12 Aug 2012
“[Elijah] prayed for death: ‘This is enough, O Lord! Take my life …’” (1 K 19:4)
In the name …
We were supposed to be outside this morning. I like it out there. I feel like there are more possibilities to try different things. One of our outdoor experiments is that we play different kinds of music at those Masses. They’re all recorded. There’s nothing like live music which our choir provides most every Sunday and feast day, but the recordings allow us to try new things, and I like that every once in a while. We’ve played the likes of Michael Crawford, Charlotte Church, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli and Alan Jackson, this summer. Today we could have relished the music of Whitney Houston, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Chris Botti. I’m hoping we’re able to do one more outdoor Mass on Labour Day weekend – if it doesn’t rain again. If you have some ideas for hymn selections, share them with me.
By going outdoors, by changing our normal routine, we build for ourselves the chance to look at church and our faith differently. And that I think is always a good thing. Yesterday’s wedding soloist shared a bit of a novelty with me. It would only work if we were outdoors because of all those pew kneelers in here. You’re going to have to trust me on this one, unless you have an aisle seat. If you lift up your right leg and start circling it in a clockwise motion and then take your right hand and draw the number 6 in the air your leg starts to draw strange looking figure 8’s. The brain’s hardwiring overlaps at this point and it just can’t get the two separate messages of clockwise and counterclockwise through at the same time. This is just another sign that we have our limitations. It’s not about working harder or longer at this trick. We simply have human limitations.
Now let’s go back to this morning’s reading about Elijah the prophet. I’m a bit confused as to why the church chose to read only verses 4-8. I thought maybe it was a typo and should have been verses 4-18, but who knows. The more-extended story of Elijah tells us of how Queen Jezebel wants to kill the prophet because Elijah has just slaughtered her own prophets of the god Baal. Elijah flees for his life, and in fear and despair he prays the words we hear today: “Lord, take my life.” God transports the prophet to Mount Horeb, more commonly known as Mount Sinai. There God reveals Himself not in the strong wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but in a tiny, whispering sound.
Is that to tell us that God is not found as so often expected in grand displays of power, but that He is discovered in the ordinary when we are quiet and attentive enough to listen, to give Him a chance to be heard? Isn’t that the same message today’s Gospel shares with us? Jesus has fed the thousands with a few fish and loaves of bread, and yet His contemporaries refuse to believe. It seems their refusal is based on Jesus being too ordinary: “‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know His father and mother? Then how can He say, “I have come down from heaven”?’” God in that small, whispering sound and in that carpenter from Nazareth may be pointing us away from imagining God is always in the grand and miraculous. More often than not God surrounds us in the ordinary. He just needs to be found.
Back to Elijah, once God has got the prophet’s attention, once God gets him past his fear and limitations, then God points him back into the world. God sends Elijah to instigate a coup d’état. Elijah empowers an army commander to turn against his king, and his queen Jezebel, and to then establish a new dynasty in Israel. We don’t usually associate this sort of stuff with religion. This is more like the kind of politics going on in Syria as we speak. It seems more akin to the newspaper than to the Bible, but maybe that’s because we don’t think often enough of religion as involved in the ordinary and practical world. Maybe we get so used to church buildings that we forget we come here, like Elijah came to Mount Horeb, to find sanctuary and to hear the still, small sound of God’s voice, but that we can here be changed and then leave here and make a difference in the world.
Elijah had reached the limits of his potential when he fled away in fear and prayed to die. God had to pull him aside and remind him that he was not alone. Only then could the prophet go back and handle the practical work that God intended for him. We also have our limitations like that little trick showed us. We can only do so much. But our faith tells us that we don’t have to take on all that is expected of us in the world by ourselves. Even a man of faith as powerful as Elijah felt desperation and fled. Sometimes when we look at what needs to be done, we like Elijah may yell “This is enough, O Lord!”, but that’s exactly when we need to turn to God even more. There is so much dishonesty and greed in the world. So much selfishness and anger. There’s so much violence that weekly mass-murders don’t even stun us anymore. There is so much faithlessness in our society. God has been forgotten by so many and is being used by so many others. In the face of all this, we know we have our limitations, but today we are reminded that we also have a God who likes to tear down limitations. Let God break down our limitations too so that we can do the worldly work of God in the strength that comes not in the ostentatious, but in our simple and honest efforts to do the will of God in our ordinary, every day lives. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo