1 Kings 19: 1-21, Reflections
vv. 3-4-- Elijah life was threatened, and he beat a hasty exit. Elijah asks God to take his life. He is done.
People who share God’s message are supposed to have an unwavering trust in God, a faith which keeps them steadfast no matter what or who threatens them. Elijah has lost that conviction. That’s how messed up the situation in Israel has become. Even the prophets are giving up hope.
For those who rarely find your life threatened this aspect of the Elijah story is difficult to relate to. Try this perspective instead-- ever feel like your way of life is under attack? If so then that can be your way into the Elijah story, through your concern about what is happening in your community, country, or the world, and how you deal with that concern.
Are you done? Have you given up hope? Is this world dead to you? That’s where Elijah’s at.
v. 5-8-- Elijah prays and asks to die. God answers his prayer by sending an angel. Elijah is given fresh baked bread and water, and then he falls back asleep.
Elijah is not given what he asks for. Elijah is given what he needs. Not once, but twice. The angel comes back a second time, feeds Elijah, gives him something to drink, and then sends him on his way. God doesn’t force Elijah to go back to Israel and deliver God’s message. Instead, God allows Elijah to put more and more distance between himself and those who threaten his life.
Elijah arrives back at the mountain of God, the mountain where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Elijah has returned to the beginning of his religion. To the place where the informal covenant between God and Abraham was made official.
Elijah is so beaten down, his faith is worn so thin that he has abandoned his post as Israel’s prophet and retreated to a place where he can be alone with God in a sacred place.
Is there a part of you that can sympathize with Elijah? Society bombards you with messages that glamorize questionable lifestyles, violence, a survival of the fittest mentality, and it’s such a relief to get away from all of that and come to church to seek God. Here your soul can find rest.
You ask to escape and God invites you into Christian community. It’s what you need . . . for now.
v. 9-12-- Elijah must be feeling a little better. He’s not asking God to kill him anymore, so that’s an improvement. A little food and water, some sleep and now he’s not the problem anymore, everyone else is. Elijah is the only one left who still believes in God.
There’s a pattern here that is all too familiar. The world feels inhospitable, people get discouraged, they withdraw, and they find like-minded people who share their attitude about the moral decline of society. Their main topic of conversation becomes the problems that everyone else is causing. What’s wrong with society; it’s all they can talk about. Some people get stuck in that judgmental mindset.
Food, water, and sleep lifted Elijah out of his self-hatred. How is God going to lift Elijah out of his society-hatred?
First, Elijah is allowed to voice his concern. Then comes the display of power-- wind, earthquake, and fire. God is not in the dramatic show, however. Elijah only moves when he hears the gentle whisper.
v. 13-18-- “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God asks the prophet a second time. Elijah is all worked up and indignant . . . and mistaken. He isn’t a little bit wrong, he is way, way off. He claims to be the only faithful person left in the land, and God’s still, small voice gently chastises him. That’s the next step in dealing with Elijah’s hatred of society. God counters Elijah’s false assumptions with facts.
Elijah is in fact not the only faithful person left in society. There’s Hazael, Jehu, Elisha, and oh yeah the seven thousand other people who still serve God. How could Elijah’s perception of society be so disconnected from reality?
Elijah ran away. He felt threatened, and he cut himself off from society. He doesn’t know what’s really going on in the world because he’s not a part of it anymore.
What are you doing here, Church? Hiding in a cave. Feeling like the only righteous people left in the world. Society is going down hill. People are becoming more and more immoral. Communities are falling apart. Citizens are selfish and inconsiderate. On and on and on. One complaint after another. Does this sound familiar?
How does a church end up in such a state? We arrive in such a cave of misery when we are worn out. We run away and hide in a cave of complaints when our faith in God’s power, God’s ability to work in the world has been weakened.
When you feel like Elijah and are ready to turn your back on society, rest like Elijah. Get away and take a break. Pray like Elijah. And expect God to answer. Listen for the gentle whisper. God is not in hot air, earthquakes, or fiery rhetoric. God is the still, small voice that directs your attention to the faithful people who still remain.
vv. 19-21-- God fires the prophet. Elijah’s faith is so compromised that God can’t use him anymore, and he is instructed to train his replacement. Elisha has to take over as God’s prophet.
This is why rebuking the complainers, gently, lovingly, with as much concern and kindness as you can put into your voice and telling them that they are wrong, is the right thing to do. You don’t want your fellow Christians to end up like Elijah, replaced because they are no longer fit to lead. However, that’s what is going to happen if their false assumptions about society are not corrected with the fact that the world is still full of faithful people.
Pray and ask that God’s gentle whisper be heard through your voice when you tell the complainers that they are better off making stories of faithfulness the focus of their conversation because those type of holy conversations will strengthen their faith, while moaning and groaning about the unfaithful will only weaken their relationship with God and weaken those who have the misfortune of having to listen to their gripes.
If you have a sneaking suspicion that you bear an uncomfortable resemblance to Elijah, here’s my advice. Be honest before God. Tell God that you feel like bolting and giving up because it seems like no one else cares, so why should you? You might try praying the prayer that Bishop Scott Jones offers up every day. This week he told the clergy of the Great Plains Episcopal Area that part of his daily prayer is “God I want to be a part of what you are blessing in the world.”
Bishop Jones’ prayer assumes that God is active in the world, is a force for positive change, that people can play a part in that change, and he wants to be part of that blessing. Offer that prayer, “God I want to be a part of what you are blessing in the world” and then pause and listen for the still small voice to answer you and send you back to society to live and to serve among the faithful.
Or, start training your replacement.