Ordinary 19 (Proper 14), Year B
1 Kings 19:4-8 † Psalm 34:1-8 † Ephesians 4:25-5:2 † John 6:35, 41-51
No-one gets to move through this life Scot-free. No, not even the Scots. We are a charmed people it’s true, but even we, must at some point, reckon with what ours to face, ours to do.
Did you know that scot in “scot-free” refers to a tax? No, I didn’t either, until I looked it up – bless you: credible sources on the internet! Here in this country we sometimes associate scot-free with the important story of Dred Scott. An 19th century American held as a slave in Virginia who first sued for his freedom in 1847 and after ten years of appeals finally ended up in the Supreme Court, but was denied the right to a trial in a federal court because of his status as a slave. His case influenced Lincoln’s nomination and of course, our country’s history.
Nor is the phrase Scot-free linked to the Scottish people. Sometimes we associate it with my own people’s reputation for being stingy…..I mean careful…..with money. In fact, the word scot as it is used in “scot-free” is derived from the Scandinavian words shot or skat(t) or skattur. It’s a word for tax which migrated to Britain, was changed at some point to scot, and used to refer to many types of taxes, including it is claimed a very, very early form of municipal poor relief.
To get away scot-free is to avoid the things which are ours to face. I like the example of scot-ale. This refers to the ale served at gatherings thrown by 16th century English land-owners or their delegates. Power structures were such that the local peasantry, those who worked on the land, were not only compelled to attend these gatherings, but when they got there were also compelled to buy the local gentry’s beer. Just goes to show that powerful groups working to convince us that we really want and need, really have to have, that which actually works against our best interest is really nothing new.
Elijah is not getting off scot-free. He is wishing he could. He is running as fast as he can from that which is his to face, his to do. Elijah, one of God’s most revered prophets, has in the chapters before today’s story has been sure and clear about his work. A person called by God to speak and to show corrupt and unjust leaders the error of their ways; called to remind them and to demonstrate to them the power of God and to remind them and us what the justice and love and faith of God looks like. But today we find him afraid and running. A few paragraphs down he admits to feeling alone. The other prophets, those who were in this work with him, have been wiped out, by cruel powers. It’s overwhelming, and these same powerful people are working to silence him too. He doesn’t want to go on in the way that God has called him. So, he runs and he finds a lonely place and he lays down and tries to give up. This one who knows or at least knew who he was, who has witnessed in powerful ways the power of God is overwhelmed and doesn’t think he can make it.
But God will not let him go. God comes after him. Not in the way that God seems to often move in these stories of the kings and kingdoms of ancient Israel and Judah. You would be forgiven for thinking that God might mete out some punishment for Elijah’s wayward ways. But Elijah is really honestly struggling. He wants what’s best, he is trying to act out of the convictions laid on his heart by the God of Abraham and Sarah, but he is overwhelmed and just can’t seem to find it in himself to go on. So, God comes after him, not to punish him, but to nourish him. Just a little bit of bread and some rest. Just enough to remind him that he is not alone, just enough to get him on his feet again and to remind him that he really can’t shirk from what is his to do. Enough to get him on his way where he will find the company and the strength he needs to be able to continue in the work that God has allotted to him.
Ours is a God that places in us a powerful call to love and care for each other and for the world – God’s creation. I just don’t think there is really any way to get away from this. And it’s a lifetime’s work to follow that call. But even as serious as God seems to be about this call, when we get tired and afraid and want to give up, ours is a God that sends nourishment not punishment. Ours is a God that will not let us off the hook, who will relentlessly call us to acts of love and forgiveness and justice and peace, but who will also stick with us in our fear and our trembling; stick with us offering us a little bit of bread for the journey; a little reminder of the goodness and the love and the beauty that we are made for.
There is a tradition in the Roman Catholic church where when the priest holds up the bread, at the very moment when God is believed to be present, really present, a bell rings. Just a little bell. The music of the bell breaks into the moment to say look – do you see? God is with us – in a little bit of bread. And everything that is good and true, everything eternal and everlasting rushes into that moment. We remember God’s presence at this table. Look, we say, is this freely given meal, this beautiful bread, made from the things of the earth, by the skill of the baker, not the very body of Christ. Does it not stand as a reminder of everything that Jesus lived and died for. And are not you, God’s beloved, in everything you carry, every care placed within you, all of your hopes and loves, all of your fears and trembling, are you not also the body of Christ, empowered and called to give yourself for others? And in that moment as we break the bread, as we share the meal, as we remember who God is and who we are, we are blessed and sustained for the work ahead.
These moments, these bell-ringing moments, God filled moments, don’t just happen at this table. There is nourishment for us as we need it, as we go on our way. It’s in the singing; in the silence, in hands expectant, open. It’s in the blessing, in the breaking, at the tables of our lives. It’s in our questions, in the answers, in moments of acceptance. It’s in the heart’s cry for justice; in the healing, in our everyday circles of everyday people. God is there reminding us, sustaining us, helping us remember all that is good and true, all that is eternal and everlasting, all that is worth spending our lives on.
We do not get off scot-free. We just don’t. We are connected to the love and the goodness that sits at the center of all creation. And it expects us, it needs us to gives ourselves to the work of love and hope, justice and generosity – however that may look in each of our lives. And it can get tiring, and we can feel defeated. We will have times of retreat and despair, times when we don’t live up to our hopes for ourselves, when we let others down, or when forces that causes pain and suffering seem insurmountable. But God come after us and God offers nourishment along the way, freely given, no conditions, just reminders of the things that last, the things that holds us – love, hope, generosity, beauty. Look for those things my dear friends, rest when you need and look for those things – little bits of bread on the way - and then follow the one who calls you deeper into the loving work that is yours to do.
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