Sermon for Morning Prayer on Sunday August 9th, 2015, the Tenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Psalm 34:1-8; 1 Kings 19:1-8; Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2
Theme: Overcoming fear by receiving the love of God, and rejoicing in Him
Texts: 1 Kings 19:1-8; Psalm 34:1-8
One night, in the middle of the night, during a three month internship program in a village in the Eastern Cape, a fellow-priest woke me up, saying, “Quick! Drive me to a friend’s home in the village, for men of my wife’s family are coming here to kill me.” He was a Xhosa-speaking priest who had married the daughter of a Xhosa chief, and her family resented the fact that this priest was from a lower class of society, not from the family of a Xhosa chieftain. At once I woke up, dressed quickly, and drove him to a house where he would be safe. I returned to where I was staying and went back to sleep. No one came looking for him that night, but for my fellow-priest, the fear was real that his life was in danger.
1 KINGS 19:1-8: THE PROPHET ELIJAH FLEES FOR HIS LIFE
Immediately after a great victory for the Lord against the cult of Baal worship, when the prophets of Baal had tried in vain to call down fire to ignite their sacrifice, and the Lord had ignited Elijah’s sacrifice, showing His own power as the one true God, and after Elijah had caused the prophets of Baal to be killed, Elijah receives a death threat from Queen Jezebel (1 Kings 19:2).
In reaction to this, Elijah flees to Beersheba and goes a day’s journey into the wilderness, and rests under a juniper tree, where he requests the Lord to be allowed to die, for he feels that he is no better than his fathers (1 Kings 19:4). Despite the great victory, and the heavy rain that followed, breaking a three year drought, Elijah felt he was a failure, and later in a cave on Mt. Horeb, he would say that he was the only one of God’s prophets left in Israel (1 Kings 19:10). Although in the wilderness he was safe from the reach of Jezebel, the fear that led to his journey into the wilderness, and to a longer, 40-day journey to Mt. Horeb, where Israel had received the Covenant and the Law, was accompanied by gloom and doubts about the value of his life in the face of so much demonic opposition, and what seemed like so little loyalty to the Lord God of Israel.
THE LORD SUSTAINS THE PROPHET
After requesting the Lord to take away his life, Elijah fell asleep in the shade provided by the juniper tree. What was God’s answer to Elijah’s request? It certainly wasn’t to take his life! Instead, God gave him rest! Not only did God give him rest, but He also provided bread and water, although an angel had to wake him a second time to finish eating and drinking these divinely provided gifts. God gave him these gifts which supernaturally sustained him, although God later asked him twice why he had come to Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:9 & 19:13).
What can we learn from God’s treatment of Elijah in his time of fear, crisis and depression?
We can learn about God’s sustaining love for His people. There are vast spiritual resources open to all who love God. If God had fulfilled Elijah’s request to take away his life, Elijah’s ministry would have ended prematurely right then and there. But the Lord knew all the circumstances that led to Elijah’s request. He knew the heartache, the exhaustion, the frustration, and the despair. He would answer Elijah at the right time, but first He gave him three simple things: rest, bread and water. These gave him physical and spiritual strength to face the journey he had determined to undertake, even if God might not have deemed this journey necessary. What did Elijah have to do to receive this ministry from the Lord through the angel? He had to rest, eat and drink.
How do we receive the Lord’s ministry to us, in our times of difficulty and distress, or indeed at any time in our lives? We must rest in the Lord’s presence. Psalm 34:1 gives us a clue – “I will alway give thanks unto the Lord; His praise shall ever be in my mouth.” Another clue given in the same psalm is to seek the Lord (“I sought the Lord, and he heard me; yea, he delivered me out of all my fear” – Ps. 34:4). Praising and thanking God lifts us into his presence, as does quiet rest in Him (“For thus saith the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel; In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” – Isaiah 30:15).
This confidence, this faith, must accompany our praise of God and our thanksgiving, which must always be in our hearts and on our lips. Nicolas of Cusa (1400-1464) wrote:
When I look unto Thee alone with all my attention, nor ever turn aside the eyes of my mind, because Thou dost enfold me with Thy constant regard; when I direct my love toward Thee alone because Thou, who art Love’s self has turned Thee toward me alone. And what, Lord, is my life, save that embrace wherein Thy delightsome sweetness doth so lovingly enfold me?
(Nicholas of Cusa: Vision of God)
When we live like this, we also shall find that the angel of the Lord is at hand to deliver those that fear Him, who live their life in faith and obedience to Him. For us, then, praise, thanksgiving, prayer and faith, must be the means whereby we daily experience the life-giving presence of God who sets us free from fear and everything else which tries to ruin our lives. Then we, too, shall “taste and see how gracious the Lord is,” and how blessed the person who trusts in Him (Ps. 34:8)!