Elijah was having a very difficult season of ministry. He’d been preaching a word nobody wanted to hear, but things really went sideways when he had a major triumph up on top of Mt. Carmel (I Kings 19). There, as he preached the word, God showed up in an unmistakable way – and the queen’s yes men who served her little god (who didn’t show up at all) were left looking like fools. “Maybe Baal’s relieving himself in the bushes,” Elijah snarked. It was all downhill from there.
On the run for his life, Elijah reached a point of giving up. On ministry. On life. But before he could act on it, he just physically gave out and collapsed into sleep. The next thing Elijah knew there was a voice speaking into his ear: “Get up and eat.” As Elijah looked around, he saw some hot bread baked over fiery coals and a jug of water. He ate. He drank. He slept some more. And he was re-energized to keep on keeping on in the ministry to which he’d been called.
The Bible says it was an angel who brought food to Elijah – but angels often come in the guise of human beings serving as God’s hands and feet to those in need.
For me, and every pastor I know, this has been a difficult season of ministry. The pandemic has forced every pastor who cares for the health and well-being of his or her flock to make some of the most difficult decisions of their ministry. The Body of Christ is “incarnational” – gathering together as the body is an essential part of who we are. And yet, when gathering puts lives at risk it is a violation of every command of Jesus to care for and to love one another.
We’re all like Elijah … exhausted to the point of collapse. And yet there is now ministry to be done in the strange and unfamiliar post-pandemic landscape. As I was seeking a second wind for that, I found myself in hospital with a serious illness. I’d no sooner gotten back on my feet than my father (for whom I’d been caring) entered hospice care.
The angels who cared for me are the members of Silver Creek Presbyterian. They literally fed me and Dad. They gave me time away from the pulpit. They showered me with prayers and cards and calls and texts, reminding me of how much they cared. When Dad died, they grieved with and for me.
All this, when I know they too are exhausted. They too are trying to navigate the strange new post-pandemic landscape, where even the church has a radically different presence.
Jesus told his disciples, “they will know you are mine by the ways in which you love one another.” I am beyond grateful for the love I have received in this difficult season of ministry.
May we all be known for the ways in which we love one another.