August 8, 2021
1 Kings 19:4-8, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35, 41-51
“It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” the prophet Elijah prays in this morning’s reading from the first book of kings. It seems a bit dramatic on its own, but today’s reading is part of a much longer story in which Elijah has struggled – often on his own – to keep the faith of Israel alive to call the people back to God and into living in the way God commands. Finally, in a miraculous display, he proves God’s superiority and sovereignty over the false gods who have made their way to the heart of Israel into the royal house itself. It seems like the light has dawned on a new day for Israel, that things are looking up. Until those loyal to the false god seek Elijah’s life. In fear, Elijah flees to the wilderness. He feels like he can take no more he prays for God to take his life. Elijah is overwhelmed, something I think we can all understand at this point after dealing with this pandemic for so long.
Last year around this time, Fr. Charles asked me to preach before I went off to seminary. We were about five months into the pandemic, it was the end of July, and I was tired. I was tired of bad news everywhere I looked, Covid, civil unrest, unemployment, the list went on and on. I was tired of death, violence, and feeling as if there was no hope, so I preached the sermon that I needed to hear because I knew if I needed to hear it, I wasn’t the only one. I tried to encourage us all to hold on to hope. Hope in God’s promises…hope that everything would get better. Yet five months has turned into eighteen, and I’m still tired. I’m tired, and it seems like the list of bad news has gotten longer, not shorter. This week will be a year since Deacon Gerry died. Covid numbers are once again on the rise, higher than they ever were last year. Hospitals are full again, people are still struggling to find work, can’t afford to pay their rent, and face eviction at any moment, and those who have a duty to help just don’t seem to care. Worst of all, despite the miracle vaccine, it looks as if things are likely to get worse again because people have just stopped caring. I’m finding it difficult to hold on to hope.
Along with my sheer and utter mental and emotional exhaustion, a whole other host of emotions has cropped up. I’m angry, sad, and disappointed. Like Elijah, I just don’t know how much more I can take. An article that ran in this week’s Kansas City Star asked readers to share their experiences now that Covid was once again surging across the country. It tells me that I’m not alone in my feelings because respondents described every emotion from sadness to fear, indifference to anger.
In the Church, we often don’t know what to do with negative emotions. We know that as Christians, we are called to hope, but in our minds, somehow that often gets twisted into meaning we always have to be positive. So many of us here at St. Mary’s come from traditions where you can share testimony about good things that are happening or about struggles that have been overcome. Yet, you can’t talk about struggles that you’re actively having. Because for some reason, it seems to mean we don’t believe hard enough. I have been more open and honest today about my own struggles of late because if today’s lessons teach us anything, it’s that emotions are a part of being human. They teach us that it’s okay to admit that the way we’re called to walk isn’t easy and that we struggle. Elijah had enough, and he wasn’t afraid to admit it to himself or to God. In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul reminds us that it is okay to be angry. It’s not a sin to be worn out or to feel those emotions we’d probably rather not. The sin comes when we become complacent in those emotions when we try to hide them away and feed them rather than trying to move through them.
When Elijah came to God, scared, exhausted, and upset, God did not scold Elijah. Instead, he understood and sheltered him with his presence and provided him with rest, refreshment, and strength for the journey that lay ahead. The story of Elijah and the broom tree reminds us that it’s okay to be human, to feel the things we feel, and it’s okay to be exhausted and at the point of giving up. That is a normal part of being alive, and it’s a normal part of the journey of faith. The story of Elijah and the broom tree teaches us that when we find ourselves at the point of giving up, we are called and invited by God to withdraw here, under the shadow of another tree, the tree of the Cross. Here God offers us a shelter to rest in quiet and in prayer. Here God invites us to be refreshed by his word and the solidarity of others and to be fed as the angel fed Elijah. Yet the bread God offers us is not ordinary bread, bread cooked on rocks which Elijah ate. Instead, God provides the bread of life we heard about in the Gospel reading this morning, the true and living bread that came down from heaven, Jesus Christ.
Whenever you’re exhausted or hurting, sad, or angry when you reach your breaking point and feel like you can’t go on -whether that’s now or years from now- don’t be afraid to feel those feelings. Be honest with yourself, with God, and with others. Then come, come to the shelter of the Cross. Come and rest here. Come because God calls you and invites you. Come because God understands and let him care for you, let him refresh you, and feed you with the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us in the forms of bread and wine. Come because without this food and without this community, the journey will be too much for you.