The Law of Divine Succession

Photo credit: <a href="">Vicente Villamón</a>

2 Kings 2:1-12

When God was ready to transport Elijah to heaven in a tornado, Elijah and Elisha were leaving the Circle of Stones. Elijah said to Elisha, “You stay here. God’s calling me to God’s house.”

But Elisha said, “God help me if I ever leave your side as long as you live.”

So off they went, down toward God’s house. The truth-tellers from God’s house came up to meet them, and said to Elisha, “Do you know that today is the day God is going to take Elijah away from you?”

Elisha said, “Yes, I know. You don’t need to tell me.”

Elijah said to him, “Stay here. God is calling me to Palm City.”

But Elisha said, “God help me if I ever leave your side as long as you live.”

So, on they went, and fifty of the truth-tellers went along with them, following at a distance. When they reached the Jordan River, Elijah rolled up his cape and struck the water. The water parted, as if in a pile on both sides, and they crossed over on dry ground.

Once they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “What do you want me to do for you before I am taken away from you?”

Elisha said, “Let me inherit your spirit, only twice as much.”

You’ve asked for a hard thing,” Elijah said. “But if you see me as I am taken from you, it will be so. Otherwise, not.”

They continued to walk along, deep in conversation, and as they walked a fire in the shape of a chariot and horses separated them, and a tornado came and swept Elijah away into heaven. Elisha watched the whole thing, crying, “Father, the chariots and charioteers of Israel! Father!”

Then, when it was over and Elijah gone from sight, Elisha took hold of his clothes and tore them in two.

A great prophet gets swept away by a tornado and another even greater prophet takes his place. It’s a story of succession, complete with fifty eyewitnesses to vouch for the new leader of the movement.

The prophets were, and still are, a resistance movement. They were and are the ones who dare to tell the people in power what they don’t want to hear. As such, the lines of succession don’t follow the same patterns as the politics and economics the movement stands against.

In spite of all Elijah’s miracles, Elijah never had any politically actionable power. Kings came and went with all the dynastic intrigue and politics that goes along with rulers of nations. Kings and political rulers rise and fall with assassinations and plots and coups. Economic power flowed (and still flows) along family lines.

The leadership of the opposition movement that stands against those in power and wealth, goes to the one who understands the spirit of the movement. When one truth-teller is swept away in the whirlwind of events, there is no telling where the next one will arise. There is only the certainty that one will. Conversely, you can be pretty sure that a movement has devolved into a political party when its leadership is determined by dynastic considerations, or even (gasp!) votes.

Are You a Leader or a Shepherd?

shepherd with three sheep
Photo credit: <a href="">Feliciano Guimarães</a>

Mark 6:30-34

The apostles came back to Jesus and reported what they’d said and done, but so many people were coming and going that they had no time even for a lunch break. So Jesus said to the apostles, “Come by yourselves, and let’s find someplace without all these people to rest.”

They left in a boat to find someplace out of the way, but when the people saw them leaving, they figured out what they were up to and ran ahead from the cities to arrive before them. When Jesus arrived and saw how large a crowd had gathered, he felt for them. They were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began to teach them all kinds of things.

People today are still like sheep without a shepherd. All Jesus did was to recognize and identify with (feel for) their search for meaning.

Notice that it doesn’t say, people were without leaders. They had plenty of those. They had political leaders (Herod). They had religious leaders (Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes). But they didn’t have shepherds. Which is to say, they didn’t have anyone who cared for them.

The truth is, people tend to want to know, What’s in it for me? How does this affect me? How is it relevant to me? You can call it selfish, or you can call it human nature. Jesus didn’t call it either of those things, though. He called it needing to be cared for.

People still have plenty of leaders. We call them politicians, CEOs, Directors, Pastors. Anybody can be a leader, but you can only start to teach the people you’re leading “all kinds of things” when you really care, not just about your goals for whatever movement you’re trying to lead, but for them.

Are You Apostle Material?

People ascending a mountain
Photo credit: <a href="">Edwin Lee</a>

Mark 3:13-19

He went up the mountain and called the people he wanted, and when they came to him he appointed twelve of them whom he named apostles. Their job: to be with him, and to go out spreading the message. And he authorized them to banish evil.

So the following twelve were appointed:

  1. Simon (who he called Peter)
  2. Jim Zebedee
  3. John Zebedee (the two of whom he called the blowhards)
  4. Andy
  5. Philip
  6. Bart
  7. Matt
  8. Tom
  9. Jim Alphaeus
  10. Thad
  11. Simon (the heathen), and
  12. Judas Iscariot (who sold him out).

[See also Matthew’s list of the 12 disciples.]

Mark’s gospel distinguishes between disciples and apostles.

Disciples, or students, or perhaps even fans followed. They could come and go according to their own time and inclination.

But apostles became responsible for keeping the movement going.

Both disciples and apostles are necessary in any movement, but the difference is in the level of commitment. If a disciple stops being a disciple, the movement will still go on. If an apostle stops, the whole project is in jeopardy.

Notice that the apostle’s job description, so far as Jesus’ movement is concerned, has two obligations, to be with him and to spread the message, and one objective, to banish evil. And each of these can be transferred into any movement of any consequence.

  1. Apostles need to be close enough to the center of the movement that they know and absorb its character and strategies. If there is any question of what the movement is about, they need to know the answer and be able to act on that answer implicitly.
  2. Apostles need to get the message out. This is not the same as converting or proselytizing. But they’re responsible for PR. And they have to believe in and be committed to the project to do convincing PR.
  3. The objective is to set people free from whatever is keeping them from reaching their full human potential. For Jesus, and the apostles, this was a personal matter. As much as the systemic issues of injustice need to be addressed, Jesus knew that those systems were and are run by real persons, with real issues that need to be dealt with in personal ways. Free the persons who are caught up in the system, and the system begins to fall apart.

Every movement, every project, every community, every church, and every other kind of business needs apostles. Does your movement have them? Are you one of them?

Inspiration Trumps Command

Information Sign
Photo Credit: James LeVeque

1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

Friends, we want you to respect your hard-working leaders when they tell you what to do, and not only to respect but love them. And no fighting amongst yourselves – put the troublemakers on notice. Cheer the depressed and help the weak. Be patient with them. No tit-for-tat. Scratch each other’s backs. Be joyful. Pray. Be grateful. God wants you to be grateful. Don’t be a wet blanket on the fires of enthusiasm for God, but check everything carefully, keeping the good, rejecting the evil.

Hugh MacLeod drew a cartoon a few weeks ago about the leader who demands to be loved. Hugh says, “There’s something very funny and slightly tragic about a guy who tries very hard to command respect, but fails miserably.” Because you can’t command respect, let alone love. You can only earn it. And it’s something that has to be continually re-earned in every interaction.

And, though Hugh was referring to corporate culture, the same is true in your family, in your church, in your bridge club. Wherever. People are people. They’re not yours to command, even if they are your employees, your children, your spouse, your volunteers, your clients, your parishioners, or your committee members. You can’t make them like you. You can’t by your command make them be joyful. You can’t make them pray. You can’t keep them from fighting with each other. You can’t make them be grateful.

What you can do is command yourself. You can find your own reason to be joyful, or grateful, or both. You can unilaterally unplug from the argument. You can voice your own respect for someone else. You can tell someone you love them. You can pray. You can do this yourself. Not because by doing so you will somehow begin to command anyone else to follow your example. But because, strangely enough, when you focus on yourself and what you can do, you’re just a little more inspiring for those who are inclined to.