June 20, 2010
Proper 7 (C)
Confetti flutters in the background. Sweat-stained players embrace Gatorade-drenched coaches. The reporter shoves the microphone into the face of the exuberant athlete. “How will you celebrate this victory?” With a large smile, the player replies, “I’m going to Disneyland!” We’ve come to expect the victor to celebrate at the Happiest Place on Earth.
Sadly, spiritual victories rarely land us on Main Street at Disney. Instead, spiritual victories often leave us emotionally spent and spiritually vulnerable. Elijah felt the sting of a tragic triumph.
When fear replaces faith, we lose our way.
The great prophet achieved one of the most incredible victories of the Old Testament. Elijah courageously faced down the prophets of Baal and called the Israelites from apostasy to faith. In a scene fit for an action movie, God ignited the fire of Elijah’s altar while prohibiting a spark from Baal’s. Elijah was on his way to book a flight to Orlando when he received a message from Queen Jezebel, the wife of Israel’s king. Like a cinematic villain, Jezebel rose from seemingly certain defeat to threaten the life of God’s prophet.
After witnessing the courage of Elijah on Mount Carmel, we expect to see Elijah reply with a strongly worded retort. Instead, the story takes an unexpected twist when Elijah, God’s bold and mighty prophet, runs for his life! Instead of booking a flight to Disney, Elijah took a detour into the desert. The once courageous prophet trembled in fear. He sought shelter under a broom tree and begged God to take his life. Elijah was down, depressed, depleted and despondent.
What contributed to Elijah’s sudden change of heart? The prophet allowed fear to replace his faith. Rather than trusting God, Elijah feared Jezebel. Fear and faith cannot co-exist. They are mutually exclusive! Another contributing factor to Elijah’s faltering faith was likely his physical condition. Elijah’s battle with the prophets of Baal left him physically fatigued. We often forget physical and emotional exhaustion impact our spiritual walk. It is tough to focus on God’s activity when we are weary.
Just because we lose our way, God isn’t finished with us.
God provided for Elijah’s physical needs in order to pave the way for his spiritual nourishment. Twice the Lord provided food for Elijah. The second time, the angel instructed Elijah to continue his journey. God wanted Elijah to know He was not finished with the prophet. The broom tree was not the destination!
When Elijah arrived at Mount Horeb (Sinai), the Lord asked a simple question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah exploded in response. The prophet felt alone in the fight against apostasy, and he doubted the long-term effects of his ministry. He felt worthless. The doubts and despondency of Elijah remind us of our own doubts. Are we making a difference? Are we all alone in the fight for righteousness?
God answered Elijah’s plea with a display of His presence. The prophet witnessed a powerful wind, endured a substantial earthquake, and felt a fierce fire. However, the prophet only recognized the presence of God in the gentle whisper. Elijah had seen God’s glory many times; he had watched the fire fall on Carmel and seen the dead rise at Zarephath. When we’ve seen the miraculous, it can be difficult to recognize God in the mundane. Like us, Elijah needed a reminder that God’s presence was just as real in the silence as it was in the explosion of the extraordinary.
After whispering in the ear of Elijah on the mountain, God inquired again, “Why are you, here?” Like a child whose tears persist after the injury is addressed, Elijah again repeated his loneliness and perceived failure to God. This time, God responded to Elijah by giving the prophet a broader perspective on the divine plan.
God commissioned Elijah to enlist the support of Hazael, Jehu and Elisha. God revealed that these men would spark a revolution in Israel that eventually would bring about the revival Elijah desired. God also revealed to Elijah that 7,000 others in Israel had not knelt to Baal. In order to lift Elijah’s loneliness and refocus the prophet’s perceived failure; God broadened the view of His overall plan and said, “Elijah, this plan is not all about you!” Somewhere along the way, the courageous prophet had forgotten the success or failure of God’s plan never is contingent on one individual; not Elijah, not you, not me.
Elijah reminds us God’s presence is just as evident in the gentle whisper as in the fire from heaven. God gives victory to the vulnerable just as He grants conquests to the courageous. Often God wins His greatest triumphs in the face of impending tragedy!