Sunday’s Scripture ~ I Kings 19:8-15
What frustrates you? Those things that frustrate me are incredibly petty and small…yet in the heat of the moment they seem like giants. For instance…I am not known to stroll. I walk with a purpose. This is probably the product of my subconscious harboring the learning from a math course in college (marked especially for religion and philosophy majors!) where I spent half the semester studying the theory of the travelling salesman problem: You are a travelling salesman and you have five sales to make in a specific amount of time. What is the shortest distance between all of the sale-stops without retracing your steps? So when I walk – I walk! And my greatest frustration while walking – someone stopping directly in front of me – totally throws off my groove!
Needless to say – I am tons of fun to take to a theme park…
One interpretation of our Scripture lesson this week is that Elijah is quite frustrated with our God. Perhaps he is frustrated because he feels completely alone, believing that he is the only faithful person to the one true God left on the planet’s surface. Or perhaps he is frustrated because God has changed how God communicates with the prophet and with the world. Elijah is accustomed to the God of Moses who communicates with creation in fantastic ways – earthquakes, fire of the mountain, and mastery over the elements to part the waters of the sea to name a few. And now God selects a new way to communicate – by saying nothing at all. That is a game changer. That is akin to God and Elijah walking along and then God pulls up short in front of Elijah, completely throwing off his groove.
When God finally speaks to Elijah the words are not what Elijah expects. God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?” implying that Elijah’s current environment is not the environment Elijah should be occupying (v.13). After the question God gives Elijah a directive, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus” (v.15). Haywood B. Spangler says that God tells Elijah “to go back to work” and in going back to work “Elijah does not have to give up his frustration, but God will not let him give into it.”*
Our God will not and cannot be contained. We do not set the terms of our relationship with God – when we encounter our God or how God encounters us. That can be incredibly frustrating…but we cannot give into our frustration. God is eager to send us on our way, to be God’s hands and feet in the world. How we hang onto or release our frustrations will determine how fruitful our service is as God’s hands and feet.
This week I am changing my pace. I am changing my serving environment – from the local church to the connection. I have the privilege to serve with my dear friend Melissa and her fabulous staff at one of the Florida Conference Camp and Retreat Centers as the pastor in residence for Grandparents and Me Camp. The tempo at camp is always different. Schedules are not set in granite and flexibility is key. Walking with a purpose is replaced by strolling. The agenda items are these – just be and be with one another. I may be frustrated with that at first…but I wait and walk in great anticipation for how God will speak to me in the change of pace this week.
Try this on, friends. Change your pace. Lean into a frustration. See what God reveals and commit it to your life.
Prayer: “Dear Lord and Father of humankind, forgive our foolish ways; reclothe us in our rightful mind, in purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise. Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease; take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace. Breathe through the heats of our desire thy coolness and thy balm; let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire, O still, small voice of calm.”** Amen.
*David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting On the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008- 2010), 151.
**”Dear Lord and Father of Humankind,” The United Methodist Hymnal, 358.