Whose Spiritual Mantle Will You Inherit?

Sermon preached on 30 June 2019

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Just the other week I was chatting with someone who asked me where I had studied.

I told them that I had read Divinity at the University of St Andrews.

Straightaway, the question came back – “Oh, whilst you were there, did you have a Chariots of Fire moment on the beach?”

For those who don’t know, Chariots of Fire was a huge film in the 1980s. A story based around the 1924 Olympic Games, which famously opens with a group of runners running along the West Sands in St Andrews.

An iconic moment.

These are the fastest, fittest men in the world.

Easy to see how I could be mistaken for them running along a beach.

The film title, I think was inspired by that bit of Blake’s poem Jerusalem:

Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold:
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

But originally, of course, it comes from the second book of Kings and the reading that we heard this morning.

Elijah and Elisha are preparing to part at the end of Elijah’s life. And as they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.

It is one of those biblical images that is so vivid but which probably works better on the radio rather than on the television. Better in the oral tradition than something that we might try to capture in a picture.

As the two prophets walk and talk they have their own chariot of fire moment.

The elder Elijah asks what he can do for Elisha and Elisha says he wants to inherit a double share of Elijah’s spirit.

Not a bad thing to hanker after I think.

As we reflect this morning, I’d like you to just hold Elijah and Elisha in your minds.

One of them will soon take over. Pick up the mantle and carry on.

And thinking about them I want to say something about leadership – spiritual leadership to be sure, but it is worth thinking about how leaders operate in general sometimes too.

It is no secret that this diocese has been struggling to find a new bishop. The second round of the election process has not resulted in an election and we are now moving to round three, where the other bishops become the electorate.

There is considerable angst about what kind of person we will get and whether or not they match up to what we want.

I think that leadership is particularly difficult in the modern age.

Someone said to me recently that they really want the bishops of the church to take a firm lead and say what they mean and implement procedures clearly and decisively.

The same person then went on to say that whenever the bishops have done this, they have made precisely the wrong decision and should have done nothing at all.

This is the paradox of leadership in our current age. People want firm leadership. However, everyone expects to have an opinion and expects that opinion to be adhered to and if it isn’t, oh how easy it is to vent one’s spleen online and oh how quickly rage ensues.

Who would be a leader in such circumstances?

And what qualities does a leader need?


It may be my particular involvement in the discernment process to try to find a new bishop for Glasgow and Galloway that makes me a little weary of the search. But I do know I’m getting tired of being asked what kind of bishop I want.

Indeed, I find it rather more inspiring to think about whose mantle we should be picking up. Whose spiritual inheritance should we be claiming, with the audacious demand that we inherit a double portion?

Those from the bibilical tradition? – Elijah who could call down fire from heaven, Peter (whose feast day falls this weekend) who managed to be forgiven for more than most people, Mary whose Magnificat still inspires us daily.

Those who have campaigned for justice for people of all races? – Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Nelson Mandela

The Stonewall rioters and those who came after them demanding equality for LGBT people?

Or the new generation who have worked and are working to stem climate change like Greta Thunberg?

As we think about Elijah and Elisha walking and talking before Elijah is wheeked away to heaven, can we have a wee chariots of fire moment and think about what spiritual leadership looks like.

The biblical tradition seems to have a lot to say about those who can see what is coming over the horizon. Visionaries, prophets, bringers of change.

The uncomfortable saints who are easier to deal with in stained glass than in the flesh.

Leadership needs to look different in the modern age to the way it looked in the past. More collaborative. Less dictatorial. More about encouraging people to work together than forging out as a one person band. With a greater ability to listen and be seen to listen and consult than has ever been the case before.

We seem to have a bit of trouble moving to a new paradigm for leadership in all areas of life including the very troubled political sphere.

So it is worth thinking about where we each get our motivation and encouragement from. Who inspires us? Who motivates us? Who encourages us?

Answering those questions will probably take us some way in working out what kind of leadership will be effective either in the church or in the rest of life.

So as Elijah and Elisha walk and talk before the chariot of fire arrives, I simply ask you to think about that question today.

Whose mantle do you wish to pick up?

From whose spiritual tradition do you wish to inherit double?

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


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