Planning for a New Day 6-23-13

I Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a  Ahab reported to Jezebel everything that Elijah had done, including the massacre of the prophets. 2 Jezebel immediately sent a messenger to Elijah with her threat: “The gods will get you for this and I’ll get even with you! By this time tomorrow you’ll be as dead as any one of those prophets.” 3 When Elijah saw how things were, he ran for dear life to Beersheba, far in the south of Judah. He left his young servant there 4 and then went on into the desert another day’s journey. He came to a lone broom bush and collapsed in its shade, wanting in the worst way to be done with it all—to just die: “Enough of this, God! Take my life—I’m ready to join my ancestors in the grave!” (5 Exhausted, he fell asleep under the lone broom bush. Suddenly an angel shook him awake and said, “Get up and eat!” 6 He looked around and, to his surprise, right by his head were a loaf of bread baked on some coals and a jug of water. He ate the meal and went back to sleep. 7 The angel of God came back, shook him awake again, and said, “Get up and eat some more—you’ve got a long journey ahead of you.” 8 He got up, ate and drank his fill, and set out. Nourished by that meal, he walked forty days and nights, all the way to the mountain of God, to Horeb. 9 When he got there, he crawled into a cave and went to sleep. Then the word of God came to him: “So Elijah, what are you doing here?” 10 “I’ve been working my heart out for the God-of-the-Angel-Armies,” said Elijah. “The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.” 11 Then he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”
A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper. 13 When Elijah heard the quiet voice, he muffled his face with his great cloak, went to the mouth of the cave, and stood there. A quiet voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?” 14 Elijah said it again, “I’ve been working my heart out for God, the God-of-the-Angel-Armies, because the people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed your places of worship, and murdered your prophets. I’m the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me.” 15 God said, “Go back the way you came through the desert to Damascus.

The last few weeks, I have been making constant reference to my family life, to Elijah’s graduation and my pride in him. This week he saw his picture on the screen and asked who gave him permission to show that. It’s a legitimate question, and none-the-less I make one more mention of him today as he approaches his 18th birthday on Thursday. This text from I Kings about the prophet Elijah comes around every 3 years and I always pay special attention to it, at least reading it carefully.  I preached on this text the Sunday before I found out I was going to have a son named – by his birth-parents – Elijah. It was a remarkable God-incidence. And I give thanks for his life today. I also love this second reading from Paul’s letter to the people of Galatia:

Galatians 3: 23-29

June 23, 2013

Planning for a New Day

Most of us react strongly to someone who is over-zealous in their proselytizing for their faith. We think we are quite capable of deciding on our own what and how to trust God, and people who want to push their version of their faith onto us gives us the willies, and sometimes can make us angry. On the other hand, because we have that reaction, most of us are so careful not to offend that many people around have no idea that we’re a person of faith at all!
Nobody could accuse Elijah of being shy about his faith. He challenged the followers of Baal directly and forcefully, and in the end the story says many of the followers of Baal died in a show of force by the rival God Yahweh, Elijah’s God. When we studied this passage a few weeks ago in the LIFE group leaders group, people reacted strongly to the notion promoted in this passage that God would kill worshippers of rival gods. It is a disconcerting notion.  In fact, we might say that in this passage when Elijah flees for his life to the mountain of God, that God challenges Elijah for being over-zealous and not listening to God’s word. God comes not in the earthquake or the fire or the storm, but in the still, small voice.
We might also interpret God’s challenge of Elijah, however, to be challenging him in his fear and in his running from his enemies – for his loss of nerve in the face of his enemies. God asks Elijah twice, “What are you doing here?” which I always imagine has an impatient tone to it, “What are you doing here, when you are needed back in the land of the Baal worshippers.”
And Elijah answers that he is all alone, all alone in his worship of Yahweh. He doesn’t say that he is frightened for his life, threatened by Jezebel, but that is what is making him feel all alone with no one to protect. Notice at the end of the passage, God says, “I will be with you and the 7,000 others who have not bowed their knee to Baal!” You are not as alone as you think.

As we plan for a new day, we will have some who think that we are over-zealous – that we are moving too fast, trying too hard, risking losing people along the way as Elijah did (in a much more dramatic way). I notice myself getting anxious about doing too much and trying too hard. I have made that mistake in the past – wanting everything to be right yesterday and not paying enough attention to the obstacles in the way.
William Sloan Coffin used to appreciate his congregation, because he said he knew he could go out on a limb with them and if he got too far out they would pull him back.  I feel like we are learning to develop that kind of relationship here at St. Luke. I’m starting to feel like I could go out on a limb and you would pull me back rather than cut off the limb and let me drop.

But the truth is that for years, we have been a little timid, under-zealous in our work for the Living God in this place. We have been moving slowly to transform our worship, reach out in faith to new people, live out our faith in the world. When we listen to that still small voice God may very well be saying to us, “What are you doing here?”
We sometimes feel like we are all alone in our faith – that we are the only congregation that allows people to ask questions, that we are the only ones trying to span the gaps among people and diverse backgrounds and musical taste, that most of the world is lost in the worship of the pagan gods of commercialism and materialism, racism and militarism.
We are not alone. God is with us. And thousands of other congregations are facing the same kinds of questions and decisions and dilemmas that we are facing. Thousands. It’s not easy. When we face into the questions and dilemmas it is really not easy at all.
We are not alone. God is with us. God’s Spirit guides us every step of the way. God’s still, small voice is with us, whispering “What are you doing here? Don’t be afraid. You can do it. You can live together. You can worship together. You can plan for a new day. You can live into a new day. You have a future with all my people.
God calls from tomorrow. God breaks ancient schemes. From the bondage of sorrow the captives dream dreams. Our women see visions; our men clear their eyes. With bold new decisions, your people arise!”
Spirit, Spirit of gentleness, blow through the wilderness calling and free; Spirit, Spirit of restlessness, stir me from placidness, Wind, Wind on the sea…

Responsive Hymn: 2120 Spirit, Spirit of Gentleness