August 17, 2017 A House of Prayer for ALL People – Isaiah 56:6-8

brother other mother

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant-these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered. Isaiah 56:6-8 (NRSV)

Some of us have known the privilege of making a friend from a wildly different culture, nationality or unfamiliar ethnicity, and finding that we share a great deal in common. It is one of those “happy accidents” of God when we meet up with a “brother from another mother” so to speak.  Those sorts of friendships broaden our horizons and enrich our own human experience.

Much has been said in social and political discourse of late that pits human against human in petty and pointless arguments about skin color, nationality, ethnicity, or race, or heritage. The fact is that humans sin and fail each other for many reasons.  The reality is that none of us can erase what oppressions our ancestors suffered at the hands of others, nor can we take back what suffering or unfair treatment our ancestors imposed upon others.  Throughout history groups of humans have enslaved and oppressed other groups of humans. At one point or another should we look back far enough, we will find both oppressors and oppressed in our family histories, regardless of what ethnic groups or cultures we come from.

The only positive, God-honoring action we can take in response to racial and cultural hate is to love each other and treat each other respectfully NOW. The oppression and unfairness and discrimination can stop with us.  We are all human, created in the image of God, like it or not.

In this passage the prophet Isaiah is speaking about the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. In Christ ALL humans are welcome to participate in God’s kingdom, regardless of nationality or ethnic background, or skin color, regardless of their mistakes, or their family’s mistakes, or their pasts.

God is gathering ALL people to His kingdom. He is calling people who we disagree with.  He is calling people who may currently be our enemies.  He is calling anyone who will hear Him.

Are our hearts also houses of prayer, in which all who seek God and His kingdom are welcome?

 

August 16, 2017 – Wooden Idols and Other Gods Who Cannot Save – Isaiah 45:20-25, Daniel 4:28-33

wooden-durga-statue

Assemble yourselves and come together, draw near, you survivors of the nations! They have no knowledge—those who carry about their wooden idols, and keep on praying to a god that cannot save. Declare and present your case; let them take counsel together! Who told this long ago? Who declared it of old? Was it not I, the Lord? There is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior;  there is no one besides me.

Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness a word that shall not return: “To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.”

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; all who were incensed against him shall come to him and be ashamed. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall triumph and glory.

Isaiah 45:20-25 (NRSV)

 

In Western culture a wooden, man-made idol is seldom seen as having any other power other than that of an aesthetic appeal. We can appreciate the craftsmanship and the artwork involved in the manufacture of such idols, but generally we don’t regard such things as being divine or deserving of worship.

Our idolatries are much more subtle and perhaps more insidious. The first commandment of God is “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)  That sounds easy enough until we are put on the spot.

Who (or what) do we run to in times of trouble? Who (or what) do we rely upon for our provision?

Do we think money will buy our way out of problems? How many times have we thought, “If only I had enough money I wouldn’t have to worry about this or that problem?”

Do we think our own intelligence or our connections with other people will see us through trials?

It has been said that the root of all sin (sin being anything that goes against God’s will) is pride- trusting in our way instead of looking for God’s way. There is another old expression that states, “Pride goes before a fall.”

Nebuchadnezzar was a powerful king of Babylon who had convinced himself that he was omnipotent (all powerful) and in control of everything.  God had different ideas, and found it necessary to let Nebuchadnezzar know who was really in charge:

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king said, “Is this not magnificent Babylon, which I have built as a royal capital by my mighty power and for my glorious majesty?” While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you!  You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws. – Daniel 4:28-33 (NRSV)

 As much as we would like to believe the idolatry of Western society at times, especially the myth that each of us is “captain of our own souls,” in truth, God is the one in control.  It took Nebuchadnezzar a rather harsh lesson to understand the sovereignty of God, but ultimately he got the message.

When that period was over, I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me.

I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored the one who lives forever. For his sovereignty is an everlasting sovereignty, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does what he wills with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can stay his hand or say to him, “What are you doing?”

At that time my reason returned to me; and my majesty and splendor were restored to me for the glory of my kingdom. My counselors and my lords sought me out, I was re-established over my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are truth, and his ways are justice; and he is able to bring low those who walk in pride. Daniel 4:34-37 (NRSV)

Intelligence, financial resources, friends in high places, and even political power are not necessarily bad things. However, everything we are and everything we have are gifts from God.  God expects us to put the gifts He has given us to good use, however, when we value the gift in higher esteem than the Giver, we lose our foundation and perspective.  When we put God first, He brings the rest of our lives into balance.

Are we putting our trust in the One True God?

August 15, 2017 – Mistake or Magnificat? Luke 1:46-55

magnificat

And Mary (Jesus’ mother) said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.  He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”               Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

Those of us who know the story of Jesus’ conception aren’t terribly surprised by Mary’s song of praise and thanks for the impending birth of Jesus that we know as the Magnificat.  She was blessed like no other woman has been blessed- she was chosen to be the earthly mother of God-in-the-flesh.  None of us can claim that our own children are the very Son of God.  Any of us would be deeply awed and humbled by such an honor- or would we?  In the real world, Mary’s situation was not an easy one.

Mary faced some very real possible consequences connected to her unwed pregnancy. She could very well have been stoned to death had she been accused of adultery. (Leviticus 20:10) Had it not been for an angel of God coming to Joseph to tell him that Mary’s child was of God and not from a forbidden liaison, (Matthew 1:1-18) he would have quietly ended their betrothal.  A woman so shamed did not have good opportunities for marriage, and in that day, a woman’s survival depended on being able to marry well. Yet God made a way, so Mary would not have to go through this experience alone.  Even so, Mary, and especially Joseph, would have to have endured snickers and aspersions among friends and family, and no doubt there were “mathematicians” in the community who would be very aware that the timing of Jesus’ birth wasn’t quite consistent with the timing of his parents’ wedding.

Today unplanned or unwed pregnancy isn’t as culturally unacceptable as it was in Biblical times, but women still face hardship in many instances when pregnancy happens at a difficult time or under difficult circumstances. While there is much to be said for the protective boundaries God gives us for our behavior, we all are prone to venture outside of those boundaries. (It’s called sin, folks… and we all sin in one way or another.)  We all make mistakes, and mistakes in this realm of human behavior are very common.  How we react to the consequences of our actions can decide if an unplanned child is a mistake, or a cause to break into praise like Mary does in the Magnificat. God can take our tragedies and mistakes and turn them into blessings and joy, if we surrender ourselves and our situations to Him.

How are we supposed to know who that child may become, or what gifts he or she has to contribute to the world?

Sometimes in a troubled pregnancy situation, the mother or child has health issues. Sometimes the father of the child wants nothing to do with either the mother or the child.  Other times women who choose life for their unborn children face opposition from the child’s father, or even from their own parents. Unplanned pregnancy almost always brings economic and social burdens, even when mother and child are in good health.  Bringing a child into the world is a major life upheaval under the best of circumstances, let alone with a backdrop of hardship or abandonment.

In difficult situations- whether we contributed to them, or we came into them through no fault or planning of our own- can we still praise and magnify the Lord, and trust that He will make a way?

Sometimes situations that appear to be hardships or burdens- or even tragedies- are blessings in disguise, ways in which God comes to us with healing, divine provision, redemption and new life.

May our souls also magnify the Lord.

August 14, 2017- Apocalypse, Eventually- Revelation 15:1-4

god is everywhere

Then I saw another portent in heaven, great and amazing: seven angels with seven plagues, which are the last, for with them the wrath of God is ended.

And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mixed with fire, and those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands.  And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb:

“Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations! Lord, who will not fear and glorify your name? For you alone are holy.

All nations will come and worship before you, for your judgments have been revealed.” –Revelation 15:1-4 (NRSV)

Lately the lectionary has been taking us through the parables in the book of Matthew, in which we see the humanity of both the disciples and of Jesus. Now we come to a rather dramatic passage in the apocalyptic book of Revelation. Here we see Jesus revealed as both divine and supernatural, glorified as a king.  Confusing?  It is, but remember that Jesus is both fully human, and fully God.

Apocalyptic literature is somewhat difficult for 21st century Westerners to understand, because it uses bold imagery and metaphor. Here are a few of Merriam Webster’s definitions of the word apocalyptic:

  1. forecasting the ultimate destiny of the world : prophetic apocalyptic warnings
  2. foreboding imminent disaster or final doom : terrible apocalyptic signs of the coming end-times
  3. wildly unrestrained : grandiose
  4. ultimately decisive : climactic an apocalyptic battle

None of these things sound regular or common. Ultimate destiny, imminent disaster, wildly unrestrained, and ultimately decisive all sound like final things- big and scary things.

The apocalypse is not something to be feared, in spite of the dramatic metaphor and sometimes gory imagery used by the writer of Revelation. The apocalypse is a completion.  It is an ending of the paradox we have lived our whole lives in which we have one foot in each kingdom. The heavenly kingdom comes into its completeness and fullness, while the earthly kingdom passes away.

In Christ we are given the privilege of having our sinful nature wiped away, and we become saints to live and reign with Jesus forever. Until that day we are in the process of being transformed- a little bit more saint, a little bit less sinner, by the grace of God.

In the process of becoming fully a part of the heavenly kingdom we may have to figuratively (and possibly literally) go through the fire, not as a punishment, and not because we have anything to earn or deserve. The grace of God in Christ cancels out any old notions that we can earn brownie points with God or that we “deserve” anything from Him because we try to be such “good children.”  Many people question, “How can a good God allow His people to suffer?”  There is no really good answer to that question.  Sin (anything that goes against God’s will) has been a part of the earthly kingdom since the Fall, which was when we humans got the insane idea that we have a better way to do life than God does.

Jesus followers have a different perspective on suffering. We may not understand why we suffer, or how suffering could ever be considered a good thing, but we can only trust that He uses our trials and suffering to mold and shape us, and to get rid of what is not of Him, to prepare us for life in the heavenly kingdom where there is no sin or decay or entropy. Good and bad things happen to “good” and “evil” people alike, just as the rain drenches the fields regardless if the owner is good or evil. (Matthew 5:44-45)   Everyone who lives on earth is equally subject to tragedy, disease, pestilence, decay, etc. because those things are part of the earthly condition (entropy).  Earth and everything in it at this point, is temporary and is waiting to be remade.

Humans allowed sin to enter in to the earthly kingdom, which is also a question for God that we really can’t answer. Why did God allow sin to come into the world to begin with?  We may never know the entire answer to the purpose of sin or suffering other than to know Jesus shares in our every suffering. We have been given the promise that God in Christ takes away our sin, He is beyond our suffering, and there is life in Christ beyond the suffering of this world.

This passage also talks about judgment, which is a squirmy subject for Lutherans, because we tend to (and I believe rightfully so) focus on the grace of God. We aren’t really into scary talk of hellfire and brimstone, and ultimately people are won over by the power of the Holy Spirit and the love of God, not by fear. While grace is not earned or deserved, and God pours His grace out on everyone, for grace to be effective it must be accepted and applied to our lives.  Judgment enters in when people refuse to accept God’s grace, and when we insist on having our own way even when it is damaging ourselves and others.  A wise pastor once said that if you are saved it is all to Jesus’ credit, but if you are damned, you chose that yourself.

Repentance is nothing more or less complicated than “doing a 180-“ seeing that what we are doing is not pleasing to God, and turning away from that thought or behavior. It’s not always easy, and that is why God gives us His grace, so that we can keep on coming back to Him so that He can transform our hearts and minds to conform to His will. (Romans 12:2)

Our salvation is not at all reliant on how well we “do life,” but on how we trust Jesus to refine and transform us.  Salvation is not a one time event, but an ongoing process, a transformation that occurs as we grow in our relationship with Jesus. He walks with us.  He’s been there.  He is Holy God, but also one of us.  The world as we know it is going to end.  This world will pass away.  Things are going to happen that are tragic, painful and destructive along the way.  The good news is that in Christ we are never alone, and the best is yet to come.

 

Regular Guys- Matthew 14:22-33

jesus-on-the-water

Immediately he (Jesus) made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”  When they got into the boat, the wind ceased.  And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:22-33 (NRSV)

stained glass saints.jpg

When we encounter familiar stories of Scripture- we tend to look at the disciples and other heroes of the Bible from the perspective of “These guys are on the stained glass windows, and they are portrayed in sacred art as pristine clean with pretty halos, and they are NOT us.” We refer to the venerable “saint so and so” but we forget they were saints and sinners at the same time just like us.  I hesitate to use the descriptive of “Saint so and so” when I speak of the disciples or other people portrayed in the Gospels, simply because all believers are saints. The disciples and the other saints of the Bible were guys (and girls) like us.  The disciples most likely were guys who smelled- and roughhoused, and drank, like guys.  We see the stained glass saints and think the disciples were old guys, all clean and neat and bearded and looking like my Dad if he were wearing a halo and a dress.  In reality they were young guys. The disciples were probably all in their early 20’s or maybe even younger when they walked with Jesus.  They were very young, rough and probably had coarse manners and language.

Jesus 1940s

How many times have we seen Jesus portrayed in sacred art as a clean cut, angelic, very Anglo looking man? This is a wonderful portrait that was my grandmother’s from the early 1940’s. I loved to look at that portrait as a child. Grandma had it hung on the wall in the spare bedroom.  It normally hangs there now, where my own granddaughter can see it when she stays with me.  It was a comforting image, and had someone asked me when I was five what Jesus looked like, that picture would have come to mind.

african jesus

I was a bit taken aback by a portrait of Jesus I saw when I was in college and was visiting a friend of mine who is Black. Jesus was Black- complete with an Afro- in her portrait of Him, which looked sort of strange to me until I realized that there is part of us that wants to believe Jesus looks like us, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We should see Jesus in His humanity as well as his divinity.

But if Jesus had looked like either the Anglo man or the Black man for that matter, in real life, He really would have stood out in 1st century Palestine. Had He really been haloed, sparkling clean, fair skinned, blond haired and blue eyed, or if had he had African features, He would have really stood out.  It would have been, “Hey! Check out this dude!  He looks special!  He looks different.

holygrail-arthur-3knights

I am a huge fan of Monty Python. One of my favorite Monty Python movies is called “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” in which they parody the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.  In one scene, King Arthur and the Knights pass by people as they are calling out, “Bring out your dead!,” and the people are picking up the bodies of plague victims and tossing them in wheelbarrows. Someone sees King Arthur, who is wearing his nice white tunic and silver and gold crown, and cries out, “He must be the king.” Another asks, “Why?,” to which the other replies, “He hasn’t got any s—t on him!”  The king was supposed to look different.  He was supposed to be above everyone else.  The king wasn’t supposed to get dirty. The implication is that the king was above all the dirtiness and nastiness of real life.

When Jesus walked the earth, He didn’t look anything like either my portrait, or my Black friend’s, or Monty Python’s King Arthur. He was a working class guy.  He was Jewish. He would have been olive-skinned, dark eyed, and dark haired like everyone else in 1st century Palestine. Nobody had running water and daily showers or Whirlpool washers- no sparkling white tunic for Jesus, or a gold and silver crown either.  He would be dusty and dirty from carpentry work and from walking around on dusty dirt roads.  His hands were calloused.  He wasn’t squeaky clean. The King probably did have doody on him, unlike King Arthur in the Monty Python movie.  First century Palestine was not known as a halcyon era of sparkling clean hygiene.  He probably “smelled like a man” and like farm animals too.  There was no such thing as Right Guard or Old Spice either.

But God has a history of picking “regular guys”- and often “rejects” at that- to do His work. God loves the misfits and the unlovely.  Jesus was described by the prophet Isaiah as the suffering servant, as “having no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” Isaiah goes on to say further that He was “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised and we esteemed Him not.” (Isaiah 53:1-5)  This kind of destroys our perception of Jesus looking like Robert Plant in a toga, no matter how pretty the painting is. But Jesus was one of us. He got dirty.  He looked like us.  He suffered like us.  He felt joy like us.  He loved like us.

Along the same line, in Psalm 118:22 it is said of Jesus: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” God has a great sense of humor. The guys Jesus picked to do His work were regular guys.  The disciples were regular guys who were coarse around the edges. Today they may have been truckers, or farmers, or automotive technicians. They were regular guys who blended right into a crowd- no halos, no stained glass, and no angelic looking faces.  They didn’t go to some high faluting seminary or theological school.  They simply walked with Jesus and learned as they lived with Him.    They were saints- but we forget sometimes that they, like us, were also sinners in desperate need of grace.

The disciples were delightfully human, just like we are. These guys were scared out of their pants when Jesus appeared to them when they were in the boat in the storm, just like we would be if we saw someone we knew just randomly walking across water.  That doesn’t happen.  They were afraid. We would be afraid too.

The phrase “do not be afraid” is found numerous times in Scripture, because we ARE afraid. The disciples were afraid that their boat was going to sink.  They were also afraid that Jesus- appearing to them in a supernatural way- was a ghost and not the same “regular guy” they were used to hanging out with.

Peter is the boldest disciple, and perhaps the best example of a very fallible human among the disciples. He reaches out to Jesus in faith, in a way knowing that he can trust Jesus for what he needs to walk on water, but in another way doubting his own ability to carry it out. What could be more human than that? We have to come to that realization like Peter did that we can only navigate life- let alone walk on water- if we cry out to Jesus, and surrender to Him. Sometimes we also have to realize that Jesus comes to us through other people, who He calls and sends to us to help us carry our burdens.

There isn’t a whole lot of difference between the way the disciples reacted to Jesus and how we react. How often do we say to ourselves, “Jesus is really the Son of God,” but then we doubt His ability to get us through the difficult times in life, or we think we can walk across the water all by ourselves- until we panic and sink.

It’s good for us to hear other people’s testimony. It’s good for us to see how God is working in other people’s lives and to share how He is working in our lives.

In the Lutheran tradition we aren’t always the greatest about sharing our testimonies, but it is a good practice, not only to remind us, that hey, Jesus really is the Son of God, and He really is working in our lives, but also to make that reality known to others. We are called to encourage others and help build their faith.

We also have to remember that we don’t have to look up at stained glass windows to see the saints, and that Jesus isn’t necessarily going to appear as a very white Anglo-Saxon or as an African man with an Afro in a pretty portrait. More likely than not, the saint who walks into your life and works miracles might be dirty and coarse around the edges. More likely than not, the saint who walks in to your life will be a fallible, human person with flaws and fears and doubts. He or she might have greasy hands and dirty clothes. He or she might be the exact opposite of who you were expecting to see.

Jesus might come to us as a needy child, or an elderly woman, or as a friend with the right words of comfort at the right time. We don’t have to wait on the supernatural to see God working all around us, but we need to have eyes to see those beautiful examples of God at work.  Like the apostle Thomas, in our human nature we really do want to see and touch His wounds to prove that yes, Jesus did rise from the dead.  The more we share our testimonies and listen to those of others, our faith is strengthened.  Our minds gather the evidence that eventually makes its way to our hearts as we share with other believers.

Do we have eyes to see Jesus and to experience the saints in the “regular” world? We don’t have to have a degree in divinity or a background in theology to be as Christ to one another.  One of the beautiful concepts in Lutheran (as well as most Protestant) theology is something called the priesthood of believers– meaning that all believers are fully qualified to participate in God’s kingdom regardless of what our vocations may be.

We are also qualified to serve God through our vocations, regardless if we dig ditches or do neurosurgery or ask people if they want fries with that. In Christ we have the same potential for God to work in and through us as anyone else. God made us for His purpose, and we can do anything He intends for us to do.

Do we have the courage to share what Jesus has done for us?  Do we have the courage to believe in ourselves the way that Jesus believes in us?  We really can walk on water on God’s command if we keep our eyes and minds and hearts on Jesus.

In His strength we can do impossible things, but we have to be willing to try. We have to be willing to see the sacred and experience the supernatural in the very ordinary and perhaps unlovely people we encounter every day.

August 10, 2017 – God in the Silence 1 Kings 19:9-18

Elijah-in-the-cave

At that place he (Elijah) 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?” 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.”

 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; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.  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?” 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.”  Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.  Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill.  Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:9-18 (NRSV)

The Lord was not in the wind.

The Lord was not in the earthquake.

The Lord was not in the fire.

 

After the fire, a sound of sheer silence- then the Lord spoke.

Elijah was pretty depleted and worn out at this time- having just dealt with Ahab and Jezebel and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20-46 and 1 Kings 19:1-8) He was looking for God to come to him in a big and dramatic way, wrapped up in the whirlwind, but God waited to speak to Elijah in the calm after the storm.

Most of us have been in places where the storm around us is so intense that the breath is sucked right out of us, we fall to our knees, and we have no words with which to speak. God does not abandon us in those moments, but often He waits to speak to us until the storm is over- whether the storm is the shock of a physical injury or a sudden tragedy or the blow of a deep disappointment- or, like Elijah, when we are coming to the end of ourselves and what we can handle. He lets us rage and scream and bargain, and once we have completely emptied out our hearts and souls, God steps into that silent, empty space.  He speaks words of comfort and peace and healing, but after the storms, in the silence. He speaks through the silence so we can’t help but hear His words.

There is a strong theme of redemption and restoration and continuity in this passage as well. God reminds Elijah that he is not alone (even though he thinks he is the last man standing, he is not) and that God’s work will go on even after Elijah’s work is done.  In the silence after the storm, after God passes over Elijah’s fatigue and frustration and burnout, God spells out what Elijah has left to do, and who will carry on after he is gone.

Elisha will finish off and continue some of the projects that Elijah started. It’s encouraging to hear that, that the work we do for God’s kingdom is part of an ongoing endeavor.  We build on to the work of those who were before us, and God will ensure that there are people after us to build on the work we have done, even though sometimes when we are tired and burned out and overwhelmed by grief and sorrow , we think, “I am the only person doing anything for God.”

The truth is that God’s work will get done.  We as individuals aren’t called to do it all. The laborers might be few and the work intense, but God finds a way.  That doesn’t mean that we should just bow out and miss out on the joy of serving because “someone else will do it,” but it does mean that we are in this together.  Everyone has his or her purpose in God’s plan along with others.  Bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth is something we do together, not a solo effort.

Do we trust God that He does speak to us in the silence, and that we are not called to be-all and do-all, rather we are called to complete the purpose He created us for, to contribute a piece of an ongoing tapestry, to write a chapter in a never-ending story?

In the end, in the silence, God brings us rest. There will be a day when we will see Jesus and He will say to us:  “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”-  Matthew 25:21

August 9, 2017- When the Truth is Difficult (or Hazardous)- 1 Kings 18:1-16

counting

A long time passed. Then God’s word came to Elijah. The drought was now in its third year. The message: “Go and present yourself to Ahab; I’m about to make it rain on the country.” Elijah set out to present himself to Ahab. The drought in Samaria at the time was most severe.

Ahab called for Obadiah, who was in charge of the palace. Obadiah feared God—he was very devout. Earlier, when Jezebel had tried to kill off all the prophets of God, Obadiah had hidden away a hundred of them in two caves, fifty in a cave, and then supplied them with food and water.

Ahab ordered Obadiah, “Go through the country; locate every spring and every stream. Let’s see if we can find enough grass to keep our horses and mules from dying.” So they divided the country between them for the search—Ahab went one way, Obadiah the other.

Obadiah went his way and suddenly there he was—Elijah! Obadiah fell on his knees, bowing in reverence, and exclaimed, “Is it really you—my master Elijah?”

 “Yes,” said Elijah, “the real me. Now go and tell your boss, ‘I’ve seen Elijah.’”

Obadiah said, “But what have I done to deserve this? Ahab will kill me. As surely as your God lives, there isn’t a country or kingdom where my master hasn’t sent out search parties looking for you. And if they said, ‘We can’t find him; we’ve looked high and low,’ he would make that country or kingdom swear that you were not to be found. And now you’re telling me, ‘Go and tell your master Elijah’s found!’ The minute I leave you the Spirit of God will whisk you away to who knows where. Then when I report to Ahab, you’ll have disappeared and Ahab will kill me. And I’ve served God devoutly since I was a boy! Hasn’t anyone told you what I did when Jezebel was out to kill the prophets of God, how I risked my life by hiding a hundred of them, fifty to a cave, and made sure they got food and water? And now you’re telling me to draw attention to myself by announcing to my master, ‘Elijah’s been found.’ Why, he’ll kill me for sure.”

 Elijah said, “As surely as God-of-the-Angel-Armies lives, and before whom I take my stand, I’ll meet with your master face-to-face this very day.”

So Obadiah went straight to Ahab and told him. And Ahab went out to meet Elijah. 1 Kings 18:1-16 (MSG)

Obadiah was a guy in a hard place. King Ahab, his boss, had been looking for Elijah for some time.  Obadiah didn’t want to be put in the position of announcing Elijah’s presence to Ahab, because it could very well mean his hide if Elijah didn’t show up.

difficult before easy

Elijah does call upon God (before whom I take my stand) to give Obadiah the confidence to go ahead and tell Ahab. It might not have made Obadiah’s job a whole lot more comfortable, but at least he could trust that God would be with him and that when Ahab came looking for Elijah he would be there.

How many times do we have to tell people truths or reveal things to people that we know are not going to be well received?

When we are in the position where know we have to tell the truth and bring something out into the open that won’t be received well- or that may end up to be proven wrong- it can be frightening. Nobody wants to be the messenger when the news is bad news.  Nobody wants to be proved a liar when we claim to have seen someone or something and then someone or something disappears.

Even when we are the bringers of bad news or we have to reveal a truth that won’t be well received, God is with us. The Holy Spirit is there for us to call upon to give us discretion and the right words for even the most difficult of situations.

God is always there for us, interceding on our behalf. We can stand because He gives us what we need to stand.  He might not let us get out of being the bad news messenger, or get us out of delivering difficult messages, but He will get us through doing what we need to do.