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Elijah, George Floyd, Shelby Steele, Yehuda Bauer, Keshia Thomas and me

by davesandel on June 8th, 2020

June 8, 2020                (today’s lectionary)

Elijah, George Floyd, Shelby Steele, Yehuda Bauer, Keshia Thomas and me

I put that pork butt on the 225 degree grill at 5:30 am and finally took it out at 8:30 pm. Fifteen hours! It never got to 203, only to 196 degrees. Still it fell apart at the touch, moist, inside and its mahogany bark was incredibly delicious. The meat’s collagen became gelatin during all those hours. It looks a little like fat, and there was also some of that, pulled apart along with the meat.

Well, I have some left for today if you want to come by. Bring your own potato roll, I’ve got some great sauce made in the great city of Lincoln, Illinois!

There has been no rain for the last few days. Not that I’m complaining. For a few days before that there were torrents. Our cycles in this God’s country of central Illinois are rarely, these days, the cycles of drought or flood. Even after last year’s endless spring rains, crops poured out of the fields in October. Elijah the Tishbite, please, stay away.

As the Lord lives, Ahab, there shall be no dew or rain except at my word.

Bad enough, but then think that heavenly curse on Baal lasted three years. Some leaders become more intransigent when they are crossed. Jezebel was certainly one of those. And Ahab her obedient husband. King in name only.

God told Elijah which Wadi to hide in, and where he would find water for himself. Ravens would bring him meat and bread. After a day or two, Elijah must have overcome whatever fear he had of great black birds flying right at him.

Ravens are huge, dark, swooping creatures of the air. Sometimes they can be heard crying, “Nevermore!” Yesterday a crow (or raven) perched on our electric line, looking for whatever he could find in our pastoral back yard. Not much I guess – he flew away after a moment or two. Alfred Hitchcock’s team caught crows, ravens, seagulls and sparrows and turned them into nightmares. Mosquitoes on the one hand, and vultures on the other can scare any of us half to death.

Of course Elijah has always been a hero of the faith. He was carried up to heaven in a fiery chariot, thus escaping death. But I also have to wonder about the underside of his personality, because in this moment with Ahab and the other more famous case in 1 Kings 19, God gave Elijah a place to hide. Discretion, the better part of valor, has always been part of God’s plan, partly because those of us he chooses to do his bidding are often cowards!

Not to say that about Elijah, or Moses, despite this ambiguous evidence. I’m mostly, as usual, thinking of myself.

Such a great quote I heard yesterday, also about myself, from a professor and resident of Jerusalem, Yehuda Bauer, who in 1939 left Czechoslovakia for Israel with his family as a 13 year old, just in the nick of time.

He added three timely commandments to the Timeless Ten:

You, your children and your children’s children shall never become perpetrators.

You, your children and your children’s children shall never allow yourselves to become victims.

You, your children and your children’s children shall never, but NEVER, be bystanders (passive onlookers to mass murder, genocide, or Holocaust.

In these days of tenuous self-righteousness it is easy to apply those rules to ourselves. But when we (me) have so little skin in the game, bystander is the natural position. I question my courage, wonder about my cowardice, and ask God for a place to hide.

I guess, as in Elijah’s case, if he gives me one I should be thankful. And I am. But my questions, especially of myself, don’t stop.

My friend sent me a wonderful interview with Shelby Steele, black fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. Steele, unhappy with white liberals and willing black victims alike, cut through a lot of the hype and “news.”

In yesterday’s sermon my pastor, hedging his words carefully for a mostly white conservative audience, remembered with a picture an Ann Arbor confrontation in 1996 between white students and members of the Ku Klux Klan. The picture told a thousand words, but the girl in the photo, Keshia Thomas, told just one. (Don’t stop reading this short article before getting to the last line.)

And then there’s the 1968 song Just Dropped In, written in Mississippi, sung by white musicians from Nashville, about the condition we’re in.

Just what was in the stream God told Elijah to drink from? Not kool-aid, no. But living water, yes. Elijah was on to something when he drank that water. In truth I’m more tuned in with Elijah in his private Wadi than I am the folks who are facing each other in anger and fear. But I don’t want to settle too deeply into that quiet place, and I sure don’t want to stop asking questions.

Because …

Our help comes only from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

I lift my eyes up, to the mountains, where does my help come from?

He does not suffer my foot to slip.

Oh, how I love that way of saying it! God is willing to suffer with me and for me and in place of me, in order for ME not to fall. Omigosh. How wonderful is that!

And THIS God is reliable. He is everything I have trouble being.

He is guardian

He is my shade

He is beside me at my right hand.

Me? God is at MY right hand?

God made the sun and moon and the stars, and then he made me. And he is Lord of all he has made. His dominion shall have no end, and his dominion is just and true.

The sun shall not harm me by day

The moon shall not harm me by night.

In all my comings and my goings

He guards me now and always.

In these gulliver’s travels, in these travels with charley, in these travels with my aunt (check out those books sometime), I wander without direction most of the time, except as I learn to listen and trust the still small voice of the God who made me. He protects me from turning down the road with Mickey Newbury’s marked-up dead end sign.

There are lots of voices making noise. But in the Wadi with Elijah, in my room where the sun shines in through an open window beside the bird feeders, I want to listen to Jesus. Jesus climbs up the mountain so all of us can hear every word he says. Through his words Jesus’ love pours out, these wonderful words of life, these words of God.

Robert Barron, amazing Catholic communicator, calls Jesus’ Beatitudes, the Happy Are We’s.

And Eugene Peterson has his own wonderful contemporary take:

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.

You’re blessed when you feel like you’ve lost what’s most dear to you.

You’re blessed when you are content with just who you are, no more and no less. In that moment, you are proud owners of what cannot be bought.

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.

You’re blessed when you care. When you are full of care, you find yourselves cared for.

You’re blessed when you get your inside world put right, only then can you see God in the outside world.

You’re blessed when you show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.

And when people hurt you or lie about you, they may think they are discrediting me, but they are not. All that means is that the truth is too close for comfort. They don’t like it, but I DO! And all heaven sings. You’re in good company, my dear children of God. Godly men and women, prophets, preachers and even kings have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

And you know what? These stories just get better. Tune in tomorrow, and all week, for more tales from the Wadi and loving lessons of Jesus from the Mount. On Sunday there will be another Solemnity (this June month of Ordinary Time is rich with parties). God is good, and her mercy endures forever.

(I typed that word “her” accidentally, but maybe not so much by accident after all. So forgive me, I left it in.)

            (1 Kings 17, Psalm 121, Matthew 5)


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One Comment
  1. Ken permalink

    If God can be a man?? Thank God he can be a woman!! Thanks for the good stuff Dave
    Peace and all good
    K. & T

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