It’s Important to Rest Along the Way

Sunday, July 16, 2023
Deacon Stephanie Anderson

1 Kings 19:1–9

19 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. (an act of mercy toward his servant)

4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 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. 7 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.” 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9 At that place he came to a cave (“the” cave – the one where God spoke to Moses; a holy place!), and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

A handful of years ago, I found myself in the midst of a painful and blindsiding divorce. After seven years of marriage, and countless hours of marriage therapy and giving it all we could, my ex-husband and I parted ways.

For those of you who have been through divorce or who have loved people through this particular kind of rupture in one’s life, you know just how painful it is. Even when it’s the right thing; even when the splitting required courage, the chaos and disorientation of divorce, for me, was devastating. In the process, I learned a lot of things, most vividly about the erasing or unwriting that needs to happen: divorce is not just a promise that is walked back, but an unraveling of a future you had imagined.

I found myself saying goodbye to someone who had been in my life for decades. Moving in with my incredibly generous parents as a thirty-two year old. Doing that hard work of reimagining a new or different future than the one I had committed to and had been promised to me. One of the hardest parts was tending to the tedious and painful work of sharing the news with all our circles of loved ones and then needing to care for and hold the reactions and emotions of everyone else in the midst of my own pain.

I was in a true wilderness season of my own life. As I worked to pick up the pieces and imagine the steps ahead of me, a card showed up in the mail. It was from one of my dearest friends, Erin and the cover had three whales on it. The card said this:

“Dear Stephanie. I saw this card and immediately thought of you. Why? Because I imagine it’s hard to be a whale these days, with pollution and climate change and cruise ships. But all that God asks of whales is that they get enough to eat, that they get enough sleep, and that they just sort of float there and reflect the light. I also imagine it’s hard to be Stephanie these days. But remember. All God asks is that you get enough to eat, that you get enough sleep, and that you just float there and reflect the light. And some day, you will remember the joy of being a creature on God’s earth. And we will be here with you through all of it.”

She’s a good friend.

Today’s scripture reading tells us a part of the story of the prophet Elijah. In this particular scene, we find him exhausted and afraid, fleeing for his life at the threat of Queen Jezebel. He escapes into the wilderness, a full day’s journey from anyone else. He lays down under a tree and asks God to take his life. It’s all too much – the things he’s running from and the fear and preemptive exhaustion he has from imagining the journey ahead – he can’t imagine making it through this. Maybe you’ve been there, too.

Now, there are a few other things you should know about Elijah and his state of mind in this moment. He is convinced – convinced – that everyone has abandoned him and God; that he’s the only one left who is serving God faithfully; and that everyone else could never understand and are quite possibly the problem themselves. He is, admittedly, a little self-righteous. I mean, he is a prophet, so it’s his job to stand apart from the crowd and speak a truth that might not be easy to hear, but he does seem to have taken his assumptions a little too far (as God will remind him later in the story).

But I want to pause and notice just how easy this is to do when we are in the midst of painful or blindsiding times in our own lives. Elijah is convinced that he’s the first and the only person going through this turmoil – “God, it’s just me left!” Sometimes we feel like we’re the first or the only people to have ever gone through what we go through and, in some respects, it’s true that each of our pain is its own story; it’s own uniqueness. But someone once told me that when tragedy strikes, we find ourselves in a club we didn’t want to be in; a community that we maybe didn’t even realize existed until now. And then suddenly, we hear of lots of people who might have gone through divorce, or lost a sibling, or lost a child, or are caring for someone whose memory is fading, or who finds themselves estranged from a loved one, or any number of trials that make us feel like we’re alone. We quickly find out that we’re not.

In the midst of his turmoil – in response to Elijah asking God to end his life – God sends an angel to provide nourishment in the form of fresh baked cake and a giant jug of water. Also, notably: encouragement. The angel doesn’t just drop thee things off, she says, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”

I saw something on Instagram that was so perfectly concise and helpful recently. It said, “Hey. If you find yourself hating everyone, go eat. If you find yourself thinking that everyone hates you, go sleep.”

Thank God for these angels in our midst that help to remind us that these daily, monotonous tasks of self-care are, in fact, holy and important to God. Those who remind us to “get up and eat”.

This nourishment does strengthen Elijah for the journey ahead to Mount Horeb. And that’s a good thing because this journey was loaded with spiritual meaning that might be easy for us to miss; this mountain meant a lot to God’s people. This is the same mountain where Moses met God, saw God, and received the Ten Commandments. This is also the same mountain where Israel entered into covenant with God. This mountain is like the ultimate holy place for those who would have been reading this early text.

So, nourished and well-rested, Elijah then stands in a “cave”, as we read in verse 9, more appropriately translated as “the cave” – a reference to the same cleft in the rock where Moses stood during his encounter with God. This is the holiest of places! Elijah is confronted by “the word of the LORD”, but not with commandments or a prophetic message to deliver, but with a divine question to answer: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

The conversation that follows – that we’re missing in today’s reading – is a back and forth between Elijah and God. In the midst of his exhaustion (some might call tantrum), God doesn’t reprimand him, God doesn’t chastise him. God doesn’t correct him or even comfort or commend him. All God does is reminds him of his very basic marching orders; just keep bringing about the kingdom of God, Elijah. We have work to do and I will be with you.

Elijah was standing at one of the holiest places in all of Hebrew scripture, but it wasn’t until he rested – until he made sure he had had enough to eat and enough to drink – that he could experience it in its fullness. God was always there, always present, whether he noticed it or not, but I have to think that it was better to have noticed it. Sustained for the journey, he spoke with God and could hear God’s call for his life, to bring about the kingdom of God.

Some days, friends, bringing about the kingdom of God is going to look like just that: floating there and reflecting the light. Others, that’s going to look like a season in our lives when we can be that encouraging angel, reminding others of God’s care for our whole bodies and selves. Tending to our most basic needs is itself a sacred and blessed act. God cares for our whole wellbeing.

May you find refuge in this promise; that the God of the universe, who stretched out the horizon and made the trees and the stars, only asks that you get enough to eat, that you get enough sleep, and that you float there and reflect the light that was all around Elijah and that is all around us, even still.

Thanks be to God.

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