Monday, June 21, 2010

Sermon for when you've run out of brave (greatly abridged)

It could have been so different. Elijah, fresh off his triumph massacring the prophets of Baal, could have stood up to Jezebel and said, "Who do you think you are? God will save me."

But that's not what happened. The way I read it, I think Elijah expected this empirical proof of Yahweh’s superiority to turn things around, but it didn’t. Things didn’t change. Jezebel came after him. And, as a friend of mine puts it, he ran out of brave.

I’m actually glad—-on our behalf—-for Elijah’s struggle. I think all of us reach a point at times where we’ve run out of brave and being told “Don’t be afraid; God loves you, God’s in charge” isn’t enough.

This morning I'm thinking about a friend of mine who has just learned that the melanoma she thought was gone has metastasized to lungs, bones and other parts of her body. She's still wondering what to do with that information. It strikes me as the same kind of shock Elijah experienced when he realized that even after his victory Jezebel was still going to kill him.

I think there are times when we don’t need to leap into courage mode, when we don’t need to convince ourselves of our unflappable faith, when we cannot convince ourselves to get back in there and fight. Sometimes what we want to do is run away. One of the beautiful things about this story is that God runs away with Elijah.

One of the things that surprised me the most when I looked closely at this story is that God does not speak in a still, small voice. He seems to speak quite clearly, saying to Elijah, "What are you doing here?" He asks it twice, and gets the same answer twice: "I've worked hard; they're trying to kill me; I'm all alone." The responses God gives to Elijah each time he says this are completely different and, I think, give us a clue of what we need and what we can do for others when they have run out of brave.

The first answer God gave was not to give an answer at all. No words would do. To me, the answer of the sound of sheer silence is the answer of presence, of just being there, of not having an answer, of not fixing things. Sometimes we don’t need solutions. We just need someone to say, “yeah, that’s rotten. I see that there's chaos and destruction going on for you. I’m not going through that, but I’m here.”

The second answer, and I'm so mad at the lectionary because it leaves this part out, is that God provides Elijah with support. The lectionary ends with the "Get back in there!" sounding phrase, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus." But what they don't say is that when he gets there, he's anointing a couple of kings and Elisha to become prophet in his place. Plus, he reassures him, there are 7,000 others like you who haven't worshiped Baal. He reassures Elijah he is not alone.

We need help! This is not a story about "get back in there and be brave." It’s a story that you are not alone. God gives Elijah a support system. It’s not just you and God. Whatever it is you are facing, God does not require you to face it all on your own. Where do we find God when we are in trouble? We find God wherever we find nourishment, love, support, encouragement, and peace of mind.

When we are in trouble, God knows we need help. And from this story, it looks like help comes in the most fundamental forms: sleep, food, rest, time away from the struggle, someone to listen to our complaints, presence without solutions, friends. And some reassurance that God is there through it all: through the chaos and the upheavals and the destruction. We don't have to always be brave, always be strong, always be certain. Even when we have run out of brave, even when we run away, even when all we want to do is complain of life's unfairness, God will be there.

1 comment:

Kirstin said...

Yes. And thank you for thinking of me.