8/10/2014 Ninth Sunday after Pentecost The text for today’s sermon is 1 Kings 19:9-18.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I was but a child – prone to fantasies and easily influenced by others – when one day, a group of us trekked into a wooded area that I was unfamiliar to me. The word went out that there was a witch who lived in those woods and we needed to be careful. So, we kept a wary eye as we walked on the path. It was then that the cry went out, “Witch.” And I looked and saw a ghostly figure which, of course, was nothing more than a figment of my imagination. I became frightened, as did my compatriots, and I ran as fast as I could away from the area, to the safety of the glen. How frightened was I? I was so frightened that these little legs of mine on a less than twiggy frame moved so fast that I was the first one to reach the clearing. Yes, the whole event was brought on by suggestion and imagination. There were no witches living in those woods or any place else, for that matter. But while I logically may have known that there was nothing to fear, my childhood emotions got the best of me.
Fear can be like that. It can be brought on by both imaginary and real threats. There is nothing wrong with fear…it can help us escape in the fight or flight mode in dangerous situations. But, fear can also handcuff us and prevent us moving in new directions that can lead to a healthier and happier lifestyle. So, fear makes it hard for us to move into the unknown with confidence, to make a leap of faith.
If we want to know what it is like to take a leap of faith, all we need do is remember the traditional story about one night when a house caught fire and a young boy was forced to flee to the roof. The father stood on the ground below with outstretched arms, calling to his son, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” He knew the boy had to jump to save his life. All the boy could see, however, was flame, smoke, and blackness. As can be imagined, he was afraid to leave the roof. His father kept yelling: “Jump! I will catch you.” But the boy protested, “Daddy, I can’t see you.” The father replied, “But I can see you and that’s all that matters.”
There are times in each of our lives when have to take a leap, trusting that God can see us and will not abandon us. This God whom we worship will watch over our going out and our coming in, much in the same way he watched over his people of old. This God will be with us, even if we forget his promises and become depressed and filled with hopelessness like Elijah, years ago.
Now, Elijah was a simple man, called by God to be his messenger, his prophet. Equipped with a fiery tongue and a simple message, he went to the royal city in order to challenge the king of Israel who had allowed his wife’s religion, the worship of Baal, to be practiced. The message Elijah had from God was direct. It’s one we’ve heard before – repent and return to the Lord – get back to God! But not surprisingly, these words were not well received, for they attacked the king and his wife Jezebel and her religion.
So, to prove the power of God over Baal, Elijah challenged the priests of Baal, 450 in all, to a contest to see which god was in command. The contest was held on Mount Carmel. There, two bulls were prepared for sacrifice. Baal was summoned first to show his power by igniting the sacrificial fire. Through a long day, the priests cried out to their Baal, with no results. Then, Elijah, having soaked the bull and stacked wood with gallons of water, called out to God – and voilá, there was fire!
This was a stunning victory for Elijah and there was a lot to celebrate! But, rather than sticking around for a party, Elijah took off, as he was overcome with fear. He knew that there could be grave consequences to what had happened. He knew that Jezebel, the queen, was devastated and very angry. She vowed to get her revenge upon this upstart from the country.
Elijah, the chosen messenger of God and man of faith, was now filled with fear, doubt and uncertainty. Even though he had seen the power of God and had experienced success beyond all imagination, he was afraid of the future. Instead of trusting God to see him through this uncertain time as God had done in the past, he became despondent and filled with hopelessness. So, rather than staying to nail down his victory for the God of Israel, he fled. Trapped in his fear, he hid in a cave and only asked for one thing – that he may die. But, God did not leave him in his uncertainty and fear, as God does not leave us when we panic and try to hide our heads in the sand. The God who showed his power in the victory at Carmel did not abandon him to wallow in doubt, any more than God will abandon us. God ministered to him and fed him and strengthened him for the time ahead. God provided for him and when Elijah was ready, God sent him back in the mission and ministry to which he was called.
My friends, if there is one thing that I know for certain, it is that the same God who stayed with Elijah and provided for his needs, is with you and will feed you with the bread of life. I know that the God who has given you success will not abandon you during times of uncertainty and searching. God is with you and will strengthen you and will provide for you and will send you back into the mission and ministry to which you are called. But, this is not be a road free from struggles that can challenge your faith. To confess that you have known both the sweet moments of victory and peace, and the frantic times of doubt and fear is an honest confession. To admit that you need a sign of hope and God’s presence is an honest admission.
If you are looking for a sign of God’s power, for a calm port in a rough sea, it is here. In spite of the fact that so many churches have closed in the Worcester area, the Bible is still read to us. Prayers to our gracious God are still offered. Gifts are presented and soon you will be sent back to your own work and life with the assurance that the Lord will give you peace. If there are times when God seems far off, beyond your anxious reach, there is a cross here to remind you that long before you ever reached out for him, he reached out and enfolded you in his arms.
Be assured of this – God is not just a God of long ago who did great things for us in the past. God is alive and aware of what is going on among his people today. And God has a way of taking care of people and feeding them with the bread of hope, the bread of life, especially when they are frightened and uncertain about what the future will hold.
He is with you, my friends, this day and always. He is with you wherever you may go. Trust in him to carry you through the uncertain times. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.