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The Call to Worship
Here we are … [believing] in your power to change us; your creating power making relationships new,
ALL: your redeeming power saving us from despair, your sustaining power giving us courage and strength.
In this hour, as we sing and pray and listen together, we open ourselves to the seismic power of your [goodness],
ALL: changing our hearts, our lives and our world. Amen!
God of grace: We come with all we have; bodies, souls, minds, all here to worship you. We have come for a glimpse of your [realm] of kindness-- a world where love rules over all, a world where enemies embrace, distinctions between friend and foe evaporating in the light of your love. Amen.
The Wisdom of Marianne Williamson
“There’s always more to any situation than meets the eye. Every person carries within them the seed of God, and every aspect of time and space carries the potential for miraculous unfoldment. It is not what is happening on the outside, but how we view it from the inside, that determines our grace within any situation and the joy we can derive from it.”
1 Kings 19.1-9, 15
Ahab told Jezebel that Elijah had killed all her prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “I swear by my gods to see you put to death.” 3Then 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. 4But 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 God, take away my life…” 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He 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. 7The angel came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8He 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. 9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then God’s message came to Elijah, saying, 15“Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.”
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"Love and Service"
Our readings today at first glance seem to be completely contradictory. Our contemporary reading from Marianne Williamson seems to imply that there is something to be learned from everything that happens in life, even those things that are tragic or painful. To me this sounds just a little “Pollyanna” particularly when we think about the violence in the news that we face day after day after day. And our second reading reinforces the kind of frightening things that happen in our contemporary lives. Elijah has slaughtered all the prophets of Jezebel’s gods, Baal and Ashera. And Jezebel swears to see to it that Elijah is killed for killing her prophets.
This cycle of revenge was the order of the day in an “honor / shame” society. Either one attained honor or one was shamed. Elijah, by slaughtering the prophets of Baal and Ashera, was back on top. And he was ready to do, it would appear, whatever was necessary to stay on top. But Jezebel, whose prophets had been slaughtered, was living in shame. And she vowed to reclaim her place of honor by seeking revenge upon Elijah.
Many times in the ancient biblical texts we see this kind of dynamic set up. Prophets or armies that supposedly are working at the behest of the one true God of Israel kill off prophets of other religious traditions. God is portrayed as a jealous and insecure personality who requires that those who follow him be loyal only to him. As we talked last week, the one God is portrayed as one, singular, distinct, set apart, different from other gods.
In our story today Elijah is gripped with fear when Jezebel threatens to have him killed. So we have to ask ourselves, what is that all about? Does Elijah simply not trust God to protect him from the infidels? Or is there something more going on here? I suspect there is more going on.
I believe that the full weight of what Elijah has done comes crashing in on him. He’s like an addict who suddenly has a moment of clarity and sees around him the utter destruction he has triggered. Was he gripped by fear that his God might not be powerful enough to protect him? Perhaps he realized that the cycle of violence and revenge was being continued by Jezebel, a cycle of revenge that he had started by killing her prophets. Maybe he realized, as Gandhi taught, “…an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”
Whatever was going on in him he became depressed and despondent and went to sit in the shade of a broom tree. This image if Elijah sitting in the shade of a tree is so very similar to Siddhartha Gautama sitting under the Bodhi tree. In both cases those who sat under the tree attained enlightenment and moved on with their lives. But both needed to sit there or some length of time before they got up and continued their spiritual path of working for justice.
I like to think that part of what caused Elijah’s begging for God to end his life as his realization that he had disrespected the religious traditions of others and visited violence upon people who were simply trying to keep their own religious traditions. His despair caused him to sleep too much, not eating, completely isolated from the rest of the world.
But he, like others throughout the bible stores, was attended by angels… comforters who came to be with him, brought him food, and urged him to eat.
And when had has rested and received enough nourishment he got up and carried on his work as a prophet no longer paralyzed by fear.
Now there are a couple of things that seem really clear to me from our story today. First, Elijah needed some outside force to comfort him and care for him so that he could recover from the trauma he had comes to terms with, the realization that he had slaughtered people in the name of God. And secondly that he might also fall victim to the same cycle of violence that he had perpetuated.
He sat under the tree and eventually fell asleep, only to awaken and find fresh hot food made for him. But one rest and one meal was not enough to carry him into his next task. He needed another rest and another meal before he could stand up and continue with his work.
Our story begs the question, who are the angels in our lives? Who cares for us, brings us food, and encourages us when we are at the end of our rope. Who brings a word of forgiveness to us even when we have acted in unloving ways? Who are our beloved friends and family who feed us when we are hungry and spend time with us when we are lonely? We all have angels who attend us. The question is do we recognize them? Do we thank them? Can we come to terms with the fact that we need each other to get through life?
Elijah could have just given up. He could have become so paralyzed by what he may have perceived as a mistake that he just wallowed in his self doubt and misery. But he was attended by an angel who, not once, but twice, came to him, awakened him, fed and nourished him, and then encouraged him to go on with the work that God has put before him to do.
We don’t need to be super human. We are all susceptible to becoming victims of our own zeal and visiting violence on others in the name of God. We are all prone to consider that our religious tradition is superior to any other. But just as we have discussed multiple times now… One God refers to the all inclusive, all encompassing ONE. There is no us and them… its all us…One God known by many names.
We all make mistakes. We cannot allow our mistakes to define us. And we mus Download SL20150809t take time to heal, to grow, to be nourished, and to rest so that we can continue our work with a clear head and a full heart. I’ve heard it said that ministers and lay leaders who do not renew and restore both their physical and spiritual strength are doomed to repeat patterns that are less than helpful.
Today may we all consider how long we need to sit beneath our own broom tree, sheltered from the heat of the day, waiting to be found by the angels in our lives. May we learn to recognize the angels that come to us. May we learn to honor our body’s need for rest. May we receive the nourishment that is offered to us. And may we never allow another person’s religion to be come the focal point of our anger or our outrage in such a way as to visit emotional, mental, or even physical damage on them.
If we make a start today, the world will already be a better place. May we have the insight to recognize our angel, the wisdom to listen to them and accept their help, and the discernment to hear the voice of God speaking to us, leading us to ever greater heights of love and service. Amen.