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Margaret's Mantle

Posted by chesterlanducc on June 19, 2017 at 1:55 PM

A reading from the 19 chapter of the book of 1st Kings in the Hebrew Scriptures…

So Elijah set out from there, and found Elisha, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again; for what have I done to you?” He returned from following him, 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. Then he set out and followed Elijah, and became his servant.

After following Elijah for five years the story continues in the second chapter of the book of 2nd Kings…

When they had crossed the Jordan river, Elijah said to 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.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

Sermon: Margaret’s Mantle

Many, if not all of us, have had mentors in our lives. My first mentor was the College Chaplain at Hiram. Over the years I took courses with Jon, volunteered in a soup kitchen with him, traveled to national and region Church events with him, and really got to know him well. He and his wife visited Monica and I when we lived in Massachusetts. We were close. And then one day I got an email from him asking if I would be interested in applying to be Chaplain at Hiram College because he was becoming the Director of the Center for Ethics at Hiram for his last two years before he retired and they needed a Chaplain.

Jon was an incredible Chaplain, much loved—a pillar of the Hiram Community. He has such wisdom, such kindness and gentleness—skills that aren’t taught, but rather ones that are gained only through experience and hard work. I have to admit, I was a little intimidated to try to replace my mentor, especially with him still being around. He had worked at Hiram College for 15 years when I arrived. The faculty and staff loved him, and many of them had first known me as a 18 year old college student. I wasn’t sure how this was going to work.

For it to work however, there were three things that needed to happen. First, Jon would have to pass the mantle to me. He would have to let go of something he deeply loved and that he had dedicated a significant portion of his life to. Second, I would have to be me. If I tried to be the type of Chaplain Jon had been, I would have been a poor, poor substitute for him. I had to bring the skills, strengths and experiences I had, to this ministry. And finally, the students, and especially the faculty and staff would have to be open to me and the different ways I needed to be their Chaplain.

I ended up being Chaplain and the Director of Service Learning at Hiram College for nine years. That first week I gave the opening invocation to the faculty and I remember the then dean of the College coming over to me afterwards and saying to me, “you are now my Chaplain now”. Mike, the Dean, was good friends with my mentor Jon, the former Chaplain, and he was quite a bit older than me, but he shared a gift with me that day and allowed me to be his minister, his Chaplain, despite my age and relative inexperience.

This morning’s scripture is not just about Elijah mentoring Elisha, it is a more profound and complicated relationship where Elijah shares his mantle, his prophetic calling, with Elisha and eventually leaves Elisha to be the prophetic voice of Israel.

This past week as we volunteered at Trinity UCC in Wooster, this topic of mentoring and mantle sharing came up over and over again.

As we sat around a round table eating lunch one day, Connie Becker shared with us that when she was about the age of our youth, a member of Community Church, Margaret Stitt, wanted youth represented on the various church committees and so she asked Connie to serve on the Christian Education committee. This was the beginning of decades of service for Connie in serving the children and youth of Community Church, and it all began with Margaret Stitt wanting to share her Mantle.

Funny enough, the next day, we met Dick, a retired minister who was serving at the breakfast program at Trinity who had previously served as a minister at Community Church and Dick asked about Margaret in particular and he told me how wonderful of a woman she had been. Margaret has since passed on, but her legacy continues in our faith community, just as Elijah and my mentor Jon, also shared their Mantles with others.

There were many stories of Mantle sharing during the week. There were two retired teachers who met with us and who told us the story about how the breakfast program we served at each morning had begun. A woman who had worked in a school cafeteria had originally begun the meal as a summer food program for children. It turned out not many children came, but over time the program changed and grew. Eventually the woman who began the program was no longer able to coordinate it, so she passed the mantle onto these two women who took on that role. But it was more than that. The program had begun with volunteers from the Church, but after a while, people from the community began helping—Wooster College students each semester, community volunteers who were non church members, and those the program served.

And the program grew to the point where they serve between 50 and 100 people a day and so more food was needed—more food than the church could provide, and a dairy began providing milk, Panera began providing bread, the Akron Foodbank opened and became a source of food, along with monetary donations from Wooster College.

The breakfast program a single church woman began became bigger than it could have been if she hadn’t allowed it to change and grow and share the mantle of leadership of the program with others.

I met a man, John, who volunteers on Fridays at the breakfast program. He was the only member of the Church that volunteers on Friday mornings. He does the dishes and he asked if any of us had already learned how to operate the large industrial dishwasher. I replied that I had and so he told me he would let me do the dishes. And while he might not love washing the dishes, I could tell it was a little bit of a sacrifice for him to give up doing his main role in the kitchen, and we joked about this and about the need to let others do things in the Church even if we think we can do them better, or if we have seemingly always done them ourselves.

He told me a story about how he and another Church member each year hang the oriental stars in the Sanctuary and that he and his friend had figured out a good system for hanging and taking them down each year and that they would bring in a ladder that was tall enough and it was their thing. However, he said the number of younger men and women in the Church has been declining and his friend was diagnosed with cancer this past year and he himself is getting to the age where he probably shouldn’t be climbing up so high on a ladder any more so they have begun looking for people to take the Mantle for this project. It isn’t a huge project, but it is something I think is meaningful for this man and the members of the Church. And John told me that maybe he waited too long to share the mantle—waited too long to try to find someone to share this service with.

I think the moral of the story of Elijah and Elisha is that God calls us to share the Mantle. Perhaps it isn’t always easy—perhaps we love what we do—perhaps it gives us a sense of self-worth and identity—perhaps we have invested so much of ourselves in it that is hard to hand over the mantle to someone else.

However, part of life is sharing our Mantles with others. It is a great gift we can offer one another—to share leadership in what we love with another. And I think we must remember, that if we think we are the only ones that can do that particular task well—if we think something has to be done a certain way—our way—or it shouldn’t be done—we are wrong. When the Church can only be as big as a handful of leaders of the Church, it will die, because the Church is meant to be shared—shared like Elijah’s mantle. It grows and changes and transforms others as we let go of it and allow others to lead with us and grow with us and do things differently than we might.

Thanks be to God for God’s still speaking voice. Amen.

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