We are in holiday season – and our Old Testament Reading tells the story of the first known package holiday. Not arranged by TUI or Jet – this holiday is 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 have been gaining ground. It seems like bankruptcy is on the cards. Yahweh could well go out of business – or succumb to a hostile takeover by the Baal conglomerate. … The tension is brought to a head on Mount Carmel. Elijah challenges the opposition. A credibility test – whoever wins is the real God.I guess that 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. Queen Jezebel 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. Elijah can now only see problems where once he saw opportunities. Run down, feeling hopeless, he runs off into the desert.
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.
It’s important to note that God doesn’t tell Elijah to snap out of it – or to buck his ideas up.
No! First God allows Elijah time to rest and sleep; then God 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 Jesus 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 God can work in power, God is to be heard most clearly in the silence. God’s words of comfort to Elijah are whispered gently to him. Time away from noise and business, times of holiday and retreat, are times when we can hear God. Times when we can be resourced again for faithful service.
Life can drain us, it can pull us down, we can feel defeated. Holidays and retreats are God’s gift to us, they’re times when we can choose 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 and listen to God’s still small voice of hope. ……
Peter’s story in Matthew’s Gospel is a little different!
He is out of the boat walking towards Jesus. …. For a moment things seem to be going really well – until he looks around and sees the storm and suddenly the water underneath his feet really does feel like water. And Peter begins to sink. Life for him, like Elijah, is overwhelming. Peter is desperate. “Lord, save me,” he cries. And Peter, like Elijah, discovers that God is there for him. …..
Both Peter and Elijah have seen God at work in dramatic ways – Elijah on Mount Carmel, Peter, with the feeding of the 5,000. But both discover that they have to learn to trust God for themselves. It is not what they have seen that counts – not even what they have been involved in. They for themselves have to learn to trust the quiet voice of God in the midst of what life can bring.
Peter cries out, “Lord, save me.” …. Elijah stands still, listening to God’s voice.
Whoever we are, whatever our nature and whatever our experience of life, we need too to learn to place our confidence and trust not in our own abilities, not in the faith of others but in the love that we discover God has for us. And when God reaches out to us in love, we need, like Elijah and Peter, to trust him.
And we can trust God to be there for us at all times – providing the strength that we need for each day, intervening on occasions, but most of all assuring us of his loving presence.
And when we come to Communion, when we release our burdens in confession, when we receive again the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection, when we eat the food that God provides for us. We can hear God speaking once again in the silence, God says again – “I love you, rely on me!”
Every day that we come to Holy Communion can be a holiday – a Holy day!