Sermon for Proper 14, Year A August 13, 2017

1 Kings 19:9-18                  Psalm 85:8-13

Romans 10:5-15                                Matthew 14L22-13

I love the story we heard this morning from 1 Kings.  There is a great deal included in it, but I love it mostly because of where God is found.  Elijah is hiding in a cave when “The word of the Lord came to him saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?'”  Elijah is hiding because his enemies plan to kill him, and he says so.  They are his enemies because the people have turned their backs to God and have killed all of the Lord’s prophets, except for Elijah.  The Lord then tells Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

A great wind comes, “but the Lord was not in the wind.”  There is an earthquake, “but the Lord was not in the earthquake.”  Then, there is a great fire, “but the Lord was not in the fire.”  After the fire, however, there is the sound of sheer silence.  That is where Elijah finds the Lord – in sheer silence.  Now the wind, earthquakes, and fire are used elsewhere in the scriptures to announce the presence of the Lord, but here it is in the silence that Elijah encounters God.

One form of prayer, centering prayer, is used to quiet our minds so that we, too, can hear God.  In the Gospel reading Peter is able to walk on water toward Jesus until he is distracted by the wind and he begins to sink.  We have so many distractions that is often difficult, if not impossible, for us to hear what God is wanting us to do.  There are lots of ways to quiet our minds so that we can be in God’s presence, but like with Peter, it is not easy for us to keep our focus.  So in centering prayer we are taught to acknowledge what interrupts our prayer, set it aside, and then resume our prayer.

In Elijah’s story, however, we are not told that wind, earthquake, or the fire distracted him, only that when he heard the sound of sheer silence, he wrapped his face and went out to stand at the entrance of the cave.  He came out of his hiding place to where God confronts him, asking for a second time, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  Again Elijah explains the threat to his life.  The Lord, however, does not respond to Elijah’s fear, instead he tells Elijah to return and anoint Hazael king of Aram and Jehu (geez/who) king over Israel.  Elisha is to be anointed a prophet as well.  In short, Elijah is sent back to restore what has been destroyed by the worshipers of false god, Baal.

Elijah is not allowed to simply run away, but here’s the irony of the story.  It is running away that he hears God and knows what he is to do next.  Peter loses his focus and begins to sink into the water, but then cries out to Jesus for help – and Jesus helps him.  Just as the Lord asks Elijah, “Why are you here?”  Jesus asks Peter, “Why did you doubt?”  This may be heard by some as Jesus rebuking Peter, but I hear the Lord asking questions of Elijah and Peter as a form of teaching.

I often find that my prayers are answered with questions. Despite all my prayers for God to give me a sign as to what decision I should make, I have yet to see a billboard telling me what I need to do.  Instead, I find my prayers often lead me to consider more concerns.  Somewhere then, in struggling with these questions, I find a answer.  Sometimes I find the wrong answer, but I have learned that Lord is with me and will help me find my way – just as God helps Elijah.

This is one of the overarching themes in the Old Testament. God’s chosen people seem to get it wrong more often then they get it right – but God finds a way to restore them.  Here it is by sending Elijah back to restore the nation to the 7,000 people in Israel who have remained faithful.

As we move into the New Testament, though, Paul writes of God’s ultimate plan to include all people – Jew, and Greek alike.  Paul writes, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.”  Through Jesus, God’s true intent for the chosen people of God is made clear.  The people of God are to be light to all people and God’s desire for us is not to be found in the scriptures, but in our hearts – our transformed hearts.  Not the “righteousness that comes from the law,” that Moses writes of, but the “righteousness of faith” which Paul says means, “the word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.”

Paul’s primary message, however, in this portion of his letter to the church in Rome is that salvation is available for all.  Moses represents Jewish Law & Tradition which some believe teaches that only Jews who faithfully follow the Law will receive salvation.  Paul is challenging them by saying we receive salvation though our confession and belief in Christ.  Our faith in Christ transforms our hearts which then serves as our guide to living a righteous life.

Just as the people of Israel often misconstrued what it meant to be the chosen people of God, we can take Paul’s writing here and overemphasis the importance of professing our belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  To be the chosen people of God was not to be God’s favorite.  The people of Israel were chosen to lead others to God.  To profess our belief in Christ is not so that we will be granted entrance into heaven.  Salvation is not about me, myself, and I.   Salvation is about a transformed heart that enables me to share God’s love with others.  It is about learning to live a life faithful to God’s call.

Elijah and Peter are both examples of men whose hearts were transformed – but Elijah was hiding and Peter was distracted.  To be transformed is not to be made perfect.  It helps me to remember this when I find myself hiding and distracted like these two great men of faith.  Both Elijah and Peter accomplished great things – when they allowed God to work through them.

Today’s lessons remind me of this very important point.  It is not up to me alone to do the work of God.  Instead, I am called by God to listen, to have faith, and trust that God working through me can accomplish great things.

Let us pray.

Loving and gracious God, quiet our minds that in the sheer silence we might hear what you desire from us.  Make us instruments of your peace, sharing your love with all those we encounter in our daily lives.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen