Dealing With Droughts
Scripture: 1 Kings 17:8-16, 19:15-16, 19-21
I grew up in a fairly large family - mom, dad, one older brother, and two sisters.
So, I always remember that dinner and lunch time, gathered around our family table in the kitchen, could often be a race - especially between my brother and I on who could finish our plate first and get to seconds. I remember aways being hungry as a kid - I was a growing boy and I still am, eating to live and living to eat. So, with 6 people around the table, we didn’t always have many leftovers after everyone ate their fill. And if you left that table hungry, it was your own darn fault.
And despite some hard and lean times, when I know money was tight, somehow, we always had enough around that table.
Something my mom would tell me often growing up, especially on those days where I felt on the inside like I was competing, not just for food but for love and attention from my parents, was that “love doesn’t divide up - it multiplies.” And she’d always follow that with a big hug, as if to make it more than just a nice thing to say but something real to hold on to and believe in this life.
"Love doesn’t divide up - it multiplies."
Today, as we conclude this series, You Deserve a Break, where we have been looking at scripture and different stories for how they remind and encourage us to rest and renew our mind, body, and souls, I suggest that underneath so many of the pressures in our life and our culture that tell us that we don’t deserve time off or shouldn’t take a break come from an ultimately evil idea that there isn’t enough.
Food, resources, time, money, land, relationships, and even love are finite. There is only so much to go around. So if you find yourself seated at the table and don’t grab what is in front of you as quick and as fast as you can, you might lose out… forever.
- Like when there is a presidential debate and a score of candidates try to talk and yell over each other to get that extra minute of air time and get that extra impression
- When a Silicon Valley tech bro says that you should only sleep five hours a night to maximize your success
- Eviction notices a
- Horrifying images and stories of children of every hue and background, mostly poor, believing that this land in which they will risk their lives to come has enough to offer them a better life even while powerful voices complain that there is not enough for the people already here (in the richest country in the world)
These pressure lead to burnout - to drought - to trying to measure up to a bar of productivity and success that is impossible for human beings.
I’m curious what you believe - is there enough? Is there more than enough? Certainly, there are times when our resources are stretched thin, but even then, isn’t possible that if we share, no one will go away with an empty belly in this life?
The prophet Elijah responded to God’s call in the toughest of times - when it felt like there truly wasn’t enough. God had commanded him to confront King Ahab and Jezebel who were continuing to bring division, confusion, and evil into God’s land and among God’s people. But by confronting King Ahab and speaking the truth that God was so displeased that a drought would take hold of the land, well, ol’ Elijah became public enemy no. 1.
In our first passage, we hear about Elijah getting sent by God into the foreign country. Now, it might have made sense for God to keep Elijah safe and send him away from the clutches of Ahab and Jezebel’s henchmen, but bizarrely, God sends Elijah right into the belly of the beast - into the territory of God’s rival and Jezebel’s divine leige - Baal. The territory of Sidon was Baal’s home turf, so Elijah was potentially stepping into trouble.
But the drought that had gripped God’s people had also gripped this foreign territory, and trusting God, Elijah comes upon a widow who is preparing, in the midst of this drought, to make a small fire and cook the last little bit of food she had for a final meal. This was a sign of despair. The widow and son were likely some of the most vulnerable of their community, easily overlooked and ignored. And if there wasn’t enough to go around, then this mother and her child would be the least of the concerns of others who were more important and had bigger bellies to fill.
But even in the midst of this desperate situation, the widow still offers hospitals to this dusty foreign stranger from the desert.
She brings him water. She seems upfront about what little remains in her jars, just a bit of oil and flour, but seems to indicate a heart that is willing to give even of that if there were enough for all three.
Elijah, grounded in the affirming, abundant love of God for the vulnerable and hurting, makes what must have sounded like a strange proclamation of power in Baal’s home turf - he proclaims the abundance of God in the life of this widow and boy. *Until the drought subsides, your jars of oil and flour will never run over.* Suddenly, the one in the community who had the least to offer, who was over-looked, who no one wanted to help, who was no one’s responsibility, was the one who had the most resources to offer. The one who was the most blessed. The widow’s house became feast central.
And most scandalous of all, God’s abundant love wasn’t confined to God’s chosen people or God’s chosen land - but extended beyond the borders to foreign people who didn’t even know who this God was.
Love doesn’t divide up - it multiplies.
In our second passage about Elijah, we see God’s abundance at work even in the drought of burnout. Elijah had just faced the most victorious part of his ministry - he showed up the priests of Baal on God’s mountain and decimated his enemies. No sooner than that happens, Jezebel vows to end this pesky prophet’s life, so Elijah runs back into the wilderness to hide in a cave, hoping that Jezebel and God will forget about him.
How many of us wouldn’t mind hiding in a cave from time to time to escape the demands of our boss, our families, our bills, and our expectations?
But God not only doesn’t forget about him - God comes to Elijah in the silence, meeting him in the midst of his fear, his feelings of being overwhelmed, his fear, his inability to face the future.
Colin Buckland describes burnout in Freedom to Lead: "The exhausting of the inner resource that enables a carer to go on caring. The using up of the essential ‘inner you’, rendering the individual in a serious condition of dysfunctionality. The spending of self on others in such a way that the ‘inner bank balance’ has gone into the red."
Rather than give Elijah some kind of magical puff of inner renewal, this Abundant Creator gives Elijah the good news that he won’t be doing this work alone.
Not only won’t he be alone, he will pass the torch. His ministry is coming to an end, and it is time to literally pass his mantle, his robe, onto a younger more energetic prophet who will carry on the work of speaking truth and love in this drought. Elijah is to go and spread the call to Elisha, the next in line.
It’s interesting - one of the messages of our culture is that it is all up to us. We have to be a Lone Ranger, a hero - we have to solve all the problems and grow the church and earn a raise and meet everyone’s expectations and be the perfect parent. We have to do it all on our own, and God’s abundant vision of life here imagines even the work that God calls us to do of having a beginning and ending, a time to receive and a time to let go.
Elijah passes on the mantle, and Elisha takes the plunge, leaving behind his oxen and family to pursue God’s amazing call.
Mentorship and succession and teaching and passing on our roles are more than just something we should do because it sounds good - we do it because we all deserve a break. There needs to be a time to rest from our responsibilities and be reminded that we are not alone. And in that space, we can feed and nourish ourselves in such a way that when the time comes from the torch to be passed to us again, we will have the energy to run the race and do the work to which we are called.
Too often, even in church, we nominate each other to lead and then never relinquish our roles or run ourselves ragged. That does no one any good. What would it be like to live into this abundant love that recognizes we are called to take on and to pass on? What would it be like to be a church that models how we can all navigate and deal with burnout and droughts in a healthy way?
Elijah was never alone. God’s love for Elijah didn’t end in his own feelings of disappointment or failure - God’s abundance led to a fresh and faithful disciple to step in and carry the work of redeeming God’s people.
Love doesn’t divide up - it multiplies.
More than ever, our community, our families, our neighborhoods, our leaders, our world needs this good news. That God’s abundant love does not drain dry like a gas tank. That God’s table is overflowing with enough, enough for all who come hungry and need to be filled. That God’s care extends to the foreigners and the immigrants and the refugees and the desperate widows and orphans who deserve to be treated with decency and kindness. That God even doesn’t want us to do this work of ministry together all by ourselves, but to share in it and bring along the next leaders who will faithfully go where God needs them to be.
This is why I truly believe You Deserve a Break - because God’s love is so rich and overflowing for each of us. And God's love never divides up - but multiplies to include all of us, our neighborhood, and our world. Thanks be to God!
(posted July 1, 2019)