Today we will be starting a short series on The Blessings of Mentoring. We will begin by reflecting on 2 Kings 2:1-15, Elijah and Elisha: Walking Together. Elijah knows that the Lord will be taking him home to heaven and begins a journey to the Jordan River where this is going to take place. Elisha, who was chosen by Elijah with God’s guidance to be a prophet, is walking with Elijah. Elijah keeps telling Elisha that he doesn’t need to come, but Elisha insists on walking this journey together. In a strong mentoring relationship, there is a commitment to walk together through the good and the difficult. After Elijah is taken up to heaven, Elisha carries on the work he has been entrusted with and mentored in.
Elijah and Elisha—Walking Together
2 Kings 2:1-15
September 11, 2022
This morning we’re beginning a short series on mentoring, beginning with Elijah and Elisha. Elijah first meets Elisha soon after defeating Jezebel’s prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah, in fear of Jezebel, runs away, depressed and afraid, thinking he’s the only one still believing in Israel’s God. God comes to Elijah, builds him up and encourages him, and then tells Elijah in 1 Kings 19, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha, son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah, to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” Elijah leaves his hiding place and finds Elisha, placing his cloak over Elisha as a sign that he’s chosen Elisha as his mentee.
A Taizé website talks about Moses and Elijah and their successors, “Among the different figures that people the Bible, two have a special place—Moses and Elijah. The fact that both appear beside Jesus when he is transfigured on the mountaintop says a lot about their importance…. But if the Bible celebrates them, that is to show that they were not just admirable individuals. True co-workers with God, they were able to inspire other witnesses and, in that way, open ways forward for their entire nation. For that reason, the stories about the end of their lives also occupy an important place: Joshua continues the work of Moses and Elisha that of Elijah…. God’s compassionate activity does not change the world only through isolated witnesses, but through a kind of fabric woven from witness to witness, by which men and women ceaselessly inspire one another.”
Our passage this morning gives us a glimpse into how close Elijah and Elisha have become. Elijah knows that his time on earth was coming to an end and he takes a journey and visits two of the schools of prophets that he had likely planted after the better with Jezebel’ prophets. Elijah did a lot in bringing back God’s visible presence in the land of Israel and he now tries to quietly slip away to be alone when God takes him. He tells Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha answers, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” I’ve often wondered if Elisha senses something is going on with Elijah and he knows how important it is to stay close to him. they get to Bethel and the company of prophets show up and it becomes real clear what’s going on, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?” and Elisha says, “Yes, I know, so be quiet.” Elisha is committed to being with Elijah to the end. The same thing happens again at Jericho and then at the Jordan River, prophets show up and Elijah keeps telling Elisha to stay and Elisha replies the same way each time, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.”
After they cross the Jordan River in a scene that echoes back to Moses dividing the Red Sea and Joshua dividing the Jordan River, Elijah finally realizes that there’s something Elisha still needs from him, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Elisha, knowing that his mentor is leaving him, asks, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” This shows that Elisha sees Elijah as his spiritual father and his request for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit also shows us that Elisha wants to carry on the work Elijah has been doing for the Lord, to carry on Elijah’s legacy of making God more present in the land.
This is what mentoring in the church is all about, investing in each other, walking alongside someone to help them grow their gifts and talents to carry on the work of God; making Jesus more present in our communities and land. We want the children of our church, the youth, and the young adults to grow deep in their faith, to come to know Jesus as their Lord and the guide of their lives; mentoring is the strongest relationship outside of parents, to help them develop deep lasting faith. What happens in a mentoring relationship is that the person being mentored sees faith being lived out in real life; they’re able to see how what they’ve been taught in church school and at home works out in life. Mentors don’t need to have all the answers, they simply need to love Jesus, and to regret their sin and commit themselves to following Jesus, to trusting in Jesus and his teaching and life, and being willing to share what they’ve learned while being open and curious with the person they’re mentoring in what that might look like in their life. A time ago someone called faith mentoring “God-centered friendship,” a beautiful picture of what mentoring is all about!
Elijah tells Elisha that a double portion of his spirit is something that can only be given by God, but if Elisha sees Elijah when he’s taken away, then Elisha can be confident that God will give him what he asks for. I love how the writer to Kings tells what happens next, “As 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.” Elijah goes to heaven while walking and talking with Elisha, their friendship and relationship the central focus right up to the end of Elijah’s time with Elisha. Elisha is also allowed to see Elijah go to heaven on the chariot of fire, Elisha takes his garment and tears it in two, an act of grief, he then picks up Elijah’s cloak and strikes the water of the Jordan with it and it divides in two, just as it had with Elijah, affirming that God has given him his spirit to continue on with the work that Elijah has been mentoring him in to make God more present in the land.
Jesus mentored and invested in 12 disciples to carry on the work he came here to do, calling us to repentance and belief, to make disciples of all nations. Jesus practices God-centered friendship, calling his disciples friends in John 15, going on to say, “everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go bear fruit—fruit that will last.” Jesus passed on what he knew and what the disciples needed to carry on his work by spending time with them, getting to know them deeply, and allowing them to get to know him as their rabbi and teacher, but also as a friend.
I’ve had many teachers in my life, but the ones who’ve made a lasting impact on who I am as a person, became more than teachers, they showed genuine interest in who I was, searching for any potential in me; some had to look pretty hard at times, I’ll admit. One of the earliest mentors in my life was a lieutenant in Air Cadets. I came to Air Cadets looking for a place to belong, hoping to find some real friends. This young lieutenant took an early interest in me, offering me solid life advice that I still listen to today. He didn’t say anything much different from people in church or school, but he offered it out of a different kind of relationship, one where he took time to learn who I was because he really cared about this lonely kid who might have some potential, he believed in me when I didn’t always believe in myself. He kept me from drifting too far off the tracks.
Pastor Gerrit Haagsma was another mentor, taking time to listen to my story and my heart for broken hurting people. He tried to understand this rather rough young husband, father, and doubter of church and even faith at times because of all the brokenness I had already seen. He helped me begin to see Jesus and the Holy Spirit in hard places, helped me to offer hope, even in difficult situations. He did it with a compassionate heart and patience. This became a holy friendship that I still cherish today, a holy friendship that helped me stay in the church.
Professor Ellen Davis of Duke Divinity School writes, “Holy friendship addresses the basic human need to draw close to God…. nurturing that desire and meeting that need is the sole reason for the church’s existence. We may provide a few valuable social services and something we rather vaguely call “community,” but the purpose of the church is to enable people to grow toward God in Christ.” Worship is a big part of coming close to God, mentoring, or holy friendships, is another part of this picture, especially for youth and young adults.
Jesus walked with his disciples, around whenever they had questions, listening to their questions, fears, and confusions. Jesus helped them to see themselves through his eyes. Jesus saw the potential in people and he modeled trust in God which gave him the courage to face the cross and the grave. This is what we offer when we, as individuals and as a church embrace mentoring and holy friendships.