Sunday the 19th of June
1 Kings 19:1-15
During the week I was at the home of the Walker family, and we happened to be watching the news. We heard about two murders; the shooting of the people at the gay bar in the USA; a 17 year old Australian boy who was arrested on suspicion of a terrorist attack; an ambulance driver who was on drugs and driving the ambulance that smashed into another car killing a mother and her teenage child.; and two police officers who were found guilty of murdering a suspect. We commented to each other about how depressing the world is today, and wondered what the world was coming to. We then flicked the channel to listen to a panel talking about the gay shootings, where they had a prominent Christian man being attacked for his faith. Somehow in the USA media have gone wild and blamed these attack on Christians, because we do not agree with homosexuality. The question was then asked how hard is it for us to be Christians today?
One of the ways that life with God is described to us in the Bible is by using the image of a journey: walking with God through the ups and downs of this life. Of course not all parts of our journey with God are easy are they, sometimes walking with God can be difficult, and often it can be real challenge, particularly, when the culture around us is so anti Christian.
In the Old Testament reading for today, where hear about Elijah the great prophet, the great man of God, in the midst of a challenging time on his journey with God. A couple of weeks ago we heard the reading about how Elijah the prophet, participated in and witnessed one of the great miracles in the bible, where Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, called down fire from Heaven, and God answered him in a very spectacular way. Elijah seemed “in charge.” Everything seemed to be going his way, he was confronting kings and followers of Baal, seei9ng God perform miracles, including the rising of the widows son from the dead. Imagine us being able to witness these things! But now, in today’s reading, we find a different Elijah. We find a prophet who is, overcome by the evil that is surrounding him; intimidated by his opponents and filled with self-doubt, complaining to God that things are not going his way; he is perhaps even suicidal.
Immediately after the dramatic miracle that God performed through Elijah, today’s reading says this: “Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them. 3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life” Elijah ran away and tried to get as far away from Israel as possible. He did not want to be a part of this anymore.
The question that is often asked is: ‘where is this man’s faith?’ How could Elijah see what God had done and then in next breath not trust God. But are you and I not also like this? We are surely tempted like him, to respond negatively when things don’t go as we had planned? While things are going great and God seems to be on our side, great, but the minute something goes wrong, where our expectations are not met, we also face the temptation to give up.
For Elijah I believe that he was in a place of despair. After the miracle I wonder if he believed that things would now be different: I wonder if he was full of hope that the Israelites would suddenly turn around and worship God again, after what they had just seen; I wonder if for Elijah he believed that things would finally be better after so many years of suffering. But no Jezebel is after him wanting to kill him like she had all God’s prophets before him. The problem for Elijah was that as far as he could see, nothing had changed. He despaired that God would do anything.
So Elijah complains and grumbles to God that he has had enough of ministry, and expresses a wish to die. Elijah is angry because he feels he is being left alone, with no other prophets around, and is even persecuted. And so he runs away. For Elijah God should have been taking care of him better than this! Elijah repeatedly claims that he has been “zealous” for the Lord and so God should have been seeing to his welfare more carefully! Elijah found himself in a place of deep discouragement at the negative things that were happening around him, where he felt surrounded. To Elijah it may have seemed like he was a failure, so he retreats into self-pity and seeks to escape from responsibilities. He does not want to listen to God anymore because he does not believe it will do any good.
What happens in our lives, when we look around us and see only negatives. What happens to us when we look at this world and the way that it is persecuting those who have faith in Jesus. When it seems like Christians don’t have the right to an opinion these days without being hounded down and made a mockery off. What happens when things occur in our lives that seem unfair, where we seem to be targeted because of our faith? What happens when things in life get very difficult and we can’t see a way out of the situations that we find ourselves? What happens when we pray to God to step in, and it appears that he doesn’t? What happens when it appears to us that God is failing to act? We can so easily find ourselves in the same place as Elijah was; A place where we are despondent and discouraged.
God responded to Elijah in a way that Elijah would not have expected. He responded by showing his faithfulness: first rather than taking Elijah’s life he sends an angel to feed Elijah with food that will sustain him for 40 day, the very opposite of killing him. God also goes further that this and he appears again to Elijah and answers his complaints, and later on he returns Elijah back to Israel when he would speak the final words of judgment upon the King and his wife Jezebel. You see God responded to Elijah with his grace.
Despite Elijah’s complaining and his lack of trust, God showed Elijah that he was still faithful to his people, and to Elijah, even though Elijah was unable to see it. God provided for him and he helped him, even though Elijah did not deserve it.
This same faithfulness that our God showed to Elijah is the same faithfulness he shows to all his people. Of course his faithfulness lead to the ministry of Jesus. In his Son Jesus, the God of Israel did decisively initiate his reign among his people, though, again, not in a way people expected. For each of us here today our Heavenly Father is still faithful to us. Even though we still continue to face hostility in a world that rejects the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When things do get tough, our Heavenly Father is still faithful to us and comes to us, and will continue to come to us, as he sustains us in faith, just has he sent and angel to feed and sustain Elijah. Our Heavenly Father will continue to do this through his son Jesus Christ, until the day we are called home. This is his promise. We are to cling to this promise, even when it looks to us that all is hopeless.
One of the ways that our God sustains us in a very visible and concrete way is through his table. In the midst of our often hetic, chaotic, and often hostile world, we come to the Lord’s table to receive from him, through his body and blood the faith and the strength we need to journey with him. If you are really struggling, make sure you come to his table.
Life with God is a journey; it has its ups and its downs. No matter what happens in this life the one thing that we can count on is that God is faithful to his promises. He is committed to walking with his children and sustaining them, even though often we can’t see him at work. I encourage each of you to remember this, and hold on to his promise of faithfulness to you, as you journey with him.