Today we begin a series, set to coincide with stewardship season, on the fruit of the spirit. We will read the Galatians 5 text each week, paired with another text that serves to shed some light on the day’s fruit. Today it comes from First Kings. After David’s reign, then Solomon, the nation had split into northern and southern kingdoms. Ahab rules Israel, the north, and through his worship of the god Baal instead of the one true God is brought into conflict with the prophet Elijah.
It is enough, Lord. I don’t know if I can do it any longer. I was walking out of Duke Hospital a few weeks ago, around the circle drive, waiting at the crosswalk. At the front of the crowd was a mom holding her son, 6 or 7 years old. He covered her whole torso, arms covered with bandages wrapped around her neck, legs around her waist, her arms clutching both him and a bag in each hand. As I passed by I asked if I could help. She gave me a slight smile and shook her head. I got it, she said. Thanks. I got it. And I saw that look in her eyes, that fierce determination you see in parents trying to hold it together for their desperately sick children. There was so much strength there, but you could also see the exhaustion, the fear.
It is enough, Lord. I don’t know if I can do it any longer. A man fumbles to tie his tie in the darkness. It has been weeks putting this presentation together, and he has to get there early. He has come in after his kids have gone to bed, left before they woke up for five nights in a row. He has barely spoken to his wife, and both are feeling the strain. His son’s grades have been slipping, but he can’t think about that because he has to be on his toes today, because the company hasn’t been doing well, everyone knows it, the pressure is building, and if that job goes away, who knows what else is next.
It is enough, Lord. I don’t know if I can do it any longer. Each of us has our own breaking point, when we press up against the boundary of what we feel we can handle. When the grief comes, when a diagnosis pops up out of nowhere, as things get frantic as the lists grow, as the bills mount, as you walk by a group getting settled in to sleep under a bridge. Throw in a handful of these things together, in a world where we all feel like we need to be perfect, have it all together, perform and build and achieve. And all we want is a little peace, a sliver of time to breathe, and we cry out…It is enough, Lord. I don’t know if I can do it any longer.
Elijah is a burned-out prophet.1 After the glory days of King David, then King Solomon, of his wisdom and the building of the temple2, things had begun to fall apart. After Solomon’s death the kingdom splits into two, and we begin a series of rulers who listen more to themselves and their egos and their cronies than the people, the God they were to serve. And Ahab, evidently, was the worst. I Kings 16:30 says, "Ahab son of Omri did evil in the sight of the Lord more than all who were before him." And after he ascends the throne, God calls to Elijah, to call the people back to faithfulness. Altars, already, were springing up to the god Baal, elaborate cults had developed. They had forgotten who they were to worship. Elijah is empowered to do a series of miracles that confirm his call, and finally goes to confront the king.
It is an astonishing scene. Elijah, Ahab, and the priests of Baal have a stand-off on Mount Carmel to see which one’s God is real. The people watching are persuaded by Elijah’s acts, and fall upon the priests and kill them. Ahab is furious, and issues the death threat that comes at the beginning of today’s text. In one day’s time, he says, you will be dead. And he got up and fled, running, after the confrontation, after the scene on the mount, after the violence, after the drought and then driving rain. Exhausted, desperate, he runs. After running, he leaves his servants in the wilderness and takes off alone, a day’s journey, collapses under a single tree, and cries out: It is enough, O Lord, and he is so tired he asks to die.
He is, undoubtedly, a little melodramatic. But who can blame him? He has tried to follow, and now his life is in danger. God asks what he is doing, and Elijah explodes: "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites (THEY) 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." God doesn’t answer his complaining directly, but tells him to go stand at the edge of the cave, looking out on the mountain. I love this scene, and this is the reason I chose the text for today. A tremendous wind comes, splitting rocks. But, the text says, the Lord was not in the wind. Then earthquake, then fire. And then, after the fire, after the mountain has nearby been torn apart, comes sheer silence, deep and full, and Elijah knows. A voice, God, an angel, repeats the question from earlier, and Elijah says the exact same thing as before: I have been working hard, no one else is, no one appreciates me, come on, God, and now they want to kill me.
Initially I misread this text. I loved the appearance of God not in the mighty storms and the chaos, but in the silence. Life gets frantic for all of us, and the peace I most often reach for – and I would imagine you might, too – is about peace and quiet. Please, God. With small children, I love the idea of peace and quiet, an evening to eat outside, having a glass of wine as the sun sets, just a moment without anyone who needs something. What a marvelous thing it would be. I bet this is what Elijah was looking for, too. They are going to kill me, God, and I have been really, really busy doing really important things. It is exhausting. Come on, God, give me a break.
But what I realized is that while God does provide – in the verses I skipped – some rest and a hot meal, God doesn’t offer that vacation, that peace and quiet. He doesn’t tell Elijah that he has done a good job, that his three year term on the session is up, and now it’s time to put your feet up. God gives Elijah a job. He meets his exhaustion with a renewing of his call.3 And it made me realize I was thinking about the wrong kind of peace. Peace and quiet is great, but it goes right away the next time the list gets too long. But call, a task from God that needs to be done, that matters profoundly, that uses the gifts you have been given for others, is where real peace comes from. Not peace and quiet, but peace and kindness. The truest kind of peace comes from giving, from caring for others and doing your best to receive their care, from rolling your sleeves up with a bunch of good people and doing something important. This, too, is what stewardship season is about, as we reflect upon the silence that sustains, that is filled with grace, that gives us a chance, as Bill Stokes put it so well last week, to reflect on what it really important to you, what really matters to the world. That deepest peace, that peace for which we all yearn, God offers to us when we use our gifts to be a part of something larger than ourselves, as we look, carefully, for ways to be a part of Christ’s transformation of the entire world.
So I wonder where you might look to find that peace. We had a remarkable example of it yesterday at George Beischer’s funeral. It was yet another chance for me to see the best of this place. People were working so hard all week, so many of you, on flowers and bulletins, on a magnificent reception for a church packed full. So many offered wonderful hospitality to the many friends beyond the Westminster family. And we were tired, but I can’t think of much more important work to be doing than worshipping the God who sustains us in our grief, and taking the time to embody that grace with families. I felt that peace wash over us here, and I bet Sue, Dave and Michelle and the boys did, too. I bet you notice it as we set up for IHN this week, as people without homes make our church home this week. We’ll feel that peace, that gracious kindness, pop us among us in the chaos of the fellowship hall next Friday as we have another STOP Hunger Now event. It will surely be another joyous time of fellowship, and we are fed as we pack meals to go around the world. As families learn about worship, as the youth meet tonight, as we listen and learn and pray.
It feels like more than enough, sometimes, this life. And a vacation sounds fantastic. But let’s make darn sure we remember where true, deep peace comes from. God met Elijah on that mountain, when he was so tired he wanted to die. And in a world that worshipped all sorts of things, God told him to GO, to get to work, to find peace being a part of God’s mission in the world, diving into something that matters. That is my prayer for you, for us as a family of faith, as we gather around this table with brothers and sisters from around the world. That we might find peace, that the world might know peace, not by looking after our needs, but about reaching beyond ourselves, by being a part of work, God’s work, that is changing things.
All praise be to God. Amen.
- Richard D. Nelson, Interpretation: I and II Kings, (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1987), 126.
- Built in I Kings 6-7, dedicated in chapter 8.
- This insight also comes from Nelson, 125-128.