Proper 7C, June 23 2019
All Saints Episcopal, Bellevue
1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
When I was little my Mother had a very practical way of dealing with bad days. She fed me, let me cry myself out, and put me to bed in the sure and certain hope that: things will look better in the morning. And by and large, she was right.
It is still the best advice I have for getting through life, drink water, eat some good food, get some sleep.
We are sort of dropped into the middle of Elijah’s story. It is a long and complicated one filled with complicated characters and political intrigue. The long and short of it is: Elijah has made himself very, very unpopular with the king and queen. He has shamed, and brutally murdered the priests of Baal and made himself very unpopular.
Now he’s running for his life.
Elijah flees into the desert leaving even his servant behind and there he pulls the prophet trump card: “hey Lord, you might as well let me DIE.” Jonah pulls it too, in a fit of adolescent pique at God’s mercy. And now Elijah, feeling very sorry for himself has a minor temper tantrum, or maybe real depression. Either way, he’s reached the end of his rope.
And God, who is as practical and compassionate as my Mother makes up some homemade bread, and some clear clean water and says: Elijah, child, eat something.
And Elijah eats and drinks, and falls asleep.
And that might seem like enough but no, again God makes some homemade bread, hot and fresh and a tall glass of cool water and says: my dear, you are tired: eat something. And then puts Elijah to bed.
Protestants tend to be “doers.” I grew up in the Midwest, the heartland for the Protestant Work Ethic where the most lamentable thing in the world is a day when one isn’t productive. Vacation for my parents was taking time off work to work in the garden, orchard or kitchen, growing, tending, and preserving food.
So, during my discernment for the priesthood my spiritual director finally threw up her hands and in no uncertain terms demanded I take a retreat. She basically packed me off to an Episcopal Benedictine Monastery in Three Rivers Michigan. It’s a magical place. And the first day I was very, very diligent. I set my alarm and was up and in the chapel for every single service. I was early for meals. I spent the rest of the time in the library reading very important spiritual books.
By the third day though I slept through THREE alarms and finally showed up to coffee (having missed Eucharist entirely) bleary eyed and apologetic. The guest master (who clearly knew his business) sat back in his chair, staring at me over his mug of tea and chewing on a cookie. And after a long thoughtful silence he arched one eyebrow and asked:
“Did it ever occur to you, that perhaps, what you needed most today was sleep?”
It had not.
It is very easy to fall into that trap of busy good doing work and think that’s our job, that’s what God needs us to do.
When the team from All Saints went to the Bishop’s Leadership Conference last fall and the Bishop asked the gathered churches to describe themselves and their ministry I have to say nearly everyone who stood up to talk talked about the work their church was doing. How many meals they made, how many folks they housed, or clothed, or sent to camp. And those are good things, there’s nothing wrong with them.
But what if, they aren’t the point? What if those things we do (knitting hats, cooking meals, collecting school supplies) aren’t the point of who we are as God’s family but just a natural outgrowth of the ways God cares for us?
God’s care for us is real and practical. It happens through the hands of the community around us, when Art gives Fay a ride to church? God’s getting Her kids carpool. When Bruce makes us all an amazing roast? Angel tapping us on the shoulder saying: honey eat something. When Deacon Ken shows up in your hospital room with jokes and a sacred meal: God is there.
The next time you come to communion remember this: when I put the bread in your hand, when our LEM offers you the cup and you hear those old old words: the body of Christ, the bread of heaven pause for a moment. Because I am not just telling you what God has given you, a bit of bread that is impossibly also Christ. I am naming the One who stands before me.
The Body of Christ. The hands and feet of Christ in this world.
The Body baking bread, and filling tall cool glasses of water for one another. Food and drink from God for God’s children.
And we are really, really good at being the ones baking the bread, and pouring the water, and telling someone else to rest and get their strength back. We are (we stubborn independent Protestants) far, far worse at actually letting someone else care for us.
But here’s the thing. The only way Elijah had the strength to get to where he needed to be to really encounter God was through the care of someone else. He had to let himself be cared for like a child, fed and watched over while he slept to come to that place where he could come face to face with the living God.
My challenge for each of us is that we, like Elijah might remember we are not in fact an island. That doing the work of God means allow God to care for us, to feed us, to give us rest; just as much as it is giving those good gifts to others.