St. Matthew’s Sermon 06-23-2019


St. Matthew’s Sermon 06-23-2019

What Are You Doing Here

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a, Psalm 22:19-28, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 8:26-39

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

It is a rather lengthy reading about the Prophet Elijah that we heard Bryan read for us this morning. Still, it requires a bit of background before we look more closely at it.

Elijah was called into service of God at a particularly difficult time in the history of the devout. The Kingdom was divided by previous leaders; Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Adding to the troubles of losing the strength of a larger, united kingdom, King Ahab of Israel married the foreign princess Jezebel, a devotee of Baal, and himself began to worship the foreign god, lead many away in the same error, and stand aside as Jezebel had many of the Prophets of God killed; all but about 100 who were hidden away in caves.

Through this purging of the faith of the Israelites, Elijah, after predicting the drought that would overtake the land, was forced to flee for some time; first living in the wilderness fed by ravens and then going to Zarephath after the wadi dried up.

You may well remember what happened in Zarephath; where he met a widow with a young son who was about to make their last meal before they starved to death. Elijah convinced her to give him a small share of her bread and, by the miraculous power of God, her jar of flour and jug of oil were never emptied. Then, to add more proof of the presence of God, when her young son became ill and died, Elijah prayed over the boy and brought him back to healthful life.

After being there for some time God called Elijah back into service leading to that most memorable event when the prophets of Baal were challenged to a sacrificial duel. They built an altar, piled it with wood and placed the bull on it, then prayed, danced, and cut themselves asking for Baal to put a flame to it. After they failed to get their god’s attention, Elijah did the same except that he had gallons and gallons of water poured over the wood, simply said a brief prayer, and “Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the dust, and even licked up the water that was in the trench”. (1Kings 18:38)

The people repented, they seized all the prophets of Baal and killed them.

Though a whole page of my message today this is but a brief accounting of Elijah’s challenges and ultimate successes as a currier of God’s word and God’s power. When threatened he was never lacking God’s deliverance, when in exile he was never in want of food, and when he prayed he was never without God’s response!

But now, after all of his triumphs in service of the God who called him he receives one more threat from a mere mortal and Elijah is running for his life, back into the wilderness and praying to God, not for deliverance, but that he might die. “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

God hears his prayer but, of course, this time doesn’t grant his request for a peaceful death rather, sends an Angel with food and water which strengthens him to flee even farther, all the way to Mount Horeb, also called Sinai; the same mountain where Moses stood, frustrated with his mission, and there encountering the God who called him.

Elijah encounters God here too. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God asks and Elijah responds (in my paraphrase) “I have worked my tail off for you, O God; for your children have ignored your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they want to kill me too.”

But with all that background information I gave you in the opening of today’s message, we know that this isn’t all true. The alters torn down weren’t thee alter in Jerusalem, there are still 100 prophets hiding in caves, and, after the sacrificial duel the people repented; and it’s not “Israel who seeks his life but the foreigner, Jezebel.

Elijah is confused, tired, worn out, and suicidal. He sleeps a lot, has to be told to eat, his view of reality doesn’t match the actual situation and he feels all alone, in spite of the Angel serving him and God speaking to him, when it is himself that ran away from everyone he could. Elijah is burned-out and suffering with depression.

God shows himself to Elijah once more, this time not in the wind that marked the end of the drought as before, not in an earthquake, not in the fire as with the water-soaked sacrifice, but this time in the “sound of sheer silence”.

God asks him a second time “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And Elijah gives the same answer as before “I have worked my tail off for you, O God; for your children have ignored your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they want to kill me too.” Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus”.

The implications of the story and a little knowledge of geography tell us that when God says “return on your way” God isn’t referring to the way Elijah chose, rather the way God has assigned; back to where God needs him to finish the incomplete work he started years ago.

Elijah is burned out and depressed, he feels he’s done enough and is ready for a break, even if death is that break. But God doesn’t let him off the hook; God needs his service for the sake of the people led astray by earthly powers.

Elijah does go on to do as he is called to do and receives his rest and reward when he is swept up in a whirlwind into heaven never to be seen again… until the day of Christ’s transfiguration when he and Moses appeared at Christ’s side.

Through Christ, we, too, are called to God’s service; called to lead those who have strayed back to the Lord. And, like Elijah, we are only human; we’re susceptible to burnout, fatigue, and depression when it seems that all our efforts are futile. Also, like Elijah, we sometimes need to be reminded that God needs us to continue our work for God’s sake and for the sake of those who have lost their way, with whom we, ourselves, are sometimes numbered.

Remind yourself of this story, as I do, when you feel you’ve done all that you can, when your mind is toast, when your spirit is broken, when you’re feeling that you can’t do enough, that you can’t be good enough! Then return on your way.

Amen

 

1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
19:1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.
19:2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”
19:3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
19:4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”
19:5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”
19:6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.
19:7 The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
19:8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
19:9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
19:10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
19:11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake;
19:12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
19:13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
19:14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
19:15a Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.

 

Psalm 22:19-28
22:19 But you, O LORD, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
22:20 Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
22:21 Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
22:22 I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
22:23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
22:24 For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
22:25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
22:26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!
22:27 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
22:28 For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.

Galatians 3:23-29
3:23 Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.
3:24 Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.
3:25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian,
3:26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.
3:27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
3:28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
3:29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Luke 8:26-39
8:26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
8:27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.
8:28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”–
8:29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)
8:30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.
8:31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
8:32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.
8:33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
8:34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.
8:35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.
8:36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.
8:37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.
8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying,
8:39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.