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
schools 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
doesnt kill you strengthens you. My mom grew stronger in her five-year fight
against cancer and with Gods help, we can become stronger with every obstacle we
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 coachs 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
hes set, in the titles won for his school, and in Shawns 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. Heres some of their
responses . . .
Managers around here dont 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 were 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 mornings 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
Elijah, so the storyteller informs us, is about to be spirited away; Elijahs
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 kids 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 dont 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 Gods saving work offered them in Jesus Christ, this young man
turned to me and said, "Well, I just dont 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. Gods invitations to
follow are offered us typically when there is some risk involved. When the facts
arent all in. When it requires courage to entrust our lives to God.
Im 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 dont 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." Thats what
Elisha did. And the disciples along the shore of Galilee did. Thats what many of you
have done. Respond in your own way to Christs gracious, yet radical invitation to
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. Hes 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 hes not clear about the transitioning process. Maybe hes been
wondering why Elijah has been leaning on him more often. Maybe hes 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; Im going yonder."
Elisha: "No way; as sure as God lives and you live, Im sticking to you
Maybe Elijah was testing his pupil. But clearly, Elisha is not deflected by
Elijahs instructions to stop following. Reminds us of Ruths 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:
"Well 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, Elishas 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.
Thats an audacious request even to Elijah! But he says, "okay; you stick
with me to the end and Ill 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? Thats a hard question that Elisha
must have asked. He tears his robe in deep emotion. Maybe it is grief; hes grieving
the loss of his coach. But maybe he tears his robe out of frustration, because hes
missed his opportunity to have grown into the place of ministry that his master has
Now comes coachable moment number three: trust the words of the coach. So Elisha
picks up whats 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. Hed
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 Jordans water.
Hey, Thats Elijah!" all the bystander prophets must have thought at first.
Sure sounded like his words. You cant be coached for years without picking up their
characteristic lines. That was Elijahs 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 Spirits work through coaches and students, God will
continue to provide leaders of integrity and growth throughout the generations, world
without end. Amen.