My Lady Frustration

 

Elijah from Tishbe, who was one of the settlers in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As surely as the LORD lives, Israel’s God, the one I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain these years unless I say so.”

 

Then YHWH’s word came to Elijah: Go from here and turn east. Hide by the Cherith Brook that faces the Jordan River. You can drink from the brook. I have also ordered the ravens to provide for you there. Elijah went and did just what YHWH said. He stayed by the Cherith Brook that faced the Jordan River. The ravens brought bread and meat in the mornings and evenings. He drank from the Cherith Brook. After a while the brook dried up because there was no rain in the land.

 

YHWH ‘s word came to Elijah: Get up and go to Zarephath near Sidon and stay there. I have ordered a widow there to take care of you. Elijah left and went to Zarephath. As he came to the town gate, he saw a widow collecting sticks. He called out to her, “Please get a little water for me in this cup so I can drink.” She went to get some water. He then said to her, “Please get me a piece of bread.”

 

“As surely as YHWH your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any food; only a handful of flour in a jar and a bit of oil in a bottle. Look at me. I’m collecting two sticks so that I can make some food for myself and my son. We’ll eat the last of the food and then die.”

 

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid! Go and do what you said. Only make a little loaf of bread for me first. Then bring it to me. You can make something for yourself and your son after that. This is what Israel’s God, YHWH, says: The jar of flour won’t decrease and the bottle of oil won’t run out until the day YHWH sends rain on the earth.” The widow went and did what Elijah said. So the widow, Elijah, and the widow’s household ate for many days. The jar of flour didn’t decrease nor did the bottle of oil run out, just as YHWH spoke through Elijah.

 

After these things, the son of the widow, who was the matriarch of the household, became ill. His sickness got steadily worse until he wasn’t breathing anymore. She said to Elijah, “What’s gone wrong between us, man of God? Have you come to me to call attention to my sin and kill my son?”

 

Elijah replied, “Give your son to me.” He took her son from her and carried him to the upper room where he was staying. Elijah laid him on his bed. Elijah cried out to YHWH, ” YHWH my God, why is it that you have brought such evil upon the widow that I am staying with by killing her son?” Then he stretched himself over the boy three times and cried out to YHWH, ” YHWH my God, please give this boy’s life back to him.” YHWH, listened to Elijah’s voice and gave the boy his life back. And he lived. Elijah brought the boy down from the upper room of the house and gave   him to his mother. Elijah said, “Look, your son is alive!”

 

“Now I know that you really are a man of God,” the woman said to Elijah, “and that YHWH’s word is truly in your mouth.” — 1 Kings 17:1-24

What is God?

 

Who is God?

 

Islam has the 99 names of God. Hinduism has over a million gods. Judaism has Elohim, YWHW, The Great “I Am”, Jehovah, Adonai, HaShem, and El to name a few. Christians have the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Buddhism seeks to free you of gods and liberate ones mind from the constrains of any divine calling our attention to the impermanence of life.

 

In our text today we witness YHWH, the God of Israel, withholding rain from the Israelites and sending the prophet Elijah out in to the wilderness. Elijah is told to go hide in the brush at the edge of a brook near the River Jordan. He is not to move or be seen. That ravens will bring him food and he may sneak drinks of water from the brook but he must remain hidden.

 

Elijah did what YHWH told him to do. He went and hid in the brush along a brook near the River Jordan and waited as ravens brought him food and snuck water from the brook. But then the brook dried up because God was withholding rain from the Land of Israel.

 

Elijah got another word from YHWH. “Get up and go…I have a widow prepared to care for you.” So out of the bushes Elijah goes and sets off towards this widow. He finds her and discovers she has little to nothing to eat, let alone offer to him. She is exceedingly morose and troubled. The lack of rain has affected her. She is already marginalized and exploited in this male dominated society.

 

We bring this widow in to 2012 she’s the young black mother trying to break free of the systemic injustice of poverty. She is the middle-aged mother of four, whose husband died in Iraq. She is the undocumented woman working below minimum wage in the fields picking the produce on our dinning tables. She is the college aged woman navigating a world in which she is taught how to ovoid being raped.

 

This world teeters on the edge of insanity. It is full of naysayers and doomsday preppers. We have a fascination with zombies, apocalypse, and the political election. Then there are the folks with signs on the streets says, “The End of the World is Near.” The bumper stickers, “Jesus is coming. Hurry, look busy.”

 

God is capable of miracles. God is the fashioner of all life, the Creator of all creation. Then why does it feel like God is withholding the rain?

 

I don’t know about you but I wrestle with God a lot these days. Gone are the salad days of yesterday. Middle class dreams eroding away and being swept in to the ocean of lost hope. Economic woes complicate the life we envision for ourselves, for our children. Things are tough all over.

 

Why is the “Last Shall Be First” line always the shortest? Being last is the epitome of failure in the US. It screams in the face of the American Dream. It has no place in anyone’s vision of recovery but Gods. With the political attack ads running 24/7, in the twilight of the end of this election and half of the nation ready to mourn we are in a giant mess. Have the racist, sexist, homophobic, elitist systems ever departed our national hearts?

 

I am woefully disappointed in what is going on in the emergency response of God to this world. For as long as I can remember I have been deeply concerned with faith, particularly my faith. I went to seminary to discover a language for faith and to gain the ability to share that language in relationship with others. It is no secret to most folks that I have not felt called to serve the church in the traditional fashion. I am not called to parish ministry. I am at my best outside the Christian walls, outside of Christian convention.

 

This past week I was back home and realized why this is. I do not believe much of what Christianity teaches. In simplistic terms, I am an agnostic. I do not believe or know enough of God to definitively express an allegiance to any specific doctrine, confession, or creed. I like a lot of creeds, confessions, and doctrines but cannot align myself with any without understanding them fully.

 

I can align myself with loving others, meeting folks where they are at, and humbly living a life that honors those I encounter. I am willing to left my uncertainty be occupied with Gods mystery. For me this is a faithful space to be, even as a minister.

 

God does not guarantee certainty. God sent Elijah Ravens to care for him. Where are our ravens? God raised the widow’s son from death. Where is our resurrection? What is certain about God is that God is God and we are not. God withheld the rains from Israel and God can and will withhold the rains from us.

 

In a drought who is God or what is God becomes less important and is replaced with when will God. When will God send the ravens? When will God deliver death and resurrection? When will God release the rains?

 

I do not know when God will do any of this. I do now that God is capable of doing it and has done it in the past and will do it again.

Magnificent

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.