Sunday, June 19, 2022
1 Kings 19:1-15a
Transitions are usually bittersweet! We have a child graduating from preschool and going to kindergarten – it’s exciting to see her grow, learn, and become more independent, but you also realize you don’t have your babies forever, so there is some sadness, too! As we celebrate Father’s Day today, many of you might be recalling with fondness when you became dads; but the first few months especially are a huge adjustment also – sleep deprivation, loss of privacy, and much of your free time being consumed by your children instead of your own hobbies and interests. As we are also celebrating our graduates, we can think about our own moving out of our parents’ house, going to college, getting that first job, and so on. There’s so much potential and possibilities to look forward to, but we also feel nervous, anxious, sadness about what we’re leaving behind, and maybe a little afraid.
I’m continually amazed when stories in scripture, even though they were written long ago by people very different from us, are so relatable to our own experience. Alright, so hopefully none of us have been told by God to kill all of the false prophets who are worshipping Baal with a sword, and hopefully no one is threatening our lives like the prophet Elijah in our first reading from the book of 1 Kings today. However, who among us, especially if we think back to the isolating, lonely days of 2020, hasn’t felt a bit depressed at least once? Elijah is experiencing a difficult, unplanned transition all because he wants to continue to serve the Lord as his prophet. He does not have an easy job. Elijah leaves his home country to cross the border into Judah where he will be protected because King Ahab and Jezebel, who want him dead, rule over Israel, not Judah. He has wandered in the wilderness for a day, sits under a solitary broom tree, and is so depressed he tells the Lord he wants to die. He is sleepy, irritable, and doesn’t have much of an appetite. He exaggerates how bad things are for him, telling God that he is the only believer left in Israel – everyone has caved to the culture to worship Baal instead of the one true God. He is having a really hard time finding the positives in his situation. These are classic signs of depression. And for comfort, Elijah goes looking for God in the wind, in the earthquake, and in the fire – all places where God is supposed to be, where God has shown up for people like Abraham and Jacob and Moses in the past – but God is not there. Elijah is feeling very alone.
My guess would be everyone in this room has had an Elijah experience; a time when you felt particularly lonely or more than usually depressed – perhaps so much so you sought out medication or counseling. Can you think back to a time when you sought God out for relief from your concerns and discovered what usually gave you comfort – praying, going to church, or reading the Bible – didn’t really seem to help? Have you ever felt as if God wasn’t there, or at least that he was silent? Even happy transitions like moving from one school to another or from one job or place to another can lead to moments where we feel like this. We may feel like we don’t fit in at first. We have to get used to a different routine and being around different people. We may feel like we are the only Christian in the whole school or workplace. We may wonder if God is really there with us at all.
After I graduated from college, I took a year to volunteer with a program of our church called Young Adults in Global Mission – I’d highly recommend it to any of our young people here today. The program assigns you a volunteer site based on your particular skill set– you can’t pick where you go. I had dreams and visions of going to Africa – that’s where all the “real” missionaries go, isn’t it? Well, we need African missionaries to come to us these days at the rate the Christian churches are growing in Africa but that’s for another sermon. Many of you know where I got assigned to go instead – to Slovakia, to teach English to adults and children, which was my educational background. I had to look it up on a map. I didn’t know the difference between Slovakia and Slovenia. I didn’t know how to say “yes,” “no,” or even “hello,” in Slovak, and many people did not speak English in Slovakia. I was excited for this amazing opportunity to serve the church abroad, but I sure was nervous. I still remember that feeling of getting on the train after our three-week intensive culture and language training in Bratislava. I left my other English-speaking friends behind and sat for the six-hour train ride by myself pretty much sobbing half of the time – what in the heck did I get myself into? Where was I and what did God want with me? They told us in our training that it would take until after the holidays (about four months) for us to fully adjust to culture shock, but you really don’t know what it’s like to live in a foreign country where you can’t understand people half of the time and they don’t understand you and you can’t see your family for months until you try it. It was not easy but by the end of the year, I was a different, better, stronger person. I joked with my friends in the States that after a year of navigating my way around in trains and busses and even setting up a bank account and phone plan in Slovak, it was truly no big deal to take systematic theology in Chicago. Even though it was a really difficult time at first, God was there. I experienced God at work in my life and saw God at work in the lives of all kinds of different people.
Growing up is never easy, and transitions especially graduating from high school and college are hard on everyone – parents, siblings, and students. In the end, I hope, we realize taking the risks of getting out there wherever God is calling us is worth it. Sometimes it’s only in going through the experience and looking back on the other side when we see where God was with us along the journey. Our scriptures today remind us that God will be there - God is always there.
Notice when Elijah looks for God in the usual places, he doesn’t find God but instead the Lord finds Elijah. First, an angel gives Elijah food and drink to sustain him for the journey, not once, but twice. After the wind, earthquake, fire, and the sound of sheer silence a voice says, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” It’s the voice of God. The Lord knows exactly where Elijah is and what he’s doing there, of course. And in the following passage as you continue to read chapter 19, we see that Elijah is not alone. Not only is the Lord with Elijah, the Lord will protect seven thousand believers in Israel who have not bowed down to Baal, the false idol. Elijah is not alone in his dedication to serving God. Elijah’s life is not easy, but things are better than it initially seemed to Elijah.
As we transition to summer and many of us prepare for the transition to a new school year, a new school, a move to a new place or adjusting to retirement, may we be assured that God’s promises to Elijah remain ours – in finding God we will discover that God has already found us – God has been there the whole time. God will sustain us during challenging times and help us see the blessings even in difficult circumstances. Most importantly, God promises that we will never be alone as believers – we have a church, this church, made up of members of the body of Christ to pray for us and love us whether we are near or far. Thanks be to God! Amen.