This morning’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures was I Kings 19:1f.  Elijah has just had the greatest triumph of his prophetic career.  Ahab let his wife Jezebel pick the religion of his country, the northern kingdom of the divided Isreal.  She was a follower of Baal.  Worship of Yahweh went largely underground.  In protest, Elijah called a drought upon the land.  Then he went off and hid.  First he hid accross the Jordan from his country.  But when the drought dried up his source of water there, he went and hid in Zerepath, a coastal town in Sidon, the stronghold of Baal.  Talk about irony!

In the third year of the drought, he summons Ahab to a contest before all of the people.  The 450 prophets of Baal will build an altar and lay out an offering to their god.  He will rebuild the altar of the Lord and lay out an offering to Yahweh.  They will call upon their gods to consume the respective offerings in flame.  Whichever god responds will be known to be God.  Elijah has the people soak his offerings in water.  But it is Yahweh who responds, consuming his offerings in flame.  Elijah has the people who witness this seize the prophets of Baal and he proceeds to kill them all.  Then he lifts the drought.

This happened on Mt. Carmel.  Afterwards, they proceed to Jezreel.  That’s where the story picks up today.  Ahab tells Jezebel all that has happened.  And she sends a message to Elijah:  I’m going to do to you what you did to my priests of Baal.  And Elijah flees again for his life.  And, as I read the story, at this point, something in Elijah snaps.  He flees past Beersheba a days journey into the wilderness.  He sits down under a solitary broom tree (whatever that is).  And he tells God he wants to die.

I guess, after years alone in hiding, when he finally triumphs over his rivals, the priests of Baal, and calls a end to the drought, he expected an end to his labors.  It didn’t turn out that way.  And he seems to have reached the end of his strength — not physically, but emotionally.  He was tired from his labors.  He was done.  He’d had it.

These are difficult times in the church.  These are difficult times in the world.  Over the last decades, most congregations have shrunk in size.  Budgets have gotten tighter.  I’ve been in this diocese the better part of 23 years now.  And during that time (in a diocese of some 70 congregations) more than 20 congregations that had full time clergy when I arrived no longer have full time clergy.  (I’ve served in four or 5 of those congregations.)

Don’t get me wrong.  Many wonderful things have happened (and continue to happen) in these congregations.  But I think I have some understanding of what it might have felt like for Elijah to have been tired and run out of gas.  I’m not to retirement yet (nor do I want to be).  But as I read the story, Elijah had reached the point where it was time for him to retire.  God sends him on to Mt. Horeb.  And God appears to him in person (in what is often called a still small voice).  And even that does not renew him.  So God proceeds to give him his retirement instructions — including annointing his succesor.  And I think God gives Elijah the most spectacular retirement send off of all time.

But I guess for me, the energy in this story is about where you find strength when you are tired.  Because sometimes I am tired, and I need to be renewed.  And that has been the blessing of this Advent/Christmas season for me.  I have had repeated times of retreat and renewal.  I think I’ve needed them.  But I find myself, so far at least, moving into this new year where I’m facing surgery and fewer paid hours at work with renewed energy and, I hope, vision.

I can almost see retirement from here.  But I still have things to offer, and things to do, and people to care for, and a God who sustains me.  And unlike Elijah, I’m still feeling that suport.  And at least for now, I find it sustains me.  It carries me forward.  It excites me.  And I’m ready to keep on truckin.

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