Strength for the Journey

  • September 3, 2019

I Kings 19

Elijah has a hard job. The people of God make all kinds of mistakes, and it’s Elijah’s responsibility to let them know what God calls them towards instead. The biggest mistake they’re making in this story is that the people don’t always worship God, but instead, another deity, Baal. If you read the preceding passage in the book of Kings, you can learn more about how Elijah stages a big show to demonstrate that the power of God is greater than the power of Baal. There are some really impressive divine special effects. Unfortunately, Elijah gets carried away after his successful demonstration, and kills all the prophets of Baal. Now he’s in serious trouble with the King.

Elijah gets up and flees for his life. He leaves his servant behind to go alone into the wilderness. Out there by himself, Elijah finds one tiny spot of shade under one lonely broom tree. Then he says, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

Elijah is overcome. He’s tried so hard, for so long, with indifferent results. He’s frustrated. He’s afraid. He’s exhausted. There’s only so long one very human prophet can go on alone, speaking God’s truth in an unfaithful world.

Few of us have been in a situation quite as dramatic as Elijah’s – on the run, after perpetrating a massacre. But some of us may relate to Elijah’s impulse in this story, the impulse to run away from our problems.

During the past few months, the summer season has invited us to cast away our cares. We may have taken a vacation or two away from our jobs. We may have taken a rest from other responsibilities, perhaps turned off the news. We may have savored some of the sweetest pleasures of life: nature, family, friends, fresh local fruit and vegetables.  It’s a brief season, here in New England. Of course, the summer hasn’t been restful or pleasant for everyone. For some it has been wearisome, worrisome, or lonely. But summer gives us permission to at least try to prioritize relaxation.

September, on the other hand, feels like a call back to reality.  Many of us return to school or work. We may return to our routines, healthy or stressful or maybe both. We may feel a sense of accountability to know what’s going on in the world, and maybe also to try to do something about it.

Facing all of this opportunity and challenge, some of us may feel the impulse to make like Elijah, and run, wheel, go out into the wilderness, away from every burden. We are no better than our ancestors, after all.

Did you notice what God does, when Elijah runs away, when Elijah is ready to give up? First, an angel wakes Elijah up and feeds him bread and water – twice. The tells him to eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for him. Then, Elijah journeys 40 days and nights to the holy mountain of Horeb. There, the word comes to Elijah: stand on the mountain before the Lord. Elijah witnesses wind, earthquake, fire: but God is not in any of these. Then, in the silence, the voice tells him: Go back to Damascus. Anoint some better leaders as monarchs to guide the people. And anoint a new prophet, to carry on your work.

God helps Elijah in several ways. With food, water, and sleep: a good prescription for anyone who is exhausted, . Along with the food, water, and sleep, comes an angel: a reminder of God’s love and care.

Then there is this fascinating scene on the mountain, where God is not in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but speaks in silence. God themselves is there, to offer comfort and wisdom, if only Elijah will wait, and listen.

Finally there are God’s words: stunningly practical, after all the drama of this passage. Go back to your work, God says. Go back, and get some help with these unruly people. Find some new kings. Anoint a new prophet to serve after you. Form a team, pass the torch. You’re not doing this alone. It’s not all on you.

I hope you are never in Elijah’s position. But if the prospect of this coming year, or the challenges within it, manage to overwhelm you, remember: God is with you. God is ready to help, when things get difficult; watch for the angels who show up, offering something you need. Take some time for silence, time away from the drama, and listen to what God may have to say. And don’t forget that you are not meant to save the world, or even yourself, alone.  All of us need a team.

Please pray with me. O God, our souls long for you; we need you every day, and especially when things get hard. Thank you for finding us, wherever we go. Thank you for sending your messengers to care for us. Thank you for speaking to our hearts in silence, in prayer. Grant us humility, that we might not try to face our struggles alone. Give us courage to put our hope in you: today, and the next day, and the next. O God, your power is great; by day you pour forth your steadfast love; at night, your song is with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.