Sermon for June 23, 2019
It is enough!
Elijah’s been working hard. He faithfully follows God’s instructions, succeeds in turning the Israelites back to God in a dramatic public showdown, succeeds in bringing rain to end a three year drought in Samaria – all with God’s help of course. Now he’s had enough. Elijah is afraid and ready to give up.
It is enough!
I can certainly relate to Elijah in these moments. Perhaps this is also your experience. I work hard. I balance my professional responsibilities with personal relationships, family, friends, church… I do what I can to support people who are vulnerable, unseen, unheard. And yet, we’re putting children in cages, treating immigrants and refugees like criminals, avoiding eye contact – or any contact – with people who are housing-challenged or have mental illnesses, failing to make schools safe… The list seems heavy and endless. Some days my patience wanes. Some days my heart breaks. Some days God’s people, my people are too heavy for me. Some days,
it is enough!
So Elijah flees. But I think it’s worth noting, that he doesn’t just run to the safety of Beer-sheba. From there, he continues on alone into the wilderness stopping under a solitary broom tree. Here Elijah is safe from Jezebel’s threat. He’s geographically well beyond her reach and temporally beyond the deadline of her threat. It’s here that he cries out to God.
And God responds.
Elijah is done. God is not.
Elijah lays down to take a nap in the safety of the broom tree’s shade and an angel brings him a snack. A nap and a snack – a little sabbath time. Elijah is reminded of God’s love and care for him through these simple actions by an angel – watching over his rest, providing enough cake and water to restore and sustain him. The deep care of a parent (by birth or by choice) tending to a child. Elijah gets to be loved on by God.
This morning we will baptize Gabriel. And, he too will get to be loved on by God… and by all of us. What better way to remind ourselves that we are all beloved children of God and to take a moment to rest in that love. There will certainly be many times in the coming days and weeks and months and years that Gabriel will need the comfort and sustenance of a nap and a snack. And there will certainly be plenty of times when his family will need a nap and a snack just as much, if not more, to sustain them through this journey of raising him.
But, this love doesn’t mean Elijah’s work is done. It is a time of sabbath, for Elijah to rest and remember how God loves him. The angel provides the sustenance needed so that his journey will not be too much for him.
Perhaps you still remember our Rector, Richard, who is on sabbatical. I know it’s been a while, but try. On his final Sunday as we sent him off on his journey, he preached a sermon on the importance of intentional sabbath – the importance of taking time to “practice being,” to practice being in God’s presence, to remember what it feels like to be loved on by God. Taking intentional time to rest in God’s love and care for us. Taking time to not justknowthat God loves us, but to reallyfeelGod’s love for us. I don’t know if it was really Elijah’s intention to take some sabbath time or if he was driven to it by desperation. But sabbath is what Elijah needs in this moment and sabbath is what Elijah experiences. Time to take a nap and have a snack in the presence of the Divine.
Yet, this is not the stopping point… the point of sabbath is not to be a stopping point. Elijah has two more encounters with God. Twice God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?” Twice Elijah responds, ‘I’m doing the work, I’m in it, I’m faithful to you and still they want to kill me.’ Kinda whiny for somebody that just had a pretty good nap and snack! Not only that, but Elijah’s encounter with God doesn’t really seem to change anything – at least not initially. I don’t know about you, but this definitely surprised me. I realized that I carry this idea that an experience of God will miraculously change me – instantly. That it’s not possible to walk away from an encounter like Elijah’s without renewed energy and faith and magical abilities to carry out the work God has given me to do. But, that’s rarely (if ever) the case. We have countless examples in Scripture of people who continue to struggle even after an encounter with God – Moses, Jonah, Job, the disciples…
Patiently God responds to Elijah, sending him out for a second encounter. Again God speaks to Elijah – not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the sheer silence. Out of the silence comes a voice and the Hebrew used in this verse tells us it’s not the deep, sometimes booming voice we might imagine. Instead God speaks in a ‘daughter of a voice’ – a little voice, a female voice, an echo. Still, Elijah gives the same answer as before.
Elijah’s encounter with God doesn’t automatically change his mind or change his perspective. But God send him back into the world anyway. Elijah returns to his work, perhaps not miraculously changed, but I believe with a renewed sense of God’s love and care. He was not released from what lies ahead, but God met him where he was, in his distress, and provided for him, listened to him, and loved on him.
I believe that God will do the same for Richard. Love on him, care for him, listen to him in this time of sabbath. I believe God will do the same for Gabriel and his family, in the naps and snacks and other moments as he grows and develops an inquiring and discerning heart. I believe that God will do the same for us. In our moments of ‘enough!’, God will be there to listen, care for, and love on us.
I believe that God is there, even before we get to those moments of desperation. God is just as present in the silence, in that little female voice echoing through the stillness. I believe that it helps us to practice resting, to practice taking sabbath – just as Richard is doing, to practice listening for that little voice. I invite you to start with me right now. I hope you’re not already taking a nap, and it’s not quite snack time just yet. But, it is our custom here to sit in a few moments of silence between the sermon and the next piece of the liturgy each week. I always find it hard to really rest in that silence – always looking ahead to what comes next or thinking about the nap and snack that I’ll get after church. Of course, ‘silence’ is a bit relative whether you’re in a church or out in nature. There is almost always the sound of nature – rustling, chirping, bubbling… the sound of others – fidgeting, sniffling, whispering… Something that I find helpful to settling into a moment of deep silence is to begin with a repetitive chant to focus my attention and let the noise around me melt away. You’re welcome to join me as you feel comfortable or to just listen if that feels more helpful. Either way, I invite you to let go of thinking for a moment and to simply rest in God and feel God’s love and care for you.
Speak through the earthquake, the wind, and the fire, oh-oh, still small voice of Love.
The Rev. Sarah Brock, Deacon