8 Pentecost Proper A14
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
1 Kings 9:9-18 Sermon
August 7, 2011
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
16 "Blessed Jesus At Thy Word"
396 "O For A Faith That Will Not Shrink" (now playing)
53 "Abide, O Dearest Jesus"
POWERFUL WORDS FROM A STILL SMALL VOICE
TEXT: (vs. 9-10) 9[At Mount Horeb, Elijah] came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 10He said, "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.”
Frustration. I think I could write a book about it. I've had many frustrating things happen to me, even to the point that I'm surprised I still have some semblance of sanity.
When I lived in Australia, I remember one particularly frustrating week. I had one church member who was paranoid about almost everybody and everything; so she would regularly phone me, and complain. This week, she had been particularly annoying. Then there were two other church members, two older men that just couldn't seem to get along. So they would regularly try to get me in the middle of their arguments and attempt to get me to take sides. This week, they had been particularly aggravating. They sat at a table arguing with me in the middle. This was the only time in my entire ministry that I can remember somebody actually reducing me to tears. That honestly happened.
Then to top it all off, I was driving my van down the highway on a particularly warm afternoon. I didn't realize it at the time, but I had a warped head on my engine. So it would slowly suck the water into the cylinders. The engine ran out of water; and even though my temperature gauge still read normal, I wound up completely frying my engine. So I walked to a nearby school and telephoned the RACQ, which is the Australian version of AAA, and they towed my car back home.
It was just one thing after another, and I was almost ready to run away and never look back. I might have done just that, if I had a car that was functional. That evening, I went to get the mail out of my mailbox, and there was a large padded envelope from my father in Lincoln.
Inside the envelope was a book, a children's book actually, written by Judith Viorst, entitled: "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day." Allow me to read some of it to you:
I went to sleep with gum in my mouth, and now there’s gum in my hair. And when I got out of bed this morning, I tripped on the skateboard, and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running. And I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day………..I think I’ll move to Australia.
I could tell it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No good, Very bad day. At school Mrs. Dickens liked Paul’s picture of the sailboat better than my picture of the invisible castle. At singing time she said I sang too loud. At counting time she said I left out 16. Who needs 16?
I could tell it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No good, Very bad day. There were two cupcakes in Phillip Parker’s lunch bag and Albert got a Hershey Bar with Almonds, and Paul’s mother gave him a piece of jelly roll that had little coconut sprinkles on the top. Guess whose mother forgot to put in dessert?
It was a Terrible, Horrible, No good, Very bad day. That’s what it was because after school my mom took us all to the dentist, and Dr. Fields found a cavity just in me. “Come back next week and I’ll fix it,” said Dr. Fields. “Next week,” I said, “I’m going to Australia.”
On the way downstairs the elevator door closed on my foot. And while we were waiting for my mom to go get the car, Anthony made me fall where it was muddy. And then when I started crying because of the mud, Nick said I was a cry-baby. And while I was punching Nick for saying cry-baby, my mom came back with the car and scolded me for being muddy and fighting. "I am having a Terrible, Horrible, No good, Very bad day," I told everybody. No one even answered.
It was a Terrible, Horrible, No good, Very bad day. There were lima beans for dinner, and I HATE limas. There was kissing on TV, and I HATE kissing. My bath was too hot, I got soap in my eyes, my marble went down the drain, and I had to wear my railroad-train pajamas. I hate my railroad-train pajamas. When I went to bed Nick took back the pillow he said I could keep and the Mickey Mouse night-light burned out and I bit my tongue. The cat wants to sleep with Anthony, not with me.
My mom says some days are like that. Even in Australia. And that's the end of the story.
Talk about timing, huh? I reckon there had to be some divine intervention going on there someplace. Something very simple, very quiet, and very innocent broke into my crumbling world. A simple children's story gave me just the right amount of comic relief that I needed. And I had to agree with Alexander's mom. Some days are indeed like that, even in Australia.
As we look at our Old Testament lesson for today, we meet up with one of the most frustrated and discouraged men in the Old Testament. The prophet Elijah was having more than just a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He felt like his whole world had completely shattered around him. If we look at the entire chapter and consider all the events going on, Elijah felt that he had been a dismal failure. But instead of doing what needed to be done, he runs away and deserts his call as God's servant.
Just prior to our reading for today, Elijah flees from Jezebel, who threatens his life. Actually if Jezebel had wanted him dead, she would have simply surprised him and killed him immediately. But her intent was to discredit him in front of his followers, which she did.
So he goes into the wilderness and finds a broom tree, parks himself there, and goes to sleep. Then God shows his love to Elijah, and sends an angel to him when he awakes, and gives him something to eat. He would need it, because he would be another 40 days and nights on Mount Horeb without any food. Things would be getting more stressful.
But like always, God had a plan. Elijah's escape to Mount Horeb was all part of it. Elijah was no different than any of us. He needed to hear the Word of the Lord, and God was preparing him to do just that. He needed God's instruction to carry on his ministry.
So God asks Elijah a very valid question. "Why are you here, Elijah?" he asks. God wanted him to do a little soul searching and self-examination. He certainly should have known that he couldn't run away from God. So he begins with his sad tale of woe, about his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
Now I think that Elijah had a very legitimate gripe. God's people had gotten totally out-of-hand. They were selfish, always looking to their own interests and not caring about others. They were argumentative, and fought constantly. The Israelites were acting like spoiled little children. And when Elijah tries to do his job as God's spokesman, they run him off and threaten his life. That definitely had to be a huge source of discouragement and frustration for him.
Elijah was hurting for sure. As hard as he tried, the Israelites would not respond. He reminds God that he has been serving him so faithfully and spectacularly, and yet all he gets is rejection and exile. Now how fair is that? Why would God allow this to happen to him? Why would God permit this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad existence for someone who has been serving so faithfully?
But God did not respond to Elijah's complaint. Instead, he instructs Elijah to come out and stand by the entrance to the cave. The cave wasn't to be Elijah's refuge; rather God himself was the one he needed to turn to.
And now comes four separate events. The first three were very dramatic: the wind, the earthquake, and the fire. These could well have been the way God demonstrated his ultimate power over everything. God could certainly come to Elijah in any way he would so choose.
But that's not the way it happened. Through all of these powerful forces of nature, God did not come to Elijah in any of them. Instead, God speaks to him in what our Old Testament lesson calls "a low whisper." Some translations call it a "still small voice." And what a powerful voice that is!
Think about it for a minute. If somebody is shouting at you or yelling at you, you tend to tune them out. You want to stop up your ears because it is so loud. But when somebody speaks in a low whisper, you listen up. It causes you to pay attention, because you want to hear what that person is saying. Instead of tuning them out, you wind up tuning them in! God certainly knows how to communicate.
As we take this into the New Testament Christian Church, we know that God speaks to us through the words of the Bible. It sits there quietly on our kitchen table, or beside our bed, or next to our easy chair. It doesn't make a sound. But when you open it up, the full power of God is unleashed, and he speaks.
The Holy Spirit works through that "still small voice" of Scripture. That's the voice of Jesus our Saviour calling us to faith. That's the voice that comforts us with the forgiveness of sins, and the voice that speaks words of love and hope in our ears. This is the voice that is the foundation of our faith, regardless whether it comes through our reading, or our hearing, or in the case of a small infant, through the waters of Holy Baptism.
God promises us that he will come to us through the Word as we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest it. And it points to God's greatest gift of love, Jesus Christ our Saviour, who came to earth, lived, died, and rose again just for us. That's where that "still small voice" is bringing us, as God continues to create faith in the hearts through his Word.
In the midst of Elijah's frustration, God gives him a glimmer of hope. There are seven thousand people out there who have remained faithful. So even though those closest to Elijah had rejected him and his message, there were still some actual believers out there who needed to be fed with God's Word. They needed his ministry, which would eventually be carried on by Elijah's successor, Elisha.
God showed Elijah that his hard work had not been in vain. The discouraged and frustrated prophet of God suddenly found new hope and determination. God's people still needed to be served, and Elijah was the one to do it.
Frustration and discouragement plagues everybody from time to time. If you want to hear real discouragement and sorrow, consider the words of Jesus recorded in Matthew chapter 23, verse 37: 37"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 38See, your house is left to you desolate."
Even the true and sinless Son of God had those moments in his ministry. It's staggering to think about how many have rejected Jesus and his grace. Jesus knew he would be dying to pay for the sins of the whole world, even those who openly rejected him. They opted for hell's torment instead of the heavenly mansion Jesus had waiting for them.
Yes, we can all get stressed frustrated at times. We can have those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. It happens more times than we'd like to think. And pastors are certainly not exempt from it either.
When I was in high school, the secretary who worked in the Audio Visual lab had this sign hanging above her desk: "Tomorrow I'm going to have a nervous breakdown. I've worked hard for it, I deserve it, and nobody is going to deprive me of it." We experience frustration in the workplace all the time.
And when that frustration carries over into the life of the church, sometimes we want to go and hide in a cave like Elijah did, or just "run away to Australia" like Alexander in the book wanted to do. But it doesn't work. We can't hide.
What we can do is keep on listening to that "still small voice." Through the means God uses to come to us, we will be given a positive outlook on things. And regardless of how dismal things may look now, there's always a glorious reward awaiting us in the future. And we won't need to hide in a cave or run away to Australia to find it.