NB. Deacon preached at OLR this morning. Here's mine from 2009. . .
19th Sunday OT (2009)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, Univ of Dallas
the prophet of God, prays for death: “This is enough, O Lord! Take my
life. . .” How thick, how deep must your despair be to pray for death?
How heavy must your desperation be before you can no longer lift it?
When do you cry to God: this is enough! Here and now, I am exhausted,
weary beyond living. Elijah killed 450 prophets of Baal. For this
reason, he confesses to his Lord, “. . .I am no better than my fathers.
Take my life.” Elijah challenges Baal's prophets to a contest of power.
He pits the real power of the Lord against the demonic power of the
Canaanite god. Baal loses. And so do his prophets. Elijah marches the
demon's priests to the River Kishon and cuts their throats. Fleeing the
wrath of Jezebel for killing her prophets, Elijah goes into the desert
and there he discovers—among the stones and sage brush—that he no longer
wants to live. “This is enough, O Lord. Take my life. . .” Elijah,
prophet of God, touched by His hand to speak His Word, despairs because
he has murdered 450 men. What weight do you lift and carry? How thick
and deep is the mire you must wade through? At what point do you
surrender to God in anguish, walk into the desert, and pray for death?
When you balance on the sharp point of desperation, poised to ask God to
take your life, remember this: “When the afflicted call out, the Lord
hears, and from all their distress He saves them! Taste and see the
goodness of the Lord!”
varying degrees and in different ways, all of us have discovered in one
sort of desert or another that we are tired, exhausted beyond going
another step. Overwhelmed by studies, financial stresses, marital
strife, family feuds, personal sin, physical illness, we have all felt
abandoned, stranded. We might say that it is nothing more than our lot
in life to rejoice when our blessings are multiplied and cry when the
well runs dry. These deserts look familiar. We've been here before and
doubting not one whit, we know we will visit them again. We hope and
keep on; we pray and trust in God. This is what we do, we who live near
the cross. But there are those times when the desert seems endless and
only death will bring rescue. We find hope in dying. And so, we cry out
to God: “Take my life, O Lord!” Is this the prayer we should pray when
we find ourselves broken and bleeding in the deserts of despair? It is.
There is none better.
witness of scripture pokes at us to remember that our God provides.
Beaten down and hunted by Jezebel, exhausted by his prayer, Elijah falls
asleep under the broom tree. An angel comes to him twice with food and
drink, ordering him to wake up and eat: “Get up and eat, else the
journey will be too long for you!” Elijah obeys. Strengthened by the
angelic supper, he walks for forty days and nights; he walks to God on
Mt. Horeb. The Lord provides. Jesus reminds the Jews who are murmuring
about his teaching that their ancestors wandered around in the desert
for forty years, surviving on angelic food. Though they died as we all
do, and despite their constant despairing, they survived as a people to
arrive in the land promised to them by God. As always, the Lord
provides. Paul reminds the Ephesians (and us) that Christ handed himself
over “as a sacrificial offering to God” for us, thus giving us access
to the Father's bounty, eternal access to only food and drink we will
ever need to survive. Paul writes, “. . .you were sealed for the day of
redemption.” Therefore, “. . .be kind to one another, compassionate,
forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.” We always have
before us the feast of mercy. The Lord provides. So, wake up! And eat!
are we promised, and what is provided? Even the slightest glance at
scripture, even the most cursory perusal of our Christian history will
reveal that following Christ on pilgrimage to the cross is no picnic. To
paraphrase Lynn Anderson, “He never promised us a rose garden.” Sure,
Christ promised us a garden alright. But it's the Garden of Gethsemane.
Betrayal, blood, and a sacrificial death. He also promised us
persecution, trial, conviction, and exile. He promised us nothing more
than what he himself received as the Messiah. A life of hardship as a
witness and the authority of the Word. The burdens of preaching mercy
and the rewards of telling the truth. An ignoble death on a cross and a
glorious resurrection from the tomb. What he promises, he provides. All
that he provides is given from His Father's treasury. Food and drink on
the way. The peace of reconciliation. A Father's love for His children.
And an eternal life lived in worship before the throne.
of this is given freely to us. But we must freely receive all that is
given. Elijah flees into the desert, seeking his freedom from Jezebel's
wrath. The former slaves of Egypt flee into the desert, seeking their
freedom from Pharaoh's whip. The men and women of Ephesus flee into the
desert of repentance and conversion, seeking their freedom from the
slavery of sin. Each time we flee into a desert to despair, we are
fleeing from the worries, the burdens of living day-to-day the promises
we have made to follow Christ to the cross. Our lives are not made
easier by baptism and the Eucharist. Our anxieties are not made simpler
through prayer and fasting. Our pains, our sufferings are not relieved
by the saints or the Blessed Mother. Our lives, anxieties, our pain and
sufferings are made sacrificial by the promises of Christ and all that
he provides. We are not made less human by striving to be Christ-like.
We are not brought to physical and psychological bliss by walking the
way of sorrows. We are not promised lives free of betrayal, blood,
injury, and death. By striving to be Christ-like, by walking behind our
Lord on the way of sorrows, we are all but guaranteeing that we will
suffer for his sake. And so, the most fervent prayer we can pray along
this Christian path is: “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life. . .!”
Surrender and receive, give up and feast. Surrender your life and
receive God's blessing. Give up your suffering and feast on the bread of
Christ promises, he provides. He says to those behind him, “I am the
living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will
live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of
the world.” Exhausted under a tree and running for your life; pitiful
and despairing, wandering lost in a desert; chained to sin, wallowing in
disobedience, yet seeking mercy. . .where do you find yourself? Are you
hungry? Are you thirsty? Are you exhausted? Spent? Do you need to be
rescued? Cry out then, “Take my life, O Lord. . .” Pray for death. Pray
for the death of Self. Pray for the death of “bitterness, fury, anger,
reviling, and malice.” Pray for the death of whatever it is in you that
obstructs your path to Christ; pray that it “be removed from you. . .So
[you may] be [an] imitator of God, as [a] beloved child, and live in
love, as Christ loves us.” Remember and never forget: “When the
afflicted call out, the Lord hears, and from all their distress He saves
them! Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!” The bread come down from
heaven, Christ himself, is our promised food and our provision for
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