The Rev. Josephine Robertson All Saints Episcopal, Bellevue Proper 14B, August 12 2018 1 Kings 19:4-8
Today’s short story about Elijah in the wildness was not included in the old Episcopal lectionary, so many of us may be hearing it for the first time or near enough. With that in mind let’s start with a bit of context.
Lectionary wise we have skipped back in time from Elisha to the midst of Elijah’s ministry. Just prior to this story Elijah has killed a great many priests of Baal in a Conan the Barbarian type episode, then on Mount Carmel he challenged Baal’s remaining prophets to a god-off.
The prophets of Baal failed to get their god to send down fire from heaven. While Elijah was so successful that God’s fire consumed the altar, the offering, AND the moat of water Elijah had soaked the whole thing with.
It was a dramatic and resounding victory which also made him big time enemies in the King and Queen of Israel (the famously bad Ahab and Jezebel).
So he fled South to Judah with his servant, and now has fled even further into the wilderness alone.
Now he sits down under a solitary bush and he asks to die.
No one ever said that being a prophet was easy. Maybe Elijah is burnt out. Maybe he’s seen so much of human nature that he’s grown cynical and disillusioned. Maybe the violence of his own actions has caught up to him. Maybe he’s straight up depressed.
However you cut it, he has lost hope. He is out of energy. I see in him in this moment the echoes of the two wise leaders we’ve been reading this summer.
The Dalai Lama too found himself exiled in a strange land, powerful forces seeking his end. The Archbishop as well spent time in exile in England for his own safety because of the government of his homeland. When we went back he went into the teeth of death, he and his wife sent their children away to boarding school so real was the danger.
All three survived, thrived, continued in their ministry because of compassion.
Elijah collapses in the wilderness, hopeless and worn out. He is so exhausted, so spent that he falls asleep there under the burning sun that will (when darkness falls) turn into bone chilling cold.
If you have ever been depressed you have probably had at least one person tell you to “just get over it.” Or to “think positively.” God could have given Elijah a kick and told him to get back to Israel and finish the job he started.
But you and I know that isn’t what happened. An angel laid a gentle hand on Elijah and woke him to breakfast prepared by God.
Elijah ate and drank his fill. But he is so exhausted he falls straight back to sleep.
And for the second day God gently wakes Elijah and there again is food and drink; good home cooking from God’s kitchen.
It is such a practical story. In the midst of danger and despair God reminds me of the women of my family: tying on an apron and speaking love straight to our stomachs.
Today there are Nazi’s marching on the anniversary of their disastrous march in Charlottesville where one of their number took the life of a young woman, driving into the crowd of counter protestors with his car.
Episcopalians, and Jews, and Muslims, and many others met in churches this weekend to be taught how to resist hate. And I know that many of us who have been fighting this battle way too long, who though it was over years ago are as dead tired as Elijah. We might not feel like there’s anything else left in the tank.
After two days of nothing but rest and care Elijah is able to rise and to continue his ministry. He goes forward on the strength of the food God provides on a great pilgrimage right into the heart of God.
He walks out into the wilderness, all the way to the mountain of God and there he encounters God in ultimate stillness, in a still small voice a murmur. There he encounters the peace that cannot be disturbed by chants, or hatred. He meets the peace that passes all human understanding.
Even God’s great prophet has moments of doubt, fear, burnout, and depression. Even Elijah who miraculously kept a window’s oil and flour refilled, and raised her child from death: even he needs a reminder now and then. Even he needs to be drawn tenderly into God’s lap and fed and cared for like a child.
On one side of this story are the angry shouts of Baal’s prophets, the rage of Ahab and Jezebel calling for Elijah’s head. Power, greed, and violence.And on the other side of this story is the wild expanse of Sinai empty and still, and a God who speaks in a still small voice. Elijah has to go all they way to the stillness and silence of God’s presence before he has the wherewithal to go back out into the world. It’s very in vogue to talk about what God is calling us to do. Probably because there is so much that needs doing in this beautiful, broken world. We hear about God’s call for the Church, for our little mission, for each of us individually. Have you ever heard someone say that God was calling them to rest? Have you ever heard someone say that God was calling them to let God do the feeding for a while? When God calls, it is often through the wilderness (a liminal place of transitions, transformation, and pilgrimage). God sends us all sorts of strange places but the call is almost always to go away to step out of the world for a while and rely wholly on God, rest on God if you will. In a world where we’re obsessed with balance sheets, and attendance numbers, and membership, and growth I wonder: what does it look like for God to tap us on the shoulder and say “I made you breakfast, eat, rest.” This is a painful, frightening anniversary for many. Especially for our Jewish brothers and sisters. And for good people frighting the good fight it seems the prophets of Baal never end. If you are tired, afraid, depressed, hopeless, lost, alone: wake up dear one. God Herself has made you cakes for breakfast, here is clear clean water to drink. Rest, the journey ahead is beyond your wildest imagining.