Come home to Calvary
Back in 2019, Joy Clarkson, citing 1 Kings chapter 19, tweeted:
“This is your gentle reminder that one time in the Bible, Elijah was like, ‘God, I’m so mad! I want to die!’ so God said ‘Here’s some food. Why don’t you have a nap?’ So Elijah slept, ate, & decided things weren’t so bad. Never underestimate the spiritual power of a nap & a snack.”
And that’s when I realized that the foundations of my faith could apparently be summarized in less than 280 characters.
There’s a lot to not love about twitter. But this tweet is such a gem, and I could not have found it without social media, so sometimes I’m grateful for the words of wisdom we might find on the internet.
So when this scripture passage came up in the lectionary for this Sunday (the lectionary is a 3 year cycle of readings from the Bible for churches), I knew that I would have to preach on it.
Now, the book of 1 Kings begins with the death of King David. In the next two Sundays, you’ll hear more about his successor, his son Solomon. We’ll talk about Solomon’s wisdom and his legacy of building the Temple.
What follows after Solomon is more deaths and more successions, with all the messiness and jealousy and power grabs that can come with that.
What you need to know for today’s story is that King Ahab is in power. And he marries Jezebel. Jezebel is the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians.
And like many women in the Bible, she gets a pretty bad rap for enticing Ahab to worship her gods. But, really, she’s just staying consistent to her own religion.
It’s Ahab who builds an altar for other gods knowing full well that his God has said:
(1) Thou shalt not have no other gods before me and
(2) Thou shalt not make for yourself idols.
Ahab knows these commandments.
Jezebel just marries into them and probably never agreed to them. In fact, she brings with her to the marriage her own identity and faith traditions. And it’s Ahab who acquiesces to her.
Unfortunately, what happens under Ahab and Jezebel’s rule is that the prophets of the Israelite God are killed and violently purged, forcing Elijah, who is one of those prophets, to go on the run.
And this is where we find him today. He is tired; he is hungry; he is a wanted and chased man whose life is in danger.
And he thinks, “You know what – I’m ready to give up. This is too hard. Powerful people want me dead, and I’m tired of trying to escape.”
Now, I know that the original authors of 1 Kings were not thinking about mental health or depression or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors as they wrote this story. Mental health as we understand it today is anachronistic to The Bible.
But we who are gathered today have lived through a pandemic. And this pandemic has taken many lives, most of them due to Covid.
But some of them due to poor mental health access and the stigma and the loneliness that comes with depression and anxiety, all of which have been heightened in this past year and a half.
And, frankly, I can no longer read Elijah’s response without connecting it to the real-life struggles for mental health that effect so many, including myself.
If you have lost a loved one, be it to suicide or otherwise, you are welcome to grieve here. This is a safe space. And while there is so much we do not know about what happens after death, no matter what the cause of death, here’s what I do know:
First: That love never ends. That’s biblical, straight from 1 Corinthians. God’s love for the one who died; your love for the one who died and their love for you; that never ends, even if life ends tragically or unexpectedly. Nothing, in life nor in death can separate us from the love of God. Love prevails, and love remains.
Second: I know that in life and in death, we belong to God. No matter how we die; in fact, no matter how we live, we belong to God. God claims us as God’s own beloved. And there is no need for shame or secrecy. We are God’s own.
And finally: I believe that while God reaches out towards us, even in the hardest moments of our lives, sometimes our brains, bodies, and souls are unable to feel or experience God.
My heart breaks for those for whom God’s love feels so distant or untrue or like that it doesn’t even matter because the burden of life itself is too difficult.
In recent news, we learned of the four Capitol Police officers who have recently died by suicide. All four of them defended our democracy and our protected our elected officials during that January 6th insurrection in Washington D.C. The trauma and the continued vilification and lies espoused, must have been so overwhelming and lonely.
We pray for their family and friends as they grieve this deep loss, and we must pray for this country, for they paid the ultimate price for defending it. And we all must do better.
The truth is, however, I cannot speak to the dark night of their souls or anyone else’s.
I can only speak to my own.
And my story is that I had a baby 17 months ago, ten days before the city shut down. I wasn’t sleeping well, and while I love my family dearly, all of a sudden, everyone was home, all the time, which, for an introvert, can be challenging.
My brain chemistry and hormones were also just thrown off balance, and I came down, not just with the baby blues, but full-on post-partum depression.
Now everyone’s post-partum depression looks and feels a little different. For me, I was able to be fully present during the day for my family, but the nights were so hard.
At night, my guilt over not spending more bonding time with the baby; the exhaustion of not getting more than 3 hours of sleep at a time; the frustration of being stuck at home, and the fear of this virus would all surface at once, and I would just cry, preferably behind closed closet doors in the dark.
Sometimes, I even felt like Elijah when he said: “It is enough; now, O Lord.”
Through it all, I was super-well supported, by Mike & my family, by friends, and even our pediatrician, my ob-gyn, and the therapists I began seeing during this time.
If you are suffering from depression or struggling with your mental health, please reach out for help. We have counselors we can refer you to. And there are people and medications that can make a world of difference. If you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, store-bought is just fine.
Now, I don’t know what all Elijah was struggling with, maybe it was some form of situational depression, but I’m not a therapist or a doctor, and I don’t know Elijah well enough nor am I qualified enough to make a diagnosis.
But we do know that he wanted to give up on life.
And in this valley of the shadow of death, God offered him a broom tree. A broom tree is actually just like a small bush or shrub. And under the shade of that broom tree, Elijah found rest and food.
There are only two Biblical stories that mention the broom tree. This one with Elijah, and the first one is the story of Hagar and Ishmael in Genesis 21:8-20. In both these stories, the heat was unbearable and overwhelming. And both Elijah and Hagar thought they would not survive their time in the wilderness, nor did they think it would be worth surviving.
But God comes and provides a moment of shade in their desert experience, and they are able to continue on their life journey.
It is said that the image of the broom tree is that of: “just enough.” See the broom tree is small and fairly low to the ground, barely providing enough shade to one person, but it was very important in providing a moment of relief to those early wilderness travelers.
The broom tree experience reminds us that when we come to a desert moment in life,
as Hagar and Elijah did … God can and often does provide us a little shade to help us get by.
The image is not deep shade or air-conditioning, but just enough shade. And for Elijah just a quick nap, and a small cake with a jar of water. Nothing fancy, not a huge feast, not even a full night’s rest, but just enough to make it to the next part of his journey.
Included in your bulletin today is an insert with some questions and numbers and resources.
One of them, which you can find online is called: “Everything is Awful and I’m Not Okay: questions to ask before giving up.”
It is that “just enough” approach to feeling like you can make it to tomorrow.
I encourage you to keep this insert, look over it, share it with someone you know and love.
Included in it are some things as simple as: Are you hydrated? If not have a glass of water.
And my personal favorite question: Have you eaten?
In many Asian cultures, parents and other adults will show their love for you, not by saying “I love you,” but by asking “Have you eaten?”
When I was a kid, my grandparents lived with us. And every day after school, my grandmother would ask me, “Have you eaten?”
And I’d say, “Sure,” I had had some kind of school lunch of pizza or hamburgers or something. But then she’d cook me a bowl of ramen, the instant noodle kind, as a post-school snack.
And to this day, for better or for worse, that sodium-filled bowl of instant noodles still tastes like love to me.
Now, if you read the Bible, you will find that food and rest are not just good for our bodies; they are spiritual practices. Food represents life, love, community, trust in God, and being one in and with Christ.
God feeds the Israelites in the desert with manna, bread from heaven.
Jesus feeds the 5000 with fishes and loaves.
Jesus shares his last supper with his disciples,
a feast we remember and partake in still to this day.
And in our gospel lesson from today: John 6:35
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life.
Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’”
Food feeds the body, and food feeds the soul. It is holy and sacred work to eat and to eat together.
In the same way, rest is holy and sacred work as well. In fact, to rest is to be like God, for on the seventh day of creation, what did God do?
God rested; God took a sabbath.
And so when God tells Moses to chisel down that fourth commandment which says: “Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy,” God is not trying to restrict us or bind us to rules, rather God is helping us to become more like God’s self.
Rest is holy. And if it’s good enough for God, surely it is good enough for you.
Nap Bishop Tricia Hersey is the founder of the Nap Ministry. And she writes, “We believe rest is a spiritual practice, a racial justice issue and a social justice issue.
We believe rest is radical and revolutionary. We believe rest is a form of resistance.
This is about more than naps. We are attempting to disrupt a toxic system that ties our worth to how much we produce. Reimagine productivity. It is not exhaustion. It is not grinding yourself like a machine. You are not a machine. Rest is a beautiful interruption in a world that has no pause button.”
On her website, you can download a special gift for you from the Nap Ministry.
It is a “Guilt Free Nap Voucher.”
When is the last time you took a nap and didn’t feel even just a little guilty about it? Or when is the last time you just took a break from being productive?
Food and rest are spiritual practices. And to deny ourselves of them is to deny our bodies and our souls from connecting and communing with God.
This message is for each and every one of you. Because I know you are all tired. I can see it in your faces.
And friends, as we return from this pandemic, let us not return to what was, but to what is healthiest for our bodies and our hearts and our souls.
So yes, this message is for you.
But this is message is also one we must take out into the world, living it, embodying it, and offering it to others, so that transformation might be possible, not just in our own lives, but in our collective society.
There is a story recounted in the book Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life
by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, and Matthew Linn.
During the bombing raids of World War II,
thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve without homes or families.
The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps
where they received food and good care.
They were free to eat and rest and just be children.
But, many of these kids who had lost so much still could not sleep at night.
They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them.
Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child
a small loaf of bread to hold at bedtime.
Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace.
All through the night the bread reminded them,
“Today I ate, and I will eat again tomorrow.”
Today I ate, and I will eat again tomorrow. Friends, that is the good news of the gospel.
God gives us our daily bread, and holding onto that bread allows us to rest, so that we might be equipped to share God’s love and the Bread of Life with others.
We live our lives one day at a time, one meal at a time, one nap at a time.
So, my dear friends, have you eaten?
1 Kings 19:1-13
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 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.” 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. 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.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 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. 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.” 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.
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?” 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.” 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; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 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?”
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”