s052o99 Somerton Park 8/8/99 Sunday 19a
"What are you doing here, Elijah?" 1 Kings 19.9
Both the Old Testament Reading and the Gospel are on the theme of people coming to God and God coming to people. The Epistle speaks of the nearness of the word of God, when often we mistakenly expect that we (or others) have to travel some distance to find it.
Elijah, faced with the official and very active displeasure of King Ahab's wife, Jezebel, flees to the mountain of God. Along the way the angel of the Lord has to come with food to enable him to get there. After trekking 40 days and 40 nights he arrives at the mountain and climbs it. Finally he reaches a cave at the top, only to be told by God that really wasn't where God wanted him to be at all. You have got to hand it to the Bible, even it's greatest heroes have their moments of complete deflation. Twice he is asked: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" - we are meant to get the message.
Where was he supposed to be? In fact, it was back where he had come from. He was not called to hide in self-imposed exile worshipping God in some sort of continuous solitary rapture. No, he was sent back into the fray, right into the very centre of political machinations, anointing two new kings and someone to replace himself.
Sometimes we too can view Sunday morning worship as an exercise in personal, even solitary spiritual up-building. God is saying here that while this is fine as far as it goes, there is a task out there to accomplish -where we have come from; and that the strength of the sacred food we receive together is meant not just for us working here - but for others in the real world out there also. This is one of the reasons I don't particularly approve of the sentiments of the otherwise lovely hymn, the words of which come from the pen of George Herbert, an Anglican priest who died in 1633: "Seven whole days not one in seven, I will praise thee ..." No, I think we actually have other things to do too!
The task "out there" is not converting the world, but caring for those God has put around us.
It needs to be said and said quite clearly Elijah got it wrong. I have already explained that he was in the wrong place, but also clearly he looked hard for the Lord in precisely the wrong places. He looked in the great wind that blew, for that is where he expected, indeed wanted, God to be. But he was wrong, God wasn't in the wind. And again Elijah would have expected God to be in the earthquake, so he looked hard to find God in the earthquake. But he was wrong, God wasn't there. And then the fire. Elijah surely would have expected God to be in the fire. But he was wrong, God wasn't in the fire. God was in the sheer silence, where he would have least expected it and where he least wanted God to be.
When we pray "Your kingdom come" do we not often expect, indeed want, that God will come in an obvious way. And despite our prayers, it seems God does not come in an obvious way and I for one have often been disappointed. It seems God leaves it up to us to make his coming obvious, and with precious little divine help. Perhaps making the actions of God obvious to others is not actually our task in life.
But despite Elijah being wrong, on all these counts, he is taken up to heaven in the chariots of fire and is with Moses on the mountain of the Transfiguration speaking with Jesus.
We too can find ourselves in the wrong place, and expecting God to act in the way we perhaps want. God still reigns, and despite being wrong, the Lord can still use us for his purposes and his will. If Elijah, without doubt one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament, can be wrong about so many things, perhaps we can allow ourselves to also be wrong occasionally.
And I point out that God provided food for Elijah's journey, even when Elijah was going in precisely the opposite direction to that which God wanted. So just because we feel nourished and refreshed by the Lord's sustenance here today, this does not automatically guarantee we are doing what God wants, or travelling in the direction God would have us.
There are times in everyone's life when we feel with Elijah: "I have been very zealous for the LORD ... (everyone else has) 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." How often do we feel this way; I as much as anyone else? Yet God is still in charge. It is humankind who will suffer from turning from God and from their neighbour - not God. There is simply no necessity for it at all. The sheer silence of the Cross of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, still echoes down the centuries!
I would point out that God tells Elijah to "anoint Elisha ... as prophet in your place ..." So in fact it was NOT true then that everyone else had committed apostasy. There were in fact others who were true to God. Indeed Elijah was not even indispensable himself. Elisha was to succeed him. When I read the account of Elijah finding Elisha, I always get the feeling that Elijah surrendered his ministry rather ungratefully. Elisha first had to become Elijah's servant, and even prior to his being taken up into heaven, three times Elijah told Elisha to stop following him, and it was only through perseverance on Elisha's part that the Spirit of prophecy actually came to him.
So we too have a habit of thinking ourselves to be indispensable. We too are often keen to retain our ministries for ourselves; we derive so much joy from the ability to minister to others, and fail to see that others want that same joy too. Indeed it will only be as we allow others different ministries in our place, that others will actually begin to consider this their spiritual home. Elijah was called to ordain others to exercise their ministry, and so are we.
I was interested to read some time back that evangelism is first of all begun with "friendships". I quote from the words of Fr. John Stephenson, one time Chairman of ABM. He writes: "Ultimately your friendship with the people will count above everything else ... Whether you succeed or fail, whether you achieve your task or have to leave it undone ... nothing will count as much as your genuine, caring Christian friendship ... Jesus told his disciples: "I call you friends". Befriending the people among whom we live and work is not always easy. Friendship makes heavy demands ..." Being friends with others is not characterised by a master - disciple situation, or an elder - pupil situation, or even a giver - receiver situation. Friendship involves giving and receiving. Being prepared to be vulnerable, not perfect, to accept the ministry of others, just as much as we hope that they will expect, appreciate and value our ministry to them.
The incident of St Peter too is instructive. Firstly Jesus comes to the disciples in the boat, walking across the water. Nothing therefore stands in God's way of coming to us, except our own unwillingness to have God come to us. God is the Lord of all creation, and nothing physical is able to stop the coming of the Lord. It is the same message as the locked doors in the upper room, where the disciples were, "for fear of the Jews".
But then Peter makes this exceedingly curious request: "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water." If there was ever any illogical request ever made in this world it was this. I mean if it had have been me, I would have at least got Jesus to do something about the waves and the wind first :-)
But of course, this request teaches us that nothing stands in our way if we want to come to Jesus. Whatever possesses us to step out in faith to God, it is quite illogical. I would think the same of bungee jumping. It is just not me. It seems far more easy to stay in the boat. But great things are achieved when we do step out in faith. Miracles occur when we seek to come to Jesus, and I have no doubt that each and every one here could testify to some little incident in your life when God has enabled you to do something quite out of the ordinary. It may be just a little thing, it might be a bigger thing; I don't know.
And of course finally, after we've made that step of faith, there is Jesus, ready to rescue us from the wind and the waves, when we suddenly realise we are out of our depth and suppose we are in danger .
There is, in the end nothing to fear, provided we are forever looking for the good of those around us, looking for the good in ourselves, and looking to God, for help and encouragement, guidance and love, as we seek to do God's will in the situations to which we are called. And most often this will simply be - to be a friend to those around us - and giving others permission to exercise their ministries. We will find the help, encouragement, guidance and love of God expressed most often through those we befriend.
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