11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. ~2 Kings 2.11-12
Dear Friends in Christ,
During worship this past Sunday I announced that I’ve been offered a commission in the US Air Force to serve as an active duty chaplain. Accepting that offer wasn’t easy. Cat and I have spent most of our marriage in Faith’s parsonage and we both love the work we’ve been called into here. Lorna’s grown up here. Da Hai joined our family here. And we’ve grown close with so many of you. Isanti has become our home, and it’s going to be hard to leave it.
When I started filling out paperwork for the Air Force, I didn’t know whether it would lead anywhere, but chaplaincy has been something I’ve thought about since I entered seminary. Maybe it was hearing stories from my uncle who served during Vietnam or my dad who spent six years in the Guard, or maybe it was just growing up in a little rural Minnesota town where it was expected that a good share of the young men would enter the service, but, as some of you can probably appreciate, I’ve often felt this was something I owed (marrying a woman whose uncle was an Air Force chaplain and whose brother in law is an Air Force officer probably had something to do with it, too).
I shared a small piece of the story of Elijah and Elisha above—the lines tell of Elijah’s ascent into the heavens and Elisha’s sorrow over his departure. Elijah had served as the prophet in Israel through some difficult times, and he experienced some humbling lows but also many of the most incredible works of God recorded in scripture. When it was time for Elijah to pass his mantle to Elisha, Elisha, who had been Elijah’s servant, wasn’t ready to let go of his master. It’s that tension between what’s being left behind and what awaits on the path ahead that I relate to so deeply at the moment.
Yes, Elijah would go on to other great things, like hanging out with Moses and Jesus on a mountain top. Yes, Elisha would go on to become arguably the greatest prophet Israel would ever know, performing more miracles than anyone else in the Bible, other than Christ himself. But for Elijah to depart was painful. These men had carried God’s word to the people. They’d shared in that work, and they were held together in that word. And even though God had new things in store for them both, parting was difficult.
My last day at Faith will be Wednesday, March 27. I’ll teach one more confirmation class and conduct one last midweek Lenten service before I travel down to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama for Commissioned Officer Training.
As you and I are called into new and different ventures, it’s my prayer that the days ahead will be marked by God’s blessings and goodness. Spending almost eight years in your pulpit, being tasked with bestowing and giving Christ to you week after week, has been a blessing for which I cannot begin to give proper thanks. My time here among you has marked and shaped me and made me ready for the joys and challenges of military chaplaincy, so the work that I go to do now is work in which you also have a share. But then, sharing in the ministry of Christ’s good news is what Christians do, and we will be bound up together in that work, along with whoever comes to occupy your pulpit next, no matter what new ventures may come.
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Clifton Hanson