Creative Commons Image by Wellington College on Flickr.
One of my favorite confirmation texts is the story of Elisha succeeding Elijah in 2 Kings.
The story reminds me of when we brought our first child home from the hospital. We couldn’t believe that we were taking him out the hospital door. Nobody stopped us! They let us walk out to the car with a tiny, helpless little person, and take him home where there was nobody who had a clue what they were doing.
Our thought was: We don’t know anything about babies! You’re just going to walk away and leave us to carry on? We ought to report you to social services for child neglect.
In this story from Kings, Elijah is the expert professional. He has been a stable guiding presence for the people of Israel for many years. He’s the guy, who knows what he’s doing, who holds it all together.
But that’s about to change. Elijah is about to bow out. He’s passing on the torch to the next in line, his protégé, Elisha. What he is entrusting to Elisha is far more overwhelming than one little baby. He is sending him home with the nation of Israel in his back seat.
Elisha’s reaction: Me? I’m going to be in charge? Are you crazy? How can you be so irresponsible to give this job to me? I don’t know what I’m doing.
However, Elijah does not leave Elisha high and dry. “What can I do for you before I am taken from you?” he asks.
I’m guessing a list of about 1,000 things flashes through Elisha’s mind. But he narrows it down to the most important thing that anyone can leave to a successor:
“Please let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”
Elisha has hit the nail on the head. God never leaves us alone in this world to carry on by ourselves. We are blessed with the spirit of those who went before us. That is what drives us to the future.
We find in life that, ignorant as we are, we can raise children because we carry the spirit of those who went before us, who raised and nurtured us, and that spirit is what guides us on our way.
The spirit of those who went before us shines so brightly that we can find our way, no matter how bumbling or inept we may be. In times of transition, the best thing to ask for is a double portion of the spirit of those who have gone before us.
Here’s what I think a preacher can transfer from this story of Elijah to confirmation students:
This is your story today. For you, it may not be as sudden or dramatic. No one is asking you to start running the church tomorrow. It is a gradual process that sneaks up on you, but that day will be here before you know it.
Confirmation is the day when you first answer God’s call to be one of the people who brings the light of Christ into the world. Look around at this congregation that brings the light of Christ into this community. Look around at the entire communion of saints that carries the light of Christ to every people and nation in the world. This is what is being turned over to you.
Most of those in the congregation have been where you are now. They probably felt at that time that what they did didn’t matter a whole lot. That older people were in charge. But time goes on, transitions happen. One day they looked around and said, “Hey, we’re the ones in charge now. Those who brought the light to us have gone on; we’re the ones who need to step forward and bring the light into the world.”
In confirmation, you are promising to be a part of this. There will come a time, sooner than you can imagine, when someone will be needed to carry the light of the love of God into the world. What you are saying today is I am ready to be that person.
You may not feel ready for all that responsibility. Here’s a little secret. None of us felt ready. Although we may look confident and sure of ourselves, when it’s our turn to carry the light into the room, none of us feels ready.
But the people of God always take up the mantle, no matter who drops it. They always carry on because they are filled with the spirit of those who went before them.
When you kneel at the communion rail today, ask God for a double measure of the spirit of those who have worn these white robes before you. Ask for a double measure of the spirit of those parents and grandparents and baptismal sponsors and Sunday school teachers who have carried the light for you for so long. Ask God for a double measure of the spirit of all those who have shaped your life in a good way: from the prophets of old, to the disciples and apostles, to anyone who has shown you the love of God in your life.
Let the spirit of Jesus and the spirit of all those who went before you live in you, and you will have no trouble stepping up and carrying the light forward.