1 Kings 19, the story of Elijah, worn out and demoralised, fleeing for his life; the encounter with God in the 'sound of sheer silence' and the return to pick up his work.
I have a few general commentaries but nothing specific and have no Hebrew whatsoever. The commentaries say that God rebuked Elijah with the question 'why are you here?' [why does the exact same question appear twice?] but is that a true interpretation (i.e. what does the Hebrew say, clever people who know these things). The commentators I've found seem to see Elijah as failing here, but I'm not convinced - he's being blatantly honest about how he sees it (even if there are a load of other prophets hiding in a cave elsewhere).
The sermon I intend to deliver owes a lot to the incredibly courageous, open and honest address/study/sermon given by Alistair Brown of BMS at the BWA a couple of years ago. Elijah hasn't failed, he's just human, knackered, scared and vulnerable. God meets his needs - for rest and food, more rest and more food - and then Elijah sets off to seek God (according to one commentary Horeb was about 150 miles away;it also said he fasted for 40 days but that is definitely eisegesis). When he gets there he tells it as it is - something we admire in the psalmists - and he has his mysterious encounter with God in 'the sound of sheer silence', then restates his case, before God sends him off with a new commission - to annoint a couple of kings and to appoint a companion-successor. Interestingly, he only does the latter, it is Elisha who annoints the kings.
The theme I've been given is (joy!) 'Taking Responsbility for our own Spirituality' and I think that this story of frail Elijah speaks into that somehow. It isn't a story of spiritual disciplines, though they are valuable, but a story of authenticity. Elijah had had amazing experiences on Mount Carmel but he was left burned out; he needed a break, and that is OK. A break to recover physically and then a journey, literal or metaphorical, to meet with God, pour out his heart and find the strength to carry on. Perhaps the repeat of the question is to show that in one sense nothing has changed - he still feels frightened and isolated - but in another sense everything has changed - he is now ready to go back and do what is needed. That seems to me to speak of taking responsibility both for and from his own spirituality.
I'm not too sure I like the idea of God rebuking Elijah, but the 'sound of sheer silence' (evdently a better translation)speaks so much more 'loudly' than a 'still small voice' or a 'quiet whisper.' God is in the silence... now that's something worth contemplating.