Preaching: Pastor Rebecca Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, May 14, 2017
Scripture Reference: I Kings 19:1-15a
Sermon: Elijah in the Wilderness
We come to church each week wanting to hear the word of God, wanting to hear a message that leaves us feeling comforted. Sometimes that is the message we need to hear, the message being offered, but the uncomfortable truth is that sometimes the word being spoken to us leaves us unsettled. Sometimes it disturbs us, even challenges us. Quite frankly, sometimes we don’t want to hear what God is speaking.
And no one knows this better than the prophets. They didn’t like what was being asked of them; they didn’t want to be the bad news messenger. They knew people would be outraged, that their lives would be threatened. They didn’t like the word being spoken to them, but then their audiences didn’t care too much for what they were hearing either.
Take Elijah, for instance. He has spent his days challenging King Ahab for his faithlessness against God by encouraging people to worship pagan gods, all for his own political success. At the beginning of today’s reading we hear just how well that message was received – his life is threatened. And it is in fear for his life that Elijah runs.
We know just how bad it is for Elijah in the fact that he runs to the wilderness. In Biblical literature the wilderness is a metaphor for those barren places in our lives – those places that leave us feeling alone and uncertain, not only for the present, but for the future. It is a scary place to be because so much is unfamiliar; so much is unknown to us.
For Elijah it is the experience of his calling – not wanting to go on for fear of what it might cost him, not wanting the ongoing conflict as he speaks the truth. For some of us our wilderness is the uncertainty, the loneliness of living without a loved one. For others, it is all of the questions, all of the unexpected decisions and challenges that come with caring for an elderly parent. There are those in our midst who are experiencing changes in work, or those who are preparing to graduate and go on to their new studies or their first “real” job. There are uncertain times – wondering what things will be like now, wondering if things will be okay. As a faith community we are mindful of being in a place of wilderness as we prepare to say goodbye to familiar faces and welcome new persons into our lives. It doesn’t matter what our wilderness experience is – the feelings of anxiety and doubt arise. Questions about who we are, if we have what it takes, questions of what is important to us, what we want, what other options there may be begin to fill our thoughts. And at some point we may feel like Elijah – ready to quit, ready to just give up and not face another day.
But the good news is that as barren as the wilderness can be, as alone as we may feel at times – God meets us there, calling us onward. Just as God strengthened and nourished Elijah for the journey ahead with cake and a jar of water, so God strengthens us with bread and cup, love and grace in our lives. Just as Elijah experienced God in the wilderness, we do too; although it isn’t always in the places or the ways that we expect. God’s voice wasn’t there in the wind or in the earthquake. It was in the stillness of the silence that Elijah heard God speaking to him.
So often when we find ourselves in these places of wilderness, these places of the unknown, it is hard to quiet ourselves; it is hard to stay attentive to what is happening. We get lost in the thoughts and questions that give voice to our fears; we get busy doing things that conceal our feelings of being lost and out of control. But when we do stay attentive, when we, like Elijah, go and stand before our wilderness, mindful of the holiness before us, then we will experience God.
As I am mindful of God’s voice calling me to journey onto the wilderness of Neenah, I am mindful that at one time all of you were my wilderness. I came with my questions and uncertainties of what our experience might be together. But along the way I was sustained and nourished – by prayers and encouraging words you offered, but the friendship of colleagues, by the times we celebrated life together. And in this month of celebrations I find myself remembering all the ways I have experienced God most unexpectedly. When I came here never would I have imagined these churches merging and giving birth to New Life It has been awe-inspiring to see the ways you have responded to the presence of Christ in your midst. Your ministry is a witness to what God can do. As people of faith, despite your questions and reservations, you have stepped into the wilderness and experienced God there – in friendship, in new mission opportunities like Our Kids, mission trips, Easter meal, in the energy of God’s School.
Indeed our journey with God never ends. Like Elijah we may leave one wilderness only to enter another. God is always moving, and as we heard at the end of our scripture today, God is always calling, always sending us onward. But the good news we hear in our reading, the good news we remember in our own stories, is that God is always journeying with us. God always speaks to us along the way, and for that we can, “Thanks be to God!”