Text: 1 Kings 19:9b-21
Date: Pentecost VI + Proper 8 + 6/26/16
What do you do when you get frustrated? Can you just calmly let it go and not let the problem bother you? Or do you get angry? More times than not we are reminded that “Getting mad doesn’t help.” To be sure we are surrounded by multiple frustrations usually involving disagreements with other people but sometimes frustration at ourselves, our circumstances, our inadequacies, or just plain stupidity as when you accidentally break something or injure yourself. Who do you get mad at when you stub your toe? The scripture before us today reminds us that anger, a show of power or retaliation is rarely helpful. The answer of God to His people when facing difficult situations is to be found in God’s Word. Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller recently wrote on his Facebook page, “we are prepared for the coming trouble not when we have guns and food, but when [we] know the Scriptures, the Catechism, the Liturgy, and the hymns.” I thought, how timely were these words especially as we look at today’s scripture readings.
We heard that when the people of a Samaritan village did not receive Jesus, his disciples James and John (whom St. Mark tells us were known as the “sons of thunder” [Mk 3:17]), they asked Jesus with some anger in their voices, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Lk 9:54). Yeah, that’ll show ‘em! But no. Jesus rebuked them and just kept going on toward Jerusalem.
I wonder if Jim and Jack got that idea from remembering one of the prophet Elijah’s more spectacular miracles, the show down mocking the prophets of Baal and the fire from heaven of the one, true God that consumed his sacrifice, bull, altar, water and all? Yet even with the greatest signs and miracles that accompanied the greatest prophet, still today we see him getting frustrated. In his mighty opposition to the idolaters and worshippers of Baal, it was the queen, Jezebel, that not only remained unconvinced but filled with wrath against Elijah planned to kill him. So maybe his exit into the desert was a mixture of frustration and fear!
He proceeded to Beersheba and into the desert where we hear him pouring out his soul before the Lord. After a night of wearied sleep under a broom tree, an angel awakened him saying, “Arise, eat.” This happened one more time because, the angel said, “the way is too far for you.” Elijah just wanted to get away, to go it alone. But obviously the Lord was leading him to a different end.
The Word of God is as food to our soul as the journey of repentance and faith toward the goal of heaven is a long one. It is too far for us to make on our own power. This journey of Elijah turned out to be for him like a refresher course in the doctrine of God’s Word. From it he is to discover God successfully accomplishing his purposes through his prophet.
Notice how the details recall God’s acts of deliverance through His servant Moses. Elijah continued to travel on the strength of the angelic food forty days and forty nights, recalling the forty years Moses and the people were led and sustained in the wilderness. Did Elijah “get it”? As with Moses Elijah came to Mt. Horeb. And just like when the Lord had Moses stand in a cleft in the rock to view the Lord, so Elijah did the same but from a cave.
Before the continued catechesis in the Word however the way was prepared with a service of confession and absolution. “Behold, the word of the Lord came to Elijah, and he said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?” He confesses his frustration, saying, “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, as if that weren’t enough, he complains “and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” What did Elijah want God to do? How about fire out of heaven again?
So now the sermon. God appeared to Moses on Sinai as a token of God’s grace that Moses might see God’s glory in the face of the people’s rebellion in worshipping the golden calf. So now He would do the same for Elijah but with this difference. When God’s goodness passed by Moses He declared His name, saying, “Yahweh, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6). But when the Lord passed by Elijah in a great and strong wind, silence! “The Lord was not in the wind.” Elijah did not yet hear a word of mercy and grace.
And how about some fire from heaven to match Elijah’s fiery zeal that brought him here so despondently? On Mt. Sinai before Moses, “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled” (Ex 19:16). So here, “after the wind an earthquake.” But again, silence. “The Lord was not in the earthquake.” The fire. But still nothing. For “the Lord was not in the fire.” In this way the Lord was answering the prophet’s complaint by reminding him of His mighty acts through Moses, but he was missing the point. The Lord’s way is not by means of anger and wrath and fire from heaven. For “after the fire, after all that, only the sound of a low whisper,” a gentle rustling, “a still small voice.”
Elijah was to learn that the ultimate answer of God is His grace and mercy revealed in His voice, His Word. Did he “get it” yet?
The Lord repeated the question, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And he repeated his answer, his complaint in the same words as before. But this time followed the Lord’s answer to the whole thing. You see, only God knows the big picture. Elijah couldn’t see that there were still seven thousand faithful followers in Israel. His complaint had no basis. He wasn’t a failure. The Lord was still in charge. And He assures you again today, the Lord is still in charge for you! no matter how things look. It will be as Elijah passes on the Lord’s guidance to two kings to wield the Lord’s punishments, and one prophet, Elisha, “to be prophet in your place” that he will have fulfilled the Lord’s will.
So the Lord asks us today, what are you doing here? We pour out our complaints, our fears and failures. But then we hear God’s Word, His word of righteous judgment against sin but always leading to His saving word of forgiveness, grace and peace. That salvation is proclaimed in the crucifixion, the death and resurrection of God’s Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. At any moment we may wonder and ask in the words of the hymn, “What wondrous love is this, O my soul? What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul!” The answer is that Jesus is the Lamb that takes away our sin, frees us from death, and gives us an eternal song of praise. So listen, listen carefully for that low whisper, that gentle rustling, that still small voice of God’s Word.