Passing the Mantle

Passing the Mantle. Generational Transitions. Transforming the Church. From Institutional to Missional.

Did you ever wonder about the origin of that phrase? We find it here in 2 Kings 2. Elijah passes the mantle of prophetic spiritual authority to Elisha.

Now, an obvious direction to go with this text would be to address the issue of the need for the former generations to let go of the mantle of authority so the next generation can take it up. I could simply say, “See there, you can’t hold on forever. Eventually you have to let go and allow the next generation to assume the leadership roles.” This is probably true. Well, undoubtedly it is, as eventually the former generation will pass away, either to “rest with their fathers” or to be “taken up by a whirlwind”. In any case, you can’t take it with you, and you can’t stay here.

In the text, we see that more is going on that simply Elijah needing to let go. To fully appreciate it, we need to back up a few chapters into the preceding book, specifically 1 Kings 19. There we find Elijah reach the pinnacle of his prophetic ministry, and then shortly after he begins to struggle with fear and doubt. His work will draw to a close. As John the Baptizer said generations later of Jesus, “I must decrease so that he can increase.” It is like the fade-out / fade-in between songs on the radio or scenes in a movie. For a brief time you can hear or see both – there is a merging and comingling of elements. As one builds in strength and power the other declines until the former is gone and only the new remains. Our text today marks the end of that liminal transition phase between one and the other.

In 1 Kings 19, the LORD directed Elijah to anoint Elisha as his prophetic successor, which he does with no fanfare or ceremony. Elijah simply strides past and tosses his own mantle across Elisha’s shoulders and keeps walking. When Elisha comes to inquire, he is sent packing with the abrupt words, “What have I done to you?” In other words, “Listen, kid. I did what God asked, so now leave me alone. I don’t know what God will do with you, but I have work to do.” Instead, Elisha slaughters his entire plow-pulling team of oxen (the foundation of his secular work), holds a BBQ for the community, and takes up the nomadic journey as assistant to Elisha. That’s it then. No turning back now.

Then, obviously skipping over important stories, we arrive at today’s text. The end is nigh, and everyone knows it. You can just tell sometimes, can’t you? Intuition, or the Spirit? When people are about to die their demeanor changes. This even happens with an animal like a beloved pet.  They may become anxious, but hopefully the reverse – shifting into a posture of deep calm. Resignation, not in terms of giving up the fight, but like a restless child finally sinking into the arms of a loving parent.

Elijah knows his time is short, and so do all the prophets. We see them repeatedly telling Elisha – “your master is leaving.” Each time the curt retort, “I know, shut up!” Why this response? Does he not want to think about it? Is he frustrated because they are stating the obvious? Does he take these pronouncements as an indication that these other prophets doubt Elisha’s ability to truly pick up where Elijah leaves off? We don’t know.

And Elijah for his part seems tense as well. Three times he tells his companion to remain behind while he travels on. Again, why? Does Elijah want to spare his young friend the trauma that may come? Does he simply want some time to himself, to prepare mentally and emotionally and spiritually, to be alone with God before the end?

This exchange between the two men mirrors that at the beginning of their relationship. Elijah is God’s agent, but God is really the actor here. God called Elijah, and chose Elisha to succeed him. God is the one who anoints for ministry, though he uses our hands and voices to accomplish it. And Elisha, for his part, is persistent, resisting the rebuffs and insistent that only one path can he follow.

What if Elijah’s push-back is a thoughtful and strategic move? Perhaps he is doing what we later see Jesus do repeatedly. In the church we often want to sugarcoat discipleship, making it as easy and painless as possible. The result is people who have a low level of commitment and a low threshold for pain. Not so with our two friends. Elijah challenges Elisha to fully commit, as Jesus does with the apostles, the rich young ruler, the Samaritan woman, and so many others.

I think the relationship between these two men does have something meaningful to tell us about the transitions happening in the church today. There is a passing of the mantle that will happen, whether we embrace or resist it.

  • God is the prime mover throughout. Everything we do at its very best is simply our acceptance, response, and participation in God’s unfolding work.
  • There is always someone who came before us. All of us are at some point the recipients of what others have built and passed on to us.
  • The transition takes place over an extended period, during which there is mutual learning, give and take, conversation, community, sharing in life and ministry together. Both are fully committed to the process. Leaving or quitting is not an option.
  • There is tension, on both sides. The ones who came before may become frustrated and resist the process at times. The new ones coming in need to be persistent. Likewise, the new ones may be frustrated with how slow change happens. The elders need to be patient with that youthful exuberance.
  • The old and the young, the Builders and the Millennials , the Elders and the Youth, the Institutionals and the Emergents – they make the journey together or not at all. Elisha walks all the way with Elijah, always honoring and respecting what his elder has done, what he represents and has to teach. Elijah allows Elisha to walk with him to the end, even crossing the river with him.
  • The next generation asks for and receives a blessing from their forebears.

Whatever the church will become in coming generations will be crippled unless we can learn these lessons. We need to find ways to embrace one another, young and old, even with the very real frustrations. The traditional, established and institutional church needs the new, young, creative, emerging and Missional church, and vice versa. The mantle will be passed, eventually. God willing, it will happen in a full embrace by all parties, with celebration and hope. If this happens, rather than a diminished spirit the next manifestations of the church will receive a double portion, will have twice the tangible impact and spiritual influence.

Nice House. Who Built It?

Listen to the audio here…

Before I begin, I want to offer a few words of gratitude and background.

First, thank you for welcoming me to your congregation and this pulpit. I appreciate the trust that Deb and Steve have shown along with the Elders of Central Christian church.

Second, I’ll let you know how much I have admired the varied ministries of this congregation, from your thoughtful integration of modern technology into a very traditional sanctuary and worship service, your engagement with the community through the dog park, community garden, theatre programs, nesting of a young congregation Spanish language congregation, ….

Lastly, I’ll note that Deb filled me in on some of the big decisions that you all are facing as a congregation. While these are challenging times for all churches, your particular decisions are quite striking. They really do significantly impact the long term direction of the congregation. Let me say at the outset that whatever decision you make, God can and will still continue to be at work in and through you wherever you find yourselves if you will humbly yield yourselves daily to seeking the Lord in all things. Beyond that, I would not presume to suggest which direction is preferable. Even before Deb shared this information, I was intending to preach from the Lectionary. How interested I was to find that two of the four texts make mention of the construction of places of worship. I invite you to be curious with me as to what these texts might have to offer you, and us together as part of the One Church, in the midst of this Emergent/Missional shift.

The importance of our houses: Do you notice the builder’s signs in the yards, or the ads in the newspaper or online and even on billboards? They are all around a growing city, in urban, exurban, suburban and rural communities. Whether it is a large national builder like David Weekly or a local one like M. Christopher, Bella Vita, or Robert Elliot, for many people the name brand recognition of the designer and builder matter. It has become like the brand of car we drive or the shirts and shoes we wear or purses that women carry. Who designed and made it matters. Certain names denote attention to detail and quality.

Even the archaeology research of prehistoric man suggests that we have, as a race, always cared about the places we lived, and have customized them beyond mere functionality. We have carved niches in cave walls to hold small figurines, and have painted murals to tell stories of what matters most to us in our life. It is no surprise then that when humans turn to creating other kinds of spaces for other purposes, they would follow the same practice. And the more important the story, the more significant in our lives the relationships, the more effort goes into the construction and decoration of these spaces. Often it is believed that the space not only tells the story, but literally impacts how we experience life in relationship.

And we are not the only creatures who carefully construct homes, nor the only ones who decorate them. After all, there is a reason we use the phrase “feather your nest” to describe bringing into a home items that offer comfort.

Only humans create worship spaces: While we are not the only creatures to carefully craft homes, we may be the only ones who feel the need to do the same for God. And this seems to be a universal human need found in all cultures among all races. David and Solomon felt this need to create a permanent worship place. The Jews in Israel and everywhere they went build synagogues out of this same desire. Even spiritualities that do not really “worship a god or gods” such as Buddhism still put wonderful creativity and effort into constructing houses of prayer and meditation. Spaces and places matter to us.

Our two texts for today, both of which actually are appointed lectionary texts, may have something to say about this topic. Let’s listen for the word of God in our Scripture Readings from  1 Kings 8:22-30 and Luke 7:1-10.

The Second Temple – From 1 Kings 8:20-30 – regarding Solomon’s Temple  – the first Jewish in Jerusalem.temple

If we go back in this story to 2 Samuel, we read about David’s desire to build a temple, and the Lord’s instruction that he should not, but that his son may build it. It is interesting to note that the LORD never commands that the temple be built. Rather, he permits that which the king desired to do. David is motivated both by a sense of guilt that he dwells in such a fine palace while God only gets a tent, as well as desire for pride among the neighboring nations with their gods. David, and Solomon after him, are interested both in doing something nice for another, as well as maintaining stature in the community – i.e. keeping up with the Joneses. Moses and the prophets us a similar argument with God when trying to persuade the LORD to save the people, basically asking, “What will the other nations say about you if you can’t even save your own people?”

And who built the Temple? From where did the craftmen and laborers come, along with the materials?  Hiram of Tyre was the lead metalworker. The timbers came from the cedars of Lebanon. The King of Tyre send the materials, along with laborers to join the Israelites and the Gebalites in the work of building the Temple. It was paid for with grain stores from Israel, but much of the work, and the artistry, were done by non-Jews.

And you may recall that Nebuchadnezar destroyed the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem (2Kings 24-25). 70 years later, Cyrus of Persia sent the Israelites home from Babylon, and he and Darius provide for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the construction of the Second Temple (Ezra). This time the wealth of Persia paid for the construction of the temple of the Jews in Jerusalem.

The Synagogue at Capernaum  – Now let’s shift forward and hear from Luke 7:1-10 – an account mentioning.synagogue

Obviously the focus of this story is the healing miracle that Jesus works in response to the faith of this unnamed centurion. Yet in the midst of that, given as a justification for why the citizens are so motivated to support the centurion’s request, this brief notice: “he built our synagogue.”

Wait a minute. Let’s back up. Capernaum is a provincial sea-side town, filled with fishermen and trades. It is a town where people go to and from the gentile territories of Gennesaret. That means the town is diverse in culture and religion – far more than a place like Nazareth, for instance. It is a happening place, a place to which people want to move.

Centurions were Roman citizens. This man was clearly wealthy enough to be a benefactor, and he had some kind of interest in helping the Jews. Perhaps he was like Cornelius of Caesarea about whom we read in Acts 10 when Peter goes to visit him, prompted by the Holy Spirit. There Cornelius is described as “a centurion of the Italian Cohort, as it was called. 2 He was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.” (Acts 10:1-2) Maybe our centurion of Capernaum from Luke 7 is a similar kind of fellow.

Tear down and rebuild: Where I live in Collin County, most of these homes are in new neighborhoods, where all the neighbors have the same builder. Here in the Park Cities areas, they are frequently tear down and rebuilds, where people pay up to a million dollars for a small house on a lot, only to destroy it and build a new one lot line to lot line. Interestingly enough, in studying the history of churches and synagogues, we find that this is often the case. A new structure will be built on the remains of the old one, raised either by war or natural disaster, or perhaps by forward looking planners who see opportunity and possibility where others only see heritage and legacy.

Have you ever had the experience of entering a restaurant, looking around, and walking out, simply because “it didn’t feel right”? The ambiance, the ‘vibe’ was all wrong. There is a homestyle restaurant chain here in the Metroplex that we love. We tried a new location several years ago. Very same food, but we will never go back because the space was awkward and uncomfortable. We never felt at ease. Why do they remodel a perfectly good restaurant or store space when it is not deteriorating in any way? Because our tastes and attitudes have changed, or because they are trying to reach a new demographic who is attracted to a different kind of atmosphere.

Let me review and highlight a few themes that I think arise from these texts:cccdt

1)    God does not dwell in buildings. Even Solomon understood and affirmed that. Buildings are tools that serve our need, not God’s. God often says yes to our buildings, sometimes God says no or not now or not here. Ultimately, the buildings are for us, not for God, no matter what we tell ourselves.

2)    Houses of worship have often been designed and built by people who did not worship in them. They have even frequently been funded by those people, as in the case of the second temple in Jerusalem and the synagogue at Capernaum.

3)    Nothing is permanent. Nothing lasts forever. Rebuilding and starting over are common themes related to these worship spaces. In the case of both the temple and the synagogue, multiple structures were built over the centuries, with the previous ones being destroyed or dismantled, and the materials repurposed.

4)    The worshipping community always finds a way. The absence of a “place” may have temporarily disrupted but never eclipsed the people of faith.

5)    And one final thing, that you all have demonstrated time and again, and that is also found in both texts. The work of God is not contained within the walls of a building. Our buildings are hospitals and schools – places to heal and places to train. Both of these activities are ministry in themselves, but they serve the greater purpose of preparing us to go out, into our community and world, to proclaim in word and deed the Good News that in Jesus Christ we encounter the fullness of God’s redeeming and reconciling and all-consuming love.

Whatever you discern, I think it will probably be ok. Decisions open some doors and close others. David was not permitted to build the temple because he had too much blood on his hands from all the wars he fought. Yet had he not been victorious, Solomon would not have ruled a peaceful land where the Temple could finally be constructed. And be open to the miraculous ways that God might use others outside Central to help you fulfill whatever you and God set your hearts upon, so long as your intent is to honor God and build the Kingdom.

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OTHER NOTES:  This Sunday, July 2nd at 11am I’ll be preaching at Central Christian Church4711 Westside   Drive, in Dallas.

The scriptures for the sermon will be 1 Kings 8:22-30 and Luke 7:1-10. The Kings text templedepicts Solomon at the dedication of the Temple which he built for the LORD. The Luke text is actually a story about healing, with a surprising aside that the centurion featured actually built the synagogue in that community.

Churches over the last 150 years have taken on increasingly elaboratsynagoguee building complexes – think Prestonwood Baptist Church or even Lakewood in Houston. As our ministry has focused more on programming, we have built structures to accommodate this work. We are now moving deeply into an emerging/missional era of church history, where we hear God calling us out into the community away from our buildings and property, back to the streets, cities, and neighborhoods where we live.cccdt

What do these two texts from thousands of years ago tell us about their contemporary communities’ relationship to their religious buildings, and what might they say to us about our own property? What are your experiences of church property? How have facilities enabled ministry? How have they limited or hindered it?

Though I’m not going to address the politics, I am certainly mindful of the 2012 political conversation between the President and the Republican Party. He was trying to make the argument that even wealthy business owners who are “self-made” had immense help from various forms of infrastructure in our nation, from education to roads to utilities. The Republicans defended their view that in fact much of what they have they did build, with their own hard work, discipline, creativity, risk-taking, etc. What is true? BOTH! (Read more: http://politics.blogs.foxnews.com/2012/08/21/gop-convention-session-be-themed-we-built#ixzz2UpoDDPv3)

I introduced the theme of this sermon on a previous post: http://kengcrawford.com/2013/05/27/1st-sermon-in-4-months/

 

Phil Shepherd and Steve Knight interview on PowerFM 89.7

Check it out and share it with your friends
Jazzed to share the Phil Shepherd and Steve Knight interview on 89.7 PowerFM. This is a great overview of the wide variety of work they are doing, including Transform, The Euchatastrophe, SoGo Media, etc…

These guys and their friends are leading the progressive faith and spirituality conversation rooted in the historic Christian faith and reaching out into the world that is saturated by audio, video, online presence and social media. They are helping to bridge the gap between the modern 20th century attractional model of church and the postmodern missional models that are emerging in our communities and around the world.

In the interview Steve and Phil cover a wide range of important topics that demonstrate their role at the intersection of church, community and God – as Phil said, “Discovering and joining in the work that God is already doing in the world around us.”

Come to Brite Divinity School on April 5-6 to learn more about Missional and Emerging faith communities at TransForm Southwest.

Set your face – the meaning of Ash Wednesday and Lent

Ash Wednesday
“Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.”
A day of repentance. The beginning of Lent.
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Perhaps the real meaning of Lent is found in this passage from Luke 9:51-62. Lent is about us turning and setting our face toward the cross of Christ that he bore, and the one which he calls us to bear. Jesus’ harsh words in vs 62 may actually be self-talk. Perhaps he is drawing into his inner thought life, his prayer life, and acknowledging that from this point forward, the journey will not waver to left or right, at least not for him. All of the apostles will abandon him in the garden, even Peter who swore he would never desert Jesus (Mark 14).

The structure of Lent, with forty days bookended by Ashe Wednesday and Easter, is certainly reminiscent of Jesus’ baptism and 40 days of temptation in the wilderness (Mark 1:12-13). This harkens back to the periods of 40 found in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the story of the flood, it rained for 40 days and nights (Gen 7:12). Moses went on the mountain of the Lord for 40 days (Exodus 34:28). The spies, including Joshua and Caleb, spent 40 days spying out the Land of Canaan as the Lord instructed. When they returned with ten giving a bad report, the Israelites decided they would not go where the Lord was trying to lead them. And so God said that the Israelites would wander in the wilderness for forty years, one for every day spent spying the land. (Numbers 14) In fact, Moses’ life is marked by three periods of forty years – the first growing up as a prince of Egypt, the second in Midian tending his father-in-law’s flocks, and the third leading the Israelites toward the promised land. Forty signifies transformation, a shifting in way of life, a laying aside the old and taking up the new.

And that period of forty begins with one step. That is the point here. Ash Wednesday is that one step for us, the beginning of the journey of transformation for this year. It is worth noting that at his baptism Jesus did not set his face resolutely toward Jerusalem. He seemed to wander randomly from town to town, with intermittent trips to Jerusalem for the festivals, for three years.

The beginning of his earthly ministry was in a sense the start of his path to the cross. Even so, a second decision was needed. There came a time when all that he was doing and saying up to that moment would coalesce into one singular vision – the cross. The cross represents Jesus’ final confrontation with self-centered power. Ash Wednesday (as figured in Luke 9:51) represents the commitment to walk that road and not turn back.

Repentance is a turning from one posture and direction in life to another. Repentance from sin is turning from a life focused on serving only self to a life directed toward serving God first. Jesus himself received the baptism of repentance from his cousin John. What this means, at least in part, is that Jesus was repenting of – turning away from – his life as a carpenter focused on his family and community obligations in Nazareth. Instead, he turned his face, not specifically toward Jerusalem, but more broadly toward the ministry of the Messiah who came to proclaim in word and work the inrushing of the Reign of God.

As we begin this Lenten journey, may we join with all who have followed the Christ, turning once again away from a self-serving life and choosing instead a life that embraces all as we are embraced by God. We enter anew into a process of transformation. We recognize that the life we have been living does not work. We turn away from the destructive habits (behavior and thought patterns) that have shaped our lives. We set our faces toward the New Jerusalem – the City of God that is descending, even now, as God seeks to dwell in our midst and redeem and restore all things.