June 23, 2019
by Caryl Griffin Russell
Strength for the Journey…
As we come into the story in I Kings, Elijah has just performed probably the most important moment of his ministry revealing the One True God through his dramatic spiritual challenge between Baal and God. The prophets of Baal have now been slaughtered, and Jezebel (follower of Baal) has threatened Elijah’s life. Elijah is now fleeing for his life to the wilderness where he asks that he might die—“Oh Lord, take away my life for I am no better than my ancestors.”
But God has other ideas for Elijah…
Have you ever reached the end of your spiritual rope?
Have you done your very best to follow what you believe God has led you to do, thinking it was “right and faithful” only to be threatened or dismissed for your actions? Or beliefs?
Have you ever been betrayed and felt devastated? Or lost faith in yourself and God?
Each of you reading this devotional has been called by God to be a Disciple… Each of you has encountered dark times of your life…
We do what we have the power and discernment to do, each in our own circumstances and understanding of who God is… So how can we reveal the One True God in ourselves and for others… especially when others think and believe differently than we (not unlike the Israelite worshippers of Baal)—even in our own denomination? What will it take for us to see the power of God in our midst?
These are questions I imagine Elijah might have asked as well. There was confusion in the Israelites about who God is. It was Elijah’s God-given task to reveal the One True God. This passage in I Kings is ultimately about God wanting more of us than we think we can give… and God being faithful, sending angels to minister in times of greatest personal and spiritual need. It’s about God providing us strength for the journey when God isn’t through with us yet. It’s about God revealing God’s way forward—despite earthquake, storms and high winds, and fire where God is not found… Until, there is utter silence and a still, small voice. It’s about being patient through the storms of life and not giving up. It’s about being still and listening—reaching deeper and straining to hear.
Twenty-one years ago I gave up my life and a successful health care consulting business, afraid I was risking my marriage, to leave home and enter seminary. The youth I worked with, the Pastors who mentored me, the patients I accompanied facing end-of-life issues were all affirming my call to ministry. I was ready for God to bless my life! Two months later, my 22-year-old daughter Beth, my best cheerleader into ministry who worked at the same University in the Department of Research, acquired a monkey-born virus, and died after a 40-day and 40-night fight for her life. Where was God?
Archbishop Tutu was an ever-present strength and mentor in the struggle that followed when I was dealing with system failures, cover-ups, and betrayals by the very ones charged with saving Beth’s life. My seminary became my Safe Sanctuary, teaching me new things about God’s agency and work in the world. Students, professors, friends, family were God’s angels inviting me to eat to have strength for the journey… The food of mercy, faith, forgiveness, and above all, love. I learned that rising above the grief and anger together with deep meditation took me to God’s Mountain—beyond the storms of the media which hounded us, the earthquakes of theology that didn’t work (“God needed Beth”—“It was God’s Plan”—Beth’s death is to teach you and give you a ministry…etc, etc, etc), and the fire of my own anger and my husband’s anger…God’s angels calling me to be still and listen and heal. Roberta Bondi (To Pray and To Love) invited me to sit in my prayer chair when I couldn’t pray, knowing that God is working within me
Psalm 42 is one of my favorites…As the deer longeth for the water so my soul longeth after thee…. All these years I have been reading this passage as if it is only me longing for God. This time reading it, I suddenly saw God longing for me.. and each of us… to call on God and know God is there to minister to us and offer us wisdom and discernment. We won’t ever fully know who God is, but we will have glimpses. More fully knowing God takes us all putting our glimpses together… journeying together and struggling together to begin to know God and how God would work among us, bringing spirit, breath, wisdom, and strength for the journey of life and beyond.
Prayer: Holy God who longs for us and holds us close day and night…who invites but never coerces…who offers food and drink for the journey, may we be still this second Sunday after Pentecost and hear your still small voice, be renewed by your breath and spirit, and then get up and go into the world where you have much more for us to discover. May we grow more in love each day with you and with each other, growing in patience and understanding and courage to rise above the pain to do what you would have us do. I thank you, God, that you are not through with us yet! Help us to discern how you are leading us to Go, walking hand in hand, to Make Disciples of All…