2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
What have you inherited from your parents or grandparents?
When I think about an inheritance, I first think of money – a bequest left in a will. When my grandfather died last year at the age of 102, I was pleased to see that he gave generously to the church and its mission (both before he died and in his planned giving). But he also included gifts for his children and grandchildren, and each of us will have a little more security and confidence in the future because of that inheritance that we received.
But we often inherit much more than money, or other things besides money. Perhaps some of you inherited something like a house or a car or a cabin when one of your relatives died. And there may be smaller things too, sometimes with less monetary value but more sentimental value. Maybe you inherited a piece of furniture, a set of teacups, or a special piece of artwork. Maybe you inherited all your grandmother’s photo albums or your uncle’s research about your family history.
Through these kinds of inheritances, our loved ones live on in a way. We think about their lives whenever we sit down to work at that beautiful old wooden desk, and we are flooded with memories each Spring when we open up the family cottage passed on to our generation.
If we think about it, though, very often our inheritances include more than money and more than stuff. Indeed, even if our parents die with seemingly nothing to pass on to us, we receive an inheritance none the less.
My Dad’s still alive, but I know I’ve already inherited his tendency towards wearing his heart on his sleeve. He’s the reason why my voice shakes sometimes, and I struggle to go on when praying for hurting people or proclaiming the amazing grace of God for those in need. I got that from my Dad, and that’s okay, I guess.
You may have inherited a wacky sense of humour, a gift for decorating, a head for numbers, a tendency to be running late, a love for the great outdoors, or the gift of musical talent.
You may have inherited a particular laugh, a way of walking, a tendency to use certain expressions, or a favourite meal that brings you comfort in difficult times.
For many of us, the gift of faith is also a part of our inheritance. It may be our parents or grandparents who first brought us to church, and it may have been family members who showed us what the Christian faith looks like in the ways they lived, worked, and served others day-by-day and year-by-year.
And even if it wasn’t your biological ancestors who passed on the gift of faith to you, you received it from someone (or several someones, your Christian ancestors) who tried to live by God’s Word and to share the good news of Jesus with the coming generations.
It seems to me that we do have a choice about this inheritance that we are offered. We can receive it, or we can say “no thanks.” That’s why no one here should be beating themselves up if your children haven’t chosen to receive the gift of faith that you tried to bequeath to them.
It was some years ago, when Nick and I were out in BC visiting his parents that his mother asked if I would like to have her collection of silver when she died. It included some pieces that she had bought herself I believe, but most of it was passed on from her own mother.
As the newest daughter-in-law, I was the last one she asked. All the other four had already declined, so I was her last hope of passing it along. I did think about it carefully, but I also ended up saying “No thank you.” I didn’t want to take on the work of caring for it, and I couldn’t really imagine using it. I’d have to store it somewhere, and I have too many things already!
It was a different story for Elisha and his mentor and father-figure, Elijah. In our text from 2 Kings 2 today, Elisha spends the last days of Elijah’s life walking with him and accompanying him as he prepares for death. The older prophet was his friend, his inspiration, and his teacher, and I imagine that he was struggling with the idea of going on with life and ministry without him.
Before he dies, Elijah pauses to offer Elisha one last gift. He asks, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha responds, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”
He doesn’t ask for money, or property, and mementos with which to remember Elijah. I don’t expect Elijah would have had any of those things to leave him anyway. But he wants to inherit Elijah’s spirit.
We can only guess at what he meant by that. He may have wanted Elijah’s power to perform miracles and to call on God to help him in tough situations. He may also have wanted Elijah’s strong determination, his faith in the love and power of God, and his loving heart for God’s people.
After Elijah is taken up, the story confirms that Elisha does indeed receive what he asked for. It’s demonstrated in his ability to part the waters of the Jordan River just as Elijah had done before. But if we keep reading through 2nd Kings, we’ll see that Elisha continues Elijah’s ministry with great power and love – healing and helping and showing God’s presence in many miraculous ways.
Elisha received that good inheritance, and he made good use of it too. And there’s a lot to be said for that because it’s not easy to be called, and gifted, and sent out on a mission for God.
That becomes abundantly clear in this morning’s reading from the Gospel of Luke. There, Jesus’ first disciples have been sent ahead of him into the towns and villages where he will soon be going. They enter a Samaritan village, but don’t get welcomed very well. And James and John suggest that they could use their power to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume” the Samaritans.
Wow! Can you believe that? I’m a bit surprised that the disciples even think they have the power to do that sort of thing. But Jesus has done some powerful miracles, so I guess they think they’ve received some power from him.
Of course, Jesus rebukes them, and sends them along to another village. Because the power we have inherited, the Spirit we have received, is not any kind of power to destroy our enemies, but it is the power to do good, the power to have mercy, and the power to show love.
The disciples have actually inherited a way of life from Jesus, and it’s not a way that comes with a lot of perks and pleasures. It’s a way that demands a lot from them, asking that they leave behind families and friends and security and stability in order to engage in a risky and difficult mission. It doesn’t come with a lot of glory, and sometimes it comes with failure too, but they are to wipe the dust off their feet and keep going where Jesus will send them next.
The fifth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Church at Galatia makes a similar point. There is no doubt that these early Christians have received the gift of the Spirit at their baptism, but living by the Spirit is the necessary next step.
If I inherit my mother-in-law’s silver, I need to take care of it and use it to offer hospitality to others. If you inherit your father’s motorcycle, you need to keep it in good repair and ride it. And that means making different choices for what to do with our time, our money, and our efforts.
If we have inherited the gift of faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we need to live by the Spirit – let it guide and encourage and help us in our daily lives. Otherwise, it’s as if we received it and stored it in a box in the attic!
The Spirit as an inheritance is both a good and a challenging gift. It requires much of us, but it also blesses us in amazing ways and makes our lives a blessing to others.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Let us give thanks for our inheritance, and live by the Spirit today and always.