Sunday, June 23, 2019. Rev. Jen Dunfee, preaching.
Scripture Readings: 1 Kings 19:1-15a; Galatians 3:23-29
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The scripture passage from I Kings is an extended story of human need, something Lewinsville Church leaders have focused on as its WHY, how its mission, context, experience, gifts and sense of call led to the statement – love and serve God by responding to human need. In the case of this scripture, the human need belongs to one of God’s very own prophets, the prophet Elijah. And Elijah is not just any prophet. I’ve got drafts on my brain after the NBA draft this week, so if you are drafting a team of prophets, I think you take Elijah with your first pick. He is the Zion Williamson of biblical prophets – especially if you are looking for these kinds of prophet skills – someone who can call fire down from the sky, raise someone from the dead, multiply oil and flour so it doesn’t run out, ride a chariot of fire – straight into heaven, and who shows up at one point on a mountain, with Moses, to talk to Jesus.
These big moments of Elijah’s life are remembered in scripture, God’s people will tell these kinds of stories about him. Today’s passage is different moment in Elijah’s life as a prophet, which we learn right at the beginning with these words. “Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah has done”, vs. 2 Jezebel threatens Elijah with death, by vs. 3 Elijah flees in fear. Ahab, the king of the northern kingdom of Israel around 900 BC, married Jezebel, a priestess of the idol Baal. It was the job of Israelite kings to uphold worship of the God of Israel. When your king marries a priestess of Baal, you already know it is not going to go well. Elijah had his work cut out for him in calling the people out of idol worship and back into the promises of the Covenant with God.
His life is now in very specific danger for that work, and Elijah begins a long, exhausting journey, and the first words he speaks in this passage are born out of his weariness in body and spirit – (like in the children’s time: scared, tough, sad, questioning) “I have had enough Lord.” Words we find also to express times we have felt like the world or someone or something specific was against us, or that the fruit of our labors, maybe even our labors for God, were no longer worth the effort, or that we were facing the unface-able. The strong emotions of fear, frustrated weariness, and anger accompany these words of “I’ve had enough,” and when Elijah says them he may at that moment be turning his head to see if his Jezebel is any closer.
There is grief here for Elijah – I used this idea in my prayer last week, from Dr. Charles Corr’s definition of Grief “as what happens when what is differs from what we think ought to be.” Elijah is the number one draft pick for a prophet, so maybe his life ought to be one step, maybe just one, less difficult. He signed up for hard, but this feels beyond. With all of our most intense emotions, and grief and fear are no exceptions, there is an internal experience and an outward expression of it, how we feel and how it manifests in our life. What Elijah feels, and then the actions he makes from those feelings. We see this connection between feeling and action more clearly in our children and teenagers, as adults and older adults we grow better at managing the outward manifestations of our strong feelings, but maybe worse at being truly known and cared for because of it.
But that is where God comes into Elijah’s story and where God comes in to ours. Only God knowns our combination of internal experience and outward manifestation fully, and how it changes from year to year and day to day, and how we need to be cared for right now. God knows, and God cares for Elijah. Look at how God responds to Elijah – Elijah prays, and God sends an angel – Hebrew it is really messenger, which I like better, someone is sent to Elijah with a gentle touch to wake him, and some warm baked bread and something to drink. I think of the stories I have heard from you in such a short time, and my own, when someone has come into your life with something you needed at a time you needed it, like an angel bearing a gift, Thanks be to God. And we give thanks to God for all the times that you have been that messenger, that angel, knowing just what someone needed and showing up with it right on time.
God doesn’t stop there, look at how God responds next – Elijah goes to where he knows God has shown up, “the cave” on Mount Horeb where Moses met God, and once he gets there God invites him to tell his story. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God knows what Elijah is doing there, No “Sh” (children’s time reference) – this is an invitation for Eliajh to share the grief he feels for how different things are from how he wished they would be: he shares his sense of ineffectiveness, his loneliness, and his fear. You know what? Elijah is wrong what he says in verse 10, “I alone am left.” – in the chapter right before, Obadiah tells Elijah how he hid 100 prophets in a cave. We only need to know that to know that God doesn’t rebuke, point out, or shame Elijah for how his feelings aren’t quite accurate.
God doesn’t stop there, Look at how God responds next – Elijah tells God what is on his heart, and God passes by Elijah to make sure Elijah knows the Lord is there.
Not the way Elijah might have been expecting – All of that list, earthquake, fire, wind, God has used before. Elijah needed a gentler touch, and so it is the sound of sheer silence, the still small voice, the sound trailing into thin whisper, a finely dusted sound – one of our favorites from Bible Study – all of these are way the Hebrew has been translated – maybe just choose your favorite that God is to be found inside after the loudness of the storm. It is Elijah placing the mantle on his shoulders that tells us he knows that God is there in the sh…. (children’s sermon reference.)
God doesn’t stop there, look at how God responds next – Elijah recognizes God’s presence and trusts God is listening, as we said at bible study, Elijah doubles down on his story now that he double knows God is listening, and says the exact same thing, word for word! And God continues the calling upon Elijah’s life. After verse 15 God is going to get really specific about what Elijah should do next, and Elijah climbs down the mountain and does it.
The bible passage has several movements up and down between Elijah in this most difficult of moments and how he encounters God: Elijah prays, and goes to where he knows God has shown up, tells God what is truly on his heart, and then believes God has shown up for him and continues to follow God’s call.
That is Elijah’s part, here’s God’s part: God provides care through others, invites Elijah to tells his story and listens to him, makes sure Elijah knows God’s presence is there in just the way Elijah needed – no spectacles, and then places a continued call upon his life. This pattern might feel familiar to you in your most difficult of moments, as it does to me.
God is persistent, not everything works the first time,
God is patient, it helps to tell our hardest stories over and over,
God is specific, what works for Elijah might not work for me and might not work for you
Although I wonder how that silence thing would have worked for me and you. Because it is a listening silence – Chinese character for listen – combines the following words: Ear, eyes, heart, you and undivided attention. That could be a description of God. That is our calling, to give each other all of us in our listening – Ear, eyes, heart and undivided attention all focused on you: as we care for each other in the name of Christ, as Lewinsville folks do so well. Yet only God, who knows our internal experience as well as what we present outwardly, can do it perfectly. Only God can have the quietness and stillness of undivided presence.
I came across a quotation from Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher writing in the early 1800s, that any teachers, parents and grandparents of children and teens, might enjoy: “busyness seeks always to lay hold of ever-younger victims so that childhood or youth are scarcely allowed the quiet needed for God to grow their hearts.” (Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, 107-108, slightly abridged)
Yes, so around 1830 he was worried about the busyness of children and youth that drowns the quiet needed for God to grow in their hearts. Should we make a list of all that didn’t exist then, that brings the noise into our ears and our spirits? I wonder what the word “screen” meant to Soren in 1830…. Certainly not the way we mean it in all our conversations around the word today.
The quiet needed for God to grow in their hearts, I wonder how quiet Elijah had to be to hear the sound of silence and find God in it? And I wonder how often I or we have missed God’s presence because it was too noisy in our lives, or here in our minds, which is where we often wrestle for the quiet needed for God to grow in all of our hearts.
God is persistent, patient and specific, and that is why I am thankful that as beautiful as the Lord showing up in the silence is as an image, God will find us even still, even when we are far from still, when we like Elijah pray, tell our stories of what it feels like to be us, even our least accurate ones, and maybe especially when we show up to places where we hope, pray, expect, to be found by God.
Elijah went to “the cave”, we have come to this place this morning. To go back to a detail from the beginning of this passage, the angel/messenger says these words to Elijah “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
For whatever in your life feels like too much right now, or close to too much, this church is here for you, with deacons and Stephen’s Ministers, people who will pray and care for you, and God is here for you, who knows all the details of your journey your internal experience, your outward manifestation, in a persistent, patient way that is specific to you, and provides care for your journey , invites you to share your honest story, draws near to you, and then places a continued call upon your life, to share that good news with others. Thanks be to God, who receives all the glory, now and forever, Amen.