Year B Proper 14: “goodness can go viral, too”

I have been where Elijah was. Not the physical location, exactly; Mount Horeb is thought to be in the south of the country, and I was in the north, staying at a kibbutz near the Lebanese border. It was a hot summer; 45C, which I won’t even attempt to translate for you. Suffice to say, it was hot; but all of the volunteers at all of the kibbutzim had Wednesday afternoons free, and I was at a loose end, so I grabbed a bottle of water and some sun screen and set out to visit a friend whose kibbutz was just barely a couple of miles along the road from my own.

Unfortunately, the entrance I had seen off the main road was merely the beginning of the side road that wound another mile or two up to the kibbutz itself. All of a sudden, I was way more than three miles gone, walking in the afternoon sun, long since out of water, out of sight of the main road, with no sign of the kibbutz either, and I was well past beginning to realize that I was toast.

I remember coming to a small patch of grass alongside the road, with a small patch of shade. Every fibre of my body and strength wanted to curl up in that small shadow and sleep. There was one little light of intelligence left awake that was certain that if I did, if I lay down and closed my eyes, which really seemed to be the only logical choice at this point; if I went to sleep here by the side of the road, in the Israeli wilderness and the savage sun, then I would not wake up.

But I was spent. I was done. Except that the angel of the Lord, that little glimmer of hope on the edge of reason, in the shimmering borders of sight, wondered if I might make it round one more bend, just to check if the kibbutz might by some miracle be there after all.

I have some sympathy with Elijah, lying down by the side of the desert, done with it, spent out, spilled out, finished. And the angel came with hot cakes and honey and a long cool drink of water, which was very nice, thought Elijah, as he lay back down again to die. But the angel came again and said, “that wasn’t the point.” God wasn’t finished with Elijah. Like it or not, he was rescued, fed up, restored, and resumed his exciting, colourful, and wearying career as a prophet of the Lord.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

The first time the angel came to Elijah, he ate, and drank, and went right back to sleep. It may take more than one go around to get our energy back, especially those who have suffered the most – my own moment of danger was the result of plain poor planning and getting a bit lost, but Elijah was running away from persecution and threats from the powers that be when he lay down under that broom tree. Too many people know that feeling. It is difficult to avoid the signs of wilderness around us.

Many of you may have read the story online of a couple of Episcopal priests, Peter and Rondesia Jarrett Schell, driving with their family from DC to Florida on vacation, and the traffic stop which left them shaking by the side of the road. The wife is Black. She told her White husband, “Welcome to the club.”

The next morning on Facebook, Rondesia offered an update:

This morning we talked about surviving the drive to FL. We have a phone charged up for future recording. … We talked about who we would call if arrested. Lastly, we agreed on what we would say to police about driving to see relatives. It saddens me that we have to strategize and justify our family time. Seriously, who plans jailhouse phone calls when traveling to see family?

This family is now holding vigil with a loved one; they are resting by the side of the road for a while. But their bishop, the Rt Rev Marian Budde, offered a response this week, noting the actions to which others have found themselves called in the wake of the Jarrett Schells’ story.

Goodness can go viral, too, which is another way of describing how the Holy Spirit working in us can accomplish more than we could ask for or imagine.

The angel will keep coming.

We met a young woman at the cash register this past week, doing back-to-school shopping for the offspring; she and my daughter bonded somehow, so we got talking. She had been in school for nursing, but she had discovered that it was not for her; that it’s not a calling that everyone can follow. But she still wanted to make a difference, to make lives better; so now she’s going for police work. She wants, she said, to make things better. She doesn’t expect to change the world all by herself, but – “That’s how it will happen,” broke in my daughter; “one person at a time.”

I couldn’t help wondering, and I know this is unfair because I know nothing about her except two minutes’ worth of cash register chitchat; I couldn’t help wondering how it felt to her now, driving home after work, a young Black woman alone, passing a police car in the dark; and I said a little prayer for her.

And I wondered who it was who fed her hot cakes and cool water after she was disappointed, and gave her the vision to get up and pursue another prophecy, that the world would be changed through one person; and after that, through one person after another; the kingdom of God gone viral.

Obviously, that’s quite enough projection to lay on one stranger for one Sunday, and not all of us, not many of us are at the particular crossroads that she and my daughter recognized in themselves and one another, back at the beginning, choosing a framework for their life of world-changing work.

But we all do face those little moments, when we wonder whether to press on or whether to lie down in the shade and give up, when we are wearied by one more comment that denigrates and denies the dignity of every human being that we are vowed, by our baptism, to defend. When our souls are assaulted by one more graphic image of the violence done to the Christ that we seek and serve in all persons. In the little slights to which our own relationships are subject, and the large, unspoken arguments, we wonder if we can even be bothered, or whether we should just lie down under the broom tree and sleep now.

The angel will keep coming.

In the faces of strangers, in the dreams of the young, in the kindness of those offering hot cakes and a cool drink of water, a word of encouragement, a little bit of love, we are invited to take heart, take courage, take one more step.

Because God isn’t done with us yet, any of us; and the kingdom of God is at hand. Who knows, it may be just around the next bend.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”


About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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