Lectionary blog for Aug. 12, 2012
11th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: 1 Kings 19:4-8
In her novel “At Home in Mitford,” Jan Karon tells the story of Father Tim, rector of a tiny Episcopal church in a tiny North Carolina mountain village. One day Father Tim is having lunch with his friend and mentor, Brother Absalom Greer, a retired Baptist minister in his late 80s.
Father Tim is complaining about his spiritual dryness, his feelings of being far from God while at the same time running himself ragged being about the Lord’s business.
Brother Absalom nods and smiles and says, “I know what you mean, brother, I know what you mean. You’re too tired to run and too scared to rest.”
That’s Elijah in our first lesson, sitting under a broom tree, “too tired to run and too scared to rest,” too exhausted to think, and too disgusted with himself to want to go on living. How did Elijah get here? What brought Elijah to this moment of despair?
Strangely enough, this moment of great tragedy had its beginnings in a moment of great triumph. In a story with echoes in the story of John the Baptist and Herod, King Ahab had married a foreign woman named Jezebel, and Jezebel had brought with her into the kingdom the worship of the fertility god Baal. Elijah spoke his mind about Jezebel and her religion and a few other matters and Jezebel was not amused.
The conflict culminated in a dramatic confrontation between Elijah and 450 priests of Baal on Mount Carmel. It’s pretty exciting and you can read all about it in chapter 18 of 1 Kings. There was a huge altar and two young bulls for sacrifice and the contest was to see who could call down fire from heaven.
Elijah put on a show, trash-talking the priests of Baal when they failed, soaking the altar with water when it was his turn. And when he prayed for fire he got fire. It burned up everything. Then Elijah had the priests of Baal killed. What a performance, what a triumph!
Then, in the first few verses of chapter 19, King Ahab tells Jezebel what has happened and she sends a message to Elijah that he will be dead by tomorrow night.
And Elijah runs. He flees. He gets out of town as fast as his puny, little prophet legs can carry him. He didn’t take time to pack or to leave a forwarding address; he just left and went deep into the wilderness.
This is where we find him in today’s reading, sitting under a broom tree, “too tired to run and too scared to rest,” beating his chest and asking God to let him die.
“It is enough,” he says, “take away my life. I am no better than my ancestors.” Elijah has come to the crisis point in his life, the point where his faith will be most severely tested.
His words, “I am no better than my ancestors,” are a confession of sin and failure, of helplessness and despair. Elijah is acutely aware that his running away from Jezebel has undone all that had been accomplished in facing down the priests of Baal.
He is ashamed and sits alone and exhausted, “too tired to run and too scared to rest,” and much too aware of his own failures and much too unsure of God’s grace and love.
And so, Elijah falls asleep in his sins. He has made his confession; he is ready to die. As far as he knows, when he falls asleep he is falling into the eternal sleep of death.
But God has a different plan, a different ending in store for Elijah. Elijah is awakened to the gift of new life. Elijah is awakened by the touch of a holy hand and the sound of a divine voice inviting him to “arise and eat.”
Get up and get on with your life. Get up; God is not finished with you yet. Get up and get on with it. Get up and quit taking yourself so seriously. Arise and eat. God has more in store for you.
God’s response to Elijah’s confession of helplessness and hopelessness was not judgment and death. God’s response was forgiveness and life.
The cake of bread and jar of water are more than just necessary provisions to keep Elijah’s body alive for another day. No, they are a gift from God to keep his soul from wasting away. They are a message, a sign to Elijah that the past is over and forgiven and the future is alive and in God’s hands.
When we come to our moments of sitting alone under the broom tree, “too tired to run and too scared to rest,” when we look back on our lives and see only our faults and failures, our disappointments and unfulfilled ambitions looming up and chasing us like Jezebel’s pursuing minions, when we feel like we have done all we can and despite our best intentions, we find we are no better than our ancestors, we must remember how God responded to Elijah and how God will respond to us.
We must listen carefully and hear God say to us, “Arise and eat. I know who you are and what you’ve done and failed to do and I love you anyway. Here, have some bread. I made it myself; I call it the bread of life.”
Amen and amen.
- When have you felt too tired to run and too scared to rest?
- Have you heard God say, “Arise and eat”?
Delmer Chilton is an assistant to the bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the ELCA, with responsibility for eastern and central Tennessee, northern Alabama and northern Georgia. Ordained in 1977, he has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.