God Is With Us Even In Our FearPosted: June 23, 2013
God Is With Us Even In Our Fear
ELIJAH WAS THE CLEAR WINNER
Our scripture this morning continues the story of Elijah after his contest with Jezebel’s prophets of Baal. As I tried to share in the summary of scripture this morning, Elijah had been the clear winner on Mt. Carmel. He called down fire from heaven to consume the offering to Yaweh, and then after he had won the contest he took the 450 prophets of Baal down to the Brook Kidron and slit all their throats. It was a tough neighborhood, and Elijah suspected that the Prophets of Baal would be sore losers and try to get even.
JEZEBEL THREATENS ELIJAH
Having clearly won the day Elijah ran from Mt. Carmel to the Capital of Samaria in order announce his victory at the Palace. But word of the fate of the Prophets of Baal had already reached Jezebel and she was hopping mad. She told Elijah, “May the gods do to me what I’m about to do to you, if you aren’t as dead as those Prophets of Baal by this time tomorrow.” And Elijah was afraid, very afraid. Here was a man who had called down fire from heaven, and his knees quaked before the threats of Queen Jezebel. And so Elijah began to run. He ran and he ran and he ran until 70 miles away he dropped from exhaustion beside a broom tree outside the gates of Beersheva. Have you ever run away from trouble or a confrontation? Have your knees ever quaked, when someone has threatened you? That was the terror gripping Elijah.
GOD WAS WITH ELIJAH
So God sent an angel with water and a loaf of bread to strengthen Elijah, so he could run some more. God understood that poor Elijah just didn’t have any reserves of courage left. He had to run, and the prophet didn’t stop running until he reached Mt. Sinai a distance of several hundred miles, where he hid in a cave. And he was still afraid. So God asked Elijah the obvious question, “What are you doing here Elijah?” Sort of like when we are hiding under the covers and we don’t want to go out and face the day, “What are you doing here? How long will you sit in front of the television, or the computer rather than facing what you fear?
POOR ME, POOR ME
And Elijah heard God and he started to complain. “All of the people of Israel are worshipping Baal, and only I have remained faithful to Yaweh, and even now Jezebel is seeking to find me and kill me. Oh poor me, poor me!” Have you ever indulged in poor pitiful me? Fear can reduce us to whining and sniveling.
A STILL SMALL VOICE
So God came to Elijah, not in an earthquake, or a fire, or a great wind, God came to the prophet in a “still small voice.” And taking pity on Elijah God gave him three specific measurable tasks. First, the prophet was to anoint Hazael to be King over Syria, Israel’s chief rival. Second he was to anoint Jehu to become King over Israel for God was about to wipe out the whole house of Ahab. And third, Elijah was to seek out a young man by the name of Elisha to mentor to become prophet in Israel after Elijah. He was given three specific measurable tasks, and Elijah found himself newly encouraged. He left Mt. Sinai to return to Israel by way of the wilderness of Syria, and he set about the tasks the God had given to him.
NOTHING TO FEAR EXCEPT FEAR ITSELF
So what can we learn from this story about Elijah? First, God is with us even in our fear. Franklin Roosevelt told us there is nothing to fear except fear itself. And that reminds me of a story.
A tourist was on a beach in Florida, but afraid to go into the water. Spotting an old man standing on the shore, the tourist shouted, “Are there any alligators around here?!”
“Naw,” the man hollered back, “they ain’t been around here for years!”
Feeling safe, the tourist swam out in the water. When he was quite far from shore, he shouted back, “How’d you get rid of the ‘gators?”
“We didn’t do nothing,” the beachcomber yelled.
“How was that,” yelled back the tourist.
Then the beachcomber added, “The sharks got ’em.”
MANY FEARS ARE BORN OF FATIGUE AND LONELINESS
Fears real and imagined haunt us. I like three lines from the poem Desiderata that reads: ”
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.” Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Sabbath time and a community of faith are spiritual practices that address the problem of fatigue and loneliness. Gathering together to pray with and for each other is a spiritual practice to help us address our fears.
COURAGE IN THE STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE AND PEACE
Normally I am not a big fan of creeds, but I would like to call our attention to the last full paragraph in selection number 885 in our hymnal our own Statement of Faith:
“You promise to all who trust you forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace, courage in the struggle for justice and peace, your presence in trial and rejoicing and eternal life in your realm which has no end.” God is with us even in our fears to encourage us.
WE CAN RUN, BUT WE CAN’T HIDE
The second principle we can learn from Elijah is that God will allow us to run but not forever. We can run but we can’t hide. We can go hide in a cave, but God will find us, because wherever we go we take ourselves and God with us. In the words of the Psalmist:
“Where can I go to get away from God? Where can I go to flee from God’s presence? If I go up to heave, God is there. If I descend into the depths God is there. If I take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost past of the sea, even there God’s hand shall hold me.” We can run but we can’t hide and like Elijah inevitably we will have to confront our fears and make peace with God.
GOD SPEAKS IN MANY WAYS
Third principle we might learn from Elijah, God speaks in many ways even a still small voice. Many people long for an unmistakable sign from God. They want to look up in the sky and see blazing letters flashing a message to them. Or they want to hear some booming disembodied voice giving them direction. But for the most part God doesn’t work like that. God wasn’t in the earthquake, or the wind, or the fire, rather Elijah heard a still small voice – the voice from within. Most of us have trouble finding silence in our very noisy world, and then quieting our minds to be able to hear that still small voice. We have trouble setting aside the chatter in our heads to open a connection with the divine. Breathe deeply, quiet your mind, relax and listen in the silence for the still small voice.
GOD GIVES US MEASURABLE TASKS
Fourth principle we can learn from Elijah, if we listen, God will give us measurable tasks, so we can put one foot in front of another. We don’t have to do it all. If we come to believe that God wants us to save the world, or feed all of the hungry, or end poverty in America, we are probably hearing our own grandiosity, rather than God. Even great accomplishments begin with small steps. For instance, Rosa Parks didn’t have to pass the Civil Rights Bill all by herself, all she had to do was to refuse to give up her seat on the bus, and then put one foot in front of the other. United Church doesn’t have to provide housing for all poor people, we just need to join with other churches to build a house for a family with Habitat for Humanity. Our congregation doesn’t have to feed every hungry family in North Alabama, we just need to bring food for the food pantries and volunteers for Foodline – small steps to a greater good.
GOD GIVES US PARTNERS IN MISSION
Fifth principle we can learn from Elijah, God will help us to know we are not alone by giving us partners in ministry. One of the tasks God gave to Elijah, was to mentor a replacement. Elijah had been pretty much of a loner. Remember the phrase from Desiderata, “Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.” God gave Elijah a companion in ministry. God gives us our faith community that we might have companions in ministry. God is with us in and through our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are the Body of Christ and in order to be connected to the Body, we have to show up. We have to nurture our relationships in community. We covenant to pray with and for each other, so that we are not alone.
COSTS AND JOYS OF DISCIPLESHIP
Our scripture next week will reveal to us that Elijah wasn’t necessarily happy about being given a companion — once a loner, always a loner. But God knew that Elijah needed community whether he wanted it to not. And so I would suggest to many of our members who struggle with living in community, we need the community of faith whether we want it or not. “God calls us into the church to accept the costs and joys of discipleship to be God’s servants in the service of others.” We cannot be followers of Jesus alone. In order to connect with the divine we share in the joys, the sorrows, the frustrations and occasionally the triumphs of the community of faith. When God’s people come together in faith lifting one another up in prayer miracles begin to happen.
God is with us even in our fear. If we trust God, then God will give us the courage and resources to do all God calls us to do.