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"The Highs and Lows of Life"

I Kings 19:1-8

Rev. Alan Taylor

Pentecost 11, Proper 14, series B
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Aug 12, 2012 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

This morning's message, entitled "The Highs and Lows of Life," is based on the Old Testament reading from I Kings 19.  It is the story of the prophet Elijah whose life was threatened by the wicked Queen Jezebel.  At his lowest point, Elijah wandered out into the wilderness where he lay down under a Juniper tree.  Frightened and discouraged he asks God to take his life.  "It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers."

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

In a culture dominated by "feel good" Christianity we're probably not quite sure what to do with one of God's prophets wallowing in a pit of despair and depression.  It would seem that Elijah should be able to just find "the Champion within himself" and move on. 

On the other hand, if we are open and honest with ourselves, it may be that we find Elijah's candidness refreshing.  Part of "feel good" Christianity involves wearing masks to cover up our struggles.  There is none of that with Elijah.  His humanity is laid bare for all of us to see.  He is a man of God who has fought the good fight of faith.  But now he's tired, tired of fighting, tired of preaching, tired of running, tired of life's inequities and injustices. 

Jezebel, the woman who threatened to kill Elijah, should have never been the Queen of Israel in the first place.  Ahab, Israel's 7th King, married her in opposition to God's will.  She was, you see, was a pagan, as such, she had a certain affinity for false gods.  In particular she favored Baal, the fertility god of the Phoenicians. 

After she was betrothed to Ahab, Jezebel had altars set up so that the people could offer sacrifices to Baal.  Ahab, like the rest of the Kings of Israel, proved to be ineffective in keeping the Israelites focused on Yahweh, the God of their salvation.  As it turns out he was pretty spineless too in his dealings with his wife.  Whether he agreed with sacrifices being offered to Baal or not is really immaterial.  The fact is, he caved in to Jezebel's desire and he allowed such idol worship to take place under his watch. 

Elijah was thrust into the middle of the situation, one, because he was God's prophet, and two, because the actions of the King and Queen were driving God's people away from the One True God.  A show-down was set on Mt. Carmel between Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  The prophets of Baal were to call down fire from heaven onto their altars.  Elijah too was to call down fire from heaven onto the altar he had built to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  They were then to see whose God responded first. 

Each time the prophets of Baal called out to their god there was silence from heaven.  They even cut themselves as was their custom, in a feeble effort to appeal to their god.  But, as the Scriptures say, "there was no voice, no one answered, and no one paid attention."

Elijah prayed to his God.  "Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that Thou, O LORD, art God, and that Thou hast turned their heart back again."  As he prayed, "the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust…And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God."

At that point, Elijah seized all of the false prophets of Baal and put them to death at the little brook called Kishon.  It was a blood bath is what it was.  God had prevailed over the false prophets and His servant Elijah was privileged to witness such a decisive victory.  It was truly a high point of Elijah's prophetic ministry, mainly because it revealed the awesome power and the authority of the God of Israel. 

Jezebel, of course, wasn't happy to see her prophets cut down like a pack of dogs.  I doubt seriously she was upset by the loss of human life.  Rather, the whole incident demonstrated the weakness and the utter failure and futility of her god.  She would have her vengeance.  Someone would pay for her embarrassment. 

And there was Elijah basking in the glow of his victory.  "Then Jezebel sent a messenger to (him), saying, "So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time."

Elijah was afraid.  Can you imagine?  The prophet defeated 400 false prophets of Baal, but, he was terrified of Jezebel and her threat!  Whether he knew it or not, Elijah put Jezebel in God's place.  Oh, I don't mean he adored her and reverenced her.  He did, however, fear her.  God said, "thou shalt have no other gods before Me."  You may recall in confirmation class being taught what that means, namely that, "we should FEAR, love and trust in God above all things."

Whether he realized it or not, in that moment of fear and despair, Elijah considered Jezebel to have the capacity to do what she promised, that is, to kill him.  On the other hand, he evidently didn't consider God capable of protecting him. 

What are the false gods that drive you to despair?  What is it that you fear, love and trust in so much that, by comparison, God's promises seem weak and uncertain to you? 

Later on in God's discourse with Elijah it becomes apparent that Elijah was wallowing in self-pity spurred on by a bit of pride.  He had convinced himself that nobody loved God like he did.  No one else was left to fight the Jezebel's of this world.  No one else would take up the sword.  No one else even cared, not even God.  If those things were actually true, where could one go but into the pit of despair?

When we find ourselves in a place like Elijah, the road back to sanity begins with confession.  When we find that something in our lives makes God look small it's time to confess that it is our faith in Him that is small.  It's time to say "Lord, I have feared, loved and trusted in many things before You."  "I have not loved You with my whole heart."  I am afraid because there are things that I have valued and treasured in this life more than You and those things don't calm my fears or quiet my mind.

God didn't take Elijah when he asked Him to, mainly because He wasn't finished with him!  Fearful as he was, Elijah still had work to do in the kingdom.  Depressed as he was God could and would still use him to do great things in the kingdom.  Yes, broken vessels, those who don't fit into the "feel good" mold of contemporary Christianity, do have a place in the kingdom.  They accomplish what they do by God's forgiving grace, held up, as it were, by His Almighty power.  They persevere knowing, as the Scriptures say, that "perseverance produces character, and character hope."

An angel tended to Elijah.  He was given bread to nourish his body.  The journey ahead of him was too long and too hard for him to complete without the strength God provides. 

And so, we kneel before God to confess our need of His grace in our lives.  Just as Elijah was strengthened by the bread from heaven, we too are strengthened by the bread from heaven, assured of God's forgiveness and empowered by the conviction that He holds the field forever. 

God uses broken vessels to accomplish great things, maybe in part, because in our brokenness we are willing to peak, if but for a time, from behind the masks that we wear to be seen as real people, people who have traversed life's ups and downs, and yet, by God's grace, have emerged victorious.  In Jesus' name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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