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Pentecost 10A Sermon
1 Kings 19:9-18, Matthew 14: 22-33
August
9, 2020

 

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1 Kings 19:9-18

At that place he 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.’

Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately he 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 towards them on the lake. But when the disciples saw him walking on the lake, 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 towards 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 worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God be with us in the name of our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

If I were to put together one of those Venn Diagrams for my personal feelings right now, it would have a circle in the middle representing me, with about a dozen or more circles around me, their area overlapping mine to one extent or another, each one saying something different:
-We can’t open the church building yet! It’s a huge health risk! We are wrong if you do it!

-It’s all a big hoax … a conspiracy … a media frenzy! I read an article … we can’t be afraid!

-I’ve known a brother … husband … aunt … niece … grandparent … who passed away from Covid19.

-Here are the 25 things that we need to do if we want to meet in our building right now …

-Some families are going to stay home for a while before coming back.

-We don’t ever need to worship in person again! Online is so much better!

-People are deteriorating from the inside because of the lack of being with their Christian brothers and sisters. We need to be together!

-What about social justice?

-Prayers for law enforcement.

-School needs to start … sports need to be played …

-We need to keep our kids, teachers, staff and families safe.

There are a lot more circles I could fill in, but you get the idea. If I were to be honest with you, I have occasionally thought that I just don’t want to deal with it all anymore – the reality of the virus, our pre-existing tensions it has made worse in society, the mental and physical health of my family and me, and the seemingly long, difficult road that is certainly ahead of us for the next year or two … or more. Don’t get me wrong, I do not intend to do anything drastic to permanently remove myself from the whole situation, but I am not surprised when I see that suicides and mental health issues are on the rise for folks who don’t hold out much hope. I see friends escaping to the beach – and sometime soon I hope to be able to escape somewhere to put this stuff out of my mind – but these are all temporary. We return and find our problems are still here.

In our first lesson, the prophet Elijah has the same thoughts I have. He has escaped – not to a beach, but to a cave. Before this passage he asked God that he might die rather than to face Queen Jezebel, who wanted him dead and swore to have him killed. He felt alone, hopeless and helpless. He just wanted to die. But God came to him as he slept under a broom tree, fed him, and on the strength of that food Elijah came to Mt. Horeb where God appears to him. He appears in the place where Elijah least expected to find him – not in the great wind, the earthquake or the fire, but in the sound of sheer silence. Some remember this as translated, “the still, small voice of calm.” Another Bible translation says, “the sound of a gentle blowing.” This is a reminder to Elijah that God remains close-by us always, even when it is not a grand display of power.

After this appearance, God calls Elijah to anoint other faithful people to join him in his calling and promises that he is not alone! There are seven thousand left who have not worshiped Baal, the Canaanite fertility god. Even though God gives Elijah an out – he does, after all, anoint his successor, Elisha, as part of this deal – Elijah will continue in the prophet’s role until God takes him directly into heaven in a whirlwind and chariot of fire. Elijah receives the gift of God’s presence, the promise of a community to work with, and finally the reward of being taken directly into heaven. But he does not receive any kind of reprieve from engaging in the trouble of the day.
While you will not hear me calling for any resignations of governors, health directors or school administrators over the decisions made to protect citizens in this pandemic, it doesn’t mean I am any less disappointed than anyone else. I am disappointed at the situation – maybe even a little disappointed at God. I feel a kind of helplessness that brings about this disappointment. Elijah has recently experienced a great victory, and yet he is also experiencing the reality that not everyone is happy with our victories. It is a level of disappointment that is pushing him to depression as he claims, “I alone am left!” He is at the end of his rope. He has, it appears, hit rock bottom; and it is at that place – the rope end and rock bottom – where Elijah finally discovers that it is not up to him alone to fight this battle. God and God’s people will be part of it as well.

If we allow it, disappointment in life can be part of our maturing process. How we respond can reveal character and deepen trust. To be sure, disappointment brings threat of despondency, that state of low spirits created by lack of hope or courage. Every day brings with it some kinds of disappointments, and God quietly encourages us, usually without us knowing it. Christopher Davis of the Memphis Theological Seminary, writes, “One of the hardest lessons we have to learn is that God is in the quiet, the gentle influences that are ever around us, working with us, for us and on us, without any visible or audible indicators of activity. We must learn to listen for the God who is quiet and gentle. Maybe our failure to hear that which is quiet is what signals that which is catastrophic. When we fail to discern God in our health, God comes in sickness. When we fail to discern God in our prosperity, God comes in adversity. When we fail to discern God in the stillness, God comes in the storm.” My disappointed and conflicted soul needed to hear that. As we actively struggle with our many issues today, God quietly but assuredly struggles with us. Which, of course, brings me to Peter.

When Peter stepped out of that boat, it was new territory for him. Did he expect it to be hard, like a tile floor? Did he expect it to be soft, like walking on cushions? Did he think his feet would remain dry? Did he think that the wind would not affect him? Was Jesus’ invitation a happy one, glad that at least one of his disciples has the courage to step out? Maybe it is a disappointed, reluctant one, like a parent giving a child room to try something new: “Okay … come on out if you want … but you’re not going to like it!!” One thing I do know, when Jesus called him a “little-faithed one” he did it with a smile. Sure, he had little faith … they all have little faith … WE all have little faith! And that is enough because of the presence of God in the stillness and in the storms as we maneuver new territory.
What Jesus is really telling Peter as he reaches out to grab him and calls him a little-faithed person is, “I will not let you fail.” That is what God is showing Elijah in the cave, and that is what God is constantly telling us today. That Jesus will not let us fail, not matter what the circumstances around us. If our congregation were to ask the theoretical question last January at our annual meeting, “If (blank) was to happen, our church would be sunk!” How would people fill in that blank? Death of certain congregation members? Scandal in the church? How about, “we won’t be able to meet in person to worship or anything else for most of, if not all of, the rest of the year beginning in mid-March.” If someone would have said that, folks would have shaken their heads at the very idea of it first of all … then, I am sure we would have not been able to imagine our congregation weathering this storm.

And yet, here we are. Experiencing God’s presence in the sounds of sheer silence, the still small voice of calm, and the sound of a gentle blowing. We are still able to sing and hear music praising God even though we are far apart because of this technology. We are able to pray for one another because of the connections we have with each other as brothers and sisters. We are able to love and support each other because the presence of the God of love is with us to push, to invite, and when needed, to snatch us up because God will not let us fail, just as Jesus did not let Peter fail as he stepped into unchartered territory.

Even though I still have those days where I wish I could escape the struggles that are ongoing and are certainly to come, I also know the presence of the one who will not let me fail, not even in death. I may doubt, but I also believe in Jesus’ promises of the joy and love that sometimes break into this struggling world now, will certainly return in news ways one day soon, and will be ours beyond measure when Jesus issues that final invitation to “Come” to rest and peace in the Kingdom of Heaven. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.