The Presbyterian Church of Chestertown Alison Halsey
Chestertown, MD I Kings 19:9-14
June 23, 2019 Ordinary 11
Hide and Seek
According to the calendar it is now officially summer. Yes! Schools are out, the sound of lawn mowers and weed wackers is heard in the land, the boats are back in the water, the fishing pole is dusted off with high hopes, ice tea is made awaiting our thirst, golfing dates fill our calendars, the corn is waist high, and local pools are filled with the sound of children splashing and yelling ‘Marco Polo’. This week the building will be transformed for Vacation Bible School as children gather to hear the stories of our faith, sing songs, and make crafts. I love summers for the opportunity to have additional free time to garden, read, and speak with neighbors. Summertime gives us chances to reconnect, to step outside of the rat race, to catch our breath, and renew our souls. It is sabbath time.
Our feisty prophet in this morning’s scripture passage is in desperate need of some sabbath time. Elijah needs a break. We find him hiding in cave, fearful, depressed, confused, and wanting quite frankly to be left alone. He is burned out and as the late Peter Gnome wrote; “He reminds us of a lesson that all of us need to know – that failure is not the opposite of success; it is often the result of success.” He has been a faithful messenger of God and he is exhausted.
Initially, the prophet, Elijah, appeared on the scene to warn Ahab, the king, of a disastrous drought, then… in the third year of the drought the word of the Lord came to Elijah telling him to return to the king and say to him that since he and his family have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the god Baal they were responsible for it. Elijah furthermore challenged the King to a duel with the weapon of choice being the activity of their gods.
The gauntlet being cast, both sides were to set before their God a sacrifice of a bull placed on top of an altar. They were then to call upon their God to send fire to light the sacrifice. Being the gentleman who he was he allowed the King’s religious leaders to go first. They proceeded to dance in a frenzied manner for hours, jabbed themselves with knives offering their own blood, and shouted their prayers till they were horse but to no avail. When they were thoroughly exhausted, they all turned their eyes to watch Elijah summon his God.
Elijah was ready, obnoxiously ready to be honest. First, he had them dig a trench around the altar and fill it with water. Then he got a bucket brigade going and had them soak down the altar and just for good measure he told them to do it again and then again. And while he was a bit cocky, he was confident in his God. He gave Yahweh the word and jumped back. Lightening flashed and the water steamed and fizzed and the offering on the altar turned into a pile of ash. Those in attendance feel on their knees and at the signal from Elijah his followers then slaughtered the prophets of Baal. Not one remained.
As quickly as Elijah had felt the thrill of victory, he also knew the agony of defeat. Jezebel, the wife of the king, was livid about losing the prophets of her God and so she sought to take the life of Elijah. Hearing such he fled to the desert and exhausted from the ordeal hoped to just curl up and die. God, however, isn’t finished with him so he sent angels to wait upon him and to feed him. He ultimately ended up where we find him in today’s scripture lesson, hiding out in the cave at Horeb, the mount of God.
That is where God found him as well. “Elijah,” God asked, “What are you doing here?” (Clearly the wrong question for God to ask) Elijah gave him an earful. He was angry and resentful, and his answer sounded something like, “Well, what the heck do you think I am doing here? You ought to know.” God’s response was “go and stand on the mountain of the Lord, for I am about to pass by.” But Elijah was done communicating with God, so he retreated further into the cave to wait out the passing of the Lord. He has had it!
Huddled in the cave, wrapped in his righteous indignation, Elijah heard the great wind which split the mountains, he felt the earthquake, his body sweated from the heat of the crackling fire, but he didn’t move. Then there was a quiet, eerily awesome sheer silence and Elijah sensed God had moved on. It was over. He was still alive and so he arose, wrapped his cloak around his face and walked to the entrance of the cave to survey the damage. Like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, he stretched and then cautiously, ever so cautiously he stepped forward into the light looking tentatively about. No sign of God – he had survived and as he began to relax and consider his options, God said, “Ah Ha! Got ya, Elijah!” (Who says that God doesn’t have a sense of humor?) And after giving Elijah a chance to vent yet again, God told him, “Go, return… there is still more for you to do.”
Now for all of us, like Elijah, who are suffering from the effects of feeling burned out, who are relieved that the hectic pace of life is slowing down, who are looking to the summer as an opportunity to hide away for a bit, there is some hope and comfort in this story. There is some consulation in knowing that even the most devoted of God’s servants crumble and flee from the world of stress and anxiety. Even Jesus frequently withdrew for a time of quiet rest and prayer.
Summer offers us sabbath rest, a chance to relax, to be quiet and to reconnect with our God. It slows us down to listen to that sheer silence in which God’s voice maybe calling us to be about something new, something different. So, we take a break during the summer from the hectic pace of meeting after meeting to reflect and listen and dream.
Take a sabbath rest, my friends. Not from worship or prayer or quiet time with God but from business. Hide away and relax. Especially you …
• Who have worked hard on committees and boards, take a needed break so you can come back with a clearer and more energized frame of reference in the fall.
• Who have struggled hard with family problems or personal issues, maybe you need to step back, slow down and see if a new perspective arises in the quiet voice of God.
• Who have run ragged from one activity to another, keeping yourself so busy you don’t have time to think or feel. Stop, sit a spell, listen to God’s quiet, I imagine it has something to say to you.
Find a cave of your own choosing in which to crawl. Perhaps that is a summer camp or beach cottage or a park bench or a lounge chair in the back yard or a walk in the woods or a leisurely bike ride or a gentle sail down the river. Wherever that may be find regular time to be there, to breathe freely and to slow down and just be.
Remember however, while being still, your brother Elijah; because when you finally think all is quiet and you slowly, ever so slowly begin to emerge from your restful, rejuvenating quiet, God may come in the sheer silence and say to you “Ah ha! Got Ya!” and send you back into the world with a new task and renewed spirit. God works that way.