"Care enough to give, but also care enough to receive when the time comes."
Have you heard the stories of actors and actresses who pour their hearts into a role, then proudly state that they have no interest whatsoever in the opinions of mere newspaper critics - after all, what do they know about the noble art of 'acting'. And yet they're the first to grab the newspaper from the news stand first thing in the morning and despair should the unthinkable happen, a bad review ,or worse that their part in the performance has been totally overlooked.
One minute there's the emotionally draining performance, where the actor puts his or her soul into a role, then the next it's the slap in the face from the critic. No wonder actors sometimes suffer from bouts of melancholy or depression. I'm sure the same is true of musicians after performing, and what about politicians who might give what they consider to be a tub thumping and rousing speech, only to receive boos and catcalls from their audience?
Life can be a series of highs and lows for many folk, and sometimes those heights and depths can be extreme, exposing us for what we are - mere humans and not supermen or women. That seems to be the problem that Elijah faced.
Our reading from 1 Kings obviously catches the prophet Elijah in one such pit of despair. "I've had enough, Lord." he says. "Take my life." Then, weary and depressed he falls asleep under a tree.
This being a prophet maybe isn't all it's cracked up to be. Surely the job's all about being continually filled and empowered by God's Spirit, equipped for the task, able to cope with all things, a veritable Superman.
So what on earth has happened here to bring this great prophet back to earth with such a resounding thump?
Most people have heard of Elijah, surely one of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, but his arrival on the scene just two chapters before our reading is rather sudden and unexpected. He's no sooner announced to an unsuspecting world than he's prophesying a terrible and long term drought in the land.
He then meets a widow and there's that lovely story of the jar of flour and jug of oil that will never run out, for someone who was prepared to share what little she had with a hungry stranger. Later through Elijah the widow's son is healed.
Then he disappears for a while, which was probably not such a bad thing to do after announcing that God was bringing several years drought on the land - not the way to win friends and influence people, and certainly not while followers of the Lord were being killed.
One page later and we have that tremendous scene on Mount Carmel where Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to get their god to light an enormous barbecue on top of the mountain. A simple task for a god who was supposed to control the weather and the elements.
Meanwhile Elijah repairs the alter to the Lord which had been destroyed. Of course, despite much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and presumably rubbing of two sticks together, the prophets of Baal have no success at all in getting the fire started.
So then Elijah steps forward and says to his God "Show them who's boss, Lord" . or words to that effect, and his sacrifice is consumed by flame. The people fall down in terror, and the prophets of Baal are marched of to slaughter.
Now that's what I would have called a spiritual high.
But no sooner has a physically and spiritually exhausted Elijah come down off the mountain than he receives a death threat from Jezebel, a particularly nasty piece of work. "You're a marked man," she tells Elijah. "You're going to suffer the same fate as those prophets."
This from a lady who had systematically slaughtered every prophet of the Lord she could find, and there must have been lots of them because in chapter 18 we hear of Obadiah doing a very brave thing in sheltering 100 prophets and supplying them with food and water.
One minute we have the mighty prophet Elijah issuing a challenge to the established religion and summoning fire from heaven. The next we have a tired and frightened man running for his life.
One minute we have Elijah the provider, of sustenance, of healing and of God's power, the next a rather limp Elijah in need of provision himself.
We all, I guess, know people who would fit into a similar compartment as Elijah. people who seem to give their whole life over to helping others, providing support, always having time to spare, always ready to drop everything should there be a need.
Think of the demands that are put onto the shoulders of a minister, for instance. There's not only the day to day pastoral needs of a congregation, but time has to be found for the requirements of denominations, administration has to be dealt with, and there are family commitments which also should not be ignored.
You may have seen this humorous passage before regarding the requirements of a minister. I'll just remind you of them
The results of a computerised survey indicate the
perfect pastor preaches exactly 15 minutes.
He condemns sin but never upsets anyone.
He works from 8 am until midnight and is also a caretaker.
He makes £50 a week, wears good clothes, buys good books, drives a good car, and gives about £50 weekly to the poor.
He is 28 years old and has been preaching 30 years.
He has a burning desire to work with teen-agers and spends all of his time with senior citizens.
The perfect pastor smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humour that keeps him/her seriously dedicated to his work.
He makes 15 calls daily on parish families, shut-ins, and the hospitalised.
He spends all of his time evangelising the unchurched and is always in his office when needed.
Would I be right in saying that we seem to divide people up into those who are "providers" and those who are "provided for". We're either givers or receivers, and strangely enough some people feel a lot more comfortable on the "giving" end of the scale than they would be on the "receiving" end. I think Christians are probably the worst of all when it comes to this.
Elijah had given a lot. Now, at the point we meet him in our reading he is at a point in his life where he can give no more, he's spent out, exhausted physically, mentally and spiritually. He has an urgent need to become a receiver rather than a provider, but that doesn't come easily to him. Elijah's first thought is not 'Please Lord, provide me with food and drink to sustain me on my journey, because I'm absolutely burnt out. I need to be built up gain if I'm going to be of any use to you.'
No, Elijah's first thought is "I can't go on any longer like this, Lord . let me die, I've had enough!"
Charles Wesley once said that "doing and receiving good" should be part of everyone's experience. One of the more uncomfortable things about growing older is the realisation that at times we have to let others do for us what we used to manage quite comfortably some years ago. We used to be almost exclusively givers, and now must learn to accept that there is a blessedness in receiving as well as giving.
And yet that shouldn't be an alien experience for a Christian. When we come to the communion table what do we come with? Empty hands prepared to receive. Throughout our Christian experience we hold out our hands to receive in this way, and yet when it comes to what we consider the more mundane aspects of our lives we often find this so hard to do. Why is that?
Elijah was a giver who didn't realise he was in need of receiving. Fortunately, God decided not to do as Elijah requested, and instead provided him with the means for the prophet to continue the work which he had started. He was fed and strengthened until he reached the cave where famously he heard "that still small voice", or "gentle whisper" as one version puts it, speaking out of the storm and earthquake.
It is so important that we as Christians realise that this lesson is an important one for each one of us. I started by saying that we all know someone who seems to spend their whole life "giving".
We need to understand that there are times where people like this, however tireless they might seem on the outside, need to be "provided for" either physically or spiritually. Giving and receiving are not at opposite ends of a spectrum, but a part and parcel of every Christian's life. We need to be sensitive to the needs of others, to recognise that someone is having a "bad hair day" like Elijah, and be prepared to offer support.
The other side of the coin is, of course, that if it's you that's the one constantly giving, that you must also be prepared to accept that offer of help, however awkward you might feel, at those times when spiritually or physically you are struggling to cope. Because if you don't then you might find yourself lying down under that same tree as Elijah and saying "I'm all washed out, Lord .. I can't take any more."
To quote Charles Wesley again "doing and receiving good" should both be a part of everyone's experience.
At the communion table (certainly in the Methodist tradition) I said that we come with outstretched hands, ready to receive. When we have received and go out, do we carry that same receptive and thankful attitude with us in our daily lives?
Elijah accepted the help that the Lord gave him, and continued on his journey, lesson learned. It's important that we take that lesson to heart as well. None of us should be too proud to refuse help when it is needed. Through our lives we may change from givers to receivers, but through both giving and receiving a blessing may be obtained.
I want to end with an illustration that, if not exactly fitting with the theme does at least show where the priorities lie in our lives. We might look upon people like Elijah as the superstars of Christianity but when it boils down to it can you .
How did you do?
The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten.
Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.
Here's another quiz. See how you do on this one:
The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards.
They are the ones that care.
Care enough to give, but also care enough to receive when the time comes.