1 Kings 19:9b-21 (6th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
June 30, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Old Testament Reading appointed for today, from 1 Kings 19:
There he came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 11 And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks 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. 12 And after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. 13 And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” 15 And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17 And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 18 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.” 19 So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. 20 And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21 And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.
Growing up watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports, we learned that there is “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” There is the heartbreak of your team losing in the Super Bowl, or falling short in the World Series, or the Bruins losing to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But these defeats are much harder for the players than for the fans. They have lived and played for that moment of victory. We, as fans, have only watched and cheered. We are not as completely invested in it as they are. But there are moments, events, and circumstances in our lives in which we have been 100% invested. You and I have been there, in the gloom of despair and defeat, when all our expectations exploded in our faces.
“I stumble on my words now. There are times I can’t even remember my granddaughter’s name. I never thought this would happen to me. Other people get old, but I was going to stay healthy ‘till I died. Bit by bit I’m losing a part of me: my step, my will, my iron stomach. I used to believe I had the strength to do anything, but now I find myself wondering if it would just be easier to lay down and die.”
“We were just sitting in the house when we heard the screech of tires. We didn’t even know she had gotten out and there she was lying lifeless on the ground. We took her to the vet, but there was no hope. I had no idea how I was going to explain it to the kids. It never seemed right to me to try to get a replacement dog, or tell them we had their buddy put to sleep. Maybe it will help when I tell them we tried to save her.”
“The day we got married I thought nothing would ever diminish the joy I felt in my heart. We expressed our vows, ‘till death us do part. Well, he isn’t dead and neither am I, but we have parted. We used to be two, then we were three, then came the twins and that made five. We were such a happy family. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know where the joy went. But now it’s lawyers and paperwork and trying to figure out what’s best for the kids.”
“My friends say I should consider myself lucky because I had time to say good-bye. I’m not sure that was lucky. I had to watch her suffer, day-by-day, for the last four years. I watched the disease take her independence. She was so brave but I watched the anguish on her face. We were married 54 years. I always thought I’d die first. As I stood there watching her slip away, I was glad I was the one that got to be the caregiver. She had been such a good wife and had taken care of me for so long.”
“I should have seen it coming with all the downsizing that has been going on. But I thought my job was secure. I’ve been with the company so long, I was middle management, a good employee. How can this be happening? How will I tell my wife? My family? My friends? Where do I turn now? How will I provide for my family? The savings won’t last forever. What if I can’t find a job? I don’t know if I’m more shocked, hurt, or angry.”
Yes, you and I have been there, and will be there, in the midst of gloom, and despair, and defeat, when life’s expectations explode in our faces. Yet the promise of the Gospel is that the Lord, the God of hosts, is with us with help and love and mercy.
Elijah, the man of God, the Lord’s prophet, was on the run. Queen Jezebel, the wicked wife of King Ahab, had put up “Wanted” posters for Elijah. She wanted him dead, forget about alive. Elijah, like any of us would have been, was afraid and ran for his life into the wilderness. He sat down under a broom tree, a desert bush that grew 10-12 feet high. It was probably the only plant in the area. There, under that bush, Elijah said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (1Kings 19:4) Perhaps he felt the shame of running away instead of confronting Jezebel by faith, trusting more firmly that the Lord God would protect him. Perhaps he was simply overcome with fear and the utter hopelessness that he was the only one left with fear, love, and trust in God, “For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” (1Kings 19:10)
Elijah’s life’s expectations had blown up in his face. The people of Israel did not repent of their idolatry. They did not return to the Lord. Even after the complete defeat of the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Elijah, now under threat of death, felt totally alone in the world. Yet, he wasn’t. Twice, as Elijah slept under the broom tree, God sent an angel to bring Elijah food—a cake of bread and a jar of water—“Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.” Elijah might have counted himself down and out and his situation hopeless, but God didn’t. The Lord strengthened Elijah’s body with that food and Elijah traveled forty days and forty nights on that sustenance until he arrived at Mt. Horeb, the mount of God, where the Lord would strengthen his soul.
It is in the cave on Mt. Horeb that we find Elijah in our text today. It is significant that Mt. Horeb is also known in the Bible by another name—Mt. Sinai. This is the mountain of God where Moses had received the Lord’s covenant in the Ten Commandments. This is the mountain on which the Lord God passed by Moses, showing to Moses His divine glory. “Moses said, ‘Please show me your glory.’ And he said, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name Yahweh. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’ And the LORD said, ‘Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.’” (Exodus 33:18-22)
Was Elijah in the same cave, the same cleft in the rock? We don’t know for certain, but he was on the same mountain. And again, the Lord revealed His presence to His prophet. As with Moses, so with Elijah, the Lord passed by. A great and strong wind was tearing the mountains and breaking the rocks before the face of the Lord. But He wasn’t in the wind. Then a quaking, but the Lord was not in the quaking. And next a fire, but God was not present in the fire. Finally, a voice, a small whisper. It was then that Elijah covered his face with his cloak because the Lord God of hosts was present. God’s Word came to him to instruct him in a quiet voice and there, the prophet found truth and strength.
The Lord had not given up on his servant. In fact, Elijah wasn’t as alone as he thought. Not only was God with him, there were 7,000 in Israel who had not bowed down to worship Baal. Even though Elijah’s perspective showed only defeat, the Lord revealed to Him that all was not lost. Nor would the wicked go unpunished. God’s justice against those who had turned away from Him would be carried out by Hazael of Syria, Jehu of Israel, and Elisha from Abel-meholah.
When Elijah was discouraged, feeling defeated, the Lord came to him in a small whisper. Through that soft, gracious Word of God, the Lord encouraged him that he was not alone. Elijah was commissioned to return to his God-given ministry. Consider today how the Lord also comes to us when we are feeling defeated and discouraged by life and life’s situations. I know there are times when I wish the Lord would bring His presence into my life in something like the burning bush through which He appeared to Moses. The Lord and fire go well together! Sometimes we wish that God would be a part of our lives in such a way that His presence is unmistakable. Perhaps we long for a Pentecost event, where the Lord’s Spirit is poured out in both wind and fire! But that’s not what He has promised us.
Our Lord comes to us where He has promised to do so, in the quietness of the inspired pages of Scripture. There in the soft whisper of His own God-breathed Words from Genesis through Revelation the Lord comes to us as He encourages us with the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in Jesus.
It was the Lord Jesus who first came to us as the Word made flesh. “There was no counsel, no help, no comfort for us until this only and eternal Son of God, in His unfathomable goodness, had mercy on us because of our misery and distress and came from heaven to help us. . . . [Jesus] has snatched us, poor lost creatures, from the jaws of hell, won us, made us free, and restored us to the Father’s favor and grace. As His own possession He has taken us under His protection and shelter, in order that He may rule us by His righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness.” (LC: II, 28-30)
And where does the Lord Jesus come to us with His forgiveness, righteousness, wisdom, power, life, and blessedness? In the gracious whisper of Scripture, the Gospel Word of God. The Gospel, as God’s own proclamation of grace and pardon in Christ who died and rose to win our forgiveness, life, and salvation, actually offers and conveys these gifts to us. The Gospel assures us that the promises of Christ are all true and that they are ours. We have His protection and presence. In the gloom of despair and defeat, when all our expectations explode in our faces, there in the assuring whisper of the Gospel is Jesus. And what is it that He says to us?
“I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)
“But we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Rom 5:1-6)
And finally: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39)
When you have moments of defeat and despair like Elijah, the Lord God still calls you His own son or daughter through the merits of Jesus Christ. In His Gospel, the Lord Christ comes to you with forgiveness, help, healing, and strength. He comes to you and gives you, through the power of His Holy Spirit, faith and hope and peace. Christ gives you grace to accept what comes your way in a life lived in a world totally messed up by sin until that day when He gives you deliverance, peace, and health in the eternal life He has prepared for those who love Him by faith. God grant this to us all through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.