by The Reverend Jeffrey C. Johnson
1 Kings 19:1-4[5-7]8-15a
1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 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.” 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. 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.”
[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.” 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. 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.”]
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. 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?” 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.” 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; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 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?” 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 your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus…”
Luke 9:51-62Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
51 When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them. 56 Then they went on to another village. 57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
This sermon is dedicated to Sara Pearson, Clay Pinto, and their newly-baptized baby, Emory Rose.
“There’s not much truth being told in the world.” Writer Anne Lamott states this in Thoughts on Grace, Eventually.
Sadly, it’s true now and true then. There’s not much truth in the world. In our first reading, this is what the prophet Elijah tells King Ahab, the king of Israel, and his pagan Canaanite wife, Queen Jezebel. I’m sure you’ve heard of at least one of these famous biblical people. But suffice it to say, Elijah warns Ahab and Jezebel they will be destroyed by YHWH if they do not turn from their evil ways. By the way, Ahab and Jezebel do not heed Elijah.
What Ahab and Jezebel have done at home and throughout Israel is practice Idolatry and promoted it throughout the kingdom. They are worshippers of the fertility god, Ba’al. Well, idolatry is bad enough, but Jezebel has most of the prophets and priests of YHWH killed.
If you remember Sunday school, you remember Jezebel’s actions result in probably the greatest showdown in all of scripture between Elijah and Jezebel/Ahab. This makes that Games of Thrones stuff look like child’s play. Elijah defeats through the act of God 450 priests of Ba’al in a tumultuous fiery showdown. The priests of Ba’al are burned to a crisp by YHWH after the false god Ba’al produces not even a spark on the altar dedicated to him.
But, this story is not a win-win. Elijah is not celebrated as a hero. He deeply angers Jezebel and she, in turn, orders a price on his head. Elijah must get out of town. And by the way, it doesn’t end well for Jezebel. Ask me later what happens to her.
Mind you, Elijah travels to the wilderness, like so many biblical people, and sits down under a broom tree. Broom trees look like giant umbrellas. And when under the tree, utterly alone, despondent, and frankly worn out, he begs God to let him die. “Lord just get it over.”
How many of us have said that in our isolation from what seems to be everything? How many of us have said, “Lord, just take me.” Briefly, we see the same theme in the Luke gospel with the demon-possessed man. He is possessed by what he calls “Legion” that means 6000 demons! At verse 27 the man is described as…“he did not live in a house but in the tombs.”
“The details of this man’s life are already bleak. Completely dominated by what has mastered him, unable to restrain himself or be restrained, naked and alone, we discover he is also homeless, abandoned, and lives among the tombs; that is, among the dead, in a wasteland, in territory considered unclean, unsafe, and unapproachable.” from David Lose’s blog, . . .in the Meantime.
If this isn’t isolation and desolation, what is?
However, something happens to both Elijah and the demon-possessed man. God shows up. God shows up in the form of an angel not only once but twice and force feeds Elijah. I firmly believe the angels were of Swedish heritage in their ability to feed abundantly even if you don’t want to eat! And by the way, Elijah is saved from starvation by two other times in scripture: by a bunch of ravens, and by a Gentile widow who is on the brink of starvation herself.
God shows up as Jesus on foreign soil to a possessed man that in any time or place we would regard as crazy. Imagine the compassion of Jesus in driving those demons out and into a bunch of handy hogs who later drown themselves.
What I’m saying here is that God is there in our worst moments. Obviously, Elijah and the demon possessed man are pretty bad off. Both are deeply isolated with what seems no future but death. However, Death is not a choice for either of them in these stories and death is not our story either.
Sara and Clay. I’m going to tell you some truths right now. It is not easy to be a parent. Children do not come out of the womb with a set of instructions tied to their big toe. Parenthood, a wonderful vocation, can be desolate and isolated. However, you are not alone in this. Certainly you have your wonderful families. Emory Rose has seven aunties! That sounds like a biblical number. The magical seven aunties.
Equally and important, you have this church community of 152 years who have nurtured infants at their baptisms to their confirmations and for the rest of their lives in Christ. The community takes the same baptismal vows with you. They will support in means appropriate to bring this child up in the faith.
And ultimately, you have each other. You are not alone.
Now, the story of Elijah or the demon possessed man is not everyone’s story, by any means. But I think we all can agree upon Elijah and the possessed man’s loneliness, desperation, and isolation. Our challenge is to recognize these desperate moments in our lives, but also in others.
Who among us knows someone in isolation who can benefit from God’s great abiding love and presence? It is our responsibility to our fellow Christians to be aware of the needs of others, especially those in crisis. It is also our responsibility as the church to be present for a young couple bringing up a young child.
God does not call us to be isolated sitting under a broom tree awaiting death. God calls us to be his hands and feet, calls us to show up and be present in suffering much like Elijah’s angels and Jesus among the tombs.
We began this sermon with the statement that not much truth is told these days.
God calls us to be with all creation from a little baby to those of us who have lost our way, and even with those we call our leaders, our prophets, our pastors, and our clergy. And God always provides even if we’re under that broom tree or not. God’s angels, ravens, widows, church communities, schools, and families show up and that my friends, Clay and Sara, and Emory Rose is today’s slice of truth.