I Want a Double Portion

By Bruce G. Epperly

Transfiguration Weekend

2 Kings 2:1-12
Mark 9:2-9

And Elijah asked Elisha, “tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” And, Elisha responded, “please let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”

Now, this is a passage that is seldom invoked in progressive, post-enlightenment, or mainstream churches. Pentecostals are more at home with those bold and life-transforming biblical passages. But, perhaps we’re missing something when we ask for less than what we need from God, ourselves, and the communities of which we are a part. Perhaps, we are settling for less when we act as if the wellspring of possibility and the energy of love are not on our side or are unable to work in our lives and in partnership with our creativity do great things for our world and ourselves.

Today’s scriptures speak of a transfigured world. Jesus goes to the mountaintop and is bathed in divine energy and light—this is truly a “theophany,” an encounter in which God shows up in a majestic way and our lives are, from that moment on, utterly transformed. Now the passage describes this mystical experience in the briefest of terms. Listen again to Mark’s vision of the Transfiguration: What could these words possibly mean?

And he was transfigured before them and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

Can you imagine the scene? If you were one of the disciples, how might you describe such an event?

A time for congregational conversation.

Now, no one knows what really happened on that mountain, but as I read the story of the Transfiguration, I am inspired to imagine the wonders of life on both the cosmic and microcosmic planes. I think of Jesus’ body, his whole being, on that day as an energetic body, a quantum body, a body permeated by the living word of God (dabhar) that brought the universe into being. I think of a lively, powerful, vital, completely holy and whole body; a body revealing the deepest energies of the big bang, of galactic births and galaxies hugging each other, the power of the atom, and the wonders of the immune system—all revealing the power that cannot be fully fathomed, controlled or understood, but may be experienced as a burst of life and world transforming energy.

Now Elijah is faced with a similar life-transfiguring experience. With his mentor and teacher about to leave him for another plane of existence, Elisha boldly requests, “Give me a double portion of your spirit.” Perhaps, Elisha is asking to share in the power of his mentor—the power to change lives and heal the sick; the power we describe in terms of “miracles,” energetic acts of God that transform minds, bodies, spirits, and communities.

“Give me a double portion of your spirit.” That’s a bold request. That’s assertive. That’s chutzpah. And we ask ourselves, “should we so bold with God and one another? Aren’t we crossing a line when we ask for what we really need, when we ask for something big and wonderful and life-changing? And, when we ask for a double portion of energy, love, or creativity?”

But perhaps Elisha is right. He knows he’ll never get another moment like this, so why not take a chance?  Perhaps, the story of Elisha tells us that we can’t afford to think small today. We must ask for something big and then work our hardest to bring it about. Even though ecological and economic—even physical health—limits oppress us; we need to imagine greatness and then live into the greatness we imagine for ourselves and the world.

Now, you know I’m not a big fan of easy spiritual answers and inch-deep theology that promises “your best life now” if you simply follow the directions. But, you know we progressives suffer from the opposite extreme. We are too conformed to our perceived personal or communal limitations. We are too conformed to the theological limitations imposed by the outmoded Newtonian world view and the modern notion that reality is limited to what we can see and taste and touch.

I often go back to Jack Canfield and Mark Hansen’s The Aladdin Factor, when I need to ask for something more. Its thesis, simply put, is “ask for what you really need in life,” whether it’s a pay raise, a new job, help from a friend, a blessing from another, and then, after asking, open your imagination and go to work to achieve it. You won’t get anywhere if you don’t ask for great things. The challenge of The Aladdin Factor and the boldness of Elisha’s request are similar to Jesus’ promise: “seek and you will find, ask and it will be given you, knock and the door will be opened to you.” Or, put negatively, “you have not because you ask not.”

And, I am convicted by these passages—Am I asking too little of God and myself? If God will supply all our deepest needs, then why not go to the source, ask boldly, and then go to work? Are we asking too little of God as a community of faith?

Now, the Elisha passage is quite realistic. Elijah tells his student Elisha to turn back over and over again. “Stay here,” don’t go any further, don’t follow me. Whenever we choose to be bold, we are immediately confronted by obstacles, both internal, self-imposed limits, such as “I can’t do that” and external, environmentally-imposed limits, such as “you can’t do that.” While we don’t know Elijah’s reasons for putting an obstacle in Elisha’s way, Elisha does not take “no” for an answer, even from his mentor. His persistence echoes Jacob’s demand of his nocturnal companion, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” And, we need to persist in spite of the obstacles in our path.

These passages invite us into a lively, enchanted, wonder-full universe, in which the only limits are our personal and communal imaginations. They invite us to ponder the “impossibilities” that persons like us have brought into being as a result of imagination, persistence, and creativity.

Just think—what has been “impossible” once upon a time that now we take for granted?

A time for congregational conversation.

Think again— what “impossibilities” loom ahead for us?

A time of congregational conversation.

Now, more personally, what “impossibilities” do we need to confront here at our church?

A time for congregational conversation.

If we are to confront the “impossibilities,” we need a “double portion” of God’s spirit. We need to be bold—asking great things of ourselves and of God, and then moving forward though obstacles may be in our way. Let us commit ourselves, with all our questions and reasons to stay where we are and not move ahead, to pray for, imagine, and then work for a “double portion” of God’s spirit for this community and for our lives as God’s partners in healing the world.

Bruce Epperly is Professor of Practical Theology and Director of Continuing Education at Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is the author of seventeen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God, written with Kate Epperly, and selected as the 2009 Book of the Year by the Academy of Parish Clergy. He can be contacted for conversation, lectures, seminars, workshops, and preaching engagements. Now retired, he served as co-pastor of Disciples United Community Church in Lancaster, PA.