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Third Sunday after Pentecost

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Richard Davenport June 26, 2022 - Proper 8 1 Kings 19:9-21 I'm discovering more and more that we are all born actors. Now being on the receiving end as a parent, I'm rather glad I don't remember being that age so much. You'll see it in any kid if you spend enough time with them, which tells me we each were like that when we were young as well. I say acting but really it's the drama that gets me. You give a little kid some task, it could be just about anything. The child goes off to complete the task and finds it doesn't go as smoothly as was expected. After a couple of failed attempts, the child returns and unleashes all of the melodrama one might expect in a Shakespearean tragedy. "Forsooth, thou hast placed upon me an unbearable burden. Truly, no greater task has been given another person. The Lord himself would have had difficulty completing this task, were he still walking among us. I, a mere mortal child, am certainly not adequate to this herculean labor." Usually there are all of the appropriate flourishes and gesticulation to go with it, making it clear the world is most likely ending and quite soon. It seems like the drama calms down for a few years before it comes back with a vengeance in the teenage years. "Mom, you are so uncool. I can't believe you're making me do this!" "Dad, how could you do this to me! My life is over!" As a dad who is also a pastor, I'm in a somewhat unique position to deal with some of these sorts of things. "Your life is over you say? When should we be planning the funeral? I'll start writing the funeral sermon right away." Of course all of this comes with more gesticulation and the world is, again, ending very soon. As an adult, you look at all of this and take it with a grain of salt. Back when you were that age and facing the problems you faced, they did seem insurmountable. They appeared world-ending and life-changing. Nothing would ever be the same again. How can life possibly go on after this? As a child or a teenager, this is all very serious business. "How dare you, mom and dad, laugh at my misery?" We comfort and console, we offer guidance. We understand the sentiment expressed because we were once that way too. We suggest, calmly and coolly, that, despite the fact that you can't find your clothes or that your social life is a disaster or you just can't seem to figure something out, your life will go on. Somehow, you will survive this tragedy and your life probably, probably, is not over just yet. How can we be so calm and collected in the face of such misery? Because we've been there before and we managed. It may have been a struggle, but eventually it was over. Many of those earth-shattering disasters turned out to be so minor and inconsequential that you've forgotten all about them, even though at the time it all looked like the end of the world. The Old Testament reading for today shows us the rather tragic picture of Elijah on the run. He fears for his life. Queen Jezebel, in all of her indignant fury, has set her hounds on him to track him down and put him to death. It is a serious threat and one Elijah has no doubt Jezebel really means to carry out. She has never liked him, since Elijah is always critical of her and King Ahab and their idolatry. Ahab generally puts up with Elijah, even though Elijah never has anything positive to say to him. Jezebel, on the other hand, is much more vindictive and proud. She doesn't want this rabble rouser around and determines enough is enough. So Elijah runs away from Samaria and hides out in a cave. I picture him there, all sulking and mopey. God, being the calm and dutiful Father he is, finds Elijah moping. "What seems to be the trouble?" "I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away." It sounds like a pretty serious situation. Elijah claims it is literally life-ending. There's nothing more to do but sit here and wait to die. God directs Elijah to go and look out from his cave. As we are told, God passes by the mountain and there is a mighty wind that was powerful enough to crack boulders. Then there is an earthquake and finally a fire. We are told that God was not in any of these. Make no mistake though, God was there. None of these things happened on their own, but only as directed by God. Though these natural disasters should have terrified anyone caught up in them, Elijah was in no danger. Instead, we hear God come to Elijah in the sound of a soft whisper. God can certainly act with power and destructive might. He can level mountains and sweep away whole nations with no effort at all. He brought Israel out of Egypt with terrible plagues that covered the country and by parting the Red Sea so the people could walk through on dry ground. He can do great and powerful things that stagger the imagination. He has acted through these means before and he will do so again. At the moment, though, he is not choosing to operate this way. He shows Elijah that he is just as much at work through a whisper as through a fire, wind, or earthquake. He works in great and mighty ways and in small, almost imperceptible ways. In either case, he is working for his good purpose and the care of his people. When God speaks to Elijah, he speaks as a Father to a child. He speaks as one who with the wisdom of the ages, one who looks at life from a much broader perspective than a child can. When a child or even a teenager speaks of life-ending disaster, it is in light of their relatively brief life and experiences. When a parent steps in, it is with much greater experience, more knowledge of how the world works and what is and what is not possible. So God speaks to Elijah here. "What are you doing here, Elijah? What terrible crisis brought you here?" Elijah explains himself and sounds very sincere, but like both children and adults, he seems very forgetful. It was just in the last chapter Elijah has his great showdown with the many priests of Baal, priests who could not seem to rouse their god to consume the sacrifice they had prepared for him. Elijah, on the other hand, has no difficulty rousing God, who sends fire from heaven to devour the sacrifice and the altar and everything around it. Elijah directs the assembled crowds to execute the false prophets. This is the final straw for Queen Jezebel who threatens to put an end to him. How quickly we forget what God has already done for us, in both big and small ways. God had just demonstrated his power to Elijah, but that was yesterday and life was good. This is today and he feels lost and abandoned. It doesn't really matter that he had all the proof he needed of God's power. He saw it with his own eyes. Not only that, just before he did away with all of the prophets of Baal, he met Obadiah, another prophet of God. Obadiah told him he had hidden 100 of the faithful in a cave to keep them safe from Ahab and others who would seek to kill them. That makes everything Elijah says here pure melodrama. "Woe is me!" he says. God doesn't ignore Elijah's drama. God knows what Elijah needs and gives it to him. Elijah needs something to focus on beyond the immediate threat. Elijah needs to hear God is still at work and that Elijah has a place in God's plan. God gives him a job to do and directs him to get to work. Luther reminds us as we pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," "God's will is done when he breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God's name or let his kingdom come; and when he strengthens and keeps us firm in his word and faith until we die. This is his good and gracious will." God is at work. God is always at work. We call out to him, we pray to him that he would make that work known to us, but whether he does or he doesn't changes little. He promises he's busy dealing with all of the things that worry you and thousands of other things that would probably worry you if you knew about them, but you don't. So, when you come before God sharing how your life is over and there's no way you can possibly go on, he listens to you intently. He takes you seriously and hears all of your concerns and sorrows. He doesn't dismiss them out of hand. But, once you have shared all that is in your heart, he then shares with you his perspective on things. His perspective goes beyond the 10, 50, even 100 years of life experience you may have. He sees everything from the very beginning of time to the end and beyond. What seems insurmountable to you, in his view has already been dealt with. When he tells you everything is well in hand, when he tells you he's there with you and will take care of you, he isn't giving you useless words of comfort. He means exactly what he says. The fact that you can't see him at work changes nothing. God certainly understands our worries, our fears, and our anxiety. He knows what our limitations are, after all, he created us. But he also sees things that are beyond our abilities. Our doubts and worries amount to a declaration that God isn't there caring for us after all, and for that we need to listen to what he says to us again and ask for his forgiveness for assuming that our Heavenly Father doesn't really care. He forgives us because he truly does care about us. We pray, "Thy will be done," because we know that's what needs to happen and that's what will happen. That's what happened when the Father sent his Son to die and rise again, showing you your future is well in hand. Offer up your prayers to him and know that he hears you, know that your life is well in hand. Ask him for strength and courage in the midst of adversity, and forgiveness for your doubts. He cares for you and he knows what your future holds. Whatever troubles you face, they are not your end. Your Heavenly Father sees your life stretching out into eternity. He's already got that taken care of. Nothing can take that away from you. God grant you the faith to trust him as he reveals his will to you.
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