December 2021 Update

Once again we are inviting you to support us in our work at the University of Toronto. Through Wine Before Breakfast and Graduate Christian Fellowship, we challenge, mentor, and enable students to think, work, and live as Christian disciples in the academy and in their professions. Through wrestling with Scripture and difficult topics, we invite people into radical Christian discipleship, inviting them to rest in the hope of Christ and to participate in God’s work of bringing justice. 

The following words from Stephanie, an alumna of the ministry, give an example how God has worked in the past, and continues to work though this ministry into the present.

“I can’t express how much I have enjoyed staying connected via the weekly newsletter and the invitation to virtual gatherings during CoVid19.
This week’s topic [on politics] takes me back to a similar discussion held while I was on campus and there was a federal election. It was formative in my early walk as a Christian and I keep going back to those nuances I took away from that session each time I consider an issue presented in the political fora.
Although I am not I’m able to be present in it, it’s an important reminder to me that my fellow brethren are out there contemplating life with the lens of their faith.”

Grateful for how God uses this ministry to bless people’s lives, from generation to generation of students, we want to thank you for your support and participation, as well as invite you to partner financially with us in the shaping of a vibrant Christian community and witness at the University of Toronto and the wider city. 

For more detailed update about this past fall at Graduate Christian Fellowship and Wine Before Breakfast, including how we’ve been meeting in person, see the newsletter.

Imposter syndrome and trust

InterVarsity’s Emerging Scholars Network recently published a helpful post about imposter syndrome and how it gets in the way of our trusting God fully. More specifically,

The core problem isn’t that we feel bad about ourselves but that Imposter syndrome distracts from action. Fear and inadequacy are like weights around our ankles preventing us from running full speed by keeping our eyes fixed on our inadequacy. As long as we’re preoccupied with our inability rather than God’s ability, we will live a life of fearful restraint and small goals, never plunging deep into the waters of faith. Imposter syndrome stands between us and following God’s call, convincing us we’re not good or able enough.

Denise Margaret Thompson

To hear more about the challenges of imposter syndrome, I encourage you to read the full article: Imposter Syndrome, The Bible and Grad Students – Emerging Scholars Blog.

Elijah leaving – prayers of the people

The following prayers of the people written by Mike Walker were used in our Wine Before Breakfast service on October 26.

Gracious God,
God who comes to us in whirlwind and fire,
God who offers us both caution and courage,
We come before you humbly this morning.
Give us Elisha’s courage,
so that we can accompany each other.
In our world, there are many doubtful voices,
Voices that cause us pain.
Give us Elisha’s courage,
so that we can strengthen each other.
We intercede for many who need courage
and caution this morning.
We pray for those who seek to resist climate change.
We cry out for refugees and migrants
in Europe, the Middle East, and everywhere,
And we mourn with all those whose lives
are disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
We pray for our country of Canada as well,
Especially for truth and reconciliation
between Indigenous and settler peoples.
Give us Elisha’s courage,
so that we may offer reparations
to our Indigenous siblings.
We ask for prudence like Elijah’s too,
So that we can use our natural resources wisely.
Give us Elijah’s wisdom,
and grant us large portions of your Spirit,
so that we can do your work.
(prayers silent and spoken for justice
in Canada, and in the world)
God of passion and prophecy,
We pray for our communities in Toronto,
And in every place where we are.
Be with our loved ones, God,
Especially those in physical,
spiritual, and financial need,
And help us to be with them too,
even from a distance.
Help us to support our street-involved siblings,
And all those who are marginalized.
At this time, in every way open to us,
We pray for our communities and our loved ones.
(prayers silent and spoken for our loved ones)
God who calls us out of our comfort zones,
We pray for ourselves.
Give us Elijah’s spirit,
so that we can sense your presence.

In our hearts,
with our mouths,
through our hands,
We offer you our conviction and our confusion,
Our faith and our fear,
Our longing and our love.
In all these ways, Holy One,
we pray for ourselves.
(prayers silent and spoken for our own needs)
We pray all these things in your name,
The name of the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.

Subtle clues in the text: The word of the LORD in 1 Kings 17-19

In 1 Kings 19, Elijah comes exhausted to God. You would think that a prophet, especially one like Elijah who had done so much for God, wouldn’t need to be reminded of how much he needs God’s power and strength. Yet, if you look closely at the text, you’ll see how it subtly suggests that Elijah has been trying to do things for God on his own strength instead of doing things with God.

If you look back at 1 Kings 17 and 18 where we are introduced to Elijah, you’ll notice how often the word of the Lord comes to Elijah.

The word of the Lord came to Elijah to tell Ahab there was a drought, then to go to the wadi, then to travel to a foreign land where the LORD had commanded a widow to take care of him. And the word of the LORD comes to Elijah to tell Ahab that the drought will end.

On the way to Ahab, Elijah meets Obadiah and scorns how Obadiah has been serving God. And then there is the contest between Baal’s prophets and the LORD.

When the text has mentioned the word of the LORD in directing almost everything Elijah does, it is noticeable that in these last two interactions – with the other prophet, Obadiah, and with the contest between Baal’s prophets and the LORD, the word of the LORD is not mentioned.

God still shows up and sets the altar on fire, because God can still work despite us. But there’s something off with the story and the story ends in a strange way – with Elijah killing all the prophets of Baal. And while there are more times in the Old Testament where God commands people to be killed in God’s name, that command is noticeably absent at this point in this text – instead, there are subtle allusions in the texts to other killings – like that of Moses who killed the Egyptian and then also fled into the desert, fearing for his life. (Thomas Brodie, The Crucial Bridge, 12, footnote 18.)

These subtle clues in the text are confirmed with God’s response to Elijah. God does not directly tell Elijah that he is wrong, so much as Elijah is redirected and reminded that he is not alone, nor does he need to do things alone on his own strength. God provides a helper for Elijah in Elisha. God promises Elijah a new king, who will punish all those deserving of God’s judgment. Last of all, God reminds Elijah that he has never been alone – there are seven thousand in Israel who have not bowed down to Baal.

While our own stories are not yet fully written, may we still have the courage to look back at our own stories to wonder what subtle clues might be inviting us to imagine anew how God might work in and through us.

I’m done

Sermon on 1 Kings 19; preached at WBB on October 12, 2021

Many people love superheroes, as they inspire us and help us imagine a different world. Stories about superheroes feel especially important in this season when so much continues to be asked of us.

If anyone could be called a superhero in the Old Testament, it would be Elijah. He speaks and acts with great courage. He is able to run faster than a chariot and even raises the dead. And yet, when we meet him in the passage we read today, Elijah is exhausted: he is terrified for his life, feeling deeply alone, and complaining to God about his situation.

As much as I believe that God used Elijah when he was speaking and acting with great courage at the top of Mount Carmel, it is when Elijah stops doing all those things – and brings to God how difficult the situation is – I believe it is in this moment that we see God most clearly. When the difficulties of his situation force Elijah to recognize that he cannot continue alone in his own strength, that is the moment when we see God’s grace and God’s power in a profound new way.

Exhaustion – and the sense of not being able to continue the way things are – is a hard place to be. Yet, it is also an opportunity to pause. Do we keep trying as hard as we can? Or do we seek God’s presence and allow God to do something new?

Looking back at the previous chapters, we see in 1 Kings 17 and 18 that God cared for Elijah, through providing him food in the time of famine, and God used Elijah to do incredible, powerful things, like raising the widow’s son. The story found here in 1 Kings 19 might then come as a bit of a surprise. How can this be the same prophet that called down fire from heaven? What happened to the superhero we saw in the previous chapters? And why does Elijah declare that he is alone, especially when we see Elijah interacting with another prophet, Obadiah, at the beginning of 1 Kings 18?         

What is going on here?

Exhaustion seems to be part of the explanation. Elijah is tired from serving God, he has been isolated from other prophets – all of whom fear for their lives – and he is ready to give up.

And so Elijah does what he can to escape: he flees to the wilderness and there he rests. An angel comes to him, not once, but twice, and gives him food. And this restores Elijah enough for him to take a journey to come further into God’s presence. And there God meets Elijah, encourages him, and invites him into a new journey.

Restoration is something I think we all long for, especially at this stage in the pandemic. We are tired of being apart from people we care about. We are tired of making decisions about what is safest. And we’re not sure how long this will last or what our jobs or even church will look like in the coming year.

Like Elijah, we may be feeling done with all of this. And while hopefully we do not – like Elijah initially asks – desire for God to end our lives, there are many small and large ways that we can escape our lives – we can escape through Netflix or books, through becoming absorbed in work or by clicking on one more link on the internet. We can feel deeply alone and forget that God has not actually asked us to be superheroes.

Looking at the text, it can be easy to say that the solution to our exhaustion is simple. If we just take care of ourselves well enough – that we, like Elijah, would just eat healthier meals and get more rest then we’ll be better. And while God can and does work through food and rest and exercise to restore us, the weariness that Elijah was facing – and that we are facing today – is something deeper than can simply be restored by finding the right diet or the right motivational tools.

This exhaustion that we are feeling – as hard as it can be – can actually be a gift of God. It can provide incentive and space to recognize that our efforts – no matter how hard we try on our own – will not be enough. This weariness is an invitation – are we going to try to keep going as we have been, or do we enter into God’s presence and listen to what God might say to us?

Looking back at the text, we see that for Elijah food and rest were not enough. Elijah’s soul is still weary. Elijah is still done. Verse 10 gives us Elijah’s words: I have been very zealous for the Lord, for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life.”

God answers not by correcting Elijah but instead inviting Elijah to come further into God’s presence – to the mountain, the place where God dwells, for God is about to pass by.

First, there is a wind – so strong that it could shatter rocks – but the Lord was not in the wind.

And then there is an earthquake – but the Lord was not in the earthquake.

And then there is a fire – but the Lord was not in the fire.

And after the fire, there was sheer silence.

And when Elijah heard that, then he went to the mouth of the cave and he spoke to the LORD. Once again, he says the exact same words to God: “I have been zealous for the LORD, for the Israelites have forsaken you. I alone am left and they are seeking my life.”

Once again, the LORD does not correct Elijah. God doesn’t remind Elijah of his fellow prophet Obadiah. God doesn’t remind him of how the people had turned to God after God had sent fire from the sky to light the water-drenched altar. God doesn’t tell Elijah to change his tone and to come back when he sounds a lot less angry – to come back when he is more hopeful and trusting.

Each time Elijah speaks, God hears Elijah. Instead of God telling Elijah to work a little harder, God invites Elijah at this pivotal moment into recognizing the truth behind Elijah’s words. Elijah feels alone because he has been trying to do it alone. And he cannot do this on his own anymore. Elijah desperately needs God’s help.

When God responds to Elijah, God is agreeing with Elijah – yes, you are feeling alone. You must be exhausted. For you cannot follow God faithfully on your own strength.

And so God invites Elijah to trust God again and to imagine a new way of serving God – not on his own but with others. God provides a helper for Elijah in Elisha. God promises Elijah a new king, who will punish all those deserving of God’s judgment. Last of all, God reminds Elijah that he has never been alone – there are seven thousand in Israel who have not bowed down to Baal.

Like Elijah, we, too are invited to come into God’s presence. We are invited to bring all of our troubles to God and expect God’s comfort. We can let go of our own efforts of trying to do things on our own and instead accept God’s help, including through other people.

I invite you thus to join me this week in taking some time to bring your situation, your emotions, and whatever else might be troubling you to God. Be as honest as you’d like, as God can handle our complaints. And I pray that God will show us all where we might be trusting in our own strength and where we could use God’s grace and encouragement, including through other people.

And I believe that just like God shows up to Elijah, God will show up to us.

Perhaps God will show up through silence or through a windy walk, through thundering music, through a fiery conversation, or through meditating on a prayer or biblical text. 

As God appears to you, may you know that you are not alone and that you do not need to do things on your own strength. God has provided us with people to help us and God’s grace and power are enough for us all.

In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

– Brenda Kronemeijer-Heyink