Sunday Sermon by Grant Glowiak at The Union Church of Hinsdale, U.C.C. on June 19, 2016 at the 10:00 a.m. Service.
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The scripture reading for today is first kings, chapter 19 verses 1 through 10 and 15. We find ourselves in the story with evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel ruling over Israel and leading the people away from Yahweh, our God, towards a different God. God has commanded Elijah, a prophet, to bring the kingdom back to its senses. We pick up right after Elijah is victorious in a competition of who has the more powerful God. Elijah then celebrates his victory by killing the state-sponsored prophets of the opposing God, making Ahab and Jezebel very upset. Here begins this morning’s scripture…
– 1 Kings 19.1-10, 15a
Good Morning. When I was a young boy my family would take vacations in the north woods of Wisconsin. We stayed with a family friend, his friends call him Jeffer, for a week in a town by the name of Lac Du Flambeau. He lived up there year round on a relatively small sized lake and we would visit along with his extended family. Every morning, at least in the warmer months, for fitness Jeffer would swim around the circumference of the lake, stopping on the other side to get out and soap up before finishing his workout. I was sitting out on the dock one morning, I must have been about three years old, with Jeffer’s sister, Leslie, and her best friend, my mother. Leslie was expressing her anxiety about the fact that he does this every morning and lives alone, so no one is often around if he were to run into trouble out there in the water. I chimed into the conversation and stated that he, indeed, was not alone. My mother and her friend explained to me, thinking I was not fully comprehending the situation, that when we left the house his extended family left too and he was here all by himself. I, standing my ground, countered and said with complete confidence “Jeffer is never alone, baby Jesus is always with him.” I was always taught in Sunday School that Jesus is always with me, even when I’m hurt or scared or I feel alone. Looks like I started preaching at a rather young age out there on the pier. What I did not understand was that Jeffer and his entire family is Jewish so, the uproar of laughter that followed did not make much sense to me at the time and 25 years later I still here from Jeffer how confident he feels knowing that Jesus is always with him.
Now, Jesus is not present in this story but God certainly is. We are borrowing this text from our Jewish kinfolk so Elijah is our prophetic main character. As Melissa mentioned King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (who, if you are hearing this story for the first time, are bad) are ruling Israel and at Jezebel’s insistence have begun worshipping a rival God. Our God sends Elijah, the guy on our team, to right the ship, and now Elijah is on the run after killing 450 rival prophets after he bests them in competition to see whose god is stronger. It’s our book so it makes sense that our God is the stronger one in this story. Either way, Jezebel threatens Elijah’s life so Elijah as it says here “was afraid; he got up and fled for his life.” And he runs into the wilderness, which reminded me of the wilderness in northern Wisconsin. And he feels very alone as Jeffer was for many of his morning swims. An important detail to note about my time as a child up north is that we spent not one but two weeks in Wisconsin, the first at the lakehouse and the second at Camp Highlands for Boys for family camp. We needed to spend two weeks up there for various reasons but a major one was that one week was not enough for my father to relax. As many of us know, the stresses of daily life can often be overwhelming and when sustained over a long period of time can wind us so tight that a long weekend simply won’t do if we really need to relax and recharge the batteries. It is father’s day and many fathers often deal with intense pressures both in and outside the home but this pressure is certainly not only on fathers. Many of us…parents, children, young, old, regardless of gender or position in life, we all experience fear and anxiety and need not just a 15 minute break but a substantial amount of time to restore our bodies and souls.
Elijah here is under so much stress, because after all there is a bounty out on him, that he wishes the lord to take his life because he is frightened and doesn’t feel as though he’s got the stuff, the the grit, the strength, the perseverance, the hutzpah to borrow a Yiddish word, to keep churning along. Elijah here is running from his problems, and although often that phrase is used to pass judgement on others here I think it is the right move. If the queen wanted to kill me, I’d certainly get the heck outta dodge before anyone found out where I was. And I think removing oneself from a dangerous or overwhelming situation is sometimes the right move. Elijah cannot face this problem alone so he runs, and there are many times that I or perhaps you have felt like a situation is overwhelming and we have to get out of there. However, we also should take note that Elijah’s story doesn’t end in the running, and in my opinion nor does ours.
So God, as God is sometimes wont to do in these stories, sends an angel while Elijah is sleeping to give him food and water not once but twice. And on those two meals alone Elijah has the energy to walk 40 days and 40 nights to Mt Horeb which is an old stomping ground for God. Now, similar to the whole killing of the 450 prophets earlier, the 40 days and 40 nights thing I personally don’t read literally. This is a wonderful story that we are meant to learn from, not emulate. Now, Pastor Mike runs marathons so maybe he could do it, but I would not suggest eating two meals then walking for 40 days nor do I think the writer of this book would. I think the important part of this restful period in the middle of our story is when the angel says “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” If we don’t take proper care of our bodies and souls, the journey certainly will be too much for us. Here the writer is showing us the importance of nourishment both in the literal way but I believe in a spiritual and mental way as well. We can and sometimes should run from a situation but after the running must come respite. We hopefully can build ourselves up in body and mind after an exhausting run. I also find it significant that the angel provides the water and cake. The writer could have easily had Elijah find his own food or bring his own food and that would be quite the pull yourself up by your own bootstraps story. But Elijah didn’t and can’t, so God intervenes. Unfortunately for us, this is not always how our story plays out. Sometimes it seems as though God is nowhere to be found when needed the most. This morning’s UCC devotional focused on the line in Psalm 34 that says “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and will save those whose spirits are crushed.” The writer, Kaji Dousa, proposes what she refers to as the next logical question “But when?” Just looking at the events of the past few weeks, we are left wondering why Elijah was sustained when so many others are not. I don’t know why. I don’t know why some folks are sustained and live while others die. What I do know is that God is always with us and with all who have been directly affected by these things, and God is just as sad and as mad as we are, however in this story God does intervene. God sends an angel to help sustain Elijah with food and drink as we pray God sends angels to sustain us through the stressful, sometimes brutally painful, times in our lives. God desires to be with us in our times of stress and fear, and if we but let God God can help to sustain us for the journey. And yet, God goes even further than that.
God, the lord, actually shows up herself! She asks as it says here in verses 9 and 10 “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” So even though Elijah has been sustained for his journey, he still feels alone. He feels trapped, scared, abandoned. And he knows that there are many who are actively looking to take his life.
Now as you can see in your bulletin we skipped a few verses which are certainly interesting but not central to what I wish to highlight in this story. In these verses God makes quite an entrance with flash and flair, but what I want to focus our attention on is what God’s response is to Elijah’s panic. The first part of verse 15 simply states “Then the Lord said to him “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.” The verses following are more specific instructions of what Elijah is to do upon his return to civilization. But the thrust here is that God commands him to return to doing God’s work in the world. God commands him to face Ahab and Jezebel once more. Is God’s response the most caring or pastoral in nature? No. Elijah is freaking out and God simply asks what are you doing here and then replies to Elijah’s panic not with “It will all fine” or “I will take care of everything for you” but “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.” We don’t know God’s tone when God says these things, but I prefer to interpret the tone as supportive and caring. And this is where the smaller story we are looking at today moves into another part of the larger story. It is an end of sorts, but also a beginning. I find here to be where God leaves us this Sunday morning. Maybe you are running right now like Elijah is in the beginning of our reading. Maybe we are here this morning recharging our batteries, resting, slaking our thirst, feeding our hungry souls as Elijah did in the middle of the reading. Or maybe you are ready to return. God is there to lean on and to sustain us certainly, but God also calls us to return to our respective ways and do God’s work in the world however you and I are meant to. God allows us to run when we must, and God can sustain us and care for us when we are beaten down. We must take the time to care for our bodies, our minds and our souls when we are wounded and God helps us with that, but when we are all healed up we cannot stay put. Elijah cannot stay in that cave with God forever, hiding from Ahab and Jezebel. Just as we cannot stay here, among friends in the presence of the Lord, singing our praises and thanking God for all that God has provided. There is a time for that, and that time is right now. But after the service we are called to go out those doors back into our wilderness of Damascus, to do our own service. And our wilderness is no cake walk. Sure for most if not all of us, no one is actively trying to take our lives but out there is a world with real pain and real fear, but the love and joy of the world are just as real. And the realization of God’s kingdom here on earth, the radical justice and love we strive for are the most real things in this world. We must re enter our world and our lives and we can do that knowing that God is with us. God is with you and with me. God calls us into prophetic action as God called Elijah, to tell truth to power. Not just to pray when we are scared or sad but to fight against injustice and hatred with our hands and feet as well as our minds. The journey back into the wilderness of Damascus looks different for each of us, for Elijah it was to challenge Ahab and Jezebel. For one of us it might be fighting racism, another violence, another mental illness, another sexism, another homophobia. Each one of us is called to different passions and causes and battles, both within the world and within ourselves. Whatever righteous fight you choose to pick, whatever you are called to do, do it boldly knowing that God will sustain you, support you and love you just as God made you. Amen.
May the God of peace and love
comfort you when you hurt
Sustain you while you rest
And send you forth into the world
Doing works of justice and mercy
Knowing you are a beloved child of God
Just the way you are.