1 Kings 19:4-8
Up until now, Elijah has been a most impressive prophet.
He has stopped the rain from falling on the evil and the just. He has held regular conversations with God. He has managed to make a little flour and oil feed an entire household for days.
Then he just kept going: Bringing a widow’s son back from the dead, confronting an evil king, orchestrating a dramatic my-God-is-better-than-your-God smackdown, killing 450 false prophets, and then summoning a mighty storm to end the very drought he had started.
And every time Elijah stepped out in faith, whenever he took a bold stand for God’s faithfulness and power, God provided.
Whether it was ravens who brought him bread and meat twice a day, a widow with no food and even less hope, life itself, or a holy fire, the hand of God had rescued Elijah from every crisis and gave him the strength to carry on.
They are quite the team: the prophet Elijah and his God. It seems there is no obstacle they can’t overcome, no enemy they can’t defeat.
But then the evil, somewhat cowardly, king—Ahab is his name—tells the evil queen—Jezebel is her name—that Elijah has killed all her prophets. A furious Jezebel vows that within the next 24 hours she will see Elijah dead.
And then a most interesting thing happens: Jezebel’s threat seems to push Elijah over the edge.
Maybe he had thought his miraculous triumph over her forces would help her see the light and inspire her to change her ways. When that doesn’t happen, when neither he nor his God can bring evil to its knees, Elijah hits the wall. It’s as if our super-hero has suddenly lost all of his super-powers. It’s as if Elijah has remembered that he is mortal. It’s as if he’s suddenly forgotten that God is with him. In an instant he is both undone and done for.
Then, the story says, he was afraid.
Elijah, the man of God who had stared down and conquered 450 priests of the queen’s personal religious army without so much as blinking an eye, is afraid.
And so he runs for his life—runs and runs and runs until he can’t run any more.
Now, maybe nothing in this story resonates with you at all. Maybe your journey through life has been one flat, straight line or, better yet, a path with plenty of highs but no lows and few obstacles. Maybe you’re one of those so-called self-made people who can handle anything. It may be that working for justice and caring for your family and doing your job and volunteering at church all at the same time never wears you out. Maybe you’ve never reached the end of your rope. Maybe you’ve never been afraid or discouraged or exhausted.
Or it may be that you, like Elijah, are human. It may be that each and every one of us has our limits, which sometimes we honor and sometimes we just push right through.
It may be that some of us are teetering on the edge right now.
By grace and faith, Spirit power, and a strong, loving community, we made it through four years of racist, dehumanizing, and destructive policies from the White House. By faith, commitment, love, and community-building we learned and grew and made it through three and a half years of providing sanctuary to Lucio Perez. And by God’s grace, respect for science, faithful generosity, and an active love for one another and our neighbors, we made it through a year and a half of pandemic isolation, anxiety, death, fear, loss, and grief.
Thanks to vaccinations and caution and methodical re-opening policies, we thought we were well on our way to a new normal. With a sense of relief that felt something like giddiness, we began gathering with vaccinated friends and family. With togetherness came relief, healing, and joy. Some of us resumed eating in restaurants or traveling. We took off our masks and delighted in seeing one another’s smiles. We began to feel safe again.
And then, one day, some of us actually came to church, in person.
You’d have thought we had slain 450 dragons. We weren’t quite on top of the world, but we could see it from here. We could make plans. We could start preparing for the youth and family campout. We could anticipate the day when these pews would be full and we could actually sing in church again. We could imagine gathering wherever and however we chose without fear or even a second thought.
And then we hit the delta-variant wall, a wall built largely not by the virus itself but also by vaccine- and mask-resistance, disinformation, confusion, fear, selfishness, and right-wing politics. And then we found ourselves on the edge of another surge in Covid cases, a fourth wave of hospitalizations and deaths, the reality of breakthrough cases, a return to debates over mask-wearing and distancing, and re-opening and new-normal plans that have come to a screeching halt.
And, for some of us at least, it is as if all the determination, adrenaline, and hope that had carried us through and almost out of a deadly pandemic has just evaporated. And the likelihood of more disease, more risk, more uncertainty, and more delays has left at least some of us feeling dispirited and exhausted.
Add to all that the reality that the Earth is burning up—literally—and some of us, like Elijah, are ready to crawl under the nearest tree and surrender. Faced with the possibility of a return to full pandemic restrictions, some of us would rather run and hide. We are tempted to just give up—if not on life itself, on hope and at least some of our neighbors. In the pandemic whiplash, despair, confusion, and ongoing shortsighted selfishness of others, we may have forgotten to ask where God might be and how God might provide for us. Again.
But if the story of Elijah teaches nothing else, let it be that amazing things happen when we give up. Let it be that the God who journeys with us is ever ready to sustain us. Our surrender opens the door for God—who has been with us all along—to show off. Again. Our rest makes in possible for God to bless us and strengthen us. Again.
Are you feeling as if you’re all alone? No worries. Here’s an angel to take care of you.
Are you famished and completely worn out? Here’s some angel food cake and a blankie for your nap.
Are you still feeling tired and hopeless? Oh, honey, you need more rest. Here, have a drink of water before going back to bed.
Get up and eat. Drink your fill. Otherwise the journey will be too much for you.
At this point it’s worth noticing that the journey itself, and the rigors of the journey, are a given. Rulers will be unjust. Viruses will mutate, and people will be stubborn and selfish and sometimes just plain stupid. We will feel angry and discouraged, exhausted, and helpless.
But there are angels hovering ‘round.
Don’t believe me? Just look around you.
The struggle for peace and justice, public health, and love for all will not falter if we take some time off to restore our souls.
And the Bread of Life is with us always, along with the Cup of Blessing—a sumptuous feast of wondrous love and transforming power—more than enough to go around, more than enough to revive our spirits and give us strength for the journey ahead.
I give up, we say, not realizing that those words are the beginning of new life.
Get up and eat, says the angel of God.
Do this in remembrance of me, says Jesus, God’s love made flesh.
So let us acknowledge our grief, anger, and weariness. Let us find rest in the arms of the God who never intended for us to make it all on our own. Then, when we are ready, let us get up and eat and drink of God’s goodness.
And in our renewed strength, let us continue on the journey, living and loving with God and in God.