10 November 2019 Getting out of Caves Martin Baker
1 Kings 19:1-4, 8-15
1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "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." 3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors."
8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9 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?" 10 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."
11 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; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 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?" 14 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." 15 Then the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus"
Background to reading
Jezebel was a Phoenician princess who married King Ahab who ruled the northern kingdom of Israel. (Capital was Samaria) (Judah was in the South with Jerusalem as the capital)
Jezebel gained power and eventually ended up requiring that her religion, the worship (bay-el), should be the national religion of Israel. She organised her own groups of prophets and she also destroyed such prophets of Israel as she could reach.
On Mount Carmel, Elijah faces off against 450 prophets of Jezebel’s to determine which deity—YHWH or (bay-el)—is the true God of Israel. YHWH, of course, triumphs where (bay-el) fails, Elijah then leads those gathered in the slaying of (bay-el)'s prophets.
This of course makes him very unpopular with Jezebel. Afraid for his life after hearing of Jezebel's desire to eliminate him, Elijah flees to the wilderness and asks, to die rather than face her wrath.
This morning we are hearing a story that is from a source that’s almost 3000 years old.
Back then no one really doubted or questioned the existence of God.
That meant that the God you worshiped made all the difference to whether you and your people survived and flourished or suffered and died.
If it had not rained for a long time, God must be unhappy with us, and we therefore have to work out how to make God happy and therefore allow the rains to come.
So two or three issues right away. Working out which God is the right one. And working out how to please this God.
If I performed an elaborate ritual or sacrifice and the rains did not come, either I was doing the ritual incorrectly or I was focusing on the wrong God.
So let’s transfer those ideas to our current times. Taking a holiday, going on some retreat getting away for a while. I think perhaps some of the most important decisions I have ever made have come after a walk on a beach. But it is hard to stand aside from the demands and routines.
So let’s think for a moment about our last week. Where did you commit your time, money skills and gifts? What is the source of your greatest fears and hopes? What were you most worried about?
Who or what are we trying to please. What are the expectations? And what are you expecting in return?
In so many ways the worship of God comes down to some very practical questions. Time, money, fears, hopes expectations.
Elijah believed that the outcome of the worship choices provided blessing or destruction, or hope or despair.
So Jezebel and (bay-el) or Elijah and the Lord, Yahweh is the Hebrew word.
This is a tension we find running right through our scriptures. How you worship. Who you worship, what you expect to happen and what is required of you. Back then it was between (bay-el) or the Hebrew God, the God who Jesus reveals, Yahweh,
Listen to what Isaiah said about this. Isaiah Chapter 1
Isaiah Chapter 1
The Lord asks, “What do your many animal sacrifices mean to me?
“Wash yourselves! Become clean!
Get your evil deeds out of my sight.
Stop doing evil.
Learn to do good.
Plead the case of widows.”
And remember what Jesus said :
To love God with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as you love yourself is more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Doing the kind thing, the just thing, doing the thing that expressed a fundamental concern for the powerless and marginalised, doing the loving thing was seen as an act of worship. Justice and mercy is what is pleasing to the God we worship. In fact, just as Jesus said, how we treat and speak about those most vulnerable, will say everything that needs to be said about the God we worship.
The biblical commentator Walter Bruggerman said that ideology and legalism take over when we can no longer believe in promises.
What stories, what old hurts, what well nursed grudges go round and around in our heads. How many of the arguments we’ve had even with those who we are closest to, are variations on the same ones we have had for as long as we can remember? Counsellors tell us that almost all repeated arguments between couples relate to money, time usage, sex or in-laws. Stories of sameness where everything becomes predictable. The bad memories we nurture as a kind of comfort. Is there a future?
Bey el or the Lord
Listen to a portion of our reading. And behold, the Lord passed by and great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks 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;
Remember, Bayel was thought of as the Lord of thunderstorms, of natural phenomena. As powerful, as overwhelming as these forces can be we are told that the Lord was not in any of them. Finally, after the fire, silence, a still small voice, - and we find later in our story that that is the voice of God. And that voice is calling Elijah out of the cave, and back into the wilderness. With all its risks and anxieties, the wilderness is the place where he will discover God’s call and will on his life.
The comfort and protection of the cave. Or the threat and risks of the wilderness places?
(We have Jeanette and Koli here today, on one hand we celebrate and acknowledge their witness and care of Fijian and Pacific students. But we also acknowledge their faithfulness to a call. Law, accountancy, pursuing roles of wealth and status, but they devote their lives to the care and Christian nurture of young people. That God has called them in this way and they have had the faith and courage to respond.)
But Jesus makes a call on all of us. We are equipped with gifts and skills combined to make up the body of Christ or the church.
Whether it is global issues or personal worries, there are plenty of things that can overwhelm us.
The senses of the forces that control our futures and our lives. That deprives us of choices that keep us thinking and doing the same old things.
At the heart of God’s call on our lives we claim a different kind of salvation. Utterly disruptive. We’ve been saved, not by any ritual of appeasement, not as a reward for anything we have done, not because of any sacrifice we have made. Not by a formula. But by an act of total sacrificial love we see in Jesus. We are resurrection people. Saved by God’s grace.
We enter the extraordinary abundance of God’s kingdom. Our starting point is to allow ourselves to be embraced by a God who love us completely – to allow that love to transform our lives and change forever the way we see ourselves, our neighbours and God.
Let’s claim the promises of our faith. And let our lives proclaim this promise. We are loved, forgiven saved, called today into eternal life. Whatever we might be caught up in, God gives us a future, names us as his children. Calls us, like Elijah out of whatever cave we have become trapped in.
Let’s join with Elijah. That quiet voice in the stillness amidst the storms. It is time to move on
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