By Pastor Linda Dolby
Scripture: Psalm 42 and 1 Kings 19:1-5a
Do you remember the song from the tv show Hee-Haw? Buck Owens and Roy Clark would sing gloom, despair and agony on me.
“Gloom despair and agony on me
Deep dark depression, excessive misery.
If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all.
Gloom, despair and agony on me.”
That’s the song Elijah was singing. He was worn out. He couldn’t go any further. He was exhausted. He was at the end of his rope. He had fought the good fight. He had battled against the false prophets of the court of Ahab the King. And he had won! He spoke against the idolatry of Queen Jezebel herself. He had performed what God asked, he had lived up to his calling.
And so Jezebel was out to get him. Elijah fled into the wilderness – alone, afraid, feeling sorry for himself. He had given his best. But his best was not enough. Evil still ruled. Elijah did not want to go on. What was the use of it all?
However, he certainly did not want Jezebel to enjoy the satisfaction of killing him. So he wished God would take him while he slept. That was a good way to die – in his sleep. He lay down under a miserable old broom tree, a bush barely able to give shade to a bird, much less a man. He told God he had had enough. He fell asleep and waited to die. And what happened?
The next verses in 1 Kings tell us this: “Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up, and ate and drank.”
Notice that the angel who ministers to him does not do ‘spiritual stuff.’ He does not say to Elijah “”pray about it Elijah, and you’ll feel better.” No, the angel feeds him and makes him rest, telling him if he does not do this, the journey will be too much for him.
Do you want to know how to be a friend when someone is going through a tough time? Well, I can tell you what not to do or to say:
Do not say, “I know what you’re going through’, because no one can, even if they have had the same experience themselves. And don’t say, “Don’t worry, it will all work out. It’s part of God’s plan, God’s will for you.”
Here is what you should do:
Just show up and keep your mouth shut. Be a strong, silent support. Give a hug or two. Bring food if you like. Encourage your friend to rest.
I worked with a man when we lived in Rochester whose beautiful, blonde, teen-age daughter was car jacked by three men. She was violated and then she was murdered. And he told me this story: “Do you know what was most helpful in those terrible days? I had an old friend, we hadn’t seen each other for years. He lived three states away. When he heard the news, he got in his car, drove here, got a hotel room, and showed up at the house, doing every little thing to make life better. He shined my shoes. He ran to the grocery. During the viewing he stood behind me the whole time, just so I would have support – physical support. He had my back.” That’s a friend.
And for those of us who are hurting? Take time out. Take a break. Just like McDonald’s says, “you deserve a break today.” Let a friend support you. Pause, eat and drink and rest. Later you can continue the journey. Pray. Ask God to restore you.
What happens next to Elijah? “He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 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?’ 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.’”
You see, Elijah is still complaining. “Look at all I have done for you, Lord, and they still want to kill me!” He was at Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai, the Mountain of God, the place where God was revealed to Moses through cloud and fire. And it is there that God speaks to him and tells him that he is about to pass by him, that he is about to show God’s own self to him.
“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”
Elijah looks for the Lord in the strong wind that comes upon the mountain, and then in the earthquake that shakes it, and in the fire that follows, but he does not find God there.
Isn’t that just like us? We look for God in the wind, in the quaking, in the fire – in the big momentous events when God’s power is clearly seen. But Elijah does not find God there. Where is God?
The still, small voice. Some translations call it a shear silence, others, a gentle whisper. And with this small voice, God speaks to Elijah.
“Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘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.”
Here’s Elijah again, gloom, despair and agony on me, he lists all that he has done for God and how his enemies are out to kill him. Complain, complain, complain. And what does God do? Does God say, “There, there, Elijah, I know it’s been hard. You just stay here and rest a while.” No.
“Then the Lord said to him, ‘Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill.”
God sends Elijah down from the mountain. To do what? To get involved in politics. “Go – I want you to anoint this guy king and then anoint another guy king and anoint Elisha to be your successor, a prophet in your place.”
After we are restored, God has work for us to do. But until then…You deserve a break today. We would do well to take time out from time to time, to get in touch with God, to listen to God, rather than to all the activity that comes and goes about us. Pause. Listen. Strength and guidance will come. We will be enabled to do what God calls us to do.
Remember – our God is a God of resurrection. Of resurgent life. Pain begets growth. Defeat turns to victory. Hear again the words of Psalm 42, which begins in hopelessness. “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? My tears have been my food day and night.”
But then it ends in hopefulness: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”
You deserve a break today. Hope in God. And all shall be well I’m telling you, all shall be well again, I know. Amen.
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