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Coachable Moments
a sermon based on 2 Kings 2:1-14
by Rev. Thomas Hall

I recently addressed the graduating class of our local high school and in preparation for this event we interviewed three of the seniors on camcorder-all of whom had achieved distinction in some area of their high school career. "What have you learned from your area of achievement that could be applied to life?" I asked each of graduates.

"Attitude," said Sarah. "Definitely attitude. I developed a bad attitude about my coach at the beginning of the softball season and I did not do well. But I talked it over with my friends and readjusted my attitude. What a difference that made!"

"Overcome your obstacles," said Ally, an accomplished actress in her school’s theatre. "My mother died during this past school year," she said in a quivering voice. "But my mom instilled in me her favorite piece of advice: what doesn’t kill you strengthens you. My mom grew stronger in her five-year fight against cancer and with God’s help, we can become stronger with every obstacle we encounter."

Shawn had discovered a different resource to help him succeed in life. "For me," the fastest kid in the county said, "my learning curve has been to trust the words of my coach." Shawn described his coach’s reason for having the cross-country team out running at 6:30 am each morning: "while your competitors are still in bed," the coach would say, "here you are getting stronger and gaining experience." Listening to the words of his coach has paid off in the records he’s set, in the titles won for his school, and in Shawn’s earning a sizeable scholarship into a great running school.

All three of our graduates had discovered the power of being coached whether by friends or through challenges. In a recent survey, business leaders admitted that coaching-while highly touted-was a low priority in their organizations. Here’s some of their responses . . .


Managers around here don’t take time for coaching

Coaching gets put on the back burner

There is too much emphasis on results to spend much time on development

We give lots of lip service to coaching, but no real commitments

Indeed, coaching can require a long time. And it may include inconvenience and out-of-pocket expenses not to mention immense investments of energy. But if we are well-coached and mentored, we can grow into becoming more useful and productive workers, people who are better skilled, better informed, better equipped to accomplish our goals.

Life is an endless process of coaching others while at the same time being ourselves coached by someone else. Whether parents or teachers; whether we’re on the softball team or at work or in the church or with our friends, coaching and coachable moments grow us up and equip us for life.

In this morning’s lesson we follow two people as they go down to the training field. Clearly, one is the coach and the other one the student who receives the coaching. Historically, the two are otherwise known as Elijah ("The Coach") and Elisha (the protégé) who is being groomed for his own prophetic career. Like a cross-country race, the story opens in a specific line of direction-from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan.

Elijah, so the storyteller informs us, is about to be spirited away; Elijah’s prophetic leadership to his nation is about to end. But his death will not leave as big as hole as we might expect. For Elijah has for years prepared for this very moment of departure. Decades earlier he had picked his replacement. A kid is out plowing in the field minding his own business. So Elijah approaches the kid and suddenly throws his mantle across the kid’s shoulders. Then, just as abruptly, he walks away! Eventually, it dawns on the kid that the prophet has tapped him on the shoulder to join him. Thus, Elisha-the kid-kisses dad and mom good-bye and then up and follows this strange prophet to God only knows where.


So at the very beginning we discern a coachable moment: respond to the invitation to be coached. Sometimes we don’t have all the details, all the facts in when the invitation comes. Most of us probably would want more details before making such an abrupt career change. Like, can I roll my 401 K over into the new job? Or how many weeks do I get for vacation the first year? What kind of healthcare program do they offer? Or at the very least, where are the restrooms?

I once listened as a young man turned down an invitation to entrust his life to Christ. He had just finished an arduous six months of confirmation that involved mentorship, Bible study, serving in a soup kitchen and hammering for Habitat for Humanity. Not exactly an abrupt invitation to become a coached one of Jesus. In a closing interview in which I asked confirmands if they were ready to affirm their baptismal vows, to say "yes" to God’s saving work offered them in Jesus Christ, this young man turned to me and said, "Well, I just don’t have all the facts in yet to really be able to make that decision." I honored-sadly though-his right to say no-at this time. But I wondered when "all the facts" would ever be in so that he could make his safe, fool-proof decision to entrust his life to Christ. God’s invitations to follow are offered us typically when there is some risk involved. When the facts aren’t all in. When it requires courage to entrust our lives to God.

I’m not quite so spontaneous these days, but I can identify with the need to respond to the momentous, life-changing call of God to follow even when we don’t have all the facts-like my friend and undoubtedly like Elisha-faced. Some invitations require an immediate response.

When I was young, unattached, un-careered, and raw material I got just such an invitation. A Christian rock band had come through Albuquerque, where I served as a youth minister. "We need a trombonist to join us in our travels; our last one quit," they announced that night at the concert. Before the weekend was out I had joined this group and three weeks later I was in Europe as a "rock and roll missionary" on an adventure that would lead me through forty countries and in the process I would meet and marry the keyboardist, and would discover a passion to go to college.

So the first coachable moment is to respond to "call." That’s what Elisha did. And the disciples along the shore of Galilee did. That’s what many of you have done. Respond in your own way to Christ’s gracious, yet radical invitation to follow him.

Years pass. Nothing more is ever mentioned about Elisha, this "replacement" to the great Elijah. Of course, we know that with every day and week year in and out, Elisha is under the supervision and teaching of Elijah. He’s being coached and trained for an important leadership role.

Time comes for Elijah to depart. Now comes the second coachable moment: strong commitment. News of critical leadership changes magically make it down the hall and into the lunch room before the announcement is made. In this case, Elisha has the sense that this is it. Elijah is about to be spirited away. The prophets of Bethel know that. The prophets of Jericho know that. Everyone knows that Elijah is leaving.

Maybe he’s not clear about the transitioning process. Maybe he’s been wondering why Elijah has been leaning on him more often. Maybe he’s waiting to hear Elijah pronounce him as ready to become the new spiritual conscience of Israel. So he just shadows Elijah everywhere. So the conversation runs throughout the day. With each new direction the same conversation would loop around and around . . .

Elijah: "Stay here, Elisha; I’m going yonder."

Elisha: "No way; as sure as God lives and you live, I’m sticking to you like glue."

Elijah: "Okay."

Maybe Elijah was testing his pupil. But clearly, Elisha is not deflected by Elijah’s instructions to stop following. Reminds us of Ruth’s commitment to Naomi: "Where you go I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your God will be my God." And remember the ones who came to Jesus with similar commitment: "We’ll follow you anywhere!" The difference between bravado and bravery may be the distance between head and heart.

They now arrive at the Jordan and the great Elijah who is known for answering his own question: "Is there a God in Israel," strikes the river with his mantle and the water parts, just like in the days of Moses.

"Okay, what can I do for you before I part?" Elisha says, "I want a double portion of your spirit." Actually, Elisha’s not asking for more miracle-working power, but for blessing. He wants to hear Elijah tell him that he has grown into the place of ministry that will allow him to replace him as coach for the next generation. Not miracles but maturity that honors God and his country.

That’s an audacious request even to Elijah! But he says, "okay; you stick with me to the end and I’ll grant you your request." The whirlwind comes and seems to drive a wedge between them. I can imagine that those heavenly horses stirred up plenty of dust; whirlwinds have a way of obscuring, rather than clearing the air. In the dust-swirling chaos, suddenly Elisha is left alone. He looks up and sees only the mantle hitting the ground.

Has he seen Elijah going up into heaven? That’s a hard question that Elisha must have asked. He tears his robe in deep emotion. Maybe it is grief; he’s grieving the loss of his coach. But maybe he tears his robe out of frustration, because he’s missed his opportunity to have grown into the place of ministry that his master has occupied.


Now comes coachable moment number three: trust the words of the coach. So Elisha picks up what’s left of Elijah-his mantle. He knows this mantle well. Elijah had lassoed him with that mantle years earlier when he was still a kid in the field. He’d just watched Elijah roll that mantle up like a newspaper and part the Jordan. So he takes that scratchy mantle and heads back to the river.

He inhales until his lungs explode with the taunt, "Where is the lord, the God of Elijah?" as he slaps the mantle down on the Jordan’s water.

Hey, That’s Elijah!" all the bystander prophets must have thought at first. Sure sounded like his words. You can’t be coached for years without picking up their characteristic lines. That was Elijah’s lifelong question. He had hurled it at syncretistic religionists at the battle of the gods: where is the God of Israel? He had hurled those words in the face of the King of Israel. Now, however, the coach is gone.

Where is the God of Elijah? God personally answers by ripping the waters of the Jordan wide open for Elisha to cross over in to the place of ministry. Elijah has been a coach that has successfully trained Elisha to lead the next generation.

This story asks probing questions of us? How well are we coaching the next generation for growth and new places of ministry and responsibility? In whom are we investing our time in? Will we leave a legacy or a hole when we leave? And who is coaching us?

Hear the Good News! Jesus Christ-the Author and Finisher of our Faith-calls us to follow him, to be coached by him, and to in turn, mentor and coach others that God sends to us. In faithful obedience the Spirit’s work through coaches and students, God will continue to provide leaders of integrity and growth throughout the generations, world without end. Amen.