By the Rev.
Massachusetts, January 27, 2002
Kings 2:6-15 Elijah's mantle
Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; the Lord has sent me to
he replied, "As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I
will not leave you." So the two of them walked on.
men of the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance,
facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the
Jordan. Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up and struck the
water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left,
and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can
I do for you before I am taken from you?"
me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha
have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if
you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours--otherwise
they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot
of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of
them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw
this and cried out, "My father! My father! The chariots and
horsemen of Israel!" And Elisha saw him no more. Then he
took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two.
picked up the mantle that had fallen from Elijah and went back
and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the mantle
that had fallen from him and struck the water with it.
"Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" he asked.
When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the
left, and he crossed over.
company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said,
"The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha." And they
went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
12-15 Jesus promises the Spirit of truth
I am going to him who sent me, yet none of you asks me, 'Where
are you going?' Because I have said these things, you are filled
with grief. But I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I
am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to
you; but if I go, I will send him to you. . . .
have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But
when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all
truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he
hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring
glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to
you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said
the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to
Explained #395 The meaning of Elijah's mantle
represented the Lord as the Word, which is the genuine doctrine
of truth. Elisha continued that representation. And the mantle
symbolized divine truth in general, which is the Word in its
most external form. . . . Elijah's mantle falling upon Elisha
symbolized the transfer to Elisha of that representation of the
Lord as the Word. . . .
the waters of Jordan with Elijah's mantle, first by Elijah and
afterwards by Elisha, symbolized the power of Divine truth in
its most external form. The waters of Jordan symbolize the first
truths through which people are introduced into the church--and
these first truths are the kind that are in the most external
level of the Bible.
picked up the mantle that had fallen from Elijah and went back
and stood on the bank of the Jordan. (2 Kings 2:13)
the mantle." It is a phrase that comes to us from this
story of Elisha's mantle--or cloak--falling from him as he was
carried up to heaven in the whirlwind, and Elisha, the junior
prophet who traveled with Elisha as his student, picking it up
and receiving with it "a double portion" of Elijah's
spirit. And just as Elisha then had to take a position of
leadership, it has come to mean inheriting not only the spirit,
but also the responsibilities of our elders.
is exactly what I want to talk to you about today. And though
our services usually focus on our spiritual life and growth as
individuals, today I would like to broaden the scope and look at
our spiritual life and growth as a church.
I attended this church as a youth in the 1970s, during the first
half of my father's pastorate, I remember there being many
elderly people in the church. I could name some of them, but I'd
certainly forget others. Those of you who have been with this
church that long will remember them anyway, whereas to the rest
of you, the names would not mean very much. Today, as we look
around the church, hardly any of that generation is left. In
fact, unlike the usual conception of the smaller church as
consisting most strongly of the elderly, we are rather short of
elders in our church.
it is a hopeful sign for the church that the bulk of its current
membership still has decades of life stretching out ahead, it
can also be a little disconcerting to realize that the people
who used to run our church when we were younger aren't here
anymore. Now it's up to us. The mantle has fallen from our
elders to the very people who are sitting in this church today,
along with the others who don't happen to be here today. It is
up to those who regularly take part in our services and
activities; who attend our meetings, plan our programs and
activities, and handle all the many details of keeping the
are now the church. There isn't any other church but us. Yes, we
have also inherited some money from the earlier days of our
church. Even the financial support we receive from the
denomination and from our Massachusetts Association comes almost
entirely from the investment income derived from money donated
to the church many, many years ago. But along with that money,
we have inherited the church itself. The mantle of the
Swedenborgian Church has fallen on our shoulders more and more,
as we have seen our beloved elders taken up into heaven to be
with their loved ones who went before them.
many of us, this may not be a welcome turn of events. It was
more comfortable--and less work!--when there were others older
than ourselves to keep the place going, and to look up to as
mentors and guides. It's a little like the difference between
Christmas as a child and Christmas as an adult. The children
have a lot more fun. Why? Because they're not the ones making
Christmas happen! They can just soak it all in, while their
parents and grandparents do all the work, and then pay all the
is easy to come to church each week and soak in the service, to
attend the different workshops and programs while others are
planning and running them, and doing the rest of the work of
keeping the church going. But when we have to do it ourselves,
we realize how much work it is to keep even a smaller church
like this one going. And we may long for the "good old
days" when others did most of the work, and we could just
sit back and enjoy it.
there is another side to this story. One of the problems of
Christmas as kids is that you are at the mercy of your parents
(and grandparents, aunts, and uncles) as to what gifts you will
be given. You may have desperately wanted those Rock 'em Sock 'em
Robots, but your parents didn't like fighting games, so they
wouldn't get them for you. Or you may have desperately wanted
that big make-up kit, but your parents thought you were too
young for make-up--and you didn't have enough money to buy it
for yourself. So you had to settle for other presents that may
have been good, but they weren't the thing you wanted most.
in the church it is a lot easier to let our elders run things.
But as younger people, we didn't always like the way they
ran things. They had their particular notions of how a church
and a Sunday School ought to be run. Even if we had different
ideas, they were still in charge. And as long as they were
running the show, the show was going to be run the way they
wanted it to be run. This could sometimes leave us out in the
of you who attended this church as a younger person, or who
attended a different church, can probably remember ways you
thought the church could be better, but knew that the elders of
the church would never stand for it. Some of you may have left
your original church because it simply wasn't serving your
spiritual needs. Some may have left this church, and come
back later when your own life circumstances changed and you felt
the need of it. And we know that many have left, and so far have
not come back.
of the problems of the older generation running the church is
that sometimes their idea of what the church should be just
doesn't do much for the younger generation--and the church is in
danger of losing the younger group. Of course, there are other
reasons people leave the church, which may have nothing to do
with the way the church is run. But when we think about it, we
realize that the "good old days" were never quite as
good as we fondly remember them when our life in the present
begins to feel too much like a grind and a rat race, and we long
for the times when someone else did all the work.
the other side of this question is that when we are the ones
running the church, we can arrange the church so that it better
fits our idea of what church really means. We can move forward
in areas where our elders thought things were just fine the way
they were. And at the same time, we can look forward and outward
to others who may come along in the future, and to the younger
generations coming after us, and work to keep the church moving
forward so that it will meet their spiritual needs as well.
core of my message for you today is this: you are the
church. And we can make this church into whatever we want it to
be. If there are parts of it that we inherited from our elders
that we still like, we can keep those parts. If there are other
parts that our elders may have liked, but that don't do much for
us, we don't have to keep doing things that way. We can renew
the church in ways that are more meaningful to us.
have already done this in many areas. It is an ongoing process.
Before I came here, the church changed its service time in order
to have a coffee hour where we could get together, enjoy one
another's company, and get to know each other better--not to
mention having a chance to welcome newcomers into our church
family. Since I came, we have gradually moved to more variety in
our worship service, bringing in services that focus on praise
or thankfulness in addition to the focus on repentance of our
traditional First Order of Service. More recently, we made a
major change in the way we run our Sunday School, so that
instead of meeting an hour before church, the children now join
us for the beginning of the service, and have their classes
during the rest of our service. And we have made many other
changes, small and large.
of us may mourn the passing of the old in some of these areas.
We had grown familiar with our church the way it was, and it
doesn't feel quite so much like "real" church to us
anymore. Others, perhaps, couldn't wait for things to change in
one area or another, and don't miss the old at all. And some of
us may be anxious for still more change to happen.
is all part of the normal process of change and growth in a
church. In our individual lives we have to give up our old ways,
and even our old friends and family members, before moving into
a new phase of our lives. These partings can sometimes be very
painful. And yet, they are necessary to keep us from stagnating.
They are necessary to keep our lives flowing, moving forward,
moving toward greater love and understanding, toward more
compassion and responsibility for one another, toward living
more and more in the image and likeness of the Lord our God.
is the same in the church as a body. We may mourn the passing of
the old. But the Lord purposely arranges that "the only
constant in this universe is change." In nature, the only
things that don't change, move, and grow (at least in our time
frame) are things that are not alive. And the church is a
living, growing entity, not an inanimate rock. It must
continually be renewing itself: leaving behind the old and
moving into new territory.
this makes us uncomfortable, we can at least know that we are
not alone. In our New Testament reading, Jesus is preparing his
disciples for the time when he will no longer be physically
present with them. He has told them that he is going to go away
from them to the one who sent them. In plain language, he was
telling them that he--who, you remember, was only thirty-three
years old at the time--was going to die, and return to God in
his disciples were filled with grief because of this. They had
been with him only three short years, and now he was telling
them that he was leaving them for good? This they could not
accept. At one point Peter even took Jesus aside and
remonstrated with him. "This will never happen to
you!" he said. Jesus' response seems a bit too harsh:
"Get behind me, Satan!" he rebuked Peter, "You
are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not
on divine things but on human things" (Matthew 16:22, 23).
The very vehemence of Jesus' reply to Peter should put us on
notice that change--even very painful change--is a part of God's
plan for our spiritual growth and eternal well-being.
our Gospel story, as the moment of Jesus' leaving his disciples
draws nearer, instead of resistance and rebuke, there is grief
and comforting. By this time the disciples have realized that
their Lord and Master really is going to leave them. And they
are filled with grief. Yet the Lord says to them, "I tell
you the truth: it is for your good that I am going away. Unless
I go away, the Counselor will not come to you." And then he
informs them that he has been holding back on them. "I have
much more to say to you, more than you can now bear," he
tells them. "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he
will guide you into all truth."
is good that the Lord should no longer be physically
present with his disciples? How could that be? How could it be
better than having him with them every day, teaching them,
guiding them, comforting them, encouraging them, showing them by
his own powerful example what real spiritual living is all
about? How could anything be better than that?
similar to a question some of us may be asking: How can it
possibly be better to have our parents, grandparents, and all
the other elders we used to look up to gone from this earth? One
answer is found in the thoughts of the Rev. Chauncey Giles, from
The Chauncey Giles Yearbook (1910), as presented in the
upcoming February issue of Our Daily Bread:
who have passed into the spiritual world and are bound to us
by genuine love are nearer to us and can give us greater help
than ever before. They understand us better, they have a more
accurate knowledge of our spiritual wants, and they can touch
the secret springs of our soul with inconceivably more wisdom
the Lord nor our loved ones who have died are absent from us. In
fact, they are more strongly present than ever before, because
they are with our spirits, helping and guiding us from within in
ways that they could never do while they were here with us on
earth. Yet they do this with such a deep regard for our freedom,
and with such great love for us as the people we are,
that they are willing to leave the decisions about our lives in
our own hands.
have also left the decisions about the church in our hands. And
now it is our turn to carry forward their work. We have
inherited their mantle, which fell from them to us as they went
up to heaven. And so I ask in closing: What do you want
this church to be? Amen.
© 1999 Bruce DeBoer
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