Lectionary Reflection for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
August 7, 2011
At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:19
Ever feel like Elijah? You have been diligent for the Lord, working tirelessly in your congregation, expending great amounts of time and creative energy, and it looks like your hard work is really about to pay off in a big way. Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, something happens and everything goes awry, leaving you feeling dead in waters of despair. If that’s the case, take heart because you are not alone. Life can be tough, decidedly not fair, and fraught with difficulty, but there’s some hope, good news, for God’s people in this week’s Old Testament lesson.
Let’s start by setting Elijah’s current predicament in context. God’s prophet has run afoul of Ahab, the King of Israel, because he confronted Ahab and prophesied a devastating drought was about to come upon the land. Never mind that it was the king’s rotten decisions, poor choice of a spouse, and blatant idol worship that kindled God’s anger. The messenger is all too often blamed for the message. Three years later at God’s instruction, Elijah returns to confront Ahab and the prophets of Baal–complete with prophetic pyrotechnics, a slaughter of the 400 false prophets, and some really fast running. One would think Elijah would be sitting pretty, but Jezebel responds with a death threat that sends Elijah running lickety-split for his very life.
Talk about a depressing outcome! In Elijah’s case there is no rest for the weary or the worthy. But there is God. God is with the prophet through it all, providing him food and water to sustain him when he abandons all hope. God’s angel keeps him going until he is able to seek refuge in a cave at Horeb, the mountain of God. Exhausted and lacking hope he sleeps until God wakes him up with a question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah gives God an earful with his tale of woe, and in turn God instructs him to go stand at the mouth of the cave. Finally, the prophet is about to encounter God; not as expected in a triumphant and mighty show of wind, earthquake, and fire, but in an unexpected, attention-getting silence.
Again God asks Elijah what he is doing there, and again Elijah recounts his hard luck tale of how serving faithfully as God’s prophet has landed him in a mess of misery. Instead of responding with a pat on the back or an “at-a-boy,” God gives Elijah a new assignment–to anoint a couple of new kings and his own replacement. He also reminds the prophet that many more people are on his side. Life goes on; there is work to be done, and God is in control.
Even prophets mess up, become discouraged, and fail to comprehend the ways of the Creator of the Universe. Elijah, for all the amazing acts he was empowered to do, was only one small part in the all-encompassing divine narrative that continues today. God’s kingdom comes and God’s divine action continues with us and sometimes in spite of us. We are God’s agents of mercy and love in this world, but we are not God. God does not rely on us; we rely on God, and God will not abandon us. So here’s the message of hope for our day: no matter how discouraged you are, no matter how insignificant and ill-prepared you feel in your discipleship walk, and no matter how insurmountable the odds may seem you are not alone.
Listen…God is here. The question that needs answering is where are you, and what ARE you doing here? Blessings on your listening, your preparation, and your preaching and teaching.
Here’s a link to an icon of Elijah listening for the voice of God. Consider using it for a quiet prayer time during worship.
Consider an adult forum using the book Listening For God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt by Renita J. Weems. One might also consider reading excepts for a Bible study or contemplative worship service.
Consider using the Lost and Found song “Elijah” (from the CD Something Different)as a starting point for discussion. You’ll find the lyrics here. If you have creative youth with cameras and editing equipment make a video to share with the congregation.
Offer a simple, age-appropriate retelling of the Elijah story from 1 Kings 19. After you share the story, invite the children on a “Listening for God” tour of your church property. Ask them to look and listen for places where they might hear God speak. Some suggestions include the sanctuary, at the altar rail, a classroom, the library, a prayer chapel, outside with the wind rustling through the trees. Be creative. Affirm their ideas. You might be surprised where God’s youngest disciples hear the Divine voice. After you have finished, invite the children to draw a picture of someone listening for God. Post the results on your church website or other visible place in your community.
Photos of Mt. Sinai by Shannon Hobbs used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!