Sermon 12th August 2018

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 12 AUG 2018

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.”  I Kings 19:7

Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness;

there, sat down, in the shade of a solitary broom tree.

It was the end of the road.

“Enough, Lord. Take away my life, I am done in – I am done.”

Fear, exhaustion, depression or defeat – a burden too far?

Perhaps you have known something of the desolation road,

or witnessed it in others.

Some years ago, Andrea conducted a Memorial Service at St Columba’s,

for a man who had taken his own life.

One of the readings that day had a particular compassion;

I cannot say how it was really heard that day –

But potentially, it reframed some of the bleakness clings to such a death –

the attendant feelings of confusion, anger,

incomprehension and guilt, that can surround suicide.

(The excerpt read that day is attributed to a eulogy by a Reverend Weston Stevenson.)

Our friend died at his own battlefield.

He was killed in action, fighting a civil war. 

He fought against adversaries that were as real to him 

as his casket is real to us.

These powerful adversaries – at last overwhelmed him.

And it appeared that he had lost the war?

But did he? 

I see a host of victories that he has won!

The eulogy goes on to pay tribute to:

His kindness and thoughtfulness,

his love of family, friends and animals, books and music -–

for all things beautiful, lovely and honourable.

We shall remember not his last day of defeat, 

but we shall remember the many days 

that he was victorious over overwhelming odds.

We shall remember not the years we thought he had left, 

but the intensity with which he lived the years that he had.

(Excerpt from the eulogy of Revd Weston Stevens)

“Enough, Lord. Take away my life, I am done.”

Elijah, beneath the broom tree,

is part of the rollercoaster ride of a prophet of Israel.

He has just pulled off a jaw-dropping and violent “victory”

over the prophets of Baal.

You might recall, the mountain top showdown –

the massed ranks of the Baal’s priests; the stand-alone prophet of Yahweh.

After mockery and pyrotechnics, the slaughter of livestock

ends in the slaughter of the prophets of Baal.

(It is hardly a top ten Sunday school tale!)

But victory leaves Elijah, not elated, but paralysed with fear.

The Queen – Jezebel – sponsor of the prophets of Baal screams vengeance.

The royal death warrant drives Elijah into the wilderness;

That biblical wasteland that holds such spiritual significance

in the life and history of the children of Israel.

Elijah runs, till his road runs out at the broom tree.

The final, full stop.

What follows is one of the most gentle and tender passages in the Old Testament. 

(Debie Thomas, Journey with Jesus)

Elijah awakens to the touch of an angel:

“Get up and eat.”

He beholds – “a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water” 

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Elijah feeds, but not apparently to the angel’s satisfaction.

She rouses him a second time.

“Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 

[Today’s Psalm: The angel of the Lord camps around those who fear him,

 and delivers the… happy are those who take refuge in him. Psalm 34:7-8)

The angel does not minimize the difficulty of the journey that lies ahead;

no promises of a smooth and easy ride;

no guarantees of health or safety.

Instead the angel says to the one at the seeming end of his tether:

“The journey is hard, but you do not undertake it alone – 

though it may feel that way.

Here – here is sustenance, here is provision.

You can’t sidestep the journey; it belongs to you.  

But you can choose how you make it.  

Famished or fed.  Strengthened or weak.  

Accompanied or alone.  What do you choose?”

At her second invitation, Elijah obeys in earnest,

and his strength is renewed.

Renewed enough to endure the forty-day and forty-night duration,

that so clearly heralds this is sacred time and a pilgrim’s path.

In the wilderness Elijah is forced – is able –

to re-assess his life and its loyalties.

In the wilderness – against all expectations –

receiving compassionate care –

Elijah recovers his sense of value to God.

Elijah’s worth is not based on his performing great feats for God,

nor overcoming the odds, in his own strength.

Elijah’s worth is found in God’s love for him,

and the continuing call of God upon his life.

In the place of despair or defeat,

Elijah feels he is done with life

yet discovers God is not done with Elijah.

In our times, so many voices declare that we are of little/no value,

unless we dance to the tune of the culture’s advertisers,

or society’s measure of success.

In contrast, the true voice of heaven

tells us who we really are,

children of God,  

once-in-a-lifetime, never-to-be-repeated,

made in the image of the Divine;

loved and wanted – always.

When Reverend Weston Stevens penned the eulogy

for the young person who had taken their own life

he finished with a return to that image of the terrible internal struggle –

the civil war, within that sufferer.

We shall remember not the years we thought he had left, 

but the intensity with which he lived the years that he had.

Only God knows what this child of His suffered 

in the silent skirmishes that took place in his soul.

But our consolation is that God does know, 

and understands.

(Excerpt from the eulogy of Revd Weston Stevens)

To those who sit, solitary or fearful,

beneath the broom tree;

those who inhabit something of the wilderness today;-

may you hear the angel’s invitation,

then find it made real.

That in time, you can live the beautiful words from the Song of Solomon:

“He brought me to the banqueting house, 

and his banner over me was love.”  Song of Solomon 2:4

Hot cakes, water from the jar, Bread of Life – served twice –

Truly, second helpings.