Passing The Mantle

As much as Sunday (3/21) was an awe inspiring kind of day, it followed a really tough day: Saturday, 3/20/2010.

Saturday was the memorial service for the Rev. Dick Burns not far from here in DuBois. I’ve known Dick for about 2 decades, but really started to get to know him well when I was appointed in the DuBois area in 2003.

Being a United Methodist pastor who moves around as part of my ‘job’ means that we don’t get to be near the relatives much. So when we moved here, Dick took our daughter Sarah under his wing and she worked occasionally at the barn with him and the horses. When we dedicated our newborn son in November, it was Dick that we stood before, offering ourselves and our son to Almighty God for Him to lead and guide us as parents and asking for God’s blessing upon our Josh. One of our prized pictures is of Dick lifting Josh up before God in prayer.

He’s preached in our churches. We’ve fellowshipped with he and his wife Wilma Jean over the years. He used to ride with me to Renewal Fellowship meetings from DuBois to wherever the meeting was that time. He was the one who sponsored me to be on the national board of the Aldersgate Renewal Ministries.

My daughter Michele, who was shocked that she actually knew someone with that big of an obituary in the paper, probably said it best the other day: “Dad, he was like a grandpa to me and Sarah.”

Yep. And like another dad-figure for me.

I sat in that funeral service and saw and heard what a great man he was from so many others’ point of view as well. And I walked away realizing that God still has A LOT to do in me. It’s hard not to compare yourself to someone as great as Dick was.

But there was only one Dick Burns. Truth is, I don’t want to be just like him. He had his own style and traits (and guffaws and snorts!). I could never be like Dick was in the physical. God made me differently.

But I do want the infilling and empowering of the Holy Spirit flowing in and through me like Dick experienced.

In the service, Pastor Doug Burns, Dick’s son, compared Dick to Elijah, and so many of us that he poured his life into were compared to Elisha. Elisha was given the chance to walk away and not follow Elijah to the very end. But by sticking with him, Elisha received the double portion of Elijah’s spirit.

Pastor John Zimmerman, Dick’s son-in-law and pastor of the Corry First UMC (where Dick once pastored), invited anyone there who wanted to be like Elisha and ask for a double portion to rise while Pastor John Seth prayed for that ‘passing of the mantle’ like Elisha saw so long ago.

Everyone stood!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Since last Saturday, I’ve been thinking and pondering that experience, their words, and my own reading of the Elijah/Elisha passage which culminates in 2 Kings 2. The truth is that Elijah was never the “coolest” prophet. He spoke harsh words when God gave him a harsh word to be given. He had his own struggles with depression. At the end, he kept claiming that God had sent him first to one place, then another, then a different city altogether. If any of those things were to happen today, our churches, and many of the fellow clergy themselves would deliberately seperate themselves from such a person who claimed he was led, in the big things and in the daily little things as well, by the Holy Spirit, by God Almighty.

Elijah clearly gave Elisha the chance to take the relaxed, easier way of serving God… and he would have been just as much a prophet if he had. He still would have been God’s man for his times.

But Elisha didn’t want to just settle for the comfortable, easily encountered, publically acceptable version of following God. He wanted to be 100% sold out for God, able to be moved by God’s Spirit wherever God wanted to lead him and wanted the “double blessing” of what Elijah had had.

Even as well as I knew Dick and as much as I appreciated him, I didn’t know him even a quarter as well as most of the people that were at Dick’s service of celebration that day. I can’t say if he ever felt any of those things like Elijah did. But I do know that most of us who claim to be Christians now-a-days try to avoid appearing like a ‘fanatic’ who is ‘led around’ by God’s Spirit. That’s weird or strange or ‘holy roller’ kind of stuff.

We would rather be like those 50 other prophets in training who were ‘orthodox’ or ‘ordinary’ in their pursuit of God. I’m sure they served God faithfully and had important ministries to God’s people.

But the young protege to Elijah wanted to build his ministry and service to God on the foundation his mentor had already laid.

I don’t know about others, but I pray that I can not only follow in Elijah and Dick Burns’ path, but also in Elisha’s. I want to know and experience the God who leads and guides in ‘normal, acceptable’ ways AND in the ‘non-traditional, Spirit-led moment-by-moment’ ways as well.

That’s the mantle I want to bear.

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