1 Kings 19:1-18 Elijah feels all alone
Psalms 42-43 Put your hope in God
Luke 8:26-39 Changed by Jesus' touch
Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I'm going out to eat worms.
Do you remember that song? (Sing the rest)
Well the solution may be a bit extreme but that first line certainly rings a few bells! Winnie the Pooh's Tigger may have been glad to be the only one, but most of us hate feeling like we are on our own. When I was about 4 my mum and dad were going round the block to post a letter. I didn't want to go. I wanted to be in on my own. I was a big girl. I could do it. Knowing they would only be about five minutes my parents let me stay on my own. As soon as the door shut I knew that I had made a big mistake. I didn't want to be on my own. I felt sad, lonely, scared. When Mum and Dad came back I was sat on the stairs surrounded by every umbrella in the house open around me to protect me. I didn't like being alone.
Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I'm going out to eat worms.
The sort of alone when you feel totally lost. The sort when you feel like the whole world is against you. The sort when you feel unwanted by anyone. When you feel you're the only good person left in a world of villains. When you know you're so miserable and alone that no-one else could possibly understand the way you're feeling, no-one else could have felt this way. Sometimes this is a feeling that is not good. We can begin to wallow in self-pity, to have such a negative view of others we cannot see any good in anyone but ourselves, when we turn in on ourselves so much we can't even turn to God.
Other times the feeling comes as a natural part of life. When someone you love has just died, people ache with loneliness, even in the busy days when there are lots of people about. Those of you with teenagers will know that they often feel they are alone battling against the world. Sometimes sadly, you feel terribly alone because people have continually let you down so badly.
Sometimes this feeling of all alone-ness puts you into a deep depression, other times you feel like snarling with rage, maddened like the man Jesus healed in Gerasa. He felt all alone because of the way his illness took him. He felt driven to run wild and free, naked in the desert. People tried to chain him up, to keep him under control, but he would not be controlled.
Sometimes we feel more like the Psalmist in Psalm 42. what we read earlier
was the first verse and chorus of a three verse song. The first two verses
are Psalm 42, the third, psalm 43. In each of the verses the Psalmist is
feeling all alone. He believes himself to be cut off from God because he
cannot worship him in the Temple, the place that people traditionally
encountered God. He feels all alone because of being unable to go on pilgrimage
to the Temple, probably because of illness. And to rub salt in his wounds,
other people are taunting him because of this. They claim that he is ill
because he has been wicked and that God has turned his back on the Psalmist.
The Psalmist feels so alone he almost believes them
To God my defender I say, 'Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go on suffering from the cruelty of my enemies?'
This is how Elijah felt too. Phil, my husband has summed up Elijah's feelings,
what caused him to end up on the mountain. He felt Fear, Fatigue, Failure
and the feeling of Forsakenness.
Fear. Elijah was frightened for his life. God empowered him to escape, to run away, to withdraw from danger. Elijah was a bold prophet of Yahweh, but he wasn't stupid! Not even the Elijah's of this world are called to be reckless and irresponsible. Sometimes it is right for us to run away
Fatigue. Elijah was exhausted, hungry and alone. Physically, he had no strength left for the fight. It wasn't tiredness that caused his depression, but perhaps tiredness was a factor in aggrivating it to the point of suicide.
Failure. Elijah thought he had scored the winning goal, he thought he had battled hard and won, but it seemed that nothing had changed. Jezebel was still in charge, Baal was still being worshipped in Israel. It had all been in vain.
Forsaken. Elijah felt that he was the only one left. And this feeling of being forsaken was so great that Elijah couldn't listen to God, he couldn't get the message that he was not alone. When he first fled in fear for his life, in exhaustion he collapsed under a tree and said 'Its too much Lord, take away my life, I may as well be dead.' God listened to the prayer, God offered him rest and food and the company of angels. Never overlook the value of the ordinary gifts of God in a rush always to find a spiritual response to somebody's needs. When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me water to drink. When I was naked, you clothed me. When I was in prison, you visited me.. Elijah then set off on the journey to Sinai, the place where Moses received the ten commandments.
Elijah bedded down for the night in a cave. But then God spoke to him. 'Elijah,
what are you doing here?' Its one of those drama practice sentences that
changes meaning with the different stress you put on the words. eg what
are you doing here? what are you doing here? etc. It sounds
like it was Elijah's idea to have a man to God confrontation in God's holy
'Elijah, what are you doing here?' Elijah launches into his version of 'nobody loves me, everybody hates me.'...
'Lord God Almighty, I have always served you - you alone. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars and killed all your prophets. I am the only one left - and they are trying to kill me!'
Elijah rants to God. i reckon its something God had heard a lot before. As Elijah marched his way to the mountain, I can hear him practising his speech. 'I'm going there and I'm going to have it out with him, I'm goin to tell him what I think once and for all. I'm fed up and God doesn't seem to be listening to me. i'll say how I've always served him and how there's only me left. Lord God almighty, that's a good start...' and so he goes on.
And so he speaks to god, but he is not ready to hear a reply. He is wrapped up in his alone-ness, too busy with his fear and fatigue to be ready for an answer. So God tells him to go to the top of the mountain and there he will receive a reply. But its not in the wind, the earthquake or the fire, although all those things certainly grabbed Elijah's attention. By the time of the soft whisper, Elijah was ready to listen to god. God asks the same question and gets the same reply, though maybe said in a quiet voice too and then God gently gives his answer.
Elijah is not alone - there are 7,000 people who had not worshipped Ba'al, Elijah would have a successor, there would be new, God-loving King. Elijah was not alone. he never had been. But it took a long journey and learning to listen to God, to help him realise that.
The Psalmist, even in his deep unhappiness listens to God. he draws strength from his reminiscences of good times past. He remembers that God has always looked after him. The Psalmist rants a God a little, just as Elijah did - 'Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go on suffering?' but then knows that God is with him and even in the midst of this dark time, rejoices because God loves him. 'I will put my hope in God and once again I will praise him, my saviour and my God.'
The disturbed man in Gerasa, didn't just listen to God, he was touched by God. And Jesus touch brought immediate healing and wholeness. This is a story of transformation, so dramatic is the change in the man - and the means by which the change happened- that the people around are seized with fear, they can't handle it. The man's life was turned upside down and so were the lives of others in his community. Now, his was no longer a destructive isolation, now he wanted to live as part of a nurturing human community.
Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I'm going down to eat worms.
so what can the Psalmist, the gerasene young man and Elijah teach us about our alone-ness?
Even in our darkest hour, God is there, even when we feel so dark and alone that we turn away from him, God is there. Even if we get angry and rant at him, Go is there. God will always stick by us. He sent us Jesus to prove just how much he loves us. jesus, the one who touched the man cut off from the world, healed his dementia and brought him back into the community. jesus who died and rose again for us. With god we are never alone.
And we also need to listen to God. God will speak to us - through a still small voice, through the beauty of nature, through a bible verse that stand sout, through the touch of a friend. It isn't everyone who hates he, God loves me. And worms don't taste that nice anyway...
Of course it doesn't end there. The three people we have studied, on realising they were not alone, had tasks to fulfil, and we have too. The Psalmist decided to keep on singing God's praise, even in the midst of adversity. Elijah had kings to anoint and his successor to seek out. The man had his story to tell to his fellow Gentiles, telling all who would listen what God had done for him. It can't have been easy for him. 'What are you talking about crazy man?' He would have to show God's love through his words and actions. But the more he spoke to others, the more he reached out to them, the more they would have begun to open up to him. Until it wasn't just God who was his friend and companion.
God reaches out to us, in our loneliness, listen to his words of love and reach out to others in that love, because, probably, they are feeling that nobody loves them, everybody hates them too. But that's not true - is it?