Memorial Church's Interim Minister, Katherine Schofield, speaks at Morning Prayers about the importance of asking for help. Photo by Jeffrey Blackwell/Memorial Church Communications.
The Angel of the Lord told Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
A little boy was spending his Saturday morning playing in his sandbox. He had his box of cars and trucks, his plastic pail, and a shiny, red plastic shovel. As he was creating roads and tunnels in the soft sand, he discovered a large rock in the middle of the sandbox. The boy dug around the rock, managing to dislodge it from the dirt. With a little bit of struggle, he pushed and nudged the large rock across the sandbox. But when he got the rock to the edge of the sandbox, he just couldn’t roll it up and over the wall of the sandbox. Every time he tried the heavy rock would just roll back and smoosh is chubby little fingers. Frustrated the boy began to cry. His father, who had been watching the drama unfold from the living room window, came outside and gently but firmly asked, “Son, why didn’t you use all the strength that you had available?” Defeated, the boy sobbed back, “But I did, Daddy, I did! I used all the strength that I had!” “No, son,” corrected the father kindly. “You didn’t use all the strength you had. You didn’t ask me.” With that, the father reached down, picked up the rock and removed it from the sandbox.
This is a story I can totally relate to. Maybe you’ve seen this story play out in your own life. For me, I always seem to find myself struggling with too many heavy grocery bags, or running errands all over town when I just don’t have the time. I don’t know why, but for some reason, I have a real problem with asking for help. Like this little boy, sometimes I am so focused on the small stuff of what I’m doing that I don’t even realize that the greatest tool I have in my possession, is my connection with other people…
In today’s sacred text we hear about Elijah, one of the most important Hebrew Bible Prophets. He lived in a time of great corruption and greed and he spoke out powerfully against the rulers of the day. Of course, this didn’t win him any favors and at one point he has to flee for his life. Exhausted and lost in the wilderness Elijah collapses under a broom tree and cries out to God, asking God to take his life. But God has other plans for Elijah. God sends an angel with bread and water for Elijah and strengthened by this miraculous gift Elijah is able to travel forty days to Horeb, the mountain of God. As he stands on the mountain there is a great wind, so strong that it splits the mountains and breaks the rocks in pieces, but God was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but God was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
And Elijah asked God for help. Elijah asked God for protection and strength. Elijah asked God to touch the earth with a moment of transformation. And God responded saying, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus…” Elijah returned to the wilderness of the city of Damascus and within a few years, through the power of God and the truth spoken by Elijah, the corrupt governor and his wife were deposed. Sure, it’s true that other corrupt officials took their place, but that’s a story for another time.
The key to this story is that Elijah directly asked God for help. He asks for help, and he’s helped, not in the way he wants, but in the way that’s in line with God’s will. Elijah wants to die, he wants his suffering to end, he wants to be able to hide away in a cave for the rest of his days, but instead, he’s given sustenance, strength for the journey, in the form of bread and water. And guidance from God. But God’s words aren’t exactly words of comfort. They’re words to urge him forward, God demands that he go back to the wilderness of the city of Damascus and face his fears. God gives Elijah exactly what he needs. But he only gives these gifts to Elijah because Elijah is humble enough to ask for help.
Here’s the thing, if you can find the strength (or the weakness) to ask for help, that’s the moment where, simultaneously, you can become more fully connected to others and to God. That’s the moment where the divine can enter your life. Because when we think we can do it all on our own, we’re closed off to God. But if you can muster enough strength (or weakness) to even put a prayer on your own lips, or if you can turn to one of the psalms and read those words out loud and say “God where are you”, then you get a direct connection to God in two ways. One, you are saying, I can’t do this alone, which is true. None of us can. Because life isn’t about getting things right on your own, it’s about recognizing that we need each other. But also, if you call out to God, then you are also connected to all the people, all the generations, stretching all the way back in time to the first person, probably Eve or Adam who called out to God in fear and frustration and even anger. We’ve been crying out to God since the dawn of time, and God has been with us, God has seen us through dark times, God has brought us unexpected sunny days. And so we know that in asking for help, we are using all of our strength. It’s not that we’re not strong enough to do what we need to do. When we ask for help we’re showing that we’re strong enough to know that God is our greatest helper. It may not be the help we expected or the help we wanted, but it will be the help that we need. God knows our every need better than we ourselves do.
We cannot be healed unless we truly seek to be healed. We cannot know what direction our lives should take unless we ask God for guidance. We cannot feel true comfort and support unless we ask others to share our lives. God has blessed us with the capacity to ask for help. Now it’s up to us simply to ask. Help Us God...
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