Taking Time Out (1 Kings 19:5-16, 19-21; Galatians 5: 1, 13-25 – or how to respond to the referendum result!

imagesIt’s close to the beginning of the holiday season – and our Old Testament Reading told the story of the first known package holiday. Not arranged by Airtours, Monarch or Thomas Cook – this holiday was arranged by God.

Elijah has been working all hours as the head prophet in the Yahweh organisation. Business has not been that good. The competition has been gaining ground. It seems like bankruptcy is on the cards. Yahweh (Israel’s God) could well go out of business – or succumb to a hostile and aggressive takeover by the Baal conglomerate.

elijah-mount-carmel-600The tension is brought to a head on Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18. Elijah challenges the opposition. A credibility test – whoever wins is the real God.

I hope you know the story well – Elijah wins. Baal cannot provide the fire to light the sacrifice on his altar. Yahweh, the God of the Bible, sends fire down from heaven. The whole Baal organisation is in turmoil – Baal’s prophets are killed. Elijah is on cloud nine. But things are not quite that simple – the chief shareholder of the Baal conglomerate is incensed. Jezebel, the Queen, will not go away, she issues threats on Elijah’s life.

How does Elijah respond? The tension of recent events has got to him. Rather than

confident trust in God, built on the foundation of what God has just done at Mount Carmel, Elijah panics – he runs. It’s a classic case of depression and stress – he’s taken on more than he can handle. He can now only see problems where once he saw opportunities. Run down, feeling hopeless, he runs off into the desert. And it is this story that we have read in our OT reading today.

I don’t know about you but there have been times in my life when I’ve been just like Elijah in our reading. Stressed out, having lost perspective on life, God seems to have disappeared. … It isn’t always something as drastic as Elijah’s experience that affects us. It’s strange isn’t it how often when we review something we have done, that it’s the negative things we remember rather than the good. Or, I wonder, have you ever had the experience in some unguarded moment of tearful emotions overcoming you. Sometimes holidays, perhaps because we begin to relax, or perhaps because of the memories they evoke, are times when life is particularly hard – times when we’re prone to self-pity – even times when God feels distant.

How did God deal with his faithful servant Elijah in this time of darkness. It’s important to note is that he doesn’t tell Elijah to snap out of it – or to buck his ideas up. No! First he allows Elijah time to rest and sleep; then he makes sure that he is well fed and watered; and then he takes him on a forty day excursion to the mountains. At times we need to hear this – rest and recuperation are God’s gifts to us – listen to the words Jesus speaks in Matthew’s Gospel: “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Secondly, God helps Elijah to see that although he, God, can work in power, he is to be heard most clearly in the silence. God’s words of comfort to Elijah are not spoken in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, but are whispered gently to him in the silence. Time away from noise and busyness are times when we have a better chance of hearing God. Times when we can be resourced again for faithful service.

I don’t know what you are feeling about the events of this past week (23rd June onwards). Following the EU referendum this week, we find ourselves in a strange place.  Of those who voted, just over half are rejoicing and just under half are mourning.  It is a time of uncertainty, not just for our nation but for all sorts of people, including people we know and love.  In the news and on social media, there is all sorts of nasty stuff going around and this saddens me  but I can also understand that there are high emotions around.

I freely admit that I voted “remain” and reflecting on how I have felt, I thought it would be good to share a post written by my wife Jo on facebook just 24 hours after the result was confirmed. She was inspired to write the following as a status post on Facebook, just to help people understand what she feels at moment feel like…..

So a new day dawns. .. and yesterday’s news wasn’t just some bad dream.  A new and uncertain future lies ahead and I will be committed to being part of that future even though it’s not what I voted for.  BUT (and it is a big but)…  at the moment I’m grieving and it hurts and as I write this I feel the tears welling up. 

When I lost my dad, I grieved and then I healed but in between I tried to deny it, I was angry, I tried bargaining  (if only I had done….), I cried and eventually acceptance came.  Healthy grieving needs all these things to happen.  So, please bear with me, and all those who feel like this today.  If you voted leave, please recognise our hurt, let us grieve so that in time we can join you on this new journey for our nation.

In the days to come, we might say things we wouldn’t normally say and act out of character but please forgive us just as you would a friend whose just lost a loved one.  I will bounce back  but it won’t be today or even tomorrow. …

This is an emotional time for many. If we are to find a good future for our country, we need to spend some time focussing on healing, we need to take time out.  Those grieving need to have space to do so, those rejoicing need to be allowed to do just that – but the future that we need to keep our eyes fixed on is one where we can be reunited.  This is not going to be easy – neither campaign was particularly honourable – and some unpleasant stuff on both sides, so there is work to be done by us all.

At Diocesan Synod on the day before the vote, Bishop David spoke about how the Church had a role to play after the referendum in setting a good climate in which the people of our nation can reunite and work together whatever the outcome might be.

I am writing this blog on the morning of what the Church of England calls the 5th Sunday After Trinity and the readings set for the day include part of the reading from 1 Kings 19. And a passage from Galatians 5. Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, was wanting these new Christians to understand what living like Jesus was all about.  He says that it’s all about loving your neighbour, that it’s about not trying to destroy each other, it’s about living in a way that does not damage ourselves or our relationships.

So he says, these are the qualities you need to develop as Christians, to be a people who are able to love their neighbours…..

imgres.pnglove, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

He describes these as the fruits of the Spirit, the good things that Holy Spirit brings to the fore in our lives. If I could, I would give you a piece of fruit and ask you to think just for a short while about what it is that you like about that piece of fruit, its juiciness, its sweetness, its purity, its …………….. The fruits of the Spirit bring refreshing hope into the lives of our communities and it is these fruits of the Spirit that need to grow in our own lives and in our dealings with others, particularly at this time….

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Let’s ask God’s Spirit to help these fruits to grow and flourish in us. Let’s focus on them in the days ahead.

I’d like to conclude now with a prayer published by the Church of England after the vote on Thursday….

Life can drain us, it can pull us down, often we can feel defeated. Holidays are God’s gift to us, their times when we can chose to make space for him. Times when we can pick up our Bibles again. Times when we can make space to pray. Times when we can set aside noise and competition, even battle, and listen to God’s still small voice of hope. And if we are not going away, it is important from time to time that we make space for ourselves, when we can be generous to ourselves, when we too can hear once again God speaking words of love to us in that still small voice of hope.fruit-of-the-spirit-tree11

Eternal God, Light of the nations, in Christ you make all things new: guide our nation in the coming days through the inspiration of your Spirit, that understanding may put an end to discord and all bitterness.

Give us grace to rebuild bonds of trust that together we may work for the dignity and flourishing of all; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen



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