1 Kings 19:1-18
(watch here: https://youtu.be/5BB-DlrkpNM)
1Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. 4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have 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.” 11He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have 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.” 15Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
Who among us hasn’t been discouraged by the cards dealt to us at times? Who among us hasn’t struggled to feel God’s presence in times of utter despair? Who among us hasn’t longed to hear God’s voice when all other voices have failed? I suspect many of us have longed and struggled and been discouraged at some point in our lives. Longing and struggling and despairing are just a part of life. Indeed, without longings and struggles and despair we’d have a difficult time appreciating all the times of ease and satisfaction and joy. Life isn’t all struggles and despair…at least it isn’t meant to be. Life is meant to have its highs and its lows, its joys and its sorrows. There is a season for everything as we hear elsewhere in scripture. There is a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. There is a time for everything. There is a time to encouraged by the cards God deals out and a time to be discouraged by them. There is a time to struggle to feel God’s presence and a time to be assured of his loving embrace. There is a time to hear his voice and a time to be completely adrift in the noise of this world. There is a time for everything…
And yet it is far too easy to forget the cyclical, seasonal nature of time. All too often we get bogged down in the times of despair and hopelessness. We get stuck in self-pity and apathy. We can’t see the light through the fog, the relief through the pain. And if we dwell there for too long, we begin to believe that things will never change, that life just won’t get any better. Once we believe in unending despair, we quit searching for ways out, for ways to break free from the grips of despair. We quit fighting for the right to live. Believe it or not, none of us has the right to live. Life is a gift and a privilege. None of us deserve to live here in this world. None of us can demand life. No, God, through his unending grace and mercy, gifted each of us with an allotted number of years here in this world and when those years are up, God brings us to the next world for who knows how long. The seasons of life help to remind us of just how precious life is. They help to remind us how much of a gift life is. We need the seasons of life to fully appreciate life!
Our reading for today has us reflect on one man’s season of life. The prophet Elijah was going through a dark season in his life. Our passage picks up in the middle of his dark season. Recall that in the chapters leading up to our passage, Elijah had been led by God to bring words of judgment to the people of Israel, particularly to its King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel. Ahab and Jezebel had been faithful followers of the false god, Baal, and this angered God greatly. God had Elijah express his anger by having him kill 450 prophets of the false god, Baal. Naturally, this infuriated Ahab and Jezebel and Jezebel made it her personal life mission to pursue Elijah and murder him as he had murdered her prophets. Our passage picks up with her threatening him and his fleeing into the wilderness to escape her wrath. Of course, as anyone who has fled the wrath of another person can tell you, Elijah was guided more by fear than anything else. He was scared and without any direction or purpose other than simply staying alive. He had nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. Fear guided his footsteps wherever it wanted.
It is a terrible way to live guided by nothing but fear. Fear enables only quick, spontaneous decisions to be made. Fear doesn’t allow for well-thought out plans. Fear doesn’t allow for time or grace or mercy or love. Fear is only concerned with survival, personal survival. Fear makes us think about ourselves and only ourselves. When we make decisions based on fear, they’re most likely selfish, limited, and short-lived. And to live guided by fear for any length of time eventually depletes both the quantity and quality of life. People who live by only fear live shorter, more unsatisfying lives in the long run. They might be able to flee immediate dangers but not without a cost. There is always a cost for living by nothing but fear.
Just look at the cost Elijah had to pay. Sure, he was able flee Jezebel but eventually his sorrow and despair caught up with him and overtook him. He no longer wanted to live: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” But God didn’t give up on Elijah. God didn’t give him the release he so desperately pleaded for. No, God sent him an angel with food and water that gave him the strength he needed to meet up with God on Mount Horeb. Elijah received the angel’s gifts and continued to meet up with God on the mountaintop. A great encounter occurred when God “spoke” to Elijah, not in a mighty wind or a mighty earthquake or a mighty fire but in a “sheer silence.” He snaps Elijah out of his haze of self-pity and despair by sternly asking, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He goes on to give Elijah a laundry list of prophetic tasks to bolster up his confidence and sense of self-worth.
Many of us have found ourselves, at one time or another, in a similar place as we found out with my opening questions. Elijah, too, was discouraged by the cards God had dealt him. Elijah, too, struggled to feel God’s presence in his fearful time. Elijah, too, longed to hear God’s voice above all other voices. And God came to him! As God comes to us in our times of doubt and sorrow and despair and self-pity! God “speaks” to us too! Sometimes through wind, earthquake, or fire but most commonly through “sheer silence.” Our God refuses to let us go. Our God refuses to let us wander alone. Our God refuses to let us live by fear alone. Our God comes to us, walks with us, speaks to us. Our God is always with us from the moment we’re conceived in our mother’s wombs to the day we take our last breath and go to be with him in the next world. Our God is a good and loving God! God refused to abandon Elijah and He refuses to abandon us!
As we celebrate the lives we shared with loved ones here in this world on this All Saints Day, let us take comfort in Elijah’s witness to our ever-present, ever-loving, ever-speaking God. God walked with our loved ones each and every day they were in this world and continues to walk with them in the next world. And for this we give thanks. We give thanks for our gracious and merciful God. We would have nothing and be nothing without his love. In God, we have so very much to be thankful for. Praise be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.