November 03, 2013 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato
GodStory, Act III: Israel
Key Event #9 of 37
Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-18
Title: “Beyond Sheer Silence: What are you doing here?”
Today we move up a 100 years or so in the GodStory…the glory years of King David and King Solomon’s dynasty has dried up…the 12 tribes have split…10 to the North (Israel) and 2 to the south (Judah)…the kingdom is divided (first church split?) and God’s promise of raising up a people who would bless ALL the earth is once again in jeopardy.
And it’s in these messy times of the kingdom that God BEGINS to raise up more prophetic voices to warn Israel of the potential consequences of their wandering ways. For the next several weeks, we will meet some of these prophets and try to learn anew, how God speaks to us in the midst of exile…
Exile? I’d like to remind us that we are people in exile…and though the Elijah story happened approx. 870 BCE, these stories of Elijah and the prophets weren’t cobbled together till 500 BCE, once Israel had been taken into Babylonian captivity.
Captivity? What does a captivity of 2500 years ago have anything to do with us now?
Exile and Captivity are words that we ought to get re-acquainted with…
The exciting (?) part of being a Canadian Christian right now is that we are in exile! We are no longer at the centre of society like we were even 20, 30 or 50 years ago. Times have changed.
e.g. People don’t go to church because it’s the culturally right thing to do
We wouldn’t self-describe as a Christian nation…
Life doesn’t go on hold on Sunday’s…stores are open, children are involved in sports galore, church is just 1 choice in a 1000 for a Sunday morning activity.
And the Christian “message” isn’t received like it used to be…People aren’t convinced by the argument “Well, the Bible says…”
Long-gone are the days of the Billy Graham Crusades moving across our nation…filling sports stadiums with hymns of the faith and a “come forward” moment offered by Billy and his friends…
And though you might feel like this is bad…I’d like to suggest that this is good.
FOR, now, we can honestly say that we are a people in exile. We are in captivity to the influence of the dominant culture. We are no longer this powerful voice in the centre that says “Christianity is obviously the best choice that you can make…what are you waiting for…get right…or get LEFT!?”
Instead we are the ones who feel left out… cast to the margins of society,
speaking forth the message of God to those who might hear it…not from places of power and authority and high visibility…but from places of poverty, humility, meekness and lowliness (sounds a bit like the Jesus way of the beatitudes does it not?)
And we’ve got a story….and good news to share with the nations. And that’s why it’s so important that we learn this God story…that we learn more of who God is….
so we might declare the good news of a God of hope, forgiveness, mercy and restoration…and that we might be a people who live out the way of Jesus in the world by how we treat and love one another in this local church…and out there in the real world…the highways and hallways of our lives and vocations.
So this is the challenge for us as hearers of this ancient story…and as I’ve said this Fall, there’s some work for us to do…as we enter the world of our scriptures, this living story, we need to do the work and enables our lives to be shaped by this story in the here & now…as the people of God, here in Edmonton, in 2013.
Today we stand…or run alongside Elijah. Elijah, like other spectacularly flawed leaders that went before him…is a man-of-God on the run…a fugitive. A murderer.
Yes, he’s had a great string of victories in the name of YHWH..and for a no-name character from the rural parts of Tishbe, he’s done pretty well. He’s provided an ever-flowing bottle of oil and jar of flour for a poor widow…he raised a dead son from the dead…and most recently, he’s won the epic battle of Mount Carmel where it was Elijah & his God VS Baal (the rain and fertility god) and 450 prophets of Baal…and guess who won?
Elijah with a fiery and definitive victory over the anguished prophets.
And to top it off, Elijah decides to kill the 450 prophets. With 1 sword and the fire of God in his belly…he slaughters 100’s of Baal leaders in a “sound the victory of God” bloodbath.
And thus it’s probably no surprise that this slaughter gets King Ahab’s attention. Ahab is the King of Israel (to the north) and has married a Baal-lovin’ woman named Jezebel. They are a power-wielding twosome and though they tip their hats toward the God of Israel, they’re pretty consumed with themselves, their power and their oppress-the-poor lifestyle.
In the wake of Elijah’s victory on Mount Carmel, Jezebel is furious. She vows to kill Elijah…and puts a 24-hour bounty on him.
So what does Elijah do? Well, his name means “My God is YHWH” so he stands up to Jezebel, just like his forefather David, and says: “You dare come at me? I come at you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel!!”
Nope. When the word gets to Elijah that he’s a wanted man….Elijah runs. With blood stains on his mantle and with just a few scraps of food and a small flask of water in his pack…he runs. The story tells us that he was afraid… “he got up and fled for his life” (19:3).
He runs and runs and runs for a whole day straight until he’s exhausted. He’s worn out…emotionally & physically spent. He stumbles towards the shade of a solitary tree in the barren landscape of the Judean countryside and…
Prays that God would provide food and water for him just like he helped the widow in Zarephath?
Trusts that God would restore his physical health and well-being just like he had restored the dead son of the widow?
Uhhhhh…that would make him too heroic wouldn’t it?
That would make him too much un-like us!!
Instead full-of-faith Elijah…mighty Elijah [poster boy for the prophets]
asks God to…kill him(? !)
Elijah cries out “O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”
He sobs, and weeps…and wails…and in despair and exhaustion….he falls asleep.
He wakes up…not to the voice of a heavenly angel with a harp but to the gruff voice of God’s messenger… “Get up! Eat!”
Waking up from his slumber, Elijah turns his head and smells the fragrance of freshly baked bread – – along with a tall pot of cool water. Hmmmmmmmm….yummmmmm….
Was this a dream or a mirage? Sure tastes good….and…back to sleep thank you very much!
In what seems like just a few minutes later…this time it’s not just a voice, but a shaking of his shoulder…
“Get up! Eat! Otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
This time, he ate like a king…bread, water, and freshly grilled quail.
He was fortified…strengthened….but still a fugitive, a wanted murderer.
Where to now?
Ah yes! To the mount of God, Horeb, the same mount where Moses was met and renewed by the voice and presence of God. Surely God will meet me there and give me a new start…perhaps new commandments…new marching orders…I’ll turn over a new leaf at the mighty mount of Moses!
For a month and half, he was sustained by God…he made his way to mount Sinai and hid himself in a cave. He waited….and waited….and waited.
Working on his speech to God…should God inquire of his latest ramblings and meanderings…He’d tell God that he’d done his best, and done some pretty fine work…surely God would renew his assignment, a pat on the back, a promotion, a corner office with a view…
After several days in the man-cave…the word of the LORD comes – –
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE Elijah?”
Not exactly the question he was expecting…but his memorized speech would suffice…
“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 (should I mention that I killed 450 of their prophets with my sword?)…
I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away!”
The voice of the LORD continues…
“Go out, stand on the mountain’s edge…for the LORD is about to pass by.”
Now that’s more like it! A GOD-sighting! Just like Moses got! Perhaps another burning bush? Perhaps some more tablets with God-engraved instructions? Yes, I can see it now….banners across the kingdom saying: “Elijah: the New Moses!”
In the midst of his dreams of grandeur a hurricane-force wind blows him back while rocks and dust swirl around him….and then the mountain shakes and quakes while boulders and debris tumble to and fro’….and then Fire, blazing fire…Elijah stumbles and scrambles back to the cave…what in the hades is going on here God????
He falls to his knees…buries his face into the hands…pulls his cloak over his head …tears welling up in his eyes…
Lord??? I am undone….kill me now!
And then sheer silence. [PAUSE]
Elijah peers out of the corner of his eye…but all he sees is darkness.
And then the voice speaks again: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah…only has one answer…the one he’s been rehearsing for days…
“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!”
[The Lord shruggeth…]
You shall anoint new kings…and a new prophet to take your place.
You are not alone!
There are 7000 in Israel who have not bowed a knee to Baal nor kissed his image.
* * * * * * *
People of God at First Baptist Church… you are not alone…
Though you are dwarfed by the highrises and condominiums of Edmonton, you have a word to speak to the city and to the nations…
IF YOU HAVE OPPRESSED the other…seek forgiveness, humble yourself…welcome the stranger and let them know of God’s never-ending love and compassion.
IF YOU HAVE BEEN OPPRESSED and feel forsaken…know that God will feed you…
God will quench your thirst…and provide the sustenance you need to make it through this barren season of life.
Return to the one who calls you beloved child…beloved daughter, beloved son…
As we come to the table of the Lord this morning, God’s heart’s desire is to sustain us…to feed us with living bread…that we might feed on the sustenance of Jesus.
The words of Jesus echo the words of this ancient story that we read of today – –
In the wake of the noisy banging and clanging of the elements of our lives….
in the wake of emptiness, solitude & silence….the Spirit of God says:
“Get up…eat! Otherwise the journey will be too much for you!”