18 May 2007

fixing

1 Kings 19:1-15a, "Elijah said, 'It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life . . . .'"

I used to think that my father could fix anything.

Now that doesn’t mean that whatever was being fixed would magically return to the kind of shape that it was in the beginning, but it would mean that whatever it was would work again.

When I grew up on a hog farm north of Dublin of off Highway 441, we had all kinds of fencing to keep those hogs in. There were those big metal gates that crisscrossed in the middle, gates that were long enough for us to open and close to drive the combine and tractors in and out of certain areas. There were fences made of planks of wood . . . of many different sizes and shapes, patched and pieced together. There was fence made of wire, the kind with the square holes in it, fencing that came in a roll, that you would stretch from post to post.

And in my memory that fencing is never nice, new and silver-looking.

The fence is always already brown and rusted a bit. And then we also had the electric fence. That worked well until a weed touched that single thin wire carrying the electricity, then my father and I and whatever hired hand he had at the time found ourselves running through the fields, trying to close in on those hogs and chase them back in the fence.

It seems like we were always working on those fences; the electric one went out the most. But then there were also ways that we could not understand or fathom that those pigs could nose their way through a small hole. So my father and I would walk around that fence, patching it here and there, hammer and nails and pieces of wood or wire in hand.

We didn’t always fix things as if they were new again, but they would be functional. And you know sometimes that just got old . . . always patching, always fixing. I never heard my father say it, but I wonder whether he ever just wanted to sit back and be done. It seems like when he came home it was because the sun had finally gone down, not because the work was over, not because he was done.

When we read about the prophet Elijah in this passage, it is as if he is saying, “I just want this all to be over. I want it to be done. I’ve done all that I can do.”

And we can understand that sometimes when it seems like the work that we do is never-ending. Those of you who are parents will never complete your parenting. Those of you who are retired have undoubtedly found yourself doing things that will never quite be done either . . . never be finished. And it is like Elijah talks about how hard he has worked, what all he has done when he answers God, “I have been very zealous for you God; I have worked hard for you; but the people have forsaken your covenant, thrown down their altars, and killed your prophets; God, they know better because I have told them, but still they don’t worship you, they don’t want to hear you. And now God, it is just me and they want to kill me too . . . . I’m tired . . . . I’m worn out.”

And then in words of utter desperation, words that let you know that Elijah just doesn’t think he will ever finish this job, words that let you know just how tired he is, Elijah says, “I can’t do this anymore. I wish that I would just die.”

It is a scary thing to hear someone say.

It is a scary thing to hear some of the folks in our lives who have always been strong . . . to say such a thing. It is frightening to us that sometimes we can get to feeling so worn out and tired, so empty after giving all that we can that we find ourselves out in the wilderness as Elijah was . . . sitting under a tree called a broom tree . . . wishing we could sweep out all those feeling of tiredness . . . of just give-out-ness.

Sometimes we believe that our fathers can do anything, can fix anything. Or maybe . . . you are one of those people that believes that you can fix anything, do anything. You don’t have to be a father to have that belief . . . certainly either men or women, girls or boys have the ability to think that whatever the challenge is, they are up to it. Whatever the problem, there is a solution.
But then sometimes we all get to a place, sooner or later, where our energy is gone, where we are just simply worn out.

And sometimes we just wish that it would all be over . . . and that’s where Elijah is at the beginning of this passage. He had worked hard, prophesied to the people, telling them that if they worshipped the gods of these other peoples, gods that they called Baal, then ruin was on the horizon. Elijah had done what he was supposed to do, he had won great victories, but still . . . even then . . . it wasn’t over . . . he was once again fleeing for his life . . . and now he was tired, so tired . . . just sitting under that broom tree.

A pastor in Norfolk, Virginia, named Rebecca Kiser writes of this passage, “There is something about God that can only be known when our own visions of victory have ended in frustration, when we finally let go. There is a mystery of God that is more vast than our conception [our idea] of a good outcome. There is a realm of God that does not depend on our own strength and effort. In the sound of sheer silence, there is utter rightness, unity, and bliss. In the stillness of being, God is. Whether the outcome is what we had anticipated or something else entirely, we are in God's hands,” Rev. Kiser writes.

And it is at that moment that God sometimes helps us continue on our journey.

Our scripture tells us that Elijah, exhausted and worn out, fell asleep. Elijah was awoken by an angel, sent from God, who gave him cake and water. Elijah ate and slept some more. The angel awakened Elijah again, telling him to get up . . . and to eat . . . or otherwise he will never be able to make it. “The journey will be too much for you,” the angel says.

Elijah ate again and then went to a cave . . . maybe he still felt fear or worry, maybe he still felt like the best thing he could do was to hide . . . and God spoke to Elijah again, saying, “Go out from this cave, stand on the mountain. I’m going to pass by.”

And then we get this beautiful passage about how there is a tremendous wind, a wind so strong that it breaks mountains, cracks off parts of the cliff so that it falls and crumbles below . . . a mighty wind . . . but our text reads that God was not in the wind.

Then there is a earthquake, a rumbling and shaking, feeling like the very foundations of the earth, the foundations of what we believe and know to be solid, this earthquake lets us know that our foundations are not as solid as we thought that they were. But God was not in the earthquake.

And then there was fire, but God was not in the fire. And then there was silence . . . just silence . . . and at that Elijah ventured out from the cave.

And God asked Elijah what he had been doing.

Elijah responded the same way that he had before, “I have been very zealous for you God; I have worked hard for you; but the people have forsaken your covenant, thrown down their altars, and killed your prophets; God, they know better because I have told them, but still they don’t worship you, they don’t want to hear you. And now God, it is just me and they want to kill me too. I’m tired. I’m worn out.”

And God said, “It is time to go.”

God doesn’t say, “There there, it’s going to be allright. I’m going to fix it.” God says, “It is time for you to move on, to continue this journey.”

Sometimes things just won’t be fixed in the way that we think they should. We just do what we are supposed to do, take sustenance where we find it, take that cake and water where it is given to us, and continue on our journeys.

You see, I used to think that my father could fix anything . . . but now he is much older . . . and several years ago he took down all of the old, rickety fencing that used to keep the hogs in their pens, bit-by-bit he pulled it down.

There have been times when I thought that I could handle anything, but then sometimes you find yourself in the real world. This is a world where we all have limits. It is also a world where we should find sustenance where we can.

But this passage contains a message for all of us that when we are tired and worn-out, even when we feel that our life should be over, when the journey seems to be long, . . . in those moments we trust in God, not to necessarily “fix” things, but to help us along the way.

Thanks be to God for the strength that God provides us,
for cake and for water,
as we go along our way.