Monday, June 28, 2010

Sermon - 1 Kings 19:9b-21 - Pentecost 5

1 Kings 19:9b-21
June 27th, 2010
“Not a God of Appearances”

It was looking pretty bleak for Elijah. The wicked queen Jezebel had a price on his head. She, and many in Israel, liked their Baal worship. They didn’t take it well when Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal in their contest on Mt. Carmel. They liked it even less when he had the false prophets put to death. This was not some polite discussion amongst people who happened to disagree on religion. This was life or death stuff.

Would Israel worship the true and only God, who had brought them out of Egypt, given them a promised land, and still promised them a savior? Or would Israel worship Baal and the other false gods.

Even after God demonstrated his power with spectacular miracles, it appeared to Elijah that the false gods were winning. His own life was in danger. He was all alone. Or so he thought. So in a fit of self-pity, Elijah the prophet goes to Mt. Siani, finds a cave, and sits and stews. When God asks, “what are you doing here, Elijah?” we hear the prophet complain to God that he is all alone and all is lost. He did his best, but now it was hopeless. They were even out to kill him too.

God has an answer for Elijah. But it’s not what you might expect. He tells him to go stand by the mountain and wait. The show was about to begin.

First a great and mighty wind. Splitting the rocks. Lots of power. Big show. But God was not in the wind.

Then a mighty earthquake. Another powerful sign? No. God wasn’t in the earthquake.

How bout a nice blazing fire? Something to get your attention. Nope. God’s not there. Where is he?

He’s in the whisper.

He is, after all, not a God of appearances. He’s not interested in fireworks and glitz. He works in mysteriously quiet ways for an all-powerful being.

We’re not too different from Elijah. We have our good days and our bad days. When times are good, we don’t expect much from God, if we think of him at all. But when the going gets tough, we start to worry, to complain, to doubt God’s goodness.

When it appears one way, with God, it’s often just the opposite.

Elijah thought he was alone. God assured him he was not. A remnant of 7000 had not bowed the knee to Baal. Elijah thought it was all in vain. God told him it was not. When Elijah was done, others would take up the fight, carry his mantle, and continue fighting for God’s kingdom. Elijah thought he would die in lonely shame – but scripture tells us he was carried to heaven on a glorious fiery chariot.

But Elijah isn’t the only one to see God acting in mysterious ways, that are not what they appear. Think of Jesus.

Here is a man who appeared humble and poor and nothing much special. Born in a backwater town to an unwed mother, laid in a manger. But appearances deceive, and this little child was not only our champion in the battle with Satan, he was God of Gods made flesh.

Here is a man who did miracles! Great crowds followed him. But when his teachings were hard to accept, many deserted him. Not the appearance of a savior worth his salt.

And when the final confrontation with the establishment powers came, it appeared they had the upper hand. They arrested Jesus and his disciples scattered. He was beaten and shamed and crucified with the criminals. It appeared all hope was lost – for him, and for all who followed him. But he is not a God of appearances. However, he is a God of his word.

He kept his word, and rose from the dead. Thomas wanted to see an appearance, but Jesus said more blessed are those who don’t see and yet believe.

And this ragtag band of fearful fisherman and friends – they didn’t look like much, but they would take his Gospel to the ends of the earth.

What does all this show us? That when it comes to our God, we should not judge by appearances. When it comes to his word, seeing doesn’t have much to do with believing.

When you feel your sin the most – when it appears God is far off – then is his grace all the more real. When life’s worries peck and poke at you, then is his word your sure defense.

And even when death comes, and it appears your last hour is at hand, it is merely the gate to eternal life and paradise with your Lord.

I’ve always found it strange, but fitting, that in the last few moments of our funeral rite, as the pastor stands over the casket and at the grave, he reads the words of St. Paul, “Where oh, death is your victory? Where is your sting?” Where is death? It’s right before you… didn’t you notice the body? But appearances deceive. For though the Christian rests in the grave, death has no victory. To the contrary. In Jesus Christ our hope is sure, of comfort does not fail. For we will rise again, and in our flesh, see God face to face.

Now, we see dimly. Much is clouded. But then we will see clearly. When he appears. When he returns to judge the living and the dead, and to take us home forever.

Until then we walk by faith, and not by sight. We don’t put our trust in appearances, but in the steady and sure word of God. In the promises of the Lord, who loves us, died for us, and lives for us. Things are not always what they seem to us, but things are always as he promises they will be. In Jesus Christ, Amen.

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