this calling. We are all challenged to respond to our Savior when he calls out, “Follow me,” a call he repeats every day of our lives.
Elijah begins to show us how we can achieve this. When Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, Elijah replies, “If you see me as I am being taken away from you, it will be granted to you” (v. 10). There is a visible component to following Jesus. If we are following, then we are moving, and people will see that. In order for there to be a witness, there has to be something that others are able to see. “If you see me,” Elijah says, “then it will be granted to you.” If you see someone hit a golf ball over and over again, eventually, you will be able to imitate what you’ve seen, and you too, will be able to hit the golf ball. If you see someone following Christ, using their God-given gifts to serve others, and showing forth the Holy Spirit in their lives, and you see it over and over again, eventually you will be able to imitate them, and by extension in this case, Christ himself.
So to all you Elijahs out there, be visible. Let the Holy Spirit guide your public life as well as your private life. As Paul reminds us this morning, we have been made free through Christ so that we can serve one another in love – obeying Christ by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves. When we are all serving each other, looking out for each other’s best interests, we are doing something Christ-like, creating a witness that others will see.
To the Elishas out there, keep your eyes open. Pay attention. There is not one reference to Elisha in the Bible between the time that Elijah called him and the time that Elijah is taken away. Elisha spends over seven years watching and learning. Turn your eyes to those people in your midst who exhibit maturity in their faith. People whose reputations are primarily shaped by their service to others. People who tend to exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
It is when our faith, and the fruit that it bears, is on display that people can see and imitate Jesus through us. Giacomo Puccini was a famous composer. He was stricken by cancer while he was working on his final opera, Turandot. Knowing that he might not be able to finish the opera, Puccini asked his students to finish it for him in the event that he died before its completion. He did die before he finished the opera, and his students took up the task their teacher had given them. They carefully studied their teacher’s work on the opera, and set about completing it while being faithful to his vision. The world premiere performance of the opera was beautifully conducted by Puccini’s favorite student, Arturo Toscanini. However, when the opera reached the point where Puccini stopped writing, Toscanini set down his baton, and with tears in his eyes, turned to face the audience. “Thus far the Master wrote, but he died,” Toscanini said to the silent audience. “But his disciples finished his work.”
That is how we are to be as followers of Jesus – faithfully studying the work he started in our midst, and doing our best to follow in his footsteps, guiding others as we find the path, and working together to finish the part of the Master’s plan that we have been called to be a part of. We are to be like Puccini’s students, looking at Jesus as our teacher. And like Puccini’s students, we are to make our Master’s work the sole focus of our lives, even at the expense of those things that we might think are important or necessary. Surely, Puccini’s students had their own dreams and visions of completing their own masterpieces, and creating works of art that they could take sole credit for. Yet Jesus shows us in today’s gospel reading that being focused on the cross may mean denying things our culture tries to use to divert us from truly following Jesus.
We must know who we are called to follow, and we must see his urgency and single-minded focus as imperative for shaping us as disciples. Like Elisha, who vowed three times that he would not leave Elijah, we are called to doggedly follow our Savior, even when the way is unpopular or counterintuitive. We are to follow him in ways that are visible to those around us. And we are to seek out and invite others to follow along with us, sensitive to our own shortcomings in the faith as well as theirs. We are all God’s children, and we have a responsibility to minister to each other with guidance, love, and service. Working together like this, we might not hit more holes-in-one, and we might not produce any famous operas, but we will help expand the Kingdom of God and strengthen Christ’s church.
To those who feel like they are more mature in the faith – the Elijahs among us – live your lives in such a way that you leave this place in a whirlwind, accompanied by the glorious spectacle of fiery horses and chariots. In other words, live a life that will end dramatically, seen off by a parade of people you have faithfully helped to walk in Christ’s footsteps and whose lives you have helped transform. Live in such a way that people watching you will say, “I’ll have what they’re having… only make mine a double!”
To the Elishas out there, seek out an Elijah, one who will model a good and faithful life, showing you how to produce the fruit of the Spirit, and guiding you ever closer to the Jesus Way.