Elijah Rock; Comin up Lord
Elijah Rock, Shout, Shout
Elijah Rock, Comin up Lord.
So begins the beginning of a spiritual that celebrates the faith of the great prophet Elijah. But today’s story is different. Elijah had just defeated the prophets of Baal and God sent relief from a long drought with a rainstorm.
But when word reached the Queen of Northern Israel, she promised to kill Elijah for what he had accomplished, and he ran into the wilderness.
The wilderness is a very special place. It is where Hagar and Ishmael were sent by Abraham and they were given strength by Almighty God to form a new people, the Arabs. It was where Moses led the children of Israel to over time to become a free people in God, no longer the slaves of Egypt. The wilderness was the place Jesus was driven by the Holy Spirit to sort out what it meant to be God’s chosen one, God’s Messiah.
Yes, the wilderness can be a place of change, restoration, and new life. Elijah entered the wilderness a defeated man who had given up on himself and came out a stronger prophet than ever before. While Elijah had given up on himself God had not given up on him.
We can recognize Elijah’s state: utterly exhausted from the work of the Lord, in danger from speaking truth to power, with seemingly little to show for his efforts, Elijah is afraid, overwhelmed, burned out. He walks into the wilderness, sits down under a tree and begs God to die. “I’ve done enough! Take my life now.”
Many of us are driven from time to time by a sense that no matter what we do, it’s not enough. There will always be more suffering, entrenched systems of injustice, new wars breaking out, fresh disasters occurring; human brutality to one another continues unabated and so, we try to do more. We want to be faithful to God’s calling into the world that God loves so much. Yet we feel overwhelmed, burned out, done! Our energies done! We emotionally walk away exhausted begging God to take us home.
So, Elijah goes into the wilderness and lays down, hoping to die, and falls asleep. Most of us only go into the wilderness when forced by the challenges of life. Yet wilderness is precisely where so many divine encounters occur.
What is it about the wilderness that makes it so special? First it is a no-place. It is a spacious, blank page, without agenda or expectation. It can be disorienting and uncomfortable, but it can also be a place of possibility, where the old ways no longer work, and the ‘next thing” has not yet come into our vision.
The wilderness can be a special place of allowing us to stop thinking and begin to listen. Like Elijah, there are times when we just need to sit or sleep quietly in the Lord, where there are no easy answers. It is a place where we can say to the Lord, I am exhausted. Please restore me and show me the way into your future.
And it is precisely at such moments that we are open to a messenger from God. One place where I have particularly experienced this has been when I am drawing a blank in my sermon and not knowing what to say or do next. It is at such moments I have laid down, fallen asleep and have been woken up to new possibilities; possibilities I have never thought of before.
If you think I preach good sermons then celebrate the miracles that God accomplishes through this servant at unexpected times and in unexpected ways, the same can happen for you if you let go and let God.
“Elijah, get up and eat.” There is no summons to get back to work. It is an invitation to eat a very simple meal of bread. Such a meal of help and new beginnings we offer to each other from the Lord every Sunday when we celebrate communion.
So, Elijah gets up and eats. Then he falls back asleep, possibly deeper than ever before.
This time based on God’s grace he is allowed to let go of his sense of failure and just rest in a God who not only has not given up on him but has plans for his life as a prophet of Israel.
Unfortunately, we often do not seek rest in the Lord. We seek escape in drugs and alcohol. We seek escape in watching some of the mindless shows on television. We can even hide on the internet to seek inner peace.
What if we viewed these acts of rest as acts of faith? A way of de-centering “self-in-control” so that true rest can restore us, making us more open and available to however God calls us into the future?
Now let’s notice what God does. God sends a messenger who says once again; “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” Elijah is invited to realize his need to be fed for the journey of many days ahead of him.
Today’s passage tells us that all of us at times feel defeated and want to die. There are times when all of us give up on ourselves. When we do go to God in prayer and let it all hang out. At such moments God will give us the rest and restoration we need. For while we give up on ourselves God never gives up on us.
Rest and receive nourishment in the Lord through rest, study of the Word, prayer, and coming to the communion table for refreshment and healing. For it is there that we will find the real rock, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.