I Kings 19:1-15
Our scripture lesson today talks about following the voice of God and reaching deep within ourselves to find faith and strength to carry us on. This is one of those scriptures that I tend to gravitate toward because if we look at the story as a whole we can see just how quickly the tide can turn and how God is with us always.
Just before this passage, in 1 Kings 18, Elijah had beaten all the prophets of Baal in what appeared to be a prophets’ duel. I envision something like a wizard’s duel in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Harry Potter.’ Elijah had basically presented a choice before the Israelites – whom do you serve? They were trying to serve both Baal and God. They were trying to have it all by walking the fence between the two. It reminds me of a scene from the movie ‘The Mummy’ when a man is facing this mummy who has come back to life and he holds out emblems from several different religions, speaking different languages until one resonates with the mummy to spare his life. He had no loyalty to any one religion but was simply hedging his bets.
The people of Israel were doing the same thing; hence Elijah issued a challenge to the prophets of Baal. He challenged them to offer a sacrifice and pray for their god to accept it. The story notes that Elijah challenged them to pray with fervor which they did, only to no avail. Baal did not answer and did not accept their sacrifice. Then Elijah instructed them to pour buckets of water over his sacrifice to God. He prayed with the utmost confidence that God would answer his prayer. Scripture tells us the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, the dust and even the water that had doused the sacrifice three times. In the process, all the false prophets of Baal were destroyed. Elijah had witnessed a tremendous victory in the name of the one true God.
Yet the very next day he was literally running for his life. Queen Jezebel was not too happy at having lost all her prophets. She put a contract out on Elijah and he took off running. But even in his fear, God did not abandon him. God reminded Elijah that he had a job to do being called as a prophet of the God of Israel. God simply posed the question to Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God was acting like a good parent. God allowed Elijah to make the mistake of running from a challenging situation but then went with him and called him back to his duty.
Elijah wasn’t the only one to question God’s calling. Perhaps we remember the story of Jonah, who literally took off running when God called him to go and preach repentance in the city of Nineveh. This story involves a big fish, and whether or not you believe the part where the big fish swallows Jonah and deposits him on the shores of Nineveh is irrelevant. What is important is that God called Jonah to go, Jonah questioned this calling, but in the end God did great things through the prophet Jonah as God did through the prophet Elijah.
There are other examples of those who questioned God’s calling. I am one of them. I believe I’ve shared the story of the phone call I received toward the end of April in 2013 that changed my life and direction. I was not expecting to be receiving a new appointment. I thought I had at least one more year at my previous location. I too questioned God’s calling and God’s timing. And so I did what any good pastor would do, I tried to deny God’s calling to a new appointment. I figured God must have gotten it wrong so I needed to straighten God out.
But based on good counsel I went to visit my new church and this strange area known as Mayo. I began to feel a sense of calm about this potential move. I’ve lived in and around Baltimore my entire life but I never lived in this area. I had no idea what it was like to live by the shore – I had always lived in the more mountainous regions. When it came time for me to offer my decision, I took a walk in the park behind the church and prayed. Since I was still in my high-strung, panic mode, I tried to call my husband, some pastor friends, someone I could use as a sounding board. Ironically no one was reachable. So I got the message that it was just for God and I to ‘discuss.’ During this time of discernment I kept getting a vision of Abraham being sent to a foreign land. At that point for me it became clear – God was calling me to serve in a new place at a church known as Mayo United Methodist Church.
Answering God’s call is not easy. Following the path of righteousness is trying at times. I had mentioned my biggest concern in coming here was my fear that you would not get the best of me for quite a while as I had not moved in 14 years. [I also think the conference owes me a few years as my last 2 appointments were much shorter than anticipated!] That is why we need to put our whole trust in God. That is why we need each other. We need to know that when times get tough we can rely on God and our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Elijah found his greatest trial just after one of his greatest triumphs, only to go on to yet another great victory. How true is that for us today? Yet even in times of trial God is at work in our lives, strengthening our faith and resolve and revealing to us the blessings of God’s unconditional love for us.
I love this passage of scripture because it notes how God manages to get our attention among the noise and chaos of life. I remember a certain blizzard that hit our area one weekend. All my children had jobs that required them to work weekends, or they were involved in winter sports that consumed our weekends. My husband was often called in to do overtime on Saturdays, which left us very little family time. This particular blizzard was forecast well in advance – we all knew it was coming. We of course neglected to get the snow blower out of the shed during this preparation time, so when we finally ventured out, the first task was to dig a path to the shed. But while it was snowing, all of my children were forced to stay at home. My husband as well since there was no transit by anyone. Suddenly, the board games came out of the closet. We formed teams and had a blast reminiscing about past vacations and fun times we had as a family. Perhaps God took the incident of a blizzard to have us all slow down and pay attention to what really mattered – family time together. Then we shoveled, and shoveled and shoveled!!!
When have you noticed the presence of God in your life as a still small voice? Was it during those times just before waking, before the daily schedule and ‘noise’ begin to take over? Was it during out first sunny day in about a month?? Was it when you turned the radio off in your car and just drove alone with your thoughts?
Perhaps you have never experienced the presence of God. Perhaps you are faced with a constant state of distraction, when everything needs to be appropriately juggled or else something major will be forgotten. Jesus showed us the example to follow by setting aside time to commune with God. He would often go to the mountaintop in order to set aside the chaos and listen for God’s voice. I realize that time is a most valuable commodity. We are only given so many hours in a day and yet we often cram more tasks and duties into that timeframe than could ever be accomplished. Yet somewhere in the midst of this bustle of activity is the voice of God calling us to a life of peace. Somewhere in our chaos is the order of God’s perfect world. Somewhere in the throws of busyness is the voice of God, showing us love and comfort and real joy.
This weekend we recognize those who have fought for our country and have since passed away. If anything calls us away from our busy lives, it is the remembrance of those who gave all. I hope you will take a moment to honor those who served in our country’s armed forces and have since passed away. This is a time of remembrance – a time of appreciation for those who saw their duty to God and country and answered their calling. As we close today, I invite all who have had a family member or friend who served in the armed forces and has since died to please stand and share his/her name and unit of service. Let us pray together:
“Gracious God, I thank you for the blessing of all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice while chosing to defend our country. On this day we honor all those who served in such a noble capacity, giving their lives in the line of duty. We pray for those here who mourn the loss of each individual named. Comfort us as we remember – help us to feel your presence and hear your voice of strength and encouragement in the days ahead. We recognize that all gave some, yet some gave all. Amen.”