Full of fear, Elijah fled for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his attendant there, while he himself went a day’s journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, YHWH,” he said. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.
Suddenly an angel of YHWH touched him and said, “Get up and eat.”
He looked around, and there near his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate the cake and drank the water and than lay down again.
The angle of YHWH came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank some more.
Strengthened by that food, he traveled for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
2 Kings 19:3-8
Exhausted the old man lay under a tree in the wilderness. He had fled, for his life was in danger. Just days before he had fled, he was part of a powerful demonstration. Many were gathered and many were moved. This demonstration was just one of many powerful movements he was involved in.
This man had seen much. He had been captive to a host of amazing events. Hundreds of people sought him out for better of for worse, he was celebrity. There he lay under a tree in the middle of nowhere, exhausted and afraid. He falls asleep.
Exhausted the young man sat at the dinning table, even thought there was plenty of room on the sofa. He feared that if he sat on the sofa he would fall asleep and not be able to finish the day’s work. He was surrounded by deafening silence that was interrupted by the storms outside and the rustling of the paper.
Just 30 minutes from now he will be surrounded by hundreds of people hanging on his every word. With cries of “Amen” and nodding, agitated heads proclaiming, “yes!” The gathered there will demand signs and wonders. Signs that the coming, stirring hope is indeed real. Wondering if all of this is too good to be true. There is definitely a wind of change about, but is the coming change going to offer relief to us?
The angel of YHWH touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” The old man awoke and looked around. He was dazed and trying to clear his mind of dreams and visions. He looked near where his head had been and saw bread and a jar of water. He took the bread and ate as he drank the water. Then he went back to sleep.
Sitting at the table the young man holds his head in his hands. He looks like he is praying. He is trying not to pass out. The room is hot with a small, slow ceiling fan moving the thick warm air around in the room. Sweat flows down his brow and collected in a pool upon the table. The sounds of thunderstorms rage just outside.
The angle of YHWH came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” The old man got up, his bones cracked and clicked. He paused, reflecting on the years that had preceded this day. The exhaustion seemingly unquenchable with death the clearest offering of rest, he ate and drank some more. Strengthened by that food, he traveled until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
The young man breathed in and out in a controlled manner. Breathing in the Spirit of God and expelling the exhaustion that was attempting to overcome him. Whipping the sweat of his brow he moved up from the table he had been sitting at and went outside. There he joined a group of men enjoying a smoke and some light-hearted conversation.
Surrounded by stories of home cooking and the fabulous exploits they have encountered together, the group of men avoiding any talk of the task that was to come. The young man stood there in this circle of men enjoying the cooling night air. His fear and trepidation replaced with a peace and calm that only arrives in divine proportions. The mountaintop was still a dream waiting to be uttered.
The young man tells them to go on with out him. He is too tired to go. On such a stormy night no one will come, no one will care. The men extinguish their cigarettes and climb in to the now arriving vehicles and proceed to the church. It will be a matter of minutes until they arrive at the mountaintop.
They arrive at the church and discover the place is full. Full of people. Full of hope. Full of glory. The young man was called and told to come over as quickly as he could.
The young man arrives. We hear words of thanks, words of gratitude, words of justice, words of hope, and words calling us to grapple with the ills of humanity. Words that challenging us to non-violence. Words of wisdom offering us a way forward in peace. Words we struggle with today. Words of scathing criticism of the poverty many in this nation are subjected to. Words directing us along and bring us to the mountaintop.
Getting to the mountaintop can be a powerful motivation for many. We will do amazing things to get to the mountaintop. The road to the mountaintop is wrought with danger. But that is not the greatest danger one faces on the mountaintop road. Staying on the mountaintop and not making your way down in to the valley is the real danger.
Elijah was an old man, near the end of his prophetic ministry. In our text for today Elijah is coming off a spectacular moment in his life. He is so spectacular that others want him dead to get him out of the way. He flees and prays to God for death. We may read ahead to know that Elijah will soon experience the greatest moment of his prophetic witness and then pass the torch to Elisha. Elijah will find peace and his prophetic witness shall bear fruit.
But not this day. This day Elijah is tired and weak. He is an old man waiting in the desert to die, under a broom tree. Elijah is on his way to the mountaintop. God is there waiting. God is ready to speak in deafening silence and a hushed whisper. The same whisper that spoke creation in to being and deliver signs and wonders to the world.
Martin Luther King was exhausted and in the middle of a march to the mountaintop. Martin had been part of many prophetic moments as he worked with many to being about change in this nation.
That night in Memphis, Martin moved from the mountaintop and in to the valley below. He spoke of the need to stop talking about war and choosing to live in peace. Martin spoke of the need to stop living in a land of violence or nonviolence and live in to the Kingdom reality of nonviolence or nonexistence.
Elijah and Martin offer us a path to God. A path that has provision. A path that brings peace. There are moments of exhaustion. There are moments when crawling under a tree to die sounds much better. There are moments when there is nothing to eat but the food God places at our heads. God awakes us from our sleep to tell us, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”
This is where THE church, this church is. We have been to the mountaintop. We have seen better days. We are part of a great cloud of witnesses, testifying to the justice, compassion, and courage we have been in and through this world. We have wandered in the desert looking for the Promised Land. We have watched as our numbers have dwindled. We have paused, rested under the shade of a broom tree. We have propped our heads up in our hands as we wondered how what needs to get done will get done.
We are hungry. We are tired. We got one more trip to make. “Strengthened by that food, he traveled for forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.” We do not know what will happen to us. Difficult days may be ahead. We must make our way down the mountaintop in to the valley, there are others to guide to the mountaintop.