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Sunday 11 August 2024 Trinity 11, Nineteenth in Ordinary time, Proper 14

Tea and cake

1 Kings 19:4-8

By Georgina Pinches

Major (retired) Salvation Army

Context: a regular Sunday morning Salvation Army congregation of around 50 worshippers

Aim: to understand the nature of God

I must admit I do like a biography. The obituaries page in The Times draws me like a magnet and I feel the same way about the Old Testament. I love the stories of those ancient people, their foibles, their acts of derring-do (or otherwise), their attitude to life and love and, for many of them, their commitment to God. I like the way C.S. Lewis describes the story of God’s dealings with the Israelites …
‘He selected one particular people, and spent several centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God He was – that there was only one of Him, and that He cared about right conduct. Those people were the Jews, and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process.’

One of those who seems to have undergone the ‘hammering’ process was Elijah. Long story short – he was running away from Ahab who was bent on killing him because Elijah had destroyed the prophets of Baal, who in their turn had turned their back on God.

Elijah was running for his life make no mistake. He had a price on his head, and he needed to put as much distance between him and Ahab as he could. After arriving at Beersheba, he left his servant there and took himself off on a further day’s journey into the wilderness where he collapsed, totally overcome, and pleaded with God to take him.

He was at the end of his tether and prayed for death. We are now in serious mental health territory. Here is a man who wants to end it all. He feels he has no way out, he can’t go on anymore and he falls asleep with exhaustion in the shade of a bush.

What happens next is so straightforward and simple, yet so profound it is recorded here for our benefit. God knows exactly what Elijah needs. It’s not a flash, bang, wallop from heaven – some kind of cosmic event for Elijah to apprehend; but something much more basic and essentially comforting. A cake baked on hot stones for warmth and sustenance, and water for refreshment. Twice God meets Elijah’s need, and this enables him to continue his 40-day journey to Horeb where the rest of the story continues.

It is not, as they say, rocket science! A cup of tea and a piece of cake can work wonders where other more sophisticated offerings just don’t do it.

Here in this reading, we are seeing not an Old Testament God who, some may suggest, seems hell-bent on killing and destroying; but a loving, understanding God who cares for His people. What was provided here just hit the spot.

The Salvation Army’s founders, William and Catherine Booth, in Victorian England, understood this only too well when the desperately poor and marginalised gravitated to them in search of sustenance. The Booths’ motto at that time was ‘Soup, Soap, and Salvation.’ They knew that you cannot meet someone’s spiritual need if they have an empty stomach and are desperately hungry.

Kindness is a commodity not to be overlooked.

Our cohort of Salvation Army officers was commissioned and ordained 50 years ago this year. Just this week the funeral was held of one of our group. She was slightly older than the majority of us when we entered the training college. She was a straightforward, no-frills kind of person, quite reserved, and worked throughout her ministry in areas where The Salvation Army set up what were known as ‘goodwill centres’. The rougher and tougher places. The deprived areas. The kinds of area where people really needed that cup of tea and piece of cake. Hands-on stuff. Hard physical work.

A single lady all her life she was totally committed to kindness. Over 150 people attended the celebration of her life as well as those viewing the livestream.

Kindness matters, and God is very kind indeed. When Elijah was at his wits’ end God knew just what he needed, and He knows just what we need too. When we hit rock bottom, are struggling to make ends meet; when we are worried about our families; when the world looks as if it’s all coming to an end; God understands. In His own inimitable way, He will provide us with tea and cake.

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