26 January 2021
There is a parable about a farmer who had a few animals he kept in a barn that was old, drafty, and leaky. Concerned for his animals' wellbeing, the farmer decided to build a new barn. He built a fine new barn, tore down the old one, and was comforted to know his animals were now safe and dry. One day a storm came through the area. The farmer decided to look in on his animals, and he was shocked to discover that the barn door had been left unlatched, and all of the animals had left the new barn and were huddled beneath the storm within the foundations of the old, familiar barn. It is easier to hold on to what we know than to face the new.
Today we have a scary story about Elijah who had with great courage faced the forces of evil in the land. But even he lost faith in the fact that there was a future for Israel and clung stubbornly to his own story and forgot he was part of God's story and God's story always moves into a new future.
Elijah is fleeing from Jezebel the wife of Ahab. Elijah has shown her powerful prophets of Baal are powerless. He challenged them to a contest to light fires without the matches. They've lost credibility before the God of Elijah who it seems can make a fire burn even after water is poured on the wood, this is dramatic, high energy prophetic work.
The Prophets of Baal had had a great rave up, dancing round, cutting themselves, trying to get Baal to light the offering fire with Elijah making comments about the deafness of their Gods and nothing had happened"
Then Elijah did his bit. "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.
Then the people fall on their faces before Elijah and Yahweh and declare Yahweh to be the only true God, and at Elijah's suggestion they have the four hundred members of the losing team slaughtered at the bottom of the mountain.
The next day we get to the story that was read for us before. King Ahab speaks to Queen Jezebel, who was number fan for Baal, and tells her what Elijah has done. Not surprisingly she is very very angry
He was on a high, then fear starts to take over and doubt creep in, he is being hunted. And now he is miles away on Mt Sinai.
Where are you God, What use is it all? What purpose do I serve? [Any of you who have been to who wants to be a hundred may have had that thought there?]
Elijah asks that question through fear clenched lips at the top of the mount of God.
Fear drove him to this mountain. At first it was merely a fear of the queen Jezebel. For her husband Ahab had told her how he'd killed Baal's prophets. Not being one to overlook a little thing like that, she'd sent a fairly blunt message. "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."
Knowing the extent of Jezebel's power Elijah believed her threat. If Elijah is one of our crisis-only pray-ers, then it is time for him to start praying. But Elijah of course is a man of action and so he performs the time honoured response to such threats, as it says in verse 3; "he got up and fled for his life."
And went away into the wilderness.But he didn't go quietly. He ran and ran and then ran even more until he ended up under a broom tree. Suddenly all he'd been through, combined with an uncertain future, became a bit too much .The firewater had worn off.
"Now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than the prophets who've gone before me."
He fell asleep. God was not ready for Elijah to die and in the wilderness someone provided food and drink. Hot cakes, a meal which sustained his life - hey! basic stuff for dealing with someone who is exhausted, at the end of his tether.
But he still ran, forty days and forty nights - for a long time - to the mountain of the Law, the tried and true place and hid in a cave, safe secure, deep in that mountain of Sinai. The place where the law was given in flames and stone, where God must be.
All he got was a question?
What are you doing here Elijah? Safe back in his old barn - cave. The real answer of course was running away but he instead poured out his sad well practised story.
"I've worked hard, zealously for you, but your people have given you up, destroyed your alters and killed your prophets. I 'm all that's left I'm tired of holding it all together and they are trying to kill me. Take my life away, finish me off now.
Get out of your cave Elijah for I am about to pass by
Where are you God? In the law of Sinai?
Elijah knew all the places of God, Where do we find God., In the mighty wind, A hurricane which snatched up rocks and shattered them like toys, surely God is here. But God is not there.
then the earthquake, the earth trembling, mountains falling, scary, terrifying, the places where God is expected to appear, The Mighty God of nature who can still the seas and clam the waves, But God is not there.
And then fire poured down the mountain, leaping from tree to tree, melting the rocks reshaping the land. Surely in all this power is God. But God is not there.
Elijah has no where else to look. All the familiar places where he could press God's buttons to appear have gone.
The feeling of holiness has gone, the well used ways of communicating with God have gone. Who is he going to complain to? Where is his God?
We learn that no-one, not even the mighty Elijah who could call down the power of God against the forces of evil could order God to appear. We cannot domesticate God.
When we come into this holy place today we can only say God is with us because of the grace of God's own promise to be with us in JEsus. Because the promised spirit is among us.
We cannot say where God will be and define who god is.
Elijah was about to discover something .
For after the wind, the earthquake and the fire, the turmoil , the noise, the thousand voices speaking doubt fear.and death
there is silence.
Elijah wrapped his face in his cloak and came out of the cave.
A complete silence. Sheer silence
Not a bird, or the wind rustling in the trees, nothing!
A silence the world has never known since creation began.
Then in the silence - God
What are you doing here Elijah?
Do you know what he did? He kept on whinging, pouring out the story again.
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.’ I'm all alone.
he was ready to listen and the whisper of God came
Move on Elijah! There is a future for this nation and you have my work to do. The government needs to be put in place. Go back to the wilderness of Damascus.. When you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha as prophet in your place. Be faithful, there is a future. I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him. Get on with your job Elijah.
Don't give power to Jezebel by letting her paralyse you. There are seven thousand people out there, you are not alone! I am God.
He finally heard, beyond the sound of his own fears that he could trust God. and prepare for God's future.
Elijah in his tiredness had thought he had to hold it all together, He had forgotten if was God's work he was commissioned to, he could allow God to Be God. Only when he stopped was he able to perceive how warped and introverted his perspective had become.
Elijah was released from his frantic running and loss of hope for the future. He couldn't see straight until he took time out and was ministered to in the sound of sheer silence. He was reminded that he did not decide that this was the end and he could trust God to be God. and start preparing God's people for a new future.
God restores us and God's church with a new commission and the promise of a future which brings life.
Our task is to get on with it and follow Jesus who is sent to lead us, guide us and show us where God is at work. To tell others that Jesus sets the captives free, gives sight to the blind and peace to those who are tormented and shines light into the caves we try to hide in.. Death cannot overcome his love for it is the Love of God's own self. Trust and let go, draw on the deep resources of God's love and let God be God in our lives and community.
Ref Nat Nettleton
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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