On June 19, 2016 there was a problem that made it so many who attended service couldn't hear the sermon. Here is the Sermon, with prayers and scripture for you to read and enjoy.
Honoring Our Fathers and Brothers
Today, let us praise the reality of fatherhood. All of us have or had a father. We honor those who gave us life, and gave us the best they had. Though this day can bring joy, often it brings sadness and conflicted feelings. We mourn the loss of good fathers now gone. We mourn what might have been with fathers we wish we had. We mourn the fathers we never knew. We long to be accepted and loved by fathers who have never offered that. Every father on earth is imperfect. Yet fatherhood, like all parenthood, is God’s idea. An image of God is reflected in fathers. And while father is a noun, fathering is an active verb, describing an active God. God fathers us by providing, instructing, protecting, disciplining, coaching, calming, enjoying, challenging, teaching, entertaining, worrying over, learning from, guiding, playing with, rescuing, delighting in and so much more. And so as earthly fathers engage in these fathering activities, they reflect our heavenly Father, our heavenly Parent. Today we praise all the men of our own church, who have built, repaired, supported, cheered on, most of what this family of faith does and is. Hear the church today: We thank you and we bless you..
1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
19:1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 19:2 Then 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." 19:3 Then 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. 19:4 But 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." 19:5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." 19:6 He 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. 19:7 The 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." 19:8 He 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. 19:9 At 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?" 19:10 He 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." 19:11 He 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; 19:12 and after the earthquake a ﬁre, but the LORD was not in the ﬁre; and after the ﬁre a sound of sheer silence. 19:13 When 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?" 19:14 He 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 2
your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." 19:15a Then the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.
Ahab, Jezebel, Elijah …. Whether you know who all the characters are or not, you can see how God’s work is done in the life of one man, Elijah. Elijah is the prophet who tried to turn the King and Queen of Israel away from the worship of an idol, Baal. He has tried to do his best to serve God, as he says "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.” Jezebel, wife of King Ahab, has decided to kill him. Jezebel’s rather wordy pronouncement "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.” - means: “I killed all the other Jehovah’s holy men. I’m going to kill you too.” Elijah has ﬂed for his life, into the desert wilderness. He is exhausted and despairing. He gives up. He lies down in the shade of the only tree for miles, a broom tree, which is a large shrub or small tree which is in the Juniper family and which will ﬂower when it rains. In the shade of this lonely tree, Elijah passes out. I think we have all had moments like Elijah’s, when everything we’ve done, everything we’ve been, seems to be destroyed, when we feel like life is not worth living. These moments can come over us no matter how big or small our achievements may have been. Elijah had fallen very far - From the peak of achievement to this lonely tree in the wilderness. Who is Elijah? You may remember that at every Passover dinner, Elijah is the one for whom an empty chair and a glass of wine is left. He was the top prophet at that time. Elijah, in response to the King and Queen’s bad actions, had brought down a 3-year drought on Israel and Judah. Elijah had given the widow who sheltered him during a previous time of persecution, by King Ahab, a bottomless supply of oil and ﬂour. Elijah had raised the widow’s son from death. Just before he had to run for his life, Elijah had challenged the 450 priests of Baal to demonstrate Baal’s power. He built two altars with sacriﬁces on them, one for Baal, one for Yahweh. Baal’s priests spent a day calling on him to cast ﬁre down on the sacriﬁce on Baal’s altar. When nothing happened to Baal’s altar, Elijah called the God of
Israel to bring ﬁre down on his altar, and God sent such ﬁerce ﬁre that it consumed the altar, the sacriﬁce, the rocks under the altar, and about 6 inches of dirt under the rocks. After this demonstration, in response to Elijah’s call, the people of Israel killed all the prophets of Baal. The Old Testament is often raw and brutal, as life was in those days. I shudder at the violence - I tell myself that 450 was probably chosen to symbolize a very big number, and maybe it was not so many, but like many people today, a narrative that contains the killing of everyone in a class, just because they were in the class, shocks and appalls me. It takes some effort to see past the violence to the message for our times. The prophets of Baal were killed right in front of Queen Jezebel, who was a worshipper of Baal and had set up Baal as an equal of Ahab’s people’s God, Jehovah. A side note: In common parlance, a Jezebel is a sexually promiscuous woman. If you read the text, however, Jezebel herself does not demonstrate any sexual behavior at all. In fact, her sin, in the eyes of the priests who wrote this history, is that she was a much cannier, stronger, more forceful ruler than was her husband, Ahab, the king, and that she used her power to bring the worship of an idol into the kingdom of Israel. Apparently temple prostitutes, male and female, were part of Baal’s worship, which may be one reason why Jezebel has come to be associated with sexual immorality. Elijah had been in her face, in Ahab’s face, for years, standing up to them, telling them that they were wrong, that they were leading Israel astray. When Elijah urged the people to kill Baal’s priests, it was the last straw for Jezebel. Power does not like to be shown up in public. I am not sure which was worse for Jezebel: that her carefully crafted god was shown to be a fake, in front of the people who she had persuaded to worship him, or that the priests of Baal, who were under her protection, were killed. Her position, or her personality, made her unable to take another road, which would be to say - “I’ve been worshipping an idol - I see the true God - I repent and I worship him.” Instead, she wanted to kill the messenger of the news that Baal was just a statue. Isn’t that often the way - when we see that what we counted on doesn’t work anymore - the drink, the drug, the money, the position, the possessions - that the things we worshipped, that we counted on to make us feel good, have gotten us into trouble, the ﬁrst impulse is to shut up the bearer of unwelcome truth.
More rarely, if we see the falsity of our idols, we can put it all down, even if it feels like we are choosing to die, and wait for God to lead us. Our brothers and sisters in the 12 Step recovery rooms call this “hitting bottom” “letting go and letting God”. Jezebel and Ahab never do this - they keep trying to kill the messenger so they can believe that they can go on doing what they have been doing. Elijah’s surrender is different, he doesn’t surrender an illusion - he has known which God is really God all along - but of conﬁdence in himself. We tend to believe that if we are the Good Guys, we will win, we will make things turn out right, we will be praised. But for Elijah, it didn’t work out that way. He did what he thought he was supposed to do, he did mighty works for the good of Israel, to call the people back to the worship of the one God, the God who led them out of Egypt. The God who had led them into the Promised Land in which they had been living for hundreds of years. But now Elijah, the faithful servant of that God, was all alone, a fugitive in the desert. His fellow “prophets”, religious scholars and preachers who spoke to the king about Jehovah’s laws, all had been killed. Even though Elijah, in defeating the prophets of Baal, had given the most conclusive testimony you can think of to the reality of Jehovah and the unreality of idols, even though the people followed him, he had not overcome the corrupt power structure. It looked like nothing had changed. As I said, I think we all have had Elijah moments, when we have no idea what to do, where to go, when everything looks hopeless. When we think that all we have done is in ruins In these moments, Elijah’s story tells us how God will come to us, even if we don’t have the strength to ask. As he lay there under the solitary broom tree, “Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water.” The “cake” was probably like pita bread, simple, chewy, plain. I relate to times when I was hiking and camping out, when I was so tired and hungry that the simple food we brought was delicious, when I was so appreciative of having it. The simplest of food, what his body needed, just what it needed, no more, to repair the stress of fear and travel. The angel, God’s messenger, knew that Elijah’s human
frame needed more rest and nourishment. This was not the time for revelations, for instructions, it was a time for rest and recuperation. Elijah ate and drank, and lay down again. When I read this, I am reminded that sometimes, after great effort, great disappointment, before the next thing, we need a wilderness time, of rest, of simple nourishment, and it’s OK for us to take the time it takes to gain strength for the next tasks. The next day, The 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.” The angel knows that Elijah has recovered enough to register new information, which is, that he is to embark on a journey. He is not told where, but maybe he already knows - He will seek God on the Holy Mountain. His time of rest, and the food - someone couldn’t resist dubbing the cakes Angel Food - gave Elijah strength to go for a long time, poetically, 40 days and 40 nights, until he reached the holy mountain. Here, it’s called Horeb; elsewhere, it’s called Sinai. Before we go on the rest of the journey with Elijah, let’s explore for a minute why that might be. The same mountain has different names in different stories, or as in this passage, people say things twice. Verse 10 “"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.” is repeated word for word in Verse 14. Throughout the Old Testament, there is duplication and repetition, often the same story is told in different ways, with the same characters having different names, events occurring in different orders. The material in First Kings and Second Kings is covered, in a different way, in ﬁrst and Second Chronicles. Genesis has three origin stories. What may help to understand such instances is that these books are the history of Jehovah’s people. But creating the history was complicated by the fact that Solomon’s kingdom split into two shortly after Solomon’s death: Israel, in the north, Judah, in the south. The two kingdoms existed side by side, sharing the same origins, culture, and language, for almost two hundred years, until 722 BC, when Israel, the Northern Kingdom, was conquered by the Assyrians. The priests of Israel ﬂed south to Jerusalem the holy city of Judah. When they arrived, the religious establishment faced the challenge of bringing two different, mostly oral, traditions, of the same God together to become a holy history which could enable both peoples to recognize it as God’s authoritative word for them. In the years of separation, memories and traditions were handed down on each side, with narratives from different tribes or regions woven into each kingdom’s story. It was the Word of God, and the source of God’s authority, but it was remembered differently. Blending the two traditions into one narrative was very difﬁcult. So why did they do it? Why not just chuck the Israel narrative and tell the refugees and migrants from Israel - you’re here now, you lost, we didn’t, we’re in charge, we’ll do it as we have always done it in Judah? Because, and this is why Elijah and the other prophets were so appalled by the idols Jezebel set up for the people to worship, preserving the Word, puzzling as it may have been at times, transmitted what had come from God. There is such a difference between the Word and an idol. An idol has to be made by somebody setting out to make an object of worship. Its shape, its size, its clothes and decoration, are all created by human decisions and choices. Though the idol may be described as a god, treated as a god, it is made by humans for human purposes, and in the back of the minds of the people in power, there is the knowledge that an idol can be manipulated. It is different with a word. The word of God is registered in the hearing of a human, but the human knows that it comes from outside him or herself. It may be puzzling, but that is because it is divine and the hearer is mortal. Editors may make political changes, and they did, but always in the knowledge that someone heard these Words from God. That may have been why Elijah went to the mountain. It was the place that Moses heard the Word of God, directing him on how to lead the people. Elijah needed to hear it now. So he walked - 40 days and 40 nights, until he came to the mountain. “At 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?” Note: the Lord asks Elijah a question. Does God not know the answer? Of course he does. God is in dialogue with Elijah, something an idol cannot do. Does Elijah, how
does Elijah, understand what has just happened to him? God is calling on Elijah’s memory, mind, and heart to comprehend reality. Elijah 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." Behind Elijah’s answer, though he does not say it, perhaps there is a question - Are you, God, reliable? Are you the inﬁnite God of all, or is your power limited? Look what I did, and look how it turned out. Was I right to have trusted in your law? If Elijah doesn’t ask it, I am sure that centuries of readers and hearers have wondered the same thing. So God shows Elijah who he is: 19:11 He 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; 19:12 and after the earthquake a ﬁre, but the LORD was not in the ﬁre; and after the ﬁre a sound of sheer silence. In the King James Version, the Hebrew which is translated here as the “sound of sheer silence is translated as “a still, small voice”, which is what everyone knows. It teaches us that while God is all-powerful, we encounter him in our inward soul, when nothing seems to be happening and everything is. The still small voice saying “I am here. I will guide and protect you” 19:13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. He wraps his face in his mantle, remember, because only Moses had seen the face of God and lived. God asks the same question, and Elijah gives the same answer. Though the text does not say so, the same question and answer have a different meaning. Elijah has a new relationship with God, new trust in him. He has been strengthened by angel food, by learning to hear God’s voice, he is ready for new tasks. 19:15a Then the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.” The lectionary reading ends there, but the next verses tell us what Elijah’s task was - to cross the desert, to anoint Ahab’s successor, and to anoint his own successor, the prophet Elisha. He is done with speaking truth to power. His task now is to pass the nearly impossible responsibility on to the next generation. Remembering Elijah, let us practice every day making a silent place where God can speak to us. Like Elijah, may we be able to do what’s right with all our strength, and may we be able to know when it is time to move on from being the do-er to being the teacher. To know the time to surrender the things and tasks of youth to the young, to trust that God’s guidance is here for all of us, any time. No matter how tired, bewildered, discouraged we may be, God will speak to us in that still small voice, and lead us to what comes next. Amen.
Holy One, today we pray for those whose names you have heard us share,
Grant them comfort, strengthen the hands of their caregivers, let them know your love encircles them through the darkness and the light. Creator and Sustainer, we share with you our joyful gratitude for all you have given us:
Merciful God, remembering the slaughter in Orlando last week: we pray this morning for those who are afraid: give them courage. For those who dwell in anger, and unbalanced minds, who rage in scapegoating, blame, and violence, change their hearts. For those who have long lived without safe spaces, and who seek sanctuary in their own community, give them love. For those who have been excluded and marginalized, kicked out and told they are less-than, hold them in love. For the ﬁfty who died, for the thousands who died before them, for the more than ﬁfty who cling to life, their friends, family, and all who gather in grief today, grant comfort and peace. For those who would honor the dead by working so there will be no more deaths like those we mourn, Grant them resolve and guide them. Bless our time together, our words, our songs, our prayers. Amen.
INVITATION TO THE OFFERING
Remembering all we have received, now let us give with joyful hearts, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Our service is ended, our service to the world begins. Be of cheerful heart, though the work be hard and the fruits of our labor may come to those who follow us. Do not be discouraged, and remember always to make a time and place to hear the still small voice which is God with us. Amen