The Buddy System

Scripture: 2 Kings 2:1-12

One of the most enduring tropes in cinema, both on the big screen and in television, is the buddy film.  This is a constantly reoccurring dynamic.   It appears in cinematic classics like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, it fueled a whole genre of buddy cop movies like Lethal Weapon in the 1980’s and 1990s.  It has been the basis for beloved animation like Toy Story.  It  has also been the basis for countless sitcoms from the dynamic between Laverne and Shirley to the more modern pairing of Leonard and Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory.  In the most well established formula two people with either incredibly different backgrounds or almost conflicting personalities find themselves thrust together.  Often at the beginning the interaction between the two is adversarial, but through the course of the movie the two learn to coexist, before eventually learning to trust one another.  By the end they have become inseparable friends whose differences actually make them stronger together.

While the odd couple pairing is the most common and the most successful buddy dynamic found in forms of storytelling, it is not the only one.   An older one that still pops up is the sidekick.   This is where one character is the loyal friend who the more central character can always count.  This is the Robin to Batman, the Tonto to the Lone Ranger, or the Chewbacca to Han Solo.   Another pairing that shows up occasionally is the mentor and the apprentice.  Because I am a child of the 1980’s, in my mind one of the most prominent examples of this one is Mr. Miagai and Daniel from the Karate Kid.  Despite all of these different relationship dynamics, all of these pairings in the stories we enjoy, seem to arrive at the same point.  It does not matter the setting, the plot, or how big the special effects budget one of the primary points of all these buddy films is the power of friendship.  As cliché as it might be the real treasure seems to always be the friends made along the way.

Even if it is a well-worn trope, it must be one that resonates with us because buddy films are not going anywhere.   This morning’s scripture gives us a glimpse into the biblical version of this buddy dynamic.  It is somewhat confusing because their names of are so similar but Elijah and Elisha are a pairing that plays a major role in the events of the 1 and 2 Kings.  As we consider the buddy dynamic that might have existed between these two, I think we can find an element that we should make sure is part of our faith life.

Even though we tend to focus on biblical figures such as Jesus, Peter, John, or Paul.  Elijah might be a name that you are familiar with.  Elijah has some big miracles and familiar stories associated with him.   It was through Elijah that God proclaimed there would be a drought that lasted three years.   It was Elijah who got into a contest with the prophets of Baal, and to prove that God is the God in Israel, Elijah prayed and called down fire from the sky.  Elijah might also be familiar because he does get mentioned in the gospels.  In fact, when Jesus ask his disciples who do the people think he is, the disciples report that some think he is Elijah that has returned.  People thought this because as this morning’s scripture states Elijah did not die but was taken up into heaven.  This morning’s scripture contains more than Elijah being assumed into heaven, it also contains the passing of Elijah’s mantle to Elisha.

Even if you are not all that familiar with Elijah and Elisha this morning’s scripture does give us a decent idea of their relationship dynamic.  The bible does not give us enough detail about either man or their interactions to know if they were an odd couple at comedic odds, but this morning’s scripture does show that Elijah is the one in charge.   However, Elisha is not a mere sidekick.   In verse 9 right before Elijah is taken, Elisha ask for a double portion of this Spirit.  That is to say he wanted to carry on in Elijah’s footsteps.  Elisha was the protégé, the student of Elijah.   If we look backwards a little bit in the scripture we can see that is exactly why they came together in the first place.

If we flip back to 1 Kings 19 we can find Elijah in a pretty low place.  Fearing for his life, Elijah fled from Israel and into the wilderness.  In fleeing out of fear, Elijah realized that he showed the same lack of faith that the ancient Israelites showed after fleeing Israel and refusing to take the promise land.  Elijah felt like a failure and he felt alone.   It was while in this hurt and vulnerable mental state that God met Elijah on Mount Horeb.   God listens to Elijah’s complaints and lets Elijah know that he still has it what it takes to be a prophet, because God entrusts Elijah with three tasks.  One of those tasks is to recruit Elisha.  As 1 Kings 19:16 records, “anoint Elisha, son of Shaphat from Abel Mehola to succeed you as prophet.”

The very next story in 1 Kings is the calling of Elisha.  Elisha was apparently a farmer, and to show his commitment to this prophetic calling, Elisha slaughters his oxen and burns his farming equipment to cook the meat.  He made sure that he had nothing to come back to, so Elisha was fully committed to following Elijah wherever he went.   And then, frustratingly we do not get anything else.  The bible does not record the adventures of Elijah and Elisha.  The next time that Elisha shows up in the scripture was this morning’s reading.   Biblical scholars estimate that the time between Elisha was called and this morning’s scripture was about six years.  Given how committed Elisha was to this, it can be assumed that he did not follow Elijah around part time.  Six years is a lot of time to spend with someone.  Outside of this morning’s scripture we do not get any glimpses into how they interacted.  We do not know exactly what kind of buddy dynamic they had.  However, we might be able to make some educated guesses.

We do see from this morning’s scripture that Elisha showed a lot of commitment to Elijah.  He would not leave his side.  We also see that Elisha was committed to following after Elijah.   While hopefully after six years together they had developed enough trust in one another that their relationship was also a friendship, it is clear that they had a mentor relationship.  Elijah was the master and Elisha was the apprentice.   Even though Elijah said granting a double portion of his spirit, that is a large investment in continuing the prophetic ministry, is a difficult thing to ask it seems clear this is exactly what Elijah had been guiding his protégé towards.  If that is true, then Elijah ended up being an incredibly successful mentor.

This is because Elisha went on to be a dynamic prophet of God.  2 Kings records that Elisha performed a great number of miracles.  Remember, I mentioned that God gave Elijah three tasks to do, and one of those tasks was recruiting Elisha.  The other two tasks involved anointing two different kings.  This is a prophetic task that dated back to Samuel.  It was a way to show that the anointed individual was God’s choice for the throne even it deviated from the traditional succession.  Despite being given those tasks directly by God, Elijah never actually completed them, at least not directly.   It was Elisha who anointed these two men to be kings.  Elisha is the one who carried out the task, but Elijah played a role.  The way that Elijah completed the God given task was to teach, equip, and empower Elisha to be the one do it.

This is a pattern that we see repeated throughout the scripture.   Jesus mentored several people.  The book of Acts tells us that when Jesus went back to heaven the core of his followers numbered only about 150, but Jesus entrusted this movement to eleven people that he had invested in them.  Jesus completed the work of salvation on the cross, but he entrusted the mission of sharing this good news to others.  They were his witnesses to the ends of the earth, they made disciples in his name, and they changed the world forever.  In the same way, Paul was the apostle to the gentiles.  Three of the letters in the New Testament attributed to Paul are addressed to people he was mentoring to continue on in the work.  Two of these were addressed to Timothy.  In 2 Timothy Paul knows his time is short, he even writes in 2 Timothy 4:6-7: “the time for my departure is near.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”  Yet in the same chapter he also writes to Timothy: “I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season: correct, rebuke, and encourage.”

This pattern of passing on what we have learned and mentoring others in following God and sharing the good news is one that continued on passed the biblical record.   One of my favorite stories about this involves a man named Peter Boehler.  Peter was born in Germany in the 18th century.  Going against is father’s wishes he studied theology instead of medicine.  Also, instead of pursuing church service in the better established Lutheran church he was ordained in the Moravian church.  This off-shoot branch stressed the importance of Christian living.  Boehler had in mind to come to America as a missionary, and the process to get there had what ended up being a layover in England.  Through a mutual acquaintance Boehler met an English clergymen who had just gotten back from Savannah Georgia which is where Boehler was heading.   Boehler did not speak much English, and the Englishmen did not speak much German.  However, they found they could converse just fine in Latin.  On issues of theology they do not exactly see eye to eye, and so they debated each other all the time.  Despite having less formal education, less credentials, and being less-well-read than his English counterpart Boehler often is the one who came out on top of these exchanges.

Through their deep conversations these two became fast friends.  Their debates were not just academic though.  The English clergyman was in a low point in his life, and his long conversations with Boehler helped move him from to a deeper understanding of what it meant to be a Christian.   Boehler helped him move from understanding Christianity as a religion of doctrine and head knowledge and to one of the heart and living a life based in love.  It was Boehler who invited his English clergyman friend to a gathering of Moravians that met in London on Aldersgate Street. Somewhat reluctantly his friend, John Wesley, attended that gathering.  And it was there that Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed.  Peter Boehler had a profound impact on John Wesley.   Boehler’s influence led Wesley to emphasize an understanding of Christianity that focused on doing no harm, doing good, and staying in love with God.  It is fair to say without Peter Boehler’s friendship and influence in the life of John Wesley the Methodist movement that he started would have been a non-starter.  One of the reasons why we are here today is because Peter Boehler mentored John Wesley into a deeper faith.

Our faith, our walk with God, is not just meant to be between us and God.  We are supposed to pass on what we have learned so that those we mentor can grow beyond where we are.   I suppose the question this should really leave us with is, who are you mentoring?  To whom are you passing on what you have learned?   Who is your Elisha that you are investing in?   Now you might be tempted to think that you are not qualified and that you do not know enough, but that’s probably not true.  Remember, John Wesley was more academically accomplished than Peter Boehler, but Boehler could still teach Wesley a thing or two.  In the same way, you have knowledge and wisdom that you have gained.  Your faith has grown since you first started following Jesus, and others can learn from what you have learned.

Every church attending person I have ever met wants the church to grow.  But friends, if we are not intentionally investing in people, how exactly do we expect that to happen?  If we are not passing on what we have learned so that it builds up the faith others in a way that they are to have a greater impact for God’s kingdom than we could, then how do expect the good news to spread?   Throughout our lives, throughout our faith walk of following Jesus, we have grown.  However, if we do not pass that on, then all of that growth is lost.  We can not expect growth to happen if we do not intentionally cultivate i.

In this morning’s scripture we read about when Elijah went to heaven, but more importantly we read about when Elisha followed up behind him.  This only happened because Elijah intentionally mentored and invested in Elisha so he could go on and accomplish what Elijah never could.   So I ask again friends, who is your Elisha?  May we all be willing to pass on what we have learned.  May we be intentional about investing into the faith of someone else.  May be willing to buddy up with other believes so that we can grow together.  In doing so may disciples be made for the transformation of the world.

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