In the Silence

November 7, 2021 – 1 Kings 19:1-18
Student Minister Jessie Crabtree

If Elijah were a puppy, I’m pretty sure he’d be a beagle. Hear me out.

Beagles are among the most loyal breeds of dogs. They are hunting dogs with excellent focus when they have a job to do. They crave purpose, a task, and if they don’t have one, well, they’ll tear your shoes to pieces. Beagles like to run and explore, but become single-minded when they pick up an interesting scent. They can be quite stubborn… but are easily motivated by food.

If you’ve ever had a beagle in your life, you may have noticed that they make a tremendous amount of noise if something unfamiliar is afoot.

As dog breeds go, the beagle is, as kids these days say, “a whole lotta extra.” Meaning that they’re either at zero or cranked up to eleven, they’re either sleeping or going full-tilt, bringing dead critters to your doorstep that you did not ask for.

Our guy Elijah is a bit on the “extra” side, too. He is fiercely defensive of the Lord, and he tends to get rather belligerent if he feels his Master hasn’t been showed the appropriate respect.

He can be so single-minded in his drive to impress God that he takes things too far sometimes, and you’re kinda wondering, did God really ask for all this?

Did God really ask Elijah to persecute the rival gods’ prophets. I can’t see that God did. Instead, Elijah is showing up with that dead mouse, so to speak, and getting himself into all kinds of trouble.

In doing all this extra work in his zealousness, Elijah completely wears himself out, and then has this full-on mental breakdown.

Elijah seems to have been assuming that he needed to be taking care of the Lord and the entire Israelite community all by himself.

He is anxious that his ancestors’ way of worshiping God is fading, and he starts to feel like he is the only one who truly understands how to worship God the “right” way. And then that spiraled into a bit of a persecution complex, this sense he’s the only one taking God seriously out of all of Israel.

But, the thing is, that just wasn’t true. We find out later that there were at least 7,000 other Israelites who were remaining faithful. 7,000 who had resisted the cultural pressure to start bowing down to idols. 7,000 allies Elijah just discounts in his obsession with his persecution and his enemies’ wrongness and his rightness.

But then, after his breakdown, the Angel appears to comfort him, and give him that snack. (Our beagle prophet is definitely motivated by treats!)

It’s interesting that the Angel doesn’t tell Elijah where to go or what to do next. There is no word from God here calling Elijah to the mountain.

But I suppose the Angel knows that Elijah, in his zeal, will always seek God in the most over-the-top, “extra” way possible, in this case, a 40-day fasting journey to Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai.

Once Elijah completes his journey, there is no big, dramatic, climax. No booming voice of God revealed through burning bush or pillar of fire.

I wonder if Elijah is the kind of guy that has enough of all that… turmoil, that tumult… in his soul already.

He’s a guy who seems so filled with anger and indignation and fear.

So, maybe, God knew that the last thing Elijah needed was another sensory onslaught on his already cranked-up psyche.

So what does God do then, if God doesn’t speak to this prophet through any of the traditional prophetic media, like whirlwinds and earthquakes and fires?

What God does, might be called co-regulating with Elijah. Instead of feeding Elijah’s anxiety with more intense sensation, God calls Elijah into God’s own complete sensory silence.

And Elijah gets right on board. Finally, he understands the assignment.

He “wraps his face in his mantle,” covering his eyes. He is blocking out all sensory distractions, and just surrendering himself to God’s presence. He just stands there, doing nothing, saying nothing, seeing nothing, and waits

God’s presence here with Elijah is so pastoral. God simply asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And then God just lets Elijah unload and vent all about this sense he has that he has to carry everything alone. And even though Elijah is still every bit as emo as he always was, God still takes his pain seriously.

God doesn’t tell him to calm down.

God doesn’t try to reason with him.

God doesn’t even say, “Whoa, buddy, I think it’s time you got some professional help.”

What God does is actually help him. God steps in with a fully-arranged plan of support, complete with names and job descriptions for Elijah’s new leadership team, if you will.

There are a couple new kings, to take on the political and warrior duties that really never should have been Elijah’s job anyway.

God names a new prophet to begin to take over some of those more spiritual tasks.

And God points out that there are still those 7,000 faithful Israelites worshiping the Lord.

Now, I’ll absolutely admit that the conquest energy in this support plan rightfully troubles our modern sensibilities, but if we do our best to consider this story in the context of the conquest genre that characterized so much of Ancient Near East literature, perhaps we can see through to this story of an overwhelmed man who, in his loneliness, took on too much, and the God, and the community, that gave him some real, material support.

We don’t often think of the “Old Testament God” as the pastoral God and maybe that’s not entirely fair. Because in our own lost puppy moments, the ones in which we’re just howling because the path ahead feels less and less familiar, this ancient-of-days God will listen to us vent. And we will listen to one another vent.

Even as we attend to our anxieties about the future of church, maybe even of Christianity, in our nations, and feel like the task of keeping these stories and communities alive is so monumental, we must remember that we have so many more than 7,000 faithful servants of the Lord to call upon for support.

To share some cake and drink, to remind us to take a nap, and to encourage us, to encourage one other, on the journey.

God is and will always be present in the silence of unanswered questions.

God nurtures in the bread and wine, or the cake and water, or the cookies and the lemonade, of the beloved community. God has given us the words and the example of Jesus to guide us.

God isn’t asking us to climb a mountain. We can, if we want. God will meet us there, in whatever way God knows we need.

But God is here, too, already. In sacred conversation, in song, and in silence.

Thanks be to God.

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