1 KINGS 19:1-4, 5-7, 8-15
Rev. Rosemarie C. Smurzynski
Scripture: 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 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." 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.
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." [Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." 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. 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."] He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." Then the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus...."
I was climbing, climbing up the mountain. I had asked my husband and parents to climb with me, but they said, “No.” They would stay in the village below. The paths were rough; a few times I thought I’d fall to my death, but that didn’t happen. The last few hundred feet to the top were steep. I had left the fog line that covered the east side of the mountain; the west side was clear and I saw far, far away a desert which looked like an oil of the Painted Desert. The colors invited me: “Come.” they called, “all you need to do is lift your arms and leap.” I didn’t. I knew I needed to get back to the village. That reality was where I lived. I crawled down. As I approached the road my husband and parents appeared with our car. It was raining and dark. I was glad to see them. “Where were you?” they asked. I got in the car and they drove to a tavern where people were eating and having fun. And then, I woke…
I haven’t dreamt that dream again, but I have remembered it these past twenty five years. Step by step, I climb the mountain; color by color, I am lured by the desert; family member by family member I know once more that reality’s my address, the desert, a place to visit.
Elijah, a colorful prophet like all prophets haunted by reality and drawn by spirituality, is fleeing in our narrative today. Life in the political and religious arena of Samaria is rough. That life, once with intention given over to God’s work, now seems fruitless. Jezebel, the vengeful wife of King Ahab, is out to kill him for recently killing one hundred of her Baal worshipping prophets. Elijah wants to hide from her and also from life. He escapes to the wilderness. He sleeps. He is awakened by an angel who feeds him cake. Elijah begs for release from the life of a prophet. He tells God: “It is you and me God; the people have broken their covenant with you. And by the way, God, just kill me.”
Julia Sweeney, the Saturday Night Live comedian wrote a memoir ten years ago: “God Said, Ha!” I think what Ms Sweeney meant is what a wise rabbi once said: “You want to make God laugh. Tell God your plans.”
God is puzzled when God sees Elijah where he least expected to see him. Twice in doublet form the narrator tells us God says: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah repeats his view of the situation in Samaria: “The people are out of covenant, I alone am left and they are seeking my life.” And God says, “Ha! Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus …”
Yes, Elijah had had enough. Why not? Witness the state of his world politically: war, misused power, destruction, it all adds up to justifiable fear. And his personal life was complicated, too. God knows how seductive the Mountain View is. The drama, to stay or not to stay, shows up in many Bible narratives. And God knows—the mountaintop is not where we live. We live in the valley where we lay our heads and feed our bodies, and listen in the great wind and in the fire and also in the silence for the one wild voice in the mixture who announces possible next steps.
- In what way are you/we like Elijah—tired of the pressures of a God call to be in the world and wanting the salve of spiritual safety?
- What do you take away from this story which helps you live in the tough places?
- Jesus said: “Take this cup from me.” How does God’s presence help you over the craggy terrain?
Prayer: adapted from a prayer by A. Powell Davies.
Eternal Spirit who dwells in the hearts of those who seek thee, be with us.
If we come in joy, let us draw strength from it;
if we come in sorrow, touch us with thy great compassion;
if we have lost our way and it is dark, let the light of thy presence appear before us
that we might see our path
If we are discouraged remind us of the resources you have given to us.
O God of great possibilities deepen our hope.
With your counsel let us know the best that resides within us.