DFLC SERMON – November 7, 2021 – Deacon Sharon Brennen
Grace and Peace from God our Father and our LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen!
Elijah entered into the picture just before our reading. And this first mention of him is a big tie-in to the reading we just heard. You will be familiar with the first story, which I have nicknamed “The Battle of the Barbeque!” I’ll tell it to you now. Elijah, a prophet of God, has been told by God to go see King Ahab, who had really angered God. Ahab called Elijah the “Troubler of Israel.” But in fact, I am sure it is a name that Elijah would have loved to call Ahab. Ahab and his wife Jezebel (whose name is synonymous with treachery and scheming) were responsible for the Israelites worshipping of Baal. Ahab had also stopped worrying about those Ten Commandments God sent to his people. God wanted Elijah to tell Ahab that because of his evil acts, the whole land would suffer a drought until Elijah prays for rain. Elijah is also going to give the people of Israel a good reminder of which god was the God in charge.
Elijah asks Ahab to meet him on Mount Carmel with the people of Israel and the Baal prophets. And now for the “barbeque” part of the story. First, Elijah tells the Israelites to stop wavering in their faith and to stop worshipping Baal. He tells them they must now make their choice. Then, Elijah issues a daring proposition. He tells the prophets of Baal, whom Ahab had gathered, to fetch a bull, put it on their altar, and call on Baal to set fire to it. They do as he said, but no matter how much they call to Baal, pray to him, beg him, no fire ever appears. After teasing them a bit about their failure, Elijah tells them he is going to do the same with his God. So he rebuilds God’s altar, puts a bull upon it, and then decides to up the ante even more. He has water poured all over the bull, the stones, and the wood, until the water streams down and fills the ground around it. And he does this not once, but three times. Elijah prays, and calls on the LORD, just as the Baal prophets called on theirs. But instead of silence, like the Baal prophets experienced – immediately, God responds. But Fire does not come from within the altar, but straight down from heaven! It consumes the bull, the wood, the stones, the dust, and even the water that was rolling in a trench around the altar. The people fall down to acknowledge the one true God. Elijah never wavered in his faith that God was right there with him, and it gave him courage and strength in the face of all around him. At the end of this story (because it is the Old Testament, and they like a little gore) the Israelites rounded up the Baal prophets and killed them. Elijah then tells King Ahab to go somewhere while he himself prays for the rain that is much needed.
So now we are at today’s story. So far, we are feeling pretty proud of Elijah and in awe that he had such great faith. But now Elijah has to deal with Jezebel, who in some ways was even worse than King Ahab. She is capable of his imminent death. Elijah begins to unravel. After such a brave performance in front of the Israelites and the Baal prophets, he does something we do not expect. He skedaddles! He hits the hills running! Suddenly, we see another side of Elijah. Here he is, that formally brave Elijah - exhausted, terrified, and even asking God to take his life. He runs until he comes to a tree in a desert area, and lays down and sleeps. Fortunately for him, God is still with him even in this time of his anxiousness. God sends an angel to give Elijah food and drink, for he will be going on a long journey. Once he is refreshed, Elijah then journeys to the Mount of God in Horeb, the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments and where Israel entered into its covenant with God. And there Elijah enters a cave. Elijah’s thoughts must have really troubled him. Death seems to be at his door, yet the LORD provided for him sustenance and sent him here. He wonders… What is next? What is going to happen now?
And finally, God speaks to him, asking, “What are you doing here in this cave, Elijah?" Elijah knows how powerful God is… he has just demonstrated this fact himself! But he cannot seem to get himself together. Elijah seems to cower and say… “But God, look at what I have done in your name! And now look, my life has been threatened and I am alone here.” God tells him he is about to do something that he rarely does. He is going to pass by Elijah. This part of the story has been called, “The Still, Small Voice.” As Elijah wonders how this will happen, God sends a great wind, but God was not there in the wind. Then God sends an earthquake, but God was not there in the earthquake. Then a fire, but still no God. Then it is quiet. I’ve always wondered if Elijah thought, at this point, he missed God somewhere.
At God’s bidding, Elijah stands at the entrance of the cave. Still silence all around. He hears (yes, that still, small voice) but maybe in a whisper… maybe in the silence itself. Elijah hears God softly ask him again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And again, Elijah answers in fear, defending himself and all he has done in God’s name. God doesn’t rebuke him, nor does he commend him, but instead God gives Elijah MORE to do. He tells him to go and anoint two Kings, Hazael and Jehu and to appoint Elisha as Elijah’s successor. All these assignments were difficult to do, and a difficult travel. But Elijah realizes God’s purposes will continue to unfold throughout history with triumph. And again, Old Testament… so the gore here... is that each of those three individuals Elijah was asked to visit would take part in the large slaughter of the unfaithful, until just 7,000 faithful Israelites are left. If this story was on Netflix, we would now go right to the next part of the series. But, instead, we will either have to wait for future Sundays, or read ahead in the Bible when we get home.
So, what is our impression, now, of the prophet Elijah? We find him very human and faith-filled, but prone to our same feelings of fear, dismay, depression, and maybe even a feeling of doom. Here is someone God is with all the way, yet as much as Elijah knows this, he cannot help his own humanness from taking over. He has been both strong and guided by God’s hand… and also weak, and tried to hide in his fear where no one could find him, perhaps not even God.
Did you know that saints are like this? Saints are not always standing in shining armor. Saints do not have all the answers. Saints are sometimes even afraid and unsure. I remember one Sunday, Pastor Chris asked all of us, “Will the saints among you please stand up.” There were not a lot of us who stood that day. But once he explained how we could be sinners, yet also saints, we were then able to all rise up and humbly stand. So, what truly makes a person a saint? Who are the saints in our lives? What is the role of a saint?
I found a short story to help us with the role of a saint:
There was a boy one Sunday who was in a church with his family and he was staring at the stained glass windows beside him. He turned and asked his mom, “Who are all these people on these colored windows?” She answered, “Why, son, they are all saints.” A few months later, this same boy was in his Sunday School class. The teacher asked “Who can tell me… what is a saint?” The boy shouted out, loud and clear, “A saint is a person who the light shines through.” While this answer with its logical perception makes us smile, it is all too true. Saints are those people who let God work through them, who strive to live a Godly life, who care about others, who give God the glory and honor, and for whom God’s light shines through their words and actions. Maybe you know some people like this? I am sure you do, because saints walk amongst us every day.
All Saints’ Sunday helps us to connect to saints who lived before us, and modeled this life for us… as well as the saints who are beside us today. Elijah was one of those saints. And he was not perfect. But he believed with all his heart that God was the God of all, and he was even willing to bet his life on it. We are all candidates for this type of sainthood. Even if we wear crooked halos. In fact, I can see God standing in front of many of us saying, like Oprah, “You can be a saint, and you can be a saint, and you can be a saint also! See, we live in the ordinary, to love the extraordinary blessings God gives us, so we can become the exceptional saints God wants us to be. And… Are we unsure and anxious sometimes, like Elijah? Check. And… Do we struggle with our faith as the world crowds around us? Check. And… Is it hard to keep God first? Check.
But we can and will wake up each day trying our best to live up to the title of “Saint.” We have so many good role models, if we look toward the past and pay attention to their lives. And we have so many good people around us here and in the world today, who shine with the light of God through them. The best practice we can have is to wake up each morning with a prayer of thanksgiving to God in our hearts. And then to carry that prayer with us and continue the conversation with God throughout the day… until… a light begins to shine through each of us, encouraging everyone around us to want to shine also... kind of like a saintly pyramid scheme! Amen to that!