All Saints – Narrative Lectionary 4
November 5, 2017
Grace, Mankato, MN
1 Kings 19.1-18
Something is wrong with Elijah and it sure looks like depression, but we don’t know for sure. He’s just come off of his most stunning display of God’s power and here he is wishing for death. A lot has happened since last week’s story about the dedication of the temple built under Solomon. Solomon’s son Rehoboam has taken some bad advice and refused to ease the peoples’ burden imposed by his father during his ambitious building program.
As a result, the nation has split into two kingdoms, the Northern kingdom of Israel and the Southern kingdom of Judah. Thus follows a succession of mostly evil kings punctuated by the occasional good king. One of the most notably bad kings is Ahab, and his wickeder foreign wife Jezebel. With Jezebel comes her god, Baal, which Ahab and the Israelites embrace enthusiastically.
In a fiery contest just before today’s text, Elijah proves this god to be impotent, resulting in a bloodbath that kills all of Baal’s prophets. It was an impressive victory, one of many times God’s power has been shown through Elijah. Yet, at Jezebel’s threat, Elijah flees to the wilderness, going as far away as possible. In doing so, he feels cut off from God. We don’t know exactly what’s wrong with Elijah, but we know that his story isn’t unusual.
Shortly after Mother Teresa of Calcutta passed away, a book containing copies of letters she had written to spiritual guides and mentors revealed a long history of feeling cut off from God. After hearing Christ’s call to work among the poor of India, Teresa never heard his voice again. It was a long dark night of the soul for her. In one such letter from September 1979 she writes, “Jesus has a very special love for you. [But] as for me—The silence and the emptiness is so great—that I look and do not see,—Listen and do not hear.”
Contrary to what many commentators say, I see in both Elijah and Mother Teresa not whininess but rather the willingness to open their hearts and be vulnerable. Sociologist Brené Brown reminds us that courage literally means to share one’s heart with another. Wholehearted living comes from being vulnerable with another, experiencing compassion, both for others and for ourselves. Elijah has the courage to pour out his heart to God and Mother Teresa likewise through her confessors. God in his boundless compassion meets Elijah in the wilderness of his life providing strength for the journey, not with trumpets blaring a fanfare but simple bread and drink. In ways we may not see or understand, God did the same for Teresa.
Today is All Saints Sunday, when we remember those who have died in the past year. We think of saints as those who are exceptionally good people or those who have given their lives for their faith, but I want to add another dimension. I think that saints are people like you and me who have experienced the wilderness of faith, who have felt cut off from God, yet have opened our hearts and received strength for the journey in some way.
As we take Holy Communion today, we’ll be joined by saints past, present and future. All of us will be testifying to a God who also risked himself by taking on human flesh, walking with us on our journeys, and giving himself to us. Our newest saint through baptism, Aria, will be surrounded by and encouraged by her family and community of faith who stand testimony to God’s compassion, just like Ss Elijah and Teresa. In the wildernesses of your lives, may you know God’s presence and strength for the time ahead. Amen.