Elijah–Empty, Isolated and Depressed

Written by Mark C. Pederson, Pastor, Trinity Lutheran Church

Theme Background

It has not been a good week for Elijah.  Last week he was on top of the world, he had a shootout with the false prophets of Baal.  He taunted them, he tormented them, he offered that perhaps their gods were sleeping and needed to be awakened.  Then he had the servants douse his wood with water, prayed to God, and it was a bonfire in no time.  But the powers that be are not happy, not happy at all.

They have sent armed troops to capture Elijah and bring him back to face the queen’s wrath.  So, naturally, he runs away.  Far, far away.  At the start of today’s lesson he is in the wilderness about a hundred miles away from his encounter with the false prophets.  He leaves his servants there and goes on further, until, finally he comes to the place where the people of Israel met God in the wilderness.  It’s the same mountain where Moses received the Ten Commandments, close to where he saw the burning bush.

The people of Israel are in the wilderness when it comes to their religious life.  They are not worshipping God as they had been instructed.  The kingdom that David knit together has come apart again.  The people are worshiping Baal at the totem shrines sit up on every hillside.  The TempleSolomon built has fallen into disrepair.  The queen worships false gods and has gone after the prophets who have confronted this wrong worship.  Many have been murdered, and only a remnant remains hidden away by God.

Elijah is depressed.  He is as far away from everything as he can possibly get.  He is empty and alone.  He is awakened for a meal and then travels for 40 days on that food.  When he arrives at a cave he is told by some sort of messenger that God is about to appear to him.  Then the typical God appearance apparatus take place, the ones God used previously with Moses and the people of Israel.  But God doesn’t appear that way this time.  God appears in a “still, small voice.”    And the voice wants to know why Elijah is in this wilderness place.  “Where are you?”  It’s not a bad question to ask.  Where are we?

This is also “All Saints Day”, the day we remember all the saints who have gone before us—especially those in this community who have died in the last year.  The church might feel a bit like Elijah.  Things that use to work do not work any longer.  The church seems to be shrinking, and we’re just not sure how to go forward.  The good news of today’s passage is that God does not abandon us, God finds new ways to accomplish God’s work.

Are we afraid, do we feel alone?  Elijah felt that way.  The greatest prophet of the Old Testament, just could not figure out what God was up to.  That should be of some comfort to us regular people.  But God was directing Elijah.  God had a plan for how he should proceed.  God also had assistance for him, he would not have to proceed on his own.

Quotes for the Week

I don’t have a BlackBerry or whatever you call it. And there is something to be said for being isolated and out of phone range, because you can fall into a habit to such a degree that you don’t even realise that you’ve lost something: silence.     Viggo Mortensen

I felt so painfully isolated that I vowed I would get revenge on the world by becoming a famous cartoonist.           Robert Crumb

“Ho! Ho! Ho! To the bottle I go

To heal my heart and drown my woe
Rain may fall, and wind may blow
And many miles be still to go
But under a tall tree will I lie
And let the clouds go sailing by”     J. R. R. Tolkien

1st Lesson 1st Kings 19:1-18 (NRSV)

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7 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.” 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites 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.” 11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites 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.” 15 Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

Questions for the Week

Where are you metaphorically speaking?

Who is an important saint who taught you about life and faith?  What was special about them?

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