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"Take a Nap & Have a Snack" by Rev. Jillian Hankamer


 

November 19, 2023

1 Kings 19:1-9

 

 

On this Sunday before Thanksgiving, I want to tell you about Thanksgiving with my mom’s family when I was growing up. We spent most every Thanksgiving of childhood, particularly my teenage years, with some iteration of my mom’s family at my grandaddy’s house. For several years this was in Memphis until Grandaddy, and his wife moved home to Arkansas and then we spent the holiday at Fairfield Bay.

 

I have some wonderful memories of those gatherings. Spending time with my older cousins - I’m the youngest on both sides of my family - seeing my grandaddy in the Christmas parade with the volunteer fire department. Singing carols around the piano after Thanksgiving dinner, playing Twister with my cousins, and lots of laughter.

 

But there are some complicated memories too. You might have noticed I said my Grandaddy, and his wife moved home to Arkansas. That’s because my grandmother Joy passed away from cancer when I was a baby and my grandfather remarried quickly after her passing. His new wife whether intentionally or unintentionally brought with her some challenging family dynamics that my grandfather reinforced. The most painful of which was that my mom and her siblings were expected to avoid talking about their mother at all costs so as not to upset the new wife.

 

As you might expect, this unspoken but quite official edict was the cause of considerable hurt feelings, tense moments, and quite a few tears. Add to this my grandaddy’s also unspoken alcoholism - some of which I’m convinced stemmed from his tours of Vietnam - and you had a recipe for some climactic family gatherings.

 

Why am I telling you this? Well, in part to assure you that if you’re headed to a family gathering next week that has the potential to be emotionally taxing, you aren’t alone. And your family isn’t weird or even that dysfunctional. I’m also telling you this to get you to think about what you’ll do if there is a big blow-up with your family. How you’ll care for yourself if emotions run high. And what to do if your best option is to get away from the conflict because that’s what happens to Elijah in this morning’s story from 1 Kings.

 

To be fair, Elijah’s emotional distress is to a certain extent of his own making, and he doesn’t take good care of himself in these verses. If God hadn’t been looking out for him Elijah would have been swallowed up by his wallowing but let me locate us in the text to explain what I mean. We’re again in 1 Kings but have moved from the southern kingdom of Judah with King Rehoboam to the northern kingdom of Israel with the prophet Elijah going toe-to-toe with King Ahab and Queen Jezebel.

 

The flashpoint of their conflict is King Ahab’s accusation that Elijah’s the “troubler of Israel” because it’s his fault there’s been a three-year drought in Israel. In response, the brash Elijah bluntly says to King Ahab, “It’s not I who has caused trouble in Israel...but you and your government—you’ve dumped God’s ways and commands and run off after the local gods, the Baals.”[1]

 

Elijah then challenges Ahab with a contest between YHWH and the god Baal whom the King and Queen have been worshiping and worse, leading their people to worship. The test is to see which god will engulf a bull in flames first, and as Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann notes this story, “reads like a showdown between neighborhood bullies that revolves around shows of raw power.”[2]

 

The short version of the story is that after hours of prayer, bloodletting from the Baal priests, and “every religious trick and strategy they knew to make something happen on the altar,” nothing happens. “Baal is absent, silent, indifferent, unresponsive, uncaring unwilling to answer. His devotees are abandoned and on their own.”[3]

 

Elijah then has the people gather around him, builds his own altar, and has the people douse it with water three times. With the altar completely water-sodden, Elijah calls to the Lord in prayer, and “immediately the fire of God [falls],” completely burning up the altar. But Elijah doesn’t stop with this show of God’s power for he then orders all of the Baal prophets to be killed. And as The Message translates it, “they massacred the lot.”

 

As you might imagine neither this show of YHWH’s power nor the killing of the priests goes over well. This morning’s verses pick up with King Ahab returning to Queen Jezebel and telling her what’s happened. Her response is important because as a Phonecian Baal worship is Jezebel’s native religion and she’s the one who introduces the religion to the King and therefore to all of Israel.

 

Elijah’s killing of the Baal priests is not only a blow to Jezebel’s power with the people, the priests were more or less members of her entourage. Thus, their deaths are a personal attack on the Queen and in response, she sends a messenger to Elijah threatening his life. Now, you might wonder why the Queen sends this messenger as they serve as enough warning to the prophet for him to flee. Surely Queen Jezebel needn't have wasted her time warning Elijah and could have just had him killed. Perhaps she wants to scare Elijah into looking over his shoulder, perhaps she wants him to live in fear, or even go into hiding. Whatever the Queen’s motivation Elijah takes the threat seriously enough to run for his life.

 

Let’s pause here and consider this question: what did Elijah expect? He’s not only shown up as the deity the people and the monarchs have embraced, but he orders the killing of an entire group of people. We don’t know exactly how many Baal priests are killed, but that’s hardly the point. Rather, the point and place of struggle in this is that Elijah doesn’t hesitate to kill these priests and God never condemns him for this choice. I struggle with what we should feel and think about that.

 

I also struggle to understand how Elijah thought his showing up of Baal and killing the priests would help make his case with the King and Queen. Surely he could have foreseen that Queen Jezebel, a lifelong Baal worshiper, would not react to the death of her priests by converting to worshiping YHWH. And though Elijah has proven his point and shown everyone that YHWH is the God of Israel his moment of victory hasn’t changed anything for Jezebel or affected her power in any way.

 

And because he hasn’t affected Jezebel’s power or changed her mind Elijah flees. The text tells us Elijah goes all the way to Beersheba which is south of Israel. It’s so far south that Elijah has left Israel and is now in Judea, so he hasn’t just gotten out of town he’s run to another kingdom to get away from Queen Jezebel. He then leaves his servant and continues on into the wilderness alone where he sits down under a broom tree, which in actuality is a type of large bush.

 

Sitting there alone Elijah asks to die for he is “no better than his ancestors” and then falls asleep. He wakes up to an angel telling him to eat the cake baking on hot stones and a jug of water. Neither, of course, had been there when he fell asleep. After eating Elijah falls asleep again and is again woken up by the angel telling him to eat and drink. But this second time the angel’s message is a bit longer and Elijah is also told he needs to eat to survive the journey ahead of him.

 

So, Elijah eats and drinks and on the energy of this meal travels for 40 days to Mount Horeb - another name for Mt. Sinai - where he finds a cave and sleeps once again. If we’d continued reading, we’d have heard the beautiful verses about God coming to Elijah as a still, small voice. But after consideration I had Lori stop reading at verse 9 because this is part of Elijah’s story we usually move quickly over. That’s a shame because some elements of this story are worth exploring.

First, this part of Elijah’s story conjures images of other Hebrew Bible stories such as Jacob fleeing into the desert to avoid Essau. Then there’s the connection to the Israelites and God providing them mana as God provides food to Elijah. As well as similarities between Jonah sitting under the vine which God sends a worm to kill to prove a point about who’s really in charge and God sending an angel to Elijah to feed him rather than letting him die. And there’s the connection to Moses with Elijah ending up at Mt. Horeb.

 

And speaking of Mt. Horeb, no one tells Elijah to go there. He’s not commanded to go to God’s mountain where Moses before him spent so much time. It’s only after the angel provides Elijah with food and a little motivation that he sets his feet on Horeb. This is striking because as my favorite commentators pointed out in their podcast this week, “When you’re in trouble you go to where God is.”[4]

 

Without conscious thought or a clear plan Elijah puts himself in a place to encounter God, for his wish to die to be overhauled by the Lord, and for him to journey to a place that’s defined by it being a site where God and humanity have conversation. But notice that God finds Elijah in that moment when he would give up on life. Notice that despite Elijah’s spoken desire to die God provides him with the nourishment he needs to survive. Notice that it’s God’s messenger that changes Elijah’s focus and supports him on his journey. God never loses sight or concern for Elijah no matter how the prophet is feeling about himself.

 

When I was a kid, my dad was a big Robert Fulghum fan and had most of his books. If you’re unfamiliar with that name, Robert Fulgham is an author of mostly non-fiction work and an alumnus of Baylor University where both of my parents went to college. Arguably Fulghum’s best-known book is All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, which is based on this credo,

 

“All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned…”[5]

 

 

            Fulghum’s list includes, “share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people. Don’t take things that aren’t yours. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess....Say you’re sorry when you hurt someone...Warm cookies and milk are good for you.. Take a nap every afternoon.” And my favorite, “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.”

 

            Friends, I think we can make this addition to Fulghum’s credo: When life is scary, and you don’t know where to go take a nap and have a snack. When you don’t know what the future holds, take a nap and have a snack. When you’re ready to give up, take a nap and have a snack. When you just don’t know what else to do, take a nap and have a snack.

 

            Because we make better choices when we aren’t hungry or tired. Our heads are clearer when our stomachs aren’t rumbling, and our eyelids don’t feel like sandpaper. We’re kinder, more generous people when we can focus on others’ needs rather than our own, and that requires taking care of ourselves. And yes, there is privilege to being able to eat when we’re hungry and sleep when we’re tired, a privilege people struggling with poverty or living in areas of conflict don’t have. We must not lose sight of the blessing of food in our refrigerators and access to a safe bed is, particularly as we head into this Thanksgiving week.

 

But the good news this morning is that no matter how many times we need to stop for a nap and a snack God is with us. Even when we only wake up long enough to eat and roll back over to sleep some more God is with us. Even when we don’t know where we’re headed God is with us, will feed us, and will never leave us alone.

 

This was God’s promise to Elijah so long ago, is our promise, and the promise of all the generations that will come after us napping and snacking and being found by God.

 


[1] All scripture is from The Message translation unless otherwise noted.

[2] Walter Brueggemann, “1 & 2 Kings,” from Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary, pg. 228.

[3] Brueggemann, 224.

[5] Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to know I Learned in Kindergarten, 1988.

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