Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 20, 2010

2010.06.20 “In A Funk on Father’s Day” – 1st Kings 19: 1 – 15; Psalm 42

Central United Methodist Church

 “In A Funk on Father’s Day”

June 20th, 2010

1st Kings 19: 1 – 15; Psalm 42

Pastor David L. Haley

     “I’ve been working my heart out for the GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies,” said Elijah. “The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.” – 1st Kings 19, The Message

       “Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues?  Fix my eyes on God — soon I’ll be praising again.”  – Psalm 42, The Message

      Well, men, as we look at the Scriptures for Father’s Day, what is the lectionary trying to say?  On the one hand, in the Gospel, we have a naked, deranged, demon-possessed man living in a cemetery, and on the other, the prophet Elijah in a funk, wondering what his life has come to, as he hides out from the evil Jezebel.   

      In either case, men, if you say with me, “I’ve been there,” then we may be in more need of this Word of God today than we thought. 

      Remarks I have heard men make over the years come to mind. Like a police officer I know who once said, “About every ten years I try to meet a new woman and buy her a house.”  Or a fireman who advised, “Whatever you do, don’t try to drink your problems away; I know, I spent 20 years trying.

      It was a hard choice, between these two texts:  a deranged man, or a depressed man – deranged man or depressed man? – finally I decided to go with the depressed man, the prophet Elijah.  It is, after all, one of the Bible’s great stories. 

      What’s happened is that after engaging in the World Cup of “God Contests” with 400 prophets of Baal, Elijah won.  But then, Jezebel, the evil wife of King Ahab, threatened Elijah, telling him that – before the next day is over – his life would be as the life of those dead prophets.

      So, up against not 400 prophets but one woman, Elijah does what any man of God would do, he runs for his life.  

Finally, worn out in every way, he comes to a broom tree, and collapses in self-pity in its shade.  As Eugene Peterson puts it, “wanting in the worst way to be done with it all — to just die. “Enough of this, God! Take my life — I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!”  Exhausted – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – Elijah falls asleep.

But it’s not over.  An angel awakes him, and food is provided. Sustained by this food, Elijah walks 40 days and nights, all the way to Mt. Horeb, the place where Moses received the 10 commandments, with thunder and lightning and earthquakes and pillars of fire.  Surely Elijah will receive a word from God there. 

And so he does. But not in an answer, in a question.  “Elijah, what are you doing here?” Don’t you just hate that, when God responds to your prayer not with an answer, but a question, as if you didn’t have enough questions already.

In fact, “What are you doing here?” is a question all of us at one time or another have asked ourselves, whether prompted by God or not. 

For example, I remember a specific time I asked that question.  It was in 1997, and I was in Veranasi, India.  I was intending to visit not the broom tree under which Elijah sat, but the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha found enlightenment. This is in Bodhgaya, in Bihar province.  It was 115 degrees, noisy, and crowded, and I had already been traveling by train, taxi, and pedicab for 2 days.  The owner of the hotel I was staying in was from Bihar province, and told me that it was one of the poorest in India.  So bad, in fact, that bandits had taken to digging trenches across the road to halt buses and rob them.  He said I could take a train all day, and get there at night, or all night, and get there in the morning; “What would I like to do?”  The question I really heard, however – thinking of my home and kids far away – was, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?”  So instead I asked the man, “Which way is the airport?”  And I flew back to New Delhi and came home.

There are other times in life in which the question “What are you doing here?” is even more profound.  “What are you doing here, in this place, in this job, in this marriage, in this situation in life?”  How did I get to be 39 or 59 or 89?  Where did the years go?  For many of us, “What are you doing here?” is a question we’ve worked on most of our lives.

For example, I’m sure you had experiences similar to the one I had recently at the family event of my son’s wedding.  As I looked at the connections of family and friends, I reflected that most of them being there hinged upon one decision:  the one that the Bishop and Cabinet of the Northern Illinois Conference made when they decided to offer me my last appointment of West Chicago.  Just as I already – look at their decision to send me here to Skokie Central. 

Sometimes, however, we look at where we are in life, and ask what we are doing there, we do not bless, but curse. “Why me, poor me?”

That’s what Elijah did.  In response to the question, Elijah said:

“I’ve been working my heart out for the God-of-the-Angel-Armies,” said Elijah. “The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.” (poor me)

         By the way, did you note such sentiments also reflected in Psalm 42, when we read it earlier?  It comes through even more dramatically in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase:

            I wonder, “Will I ever make it–arrive and drink in God’s presence?”

            I’m on a diet of tears — tears for breakfast, tears for supper.

             All day long   people knock at my door,

                   Pestering, “Where is this God of yours?”

            These are the things I go over and over,

                   emptying out the pockets of my life.

            Sometimes I ask God, my rock-solid God,

                   “Why did you let me down?

            Why am I walking around in tears, harassed by enemies?”

            They’re out for the kill, these tormentors with their obscenities,

            Taunting day after day,”Where is this God of yours?”

      At some point or another in our lives, truth is, we all feel like Elijah felt, and like the Psalmist expressed. (There’s a reason they’ve been classic spiritual stories for 2,500 years now . . .)

      Most of the time, it’s a passing mood, a part of “Where we are in life.”  Occasionally, it becomes a deep-rooted and more lasting form of depression, what’s known as “clinical depression.”

      The guidebook for diagnosis is the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), which labels a person as having a clinical depression if he or she shows, for a duration of at least two week, signs either of feeling sad, “down,” and “blue”, or having a decreased interest in pleasurable activities.  In addition, the person must exhibit at least four of any of the following symptoms:  weight loss or gain, too little or too much sleep, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty making decisions or forgetfulness, and preoccupation with death or suicide.

      The National Institute for Mental Health reports that in the United States somewhere between 6 and 10 percent of the our population – close to one out of every 10 people – at any given time, are battling some form of depression, the leading cause of disability for people aged 15 to 44. Most experts believe those numbers are greatly underestimated.

      While women seem to suffer depression more frequently than men, most experts believe the percentage of men and women is roughly the same; men are just better at denying and hiding it. 

      Several years back I read the book, I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming The Secret Legacy of Male Depression by Terence Real.  Twenty years of treating men and their families convinced Real that there are two forms of depression in men: “overt” and “covert.” Feeling the stigma of depression’s “unmanliness”, many men hide their condition not only from family and friends but also from themselves.   Attempts to cover depression fuel many of the problems we think of as typically male – difficulty with intimacy, workaholism, alcoholism, abusive behavior, and rage. “’Depressed?  I’m not depressed, damn it,’ he said as he sat on the couch with the remote in one hand and a beer in the other.”  Women, know anybody like that?

      Yes, by directing pain outward, we men hurt the people we love, and, most tragically, pass our condition on to our children.  I found this book interesting, because, through 36 years of ministry, I’ve seen a lot of men – both young and old – who fit the description.  Sometimes, I have been one of them.

      So what to do about it?  While depression has been called “psychiatry’s most treatable condition”, less than one in five in the general population get help, and among men, even less. The treatment not recommended is probably the most common, “self-medication”, through alcohol or drugs. 

      Authentic treatment includes both medication and talk therapy.  Many of the roots of depression are biochemical, and thus, not cured except through medication, such as Prozac, or Paxil, only to name two of the most commonly prescribed drugs.

      But often drugs by themselves are not enough, and talk therapy is also necessary, which – let’s face it – most men would rather have all their teeth pulled without anesthesia than engage in.  And, as most therapists will tell you, usually individual therapy is not enough: family therapy is often necessary. Unless you get everybody at the table, it is quite likely you won’t get to the root of the problem.  It is amazing how this stuff is carried, by nature and nurture, from generation to generation.  We get it from our fathers, and we pass it to our children.

        Finally, as suggested in our scriptures today, there are also spiritual dimensions to depression.  It would be remiss of me to say that when you suffer depression, God will deliver you, any more than to say that God will deliver you from your epilepsy or diabetes. Obviously, if the instrument is damaged, your experience not only of life but of spiritual life is going to be distorted as well.   In fact, as both the story of Elijah and Psalm 42 suggests, some of history’s most spiritual people suffered frequent dark nights of the soul. 

Did you know, for example, that after her death, it was revealed that Mother Teresa suffered in such a way? For example, in September of 1979 she wrote to the Rev. Michael Van Der Peet:

“Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear.” (Mother Teresa’s Crisis of Faith, by David Van Biema, Time Magazine, August 23, 2007.

(www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1655415,00.html)

         But, no matter how dark the night, no matter what cave you hide in, I believe it is the Word of this text that God will still find you.  For not even in depression, as dark as the world may seem, are you ever wholly out of the reach of God.

The story ends with the famous episode where Elijah was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”

“A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.  When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?” (1 Kings 19: 11 – 13, The Message)

      And so God speaks, not in the storm or the earthquake or the fire, but in the still small voice.  The story of Elijah suggests to us, that when dark times come, that’s the time to retreat, in order that we might hear the “still small voice” of God, speaking to us.  

      Perhaps one of the most important things we can do this summer, not only for ourselves, but for our family and friends, is to flee the cacophony of noise that pervades our lives and society – talk radio and iTunes and Twitter – to flee into the wilderness of our choosing, to listen for God speaking to us, perhaps asking us, like God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?”

      I like the way Eugene Peterson ends Psalm 42 in The Message:

“Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul?

Why are you crying the blues?

Fix my eyes on God —

soon I’ll be praising again.

He puts a smile on my face.

He’s my God.”  (Psalm 42:11, The Message)

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Responses

  1. 2010.06.20 ?In A Funk on Father?s Day? ? 1st Kings 19: 1 ? 15; Psalm 42…

    I found your entry interesting do I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…


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