Based on 2Kings 2:1-14, Galatians 5:13-25, Luke 9:51-62
Does anyone know where the word, mentor, originated? If you guessed that it comes from a character of that same name in Homer’s “Odyssey” you would be correct. Also, if you guessed that you should probably try out for the game show, Jeopardy! Mentor was the trusted companion of Odysseus who stayed behind in Ithaca to teach Telemachus, Odysseus’ son how to become a king. Our current understanding of the word as someone who teaches and guides younger people comes from a man named Fenelon in the 18th century. Have you ever had a mentor? Maybe in school, while learning a job, profession, or some skilled trade? How about a spiritual mentor – one who has guided you while you explored your spiritual self? Take a moment and recall what it is that you most remember about your mentor, the relationship and how it formed you in some significant way.
What was it that was special about your mentor or mentors, spiritual or otherwise? Did they make the impossible seem attainable? Did they make the impenetrable seem more accessible? Did they throw light into the darkness and give you an epiphany that informed your subsequent life and actions? Did they open their lives to you and offer you a deep relationship that was based on something that only they could see in you – some gift that would only become visible to your mind long after you left that mentoring relationship? Whatever it was that this person or these persons gave to you was seminal and life-altering in its wisdom and its impact. The way that you walked through life before and after their intervention are like night and day.
Our Bible verses today point us to the mentoring activities of Elijah to Elisha, Jesus to would-be disciples, the Apostle Paul to all who read his letters. These spiritual mentors seek to fulfill the requirements of teaching and guiding those who would come after them. In one case the mentoring is very hard and blunt truths are shared. In another, the mentor seeks to shield his protégé from the sorrow of his departure. In the last, the guidance is quite reality-based and filled with knowledge of the human condition; offering a clear-cut choice for our spiritual and earthly lives. Let us turn to God now and seek the mentorship of our greatest guide and teacher…
Paul is finishing his letter to the believers in Galatia. Earlier in this Chapter he has tried to mentor those who believed they had to become circumcised in order to be part of “the Way”. Paul teaches once again that in the freedom of the Christ “…the only thing that counts is faith working (or made effective) in love….” Paul teaches that we are to live free in the Spirit which the Christ sent to all of us in our baptism and avoid those temptations of the world (Paul uses the term “flesh” here). The freedom of Christ, Paul mentors us, is that the worldly temptations have “been crucified” and thus should be dead to us, freeing to choose to be guided by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus gives a tough mentoring lesson today – very abrupt and blunt. He has “set his face to go to Jerusalem” and he is not going to let anything get in his way. This is a post-Transfiguration story in Luke, and Jesus has thus been revealed as the Christ to Peter, James and John. Here he is living out of that reality as he interacts with towns and peoples. Sometimes the teaching of mentors needs to be blunt in order to get our attention. Time was running short for Jesus and he needed the people around him to begin to understand that they would soon be without his teaching and guiding and that made him speak more plainly and directly than he usually did.
Time is short for Elijah too. Right after last week’s reading from 1Kings, Elijah anoints Elisha to be prophet after him. After a short time as his mentee, Elisha is now with Elijah as the latter moves toward the LORD. Elijah tries to leave Elisha behind, but the young prophet will not leave him. Finally, Elijah asks what final thing he might do for Elisha before he is taken up into heaven. Elisha, knowing he has huge prophetic shoes to fill asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah, knowing what a hard life it is to be God’s prophet leaves the granting of that request up to God.
Elijah, Jesus and Paul were all spiritual mentors to persons who were new to the faith. While the needs of those new to the faith are different than those who have a faith that is more established and possibly tested by life’ slings and arrows, there is important learning for all in these passages. Elijah is a battle tested veteran of multiple kings and situations. He has been the voice of God for many years and he has taught that divine moral law should be the standard for living and that breaking these laws results in significant consequences. In fact, consequences of multiple kings’ failure to follow God’s commandments resulted in their demise. Elijah knows that Elisha will meet the same issues and so understands that Elisha is indeed in need of a double portion of the spirit that has inhabited him.
Likewise, both Jesus and Paul know that those who choose to follow will endure difficult times because of their beliefs. Jesus is heading toward the showdown with the Temple leadership – not unlike Elijah’s showdown with Ahab and Jezebel. He knows that he doesn’t have much time left and needs to try to mentor his disciples as much as possible. He has taught them that they need to look at the world differently in the passages before our reading today. Those that feel called might wish to keep one foot in their current lives and one on the divine path – and that will not result in effective discipleship. Likewise, Paul is teaching about the need to give up the old worldly ways and live fruitfully in and through the mentoring of the Spirit. Loving each other enough to “become slaves to one another” is the rule of this kind of life. Paul mentors that life in the Spirit is not lived to gratify worldly desires but is lived to gratify the Christ. These are strong spiritual mentorship teachings for us to pay attention to in our lives.
I first began to think seriously about spiritual mentors and their role in my life about 20 years ago when I read the book, “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom. I had been in practice as a pharmacist for 13 years (10 of which were in intensive care units), had mentored younger pharmacists, had begun and was running a successful consulting business, and had two small adopted boys. With all that was going I was also getting more involved in my church with a program called “Stephen Ministry”. Taking on a leadership role in the Stephen Ministry program meant that I needed to become more intentional about my own spiritual development so that I could lead other laity in their caring relationships. Enter “Tuesdays with Morrie” and the window that it opened on spiritual mentoring.
Some of you probably remember the story…the author had a great relationship with a Sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz. Though he promises to keep in touch following college graduation, life gets in the way of good intentions. Years later, Mitch sees Morrie being interviewed by Ted Koppel on TV. This stimulates Mitch and Morrie to reconnect and to have their relationship continue every Tuesday for a few months while Morrie is dying of ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease). They speak of the state of the world and the common cultural norms, life regrets, fear of aging and death, and the need for forgiveness. There is also a theme of gratitude for all that one has in life with family, friends, job, and a view beyond oneself. Morrie mentors Mitch that he needs to create a personal culture that is opposite popular culture’s greed, superficiality and self-centeredness with one of love, acceptance/forgiveness and the view that most humans are intrinsically good and are trying their best each day. Sounds a lot like the spiritual mentorship that we have from our readings today. Paul puts a fine-point on spiritual mentorship when he writes, “…Live by the Spirit, I say, do not gratify the desires of the world (flesh)….” Like Morrie, he teaches to avoid the things of popular culture and focus instead on becoming fruitful in the Spirit which is characterized by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”. Spiritual mentors help us to see the world and ourselves as God would like it to be. Wouldn’t the world be a better place, in fact, wouldn’t the kingdom of God be realized on earth if we all followed the guidance of these spiritual mentors and lived fully into their teaching? Let each of us seek to follow the guidance our spiritual mentors. Amen and amen!