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Archive for June, 2013

Passing a Mantle

“Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”  2 Kings 2:9b (NRSV)

Elisha was chosen by Elijah to accompany him and learn from him and train with him on the journey of being Israel’s prophet.  Many prophets and rabbis or teachers had disciples/followers who were actually being trained to pick up the work that they were doing.  We can see that with Jesus and his followers.  They continued the work of spreading the good news of God’s love to others, of sharing the ministry of Jesus, of carrying on his work once he had ascended into heaven.

When Elijah knew that he was supposed to find someone to be with him to carry on his work, he put his mantle or cloak upon Elisha’s back as a symbol of being commissioned for that work.  They traveled together while Elijah set an example for Elisha and taught him about God and how to hear God’s voice – God’s direction and guidance.  As he prepared to depart this earth, Elijah asked Elisha what he could do for him, and Elisha asked for a double portion of his spirit.  What a wonderful gift that would be! 

Think of someone who was an example and mentor in your life.  I had many mentors in my life, and many of them were teachers, choir directors, and leaders in our church.  As I trained to become a music teacher during my undergraduate work, I did my student teaching at a private high school, and that mentor (my supervising teacher) seemed to ignore me except to tell me take over with the chorus when they weren’t doing what he thought they should be doing.  I was never invited to the teacher’s lounge or saw any example of what a good teacher could be.  That was a disappointing and very unhelpful experience.

However, when I began my field education many years later in preparation for becoming a pastor, I had a mentor who faithfully met with me every week and helped me to figure out things that I needed to do in order to be a good pastor.  He was a deeply spiritual man who cared about me and the tiny congregation I was serving even as I attended seminary, and he guided me through a number of difficult situations. 

From the first one, I learned what NOT to do, and from the second one, I learned the art of listening with my heart and consulting God before proceeding.  I’m grateful for both experiences, and especially for my clergy mentor who gave of himself so that I could grow.  Sadly, he was killed in a car accident the summer after my field education, but I cherish the work he did with me and the portion of his spirit that he left with me.

We can learn from Elijah in seeking out mentors who teach us wisely and pass on at least a part of their spirit to us so that we can continue the work of Christ in the world.  And, if we are truly blessed, we will have the opportunity to be the same kind of mentor to someone else.  Thanks be to God!

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Fathers – Dads – Surrogates

Jesus went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.”  Luke 8:1 (NRSV)

This week’s gospel lesson is about Jesus visiting a Pharisee, and while he is there having a meal with him (and a bunch of other guys), a woman comes into the house to wash Jesus’ feet.  Of course, Simon the Pharisee was quite judgmental, not only of the woman, but also of Jesus.  And, then at the end of this lection, we have this small paragraph that sort of throws in a message about all the women who accompanied Jesus and his disciples and who cared for them, even out of their own resources.

So what does this have to do with Father’s Day.  I turn to my own father to answer that.  Jesus taught Simon about hospitality.  He told Simon that the woman had washed his feet, and Simon had not offered such a gift (which was a usual custom for guests in those days).  My dad (and mom, too) taught me a lot about hospitality.

When I was growing up, we often had extended family members and friends who were invited to our table for holidays or special occasions.  My friends were always welcome in our home, and when I was in college, my friends there considered my parents like their second set of parents because they were always included in meals out (which dad paid for) and welcome in our home if I went home for a week-end or time off from school.

I can remember as a much younger child when a hobo came to the door (back in the 1950’s hobos were wandering men – mostly men – who were homeless and would beg for food from door to door).  We were eating our lunch, and my mother strictly ordered us to stay seated at the table and keep quiet.  The man asked for food, and Mom got up and made some sandwiches for him for Dad to take back to him.  After thanking Dad profusely (we couldn’t see him but could hear the conversation), the man went on his way.  Not much was said about it, but it left an impression on me. 

My dad treated the man with respect and helped him even though we struggled to put food on our own table.  We also learned about caution, but to not be afraid to help people who needed help.

If we think about the hospitality Jesus showed in welcome everyone to the kingdom of God, we have an idea about the hospitality God offers us.  We are all God’s children, and our earthly parents can reflect that love and acceptance to us.  Unfortunately, not all parents, and particularly fathers, have been the epitome of showing God’s hospitality even to their own children. 

On the other hand, many good fathers are out there, and there are often men who have been father figures to children who have no one to call Dad.  It seems to me that good fathers are those who reflect the love of God to their children or surrogate children.  That includes listening, showing up to support them in their activities, supporting them to the best of their abilities, caring about them no matter how old they are, and just being part of their lives on a regular basis.

God is there for us always.  Fathers who share the love of God not only speak it but also live it.  May all the fathers, dads, surrogate fathers be blessed this coming Sunday and every day as they continue to do their best for their children, regardless of whether or not they are biologically theirs.  God bless Dads!

Children and Church

“I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” Luke 18:17 (CEB)

This coming Sunday is Children’s Sunday in both of the churches I serve.  In one of the churches, the children do the entire service, leading worship, reading scripture, ushering, presenting skits, singing songs.  There is a wider age group from pre-school through high school in this particular church than in the other one.  Since the age range in the other church is much smaller (toddler through second grade with a few 10-12 year olds), the sermon time is about all they can do because of short attention spans.  Our scripture lesson is Luke 18:15-17 which tells about Jesus rebuking the disciples when they tried to keep the children from him.  This same story appears with a little variation in Mark 10:13-16 and Matthew 19:13-15.

When we look at these passages, we tend to overlay our 21st century ideas about children and romanticize them into the sweet, precocious, behaving children that have been depicted in so many paintings and drawings about Jesus and the children.  I would prefer it that way, but if we are realistic about this, we have to know about the ways children were treated in Jesus’ day.  Since the male head of household had the final say about EVERYTHING, and since women and children were considered property of their fathers or husbands (or other male head of household), the leading male also made the decision about who was “in” and who was “out” including babies.  If a baby wasn’t acceptable to the man, it could be banished from the house, and many were “throw away” babies.

The mortality rate of infants was high, possibly 30% of infants born, and the next 30% often didn’t make it past nine years old.  The society and culture saw children as a nuisance until they were able to grow up and become productive in the family system.  Sons were particularly welcome, and daughters were seen as a means to marry off so they could produce offspring for someone else’s family.  Marriages were arranged, and the girls were married as soon as they could bear children, many of them died in childbirth.  So, children weren’t seen as the cute little sweethearts of the family, but as “things” to keep quiet and in the background until they could become a part of the family in significant ways.  Twelve was a common age, and that is when boys went through their Bar Mitzvah  and declared a man.

Also in this passage, Jesus blessed the children – laid hands on them, which was more commonly used language for healing.  So many of the children brought to him could have been sickly.  For Jesus to welcome the sickly and to bring healing to them with laying on of hands meant that he would be considered unclean.  For him to welcome the poorest of the poor by valuing children made a statement to the disciples that EVERYONE was welcome into the family of God; there were no distinctions in age, gender, social status, economic status, or anything else – EVERYONE was welcome.

Perhaps we all are the most vulnerable.  Perhaps we all need to recognize that, without Christ, we are nothing.  Perhaps we can only see the kingdom of God when we put aside our own egos, our own ladder climbing, our own “stuff” so that we can clearly see Jesus and ask for his healing touch and the grace of God in our lives.  Our hospitality to each other, to strangers, to children, to the sick, the homebound, the homeless, the poor in spirit reflects how we relate to Jesus and live out his teachings.  May we receive the kingdom of God as children – as all God’s children.  Amen.

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