Sermon for August 10, 2008
August 10, 2008: The Redeemable
Matthew 14:22-33; 1 Kings 19:9-18
Grace and Peace to you.
It was a long afternoon and I listened as carefully as I could. The dear folks I was visiting were as usual glad that I could be there with them, to listen, to ask a few questions of them. But on this day I asked myself am I really doing any good today? It feels long; it feels like I am straining to share myself; it’s not easy, but I am here. I reminded myself I am the one contact maybe the only one they have with their church.
But we will do more than talk; yes, we’ll do what the apostles did – in some fashion we will try to reveal Jesus, to unveil Him for those few moments when we gather around His words and his body and blood, the holy meal. I know in deepest sense all meals are holy but this little sparse meal captures the essence of our Christian journey; it’s the center that holds the church together; holds us to Christ, unites us as God’s own people. It’s the meal Jesus said – “do this in remembrance of me” and we do - time and time again, each afternoon, in a different place with folks like yourselves who still “hunger and thirst” for that which strengthens and feeds their hungry hearts and souls.
I listen, I check on their health and their spirits, I am not a doctor, but a caring pastor. I hear some of the challenges facing some of those I visit, the eyes that don’t cooperate anymore, the legs that won’t work the way they used to, the appetite that is somehow not there, the food not tasting so good. There are struggles. So, I listened, I stayed, maybe too long, but it was that kind of day and afterwards I at least could sit down and key in thoughts and reflections from that long day. Thanks be to God.
But in deeper sense I hear the Apostle Paul even more clearly in our second reading. Because the purpose of meeting the folks I visit is not for me to inspire, but rather as Paul writes how can people hear unless they have someone to tell them the story.
And how can they hear without someone to proclaim Christ and how are they to proclaim Christ unless they are sent. That is reassuring isn’t it.
So we are there for you and for them. If the day seems a little longer I believe in retrospect God still uses those moments, those few words of scripture, the psalm for Sunday, a prayer thought – The Holy Spirit is at work and uses those words to reveal God.
The Apostle Paul nails it when he says, “So faith comes from what is heard and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” Even bad sermons or seemingly average visits on a long afternoon can be used by God to reveal God. God’s grace enters through and into and creates and informs us in ways we don’t always understand.
Even though our first reading, the Elijah story, is a bit more graphic and far more pronounced than mine, we can find ways to identify with. Elijah is fleeing for his life, fleeing from Jezebel who wants his life. Arriving at Mt. Horeb all he wants to do was find a rock to curl up under and just die. There are days like that, aren’t there!
Forty days earlier he had performed one of the greatest miracles of his ministry calling down fire from heaven to burn up a soaked offering in front of 450 Baal priests. The contest pitted Elijah the prophet of God against the Baal priests, the pagan priests endorsed by King Ahab and his wife, Queen Jezebel. The question was which God can send the rain to the drought stricken country. Can the Lord God or the Baal god? Which god is the real god? “If the Lord is God, follow him, but if Baal, then follow him.” 1 Kgs 19:21
Elijah assembled the people on Mt. Carmel. Each built an altar to their god and whichever altar was consumed by fire that would be the true God. To make the story more stunning, Elijah had his disciples pour water over his offering and then he prayed, “O Lord, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant and that I have done all these thing at your bidding. Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so that this people may know that you O Lord are God and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire from heaven fell and consumed Elijah’s offering, the stones and the wood.
This great miracle demonstrated God’s power and Elijah had hoped it would truly turn the peoples’ heart back to God, but it did not. Jezebel the wicked queen and Ahab her weak husband became even more vengeful against Elijah and called for his death. So Elijah fled for his life.
So Elijah flees to Mt. Horeb where we find him in our reading today. Defeated, discouraged, afraid, wanting to die, trying to hide in a cave, he cries out, “I alone am left…Israel has forsaken the covenant and killed your prophets.”
But the hiding part didn’t work. God found him – not in the great wind or in the earthquake, or in the fire (all signs of God’s judgment), but in a still small voice, in the “sound of sheer silence”, a moment of unfathomable grace. And God’s voice said “Come out of your cave and Go, do as I have commanded you, and remember there are 7000 in Israel who have not bowed to another god.” You are important Elijah, but there are others also who have remained faithful. You are not alone. You can’t hide from God my friends; you cannot flee from God’s presence. He will meet you in the caves. He will meet you on the road. He will meet you where you least expect him. It may not be as dramatic; you may encounter only the simple sound of silence. But that will be enough.
I enjoy reading Thomas Merton, the spiritual writer and monk whose books continue to fascinate and uplift so many. His craving for solitude, for prayer time and quiet meditation is so strong he left the monastery to go to a hermitage, a cabin, in the woods. But he knows as did Elijah that God uses both solitude and action in our lives: Merton writes:
“We are co-workers with God…to do God’s work is impossible in pure isolation. Each one of us must work out our own destiny in union with others with whom God has willed us to live. We share with one another, the creative work of living in the world.” And then he writes, “The Christian life is meant to be at the same time profoundly contemplative and rich in active work.”
The Gospel reading cannot be forgotten today – as the story is depicted so well on the painting behind the pulpit. Those I visited this week remembered this painting well as I read this Gospel for them. We have not time sufficient to examine all this reading involves. But let me lift up briefly what stands out for me.
First note both Elijah and Peter finds themselves in desperate situations. Both Elijah and Peter hear the word of God spoken.
The question that stands out is a faith question and is focused on Jesus’ reply to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” As read first this sound as if Peter needs more faith, that true believers should be without doubt or fear. That if Peter had not doubted he could still walk on water! That all he needs was more courage, and a little more faith. Try harder, be more persistent, you can do it! Step out of the boat! But I ask is that really the message we want or need to hear? I don’t think so.
Pummeled by life’s frightening moments and hard times we need to know whom to call and to cry out to, and our cry is the same as Peter’s: “Lord save me”. Jesus invites us to come to him. His hand is outstretched toward us. In the midst of our fears and doubts He reaches out to us. Faith knows whom to call for. Faith does not banish fear or doubt which are rooted deep in our lives and has many names, but faith knows whom to call on.
Trust the Savior. Take hold of his outstretched hand. He’s there for you!