I ’VE BEEN THINKING, for some time, about today. About the sermon. What do I say on the final Sunday standing before you?
Sometime back I decided on this reading from 2 Kings. It seemed perfect. I, as a retiring pastor, pass the mantle. A mantle is something like a cape. Elijah, the prophet, had been Elisha’s hero. Elisha wanted to be like Elijah. So, as Elijah’s leadership ends, he leaves Elisha his cape to wear and he becomes a prophet.
It is like a younger player being left an older player’s jersey number. It’s something like a band director passing her baton to the new band teacher. A symbolic act noting a change in leadership.
It is the symbol of power and authority.
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ANYWAY, IT SEEMED LIKE a great idea. Pass the mantle. Pass the baton. Pass the power and authority to someone else. But then I ran into a problem. There’s no one to pass the mantle to.
For a time, Pastor Jody Beth will do the administrative duties and pastoral care and different people will preach on Sundays. Then, in a few months, an interim pastor will arrive for a time before a new pastor is installed.
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BUT THEN I HAD an epiphany, an “Aha!” moment. Elijah is not passing his mantle to Elisha. Elijah passes God’s authority to Elisha. It’s not my mantle to pass along. It’s not my authority to bestow on someone else. It is God’s mantle, and I am not Elijah.
If anything, you are Elijah. This congregation holds God’s authority in trust. Under God’s guidance you lend it to your pastors. Faith in Jesus Christ has been passed from generation to generation of people who have and who now worship at Swift Presbyterian Church.
Whatever power, whatever authority, I have had here, you have lent to me on God’s behalf.
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I PREACHED MY FIRST sermon here on Aug. 3, 2008, but it was later that year when I was officially installed as your pastor. It was then that you formally accepted me as your pastor. It was on that day, with members of the presbytery, that you passed to me God’s authority to guide you as I try to follow Christ.
With a promise of love and support, you lent the sacred mantle to me. And I have been grateful for God’s trust in you and in me.
I give thanks for the life we have shared in Christ. I have found our time together rewarding and memories of what we have shared will always remain precious and meaningful.
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(The following portion is based on “A Litany for the Closure of a Ministry,” pg 75–76 in Saying Goodbye by Edward A. White, 1990.)
YOU HAVE ALLOWED ME to share the responsibilities of the ordained ministry in your midst. At the celebration of our ministry beginning, you presented me with words of affirmation and promise and passed the mantle of leadership to me. The time has come for me to move on.
Today, I return to you that you have lent me for you to hold in safe keeping until God guides you to lend it to another pastor.
I have tried to proclaim the Word of God faithfully among you. Here is the Bible, which expresses this.
I have shared, through God’s grace, in bringing some through the water of new creation into birth into the Body of Christ by holy baptism. Here is water, which symbolizes God’s gift of belonging in Christ.
Bread and grape juice are the means by which we offer ourselves to be transformed into the sacramental Body of Christ.
Prayer, both individual and corporate, is the means by which our relationship with God grows, deepens, and strengthens. Here is the Book of Common Worship.
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HAVING RESTORED TO YOU the signs of office which you granted me, it’s time for me to go. I won’t be whisked away in a whirlwind, riding a chariot of fire, and escorted into heaven. I’ll just load up the Ford and head over to 900 N. Holly Blvd.
I ask one last thing: In your love and commitment, send me forth with a “going away” blessing. It’s printed in the bulletin:
Unto God’s gracious mercy we commit you.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.
The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and give you peace both this day and forever more. Amen.