Under the Broom Tree

(A link to this post will be included in the Saturday email to my congregation.)

At Peace, I’ve been preaching through a series about Prophets and Kings this summer. I love a summer sermon series that allows me to share chunks of scripture that don’t always get featured as I preach through the lectionary and am more likely to focus on the gospel readings each week.

We’ve had sermons on Moses and Pharaoh; Samuel and Saul; Nathan and David; Huldah and Josiah; and Elijah and Ahab. Coming up this Sunday we will share the story of the prophet Jonah and the King of Nineveh and reflecting and interacting about what it means to hear and share God’s truth on the last Sunday of August. Interested in joining us in person or online? Join our mailing list to get the information in your inbox or reach out to me directly.

When we got to Elijah and Ahab, we shared 1 Kings 18–Elijah and the prophets of Baal. And then the next week, I took a short detour from the series, but followed and important thread in the story of Elijah’s leadership as a prophet and preached 1 Kings 19–Elijah under the broom tree. You can watch or listen to the sermon here or you can read the manuscript here.

I may have taken it for granted that this is a well-known story from scripture, and I may have also taken it for granted that people generally understand this story the way I do–an absurd, but also very true-to-life, story about this victorious prophet of the Lord collapsing under a tree in the desert, wishing the Lord would just take his life from him.

Sure, Jezebel is no doubt terrifying and receiving her death threat may have sent almost anyone running for his life. But Elijah’s reaction seems extreme and unexpected–didn’t he just experience the victory of the Lord against 450 prophets of Baal? I think Elijah is definitely exhausted. He may also be depressed. Or perhaps Elijah has gotten a bit lost from the mission of the Lord and needs to take a moment to remember his calling. Does he really want to die? I’m not sure if he does or not, but sometimes we think death would be better when we are in those exhausted, depressed, and lost moments.

This is not an uncommon scene in the life of prophets in scripture. The congregation at Peace will see Jonah do a version of this on Sunday; but also check out Moses having a similar conversation with God in Numbers 11. This “under the broom tree” moment in the life of a prophet always seems familiar to me. Which I mentioned at the beginning of my sermon last week, and that seems to be what stuck with some people who heard it. And I realized as they reached out to me about it that perhaps my self-deprecating, dry humor summary of the scripture was not helpful (to be honest, that brand of humor usually is not helpful in sermons and I usually try to edit those parts out of the final draft).

When I said that “I’ve lived this story (in the last week, I’ve lived this story),” here’s what I meant:

On Friday a week ago, I was sitting on the couch in our apartment, working on my sermon. I was feeling kind of tired as I had not slept very well the night before. It was around 12:30 and I was full of caffeine, but had not stopped to eat anything yet. I was determined to get my sermon ready to preach so I could take the rest of the afternoon off to exercise, shower, and shop for groceries. Everything was under control and I felt like I was on top of this pastor thing.

My phone buzzed with a text message. “Are you going to do this thing you said you would do this afternoon?” I had forgotten about that thing I said I would do that afternoon!

So, sitting on my couch, having received this reminder that was going to upend all of my plans for the rest of the day and leave my sermon unfinished, I burst into tears. What am I going to do? I thought. I’m so bad at this job, I can’t even keep my schedule in order! I’m the worst pastor and people are going to be upset if I don’t do this thing I said I would do and then forgot about!

Now, my husband Jason, believe it or not, is used to these meltdowns. He was sitting in the same room, quietly reading and listening to music when I suddenly burst into tears. He listened to me explain what was wrong in between the sobbing. “You know what? I’ll go get the groceries,” he assured me. “Maybe you should eat something. Or take a shower or a nap before you go do that thing you forgot you had to do today.”

And he was right. The issue was not actually that I am a bad pastor or even that I was forgetful. The issue was that I was tired and hungry and a little bit overwhelmed already and the texted reminder just put me under the broom tree. I put away my sermon and took a shower and ate an apple and suddenly became rational and ready to serve once again.

The thing I had forgotten about went well. And I finished my sermon on Saturday–but perhaps without enough time to think through and edit the beginning.

It turns out that the events at the beginning of 1 Kings 19 are rather relatable and we find ourselves in good company under the broom tree. As we serve the Lord, we have to make time to rest and eat and shower–or we will end up sobbing on the couch. Or sometimes we get a little lost or forgetful about what we are called to do and need to spend time with God so we can remember. Or sometimes it can just be lonely or difficult or depressing to be a prophet or a disciple of the Lord and the smallest little thing will knock us down and we need to remember that we are not doing this by our own strength and ability, but by God’s. And sometimes it is too much and we really do wish we could die and we need to reach out for help and support (and that’s ok–you can have a good relationship with God and the support of a therapist and doctor, too).

So regarding my sermon, please accept my apology for raising concern or being too vague…and always know that your questions and feedback matter and they help me be a better disciple and pastor!