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June 23, 2019

“Facing the Fear”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

1 Kings 19.1-15a

Psalm 42

June 23, 2019

You might be familiar with the classic play Waiting for Godot. I first saw this in college while I was taking a class on existentialism. Written by Samuel Beckett, this play includes two men who ask a series of questions many people ask throughout a lifetime. These two men, Vladimir and Estragon, are waiting for a man named Godot. This ever-elusive Godot never appears. The men spend the entire play waiting for someone who never comes. Questions arise about why they wait and for how long they will wait, and if it is worth waiting.

Many have connected Waiting for Godot with Christian scriptures, but when I read this Kings passage for today I immediately remembered this play. We only focus on one man – Elijah. This prophet goes out into the wilderness and sits under a tree. Most of Waiting for Godot takes place outside, under a tree. Elijah is trying to find his purpose in life, eventually asking to die, waiting for God to show up.

At the beginning we hear of an exchange between Jezebel and King Ahab, who were married. The worship of Baal was increasingly becoming more popular and Elijah was wondering if he was along in worshiping God.[1] Not only is his faith at risk, with Jezebel’s threats his life is at risk. Elijah runs off to the wilderness – to Horeb – also known as Mt. Sinai. This space is considered holy and was where Moses had been called. What better place to seek answers to questions than a place known for God to show up in the past?

Elijah goes and probably wonders if he is alone. Exhausted, he is beginning to question his call.[2] Wondering if we are following God’s plan or map for our lives is common. Everyone’s call changes and everyone questions their purpose in life, and if they are living into it. Elijah is doubting himself, and doubting God.

What is perhaps the hardest part is that Elijah has not just lost track of where God is in this grand picture, but he is struggling to see reality.[3] He feels alone, but the truth is others appear in scripture later who are very much behind him, also worshiping God. When reality is questioned, he wants to die. He does not have any hope.

Sometimes when people grow older and their friends and relatives begin to die, people take this perspective of hopelessness. When the body stops working as it once did, that despair can sink in and people give up, wondering why they are still alive, seeking their purpose. Elijah has that sense that everyone has left him, yet, they haven’t.

What we see in Elijah’s case is that God shows up. God nourishes Elijah twice. God isn’t leaving him to die. This isn’t the end. I believe this is very important. When people begin missing reality, when they feel alone or abandoned or have given up, we must be the reminder that they are not alone. We are not alone – ever.

God and Elijah have a very interesting conversation. God asks him why he is there – in this sacred place – asking to die. We do not know God’s exact tone. Was God asking gently, perhaps surprisingly, “Elijah, fancy meeting you here in Horeb!”? Or, was God asking in the tone of a parent looking at a child refusing to go to bed who pops out of their room over and over, “Elijah, what are you doing? Go back to where you belong!”? Or is God absolutely frustrated: “Elijah, what are you doing here?????”? Whatever tone God takes, God doesn’t seem to expect Elijah. Even though Elijah seems to have given up, he hasn’t. He argues with God, which shows that he isn’t done – he isn’t hopeless. If he was completely in despair he wouldn’t have conversed with God, he would have just given in and given up. He tells God – twice – that he has done what he was told and now he is all alone, and he’s not happy about it.

God tells Elijah to go out and wait for God is passing by. There is a huge wind – no God. There is an earthquake – no God. There is a fire – no God. Then, there was silence. Now, we do not hear that God was in the silence. Perhaps God did not show up outside the cave.

Yet, God did show up. Who spoke to Elijah? Who brought the food? God was there in the food, asking questions of Elijah, who kept answering with frustrated abandon. God was persistent. God tells him to go and anoint a king. This is not a new calling – this is what God called him to do before, but he felt inadequate and lost. He needed some redirection and some nourishment. God is there for Elijah, but God also still makes Elijah face that which he fears.[4] He has to go back to the land he came from – the place Jezebel lives. In a strange way, he feared death by Jezebel, but sat under the tree, waiting to die. He did not want to die – his disconnect with the world and with reality and with people convinced him that he was ready for death – but he wasn’t. God reminds him that he is loved.

The psalmist tells about nourishment and despair, as well. We are nourished by God, and seek God as an animal seeks nourishment. God can be found in the water – as we know through the great stories of water in the Bible. Our bodies are made of water and the earth is made of water. Just as everyone needs water to survive, we seek God for survival.

Yet, there are some who doubt and who shout out to the psalmist: “Where is your God?” This could lead the psalmist to doubt – to go hide under a tree like Elijah and ask questions of existence. The water could be put in front of the doubters – miracles could be performed, but they still would ask “Where is your God?” We can be led to water, and yet sometimes we still choose to drink that which does not satisfy our thirst.

The water that nourishes us, also nourishes the earth. The water that nourished Elijah also nourished the tree under which he sat. Sometimes we do have to sit down and regroup, asking God about our call. Yet, we have to go back out again. We have to nourish ourselves, be filled by God, and face our fears. We cannot give up. We cannot think God has given up on us, or that others have given up on us. Sometimes we meet those sitting under the tree and offer that drink of water and cake baked on stones. God uses us to remind people they are not alone.

God is in our nourishment. When we sit down and break bread, God is there. When we offer a cup of water, God is present. When we sit with someone under a tree and ask tough questions, God is there. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] Kathleen A. Robertson-Farmer, “1 Kings 19.1-15a” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 149.

[2] Carrie N. Mitchell, “1 Kings 19.1-15a” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 145.

[3] Trevor Eppehimer, “1 Kings 19.1-15a” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 150.

[4] Jill Duffield, “Looking into the Lectionary” June 21, 2019, Presbyterian Outlook Lectionary Blog: https://pres-outlook.org/category/ministry-resources/looking-into-the-lectionary/.