August 14, 2020
Elijah is having a bad day. Really a couple of bad days. But before that, he had a really good day.
It had to do with allegiance to God and care for Israel. Israel is breaking covenant with God. Promise to God – stepping out of relationship with God. They have been influenced by the Canaanites who worship Baal. This god with a small g, Baal has some history and is thought of in two primary ways: a fertility god or a storm god. If we back up a chapter from today’s reading, we see Elijah with great confidence challenge King Ahab, his wife Jezebel, the prophets of Baal, and Baal himself. The outcome: the one true God show’s God’s power and “wins.” The prophets of Baal are killed.
The outcome: Jezebel is really, really mad and sends word to Elijah that she is going to do to him what he did the prophets of Baal. Elijah, who had been more than a little taunting of Ahab and the prophets of Baal falls apart. We hear in the chapter, prior to our reading this morning that Elijah “was afraid; he got up and fled for his life”…he went into the wilderness, and he is utterly depressed, and he prays.
From the previous taunting of the prophets of Baal to his prayer in the wilderness, we see that Elijah is probably a pretty large personality. Pretty expressive. A deep feeler. He is sitting under a solitary tree and prays: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away life…” perhaps something like this is going on in his heart and mind: That is it. I am tired. I am afraid. I am all done. Yes. I just saw you do miraculous things when I challenged the prophets of Baal. But now. Today, is a bad day.
In dialing into Elijah’s well-being, I cannot help but think of where we are today in this pandemic. Rising cases, rising death numbers, schools on the verge of starting with various approaches. So much unknown. So much ongoing necessary restriction.
I am tired. I am afraid. I am all done.
From our narrative today, we can take in actually, a lot about prayer. We can be human. We can express ourselves freely to God and it is ok. God can take it and God’s responsive.
To Elijah’s prayer God sends an angel that literally feeds him. Then he comes to Horeb, where we begin our narrative today. Mount Horeb is where God gave Moses the 10 Commandments.
We do not hear why Elijah chooses this place, maybe because it is where God spoke to Moses and the people of Israel? This is a place of meaningful encounter with God. Not as one person only, but as followers of God corporately.
Go. Elijah goes to a meaningful place, to him and to God’s people. He is under stress and this is how he copes…how do we cope?
God asks Elijah “what are you doing here?” God speaks to him. And God is the same today: God speaks to us. Because of Elijah’s history with God, this probably was not new, was even expected.
Let us pause a moment in our today: What is our history with God like? What do we expect? Conversation in prayer?
We continue to glean about prayer as the narrative continues.
Elijah recounts to God. He does not even ask anything. He is just talking: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts,” he says; “for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your alters, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away” Legitimate despair. In the midst of the gravity of all of this, what is a little humorous about this is that 6 verses back he wanted to die. Now he wants to live. We are fickle beings, aren’t we?
God’s response comes in two parts. First, an encounter. Second, a practical and generous solution.
First, the encounter, the unexpected experience.
Elijah has recounted to God his experience and feelings and has expressed just a smidge of self-pity. God responds and says: “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
To trauma, despair, and self-pity God brings presence. God is showing to Elijah tangible presence. But not what Elijah has experienced before. He has seen God’s power.
Elijah goes out: “Now there was a great wind” we hear, “so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks…” Let us take that in a minute…And we hear that God was not in the wind. Then an earthquake. Then a fire. The Lord was not in either of these. After the fire, “a sound of sheer silence.” Sound of silence. The more direct translation from the Hebrew is: “a sound of a gentle blowing.” [blow gently.] you probably cannot even hear that. Just a breath. Not something we always hear.
You must be close physically with someone to hear this, and if you are that close physically, you likely are emotionally close. An intimate relationship. [blow gently]. Leaning in.
God has drawn tangibly near to Elijah. I love this because God’s first move is relationship, not solving. This is the response to Elijah not asking anything but simply pouring out his heart. The quiet nearness of God. How beautiful. And how outside the box of Elijah’s experience, his paradigm of relating to the Lord. But he did not miss it. He was aware and alert and welcomed what came.
After this, an underlining of God’s approach and response to prayer - God asks the same question again – “what are you doing here?” Elijah recounts again – saying the same thing - and expresses his sadness and fear. Could it be that God is more interested in interacting with Elijah than quickly solving something? That God first wants to draw near and meet us in the place of our well-being. Let us not miss the design of our Christian spirituality: God is a God of experiential relationship. We can KNOW/experience God’s presence with us….
Then the Lord gives an extremely specific answer: return, anoint two kings, anoint a prophet. And then the promise – God will not allow Elijah to be the only one left. God will leave in Israel those who “have not bowed to Baal…” God is involving others to share the load of leadership and response to Israel’s crisis of covenant breaking with Elijah, and making sure that Elijah knows that he will not be all alone. God is answering Elijah’s unspoken ask of prayer – the fear of being in it alone, the fear of where Israel is going.
Thank God for God’s responsiveness to us. Today we see answer in the form of presence and provision.
I think what we share with Elijah is a sense of desperation. He was personally desperate and felt a sense of urgency for the people of Israel as a whole. He was worried about the state of things and what in the world might be next.
I think in this time of pandemic, economic upheaval, and being on the brink of schools starting, we can relate. Personal desperation. Urgency for our country.
But we also are experiencing the mental and emotional fallout. This pandemic – it has been a while, and it is going to be a while: We are tired. We are afraid. We at times feel all done.
Our lessons in prayer here are helpful: let us go ahead and be fickle humans and share our hearts honestly with God – even when it is not asking for a thing.
Let us expect encounter with God – an unexpected experience with our God of relationship who dwells within us through God’s Holy Spirit. Let us welcome from God that which may be yet unfamiliar to us but could minister deeply to our needs and perhaps change us forever.
Let us listen for direction – and do it. Contribute to the needs of those around us – for their protection and well-being.