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Last Sunday After Epiphanyt
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, February 15, 2015

Be Encouraged

Text: I Kings 19:9–18

Since we last saw you two Sundays ago, Lynne and I have been running around the southwestern United States We’ve been in Arizona, which is an amazing, beautiful state. What drew us out there was a get-together with some of my high-school classmates in Scottsdale. We decided to make it into a longer vacation, including a road trip to see some of Arizona’s natural wonders.

• We enjoyed the drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff, which is an almost constant climb from 2,000 feet elevation to 7,000 feet.

• We visited the Grand Canyon, which is probably the most spectacular of God’s creative geological wonders. It rendered me speechless. As we hiked along the south rim, I felt God’s glorious presence everywhere.

• Then we spent time in Sedona, which is another incredible display of mesas, red cliffs and parapets sculpted by the wind. Again we hiked, and again, in the silence we were in awe of God.

Meanwhile, out the world, mankind continued its headlong dash down the road to destruction.

• War heated up in the Ukraine.

• Yemen was on the brink of collapse and civil war.

• ISIS ratcheted up its brazen campaign to destroy western civilization.

• We were just a few miles from the home town of Kayla Mueller when it was announced that she had been killed. She was a 26-year-old volunteer helping Syrian refugees when ISIS took her hostage two years ago.

It is impossible to miss the contrast between the goodness of God and the evil that is rampant in the world. In Sedona, we met a Christian woman in a shop. Surprisingly, there is a viable Christian presence in Sedona. I say surprisingly, because the new-age people have turned that area into a mecca of spiritism. They talk about the energy in the rocks, and the psychic power available to people who surrender to believing in it. They mark the maps of the canyon with the places where power vortexes supposedly are. This Christian shopkeeper was thrilled to meet visitors who came here and praised God, rather than the elemental spirits of the universe. She told us about a recent arts and crafts festival that she was helping to plan. There were to be booths where new agers could rent space, and she asked if they could have a booth where her church could offer to pray for people. But she was told no—a crafts festival wasn’t an appropriate place for a church to peddle its beliefs.

It’s happening all around us—that the things which oppose God seem to carry so much weight, and seem to be on such a roll. Sometimes we get weary of the struggle. In the Old Testament reading this morning from First Kings, we meet a fellow traveler of long ago who wrestled with all these things in a big way. We found the prophet Elijah in Chapter 19 running away and asking God to just take him home. Let me remind you what brought him to this place, and we can talk a little about what his experience means for us.

He lived in the time of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. They were the wickedest of all the leaders of God’s people about whom we read in the Bible. And all that evil was allowed in by their worship of false gods. Jezebel was a worshipper of Baal, the elemental god of the Canaanite people. As a leader, she insisted on spreading her false religion to the people. As a wife, she goaded her husband into building places for Baal worship. A huge cult of the priests of Baal developed.

Elijah was God’s man. He was a prophet who spoke for the one true God. And in doing so, he did one of the boldest, most dramatic demonstrations in the entire Bible of God’s power versus the futility of false religion. He set up a contest on Mt. Carmel where he invited the priests of Baal to call down the power of their god and burn the pyre they had set up on the altar. They chanted and danced and cajoled the elemental spirits. From morning to night, they called. They cut themselves and bled. But nothing happened. Baal never showed.

And then Elijah called on the power of God. But first he drowned everything with water until it would take a hot flame indeed to make it all burn. And when He prayed to God, flames came down and burned up not only the sticks and the bull of the offering, but the rock of the altar and even the soil. (I Kings 18:22-39) And Elijah killed the prophets of Baal.

Queen Jezebel was enraged, and she swore to kill Elijah if it was the last thing she did. And so, in fear for his own life, Elijah fled. That is where we found him this morning. Here was this great prophet, who had just let it all hang out, relying on God. And God had answered dramatically. And now, Elijah was running away. He had stopped in the desert and prayed in the shade of a broom tree for God to take him home. But an angel appeared to Elijah and sent him to Mt. Horeb to meet with God and talk about this. And there, in a cave high atop the mountain, Elijah made his complaint:

• I have been your faithful servant.

• Your people have abandoned you.

• They are worshiping false gods.

• They have killed all the other prophets.

• Now I’m the only one left.

• And they want to kill me, too.

We can understand what Elijah was feeling. We, too, find it hard. We see the world falling apart all around us.

• We see people going about as if there is no God, and living as if there are not holy laws by which God expects us to live.

• We see people worshiping the elemental spirits.

• We see people ridiculing God.

• We see the prophets of Baal slashing through the desert, building power, taking hostages, beheading people, blowing up churches, taking over cities.

• We see refugees by the millions.

And sometimes it feels as if we are the only few left who are zealous for God, the one true God, the Creator who holds the fate of this universe in His hands. Sometimes, we say to Him and to ourselves and to one another, “Enough. I’ve done enough. I’ve been through enough. Just take me home.”

But there is a message for us in Elijah’s encounter with God. Notice how God responded:

• He told Elijah how things were going to be.

• He sent him back into the fray.

• He gave him a job to do.

• And he told Elijah he was not the only one left, but there were seven thousand who had not worshiped Baal.

It is easy to get depressed by what we see happening in the world. On our last day in Arizona, Lynne and I visited the chapel of the Holy Cross near Sedona. It is a Catholic Church built into the hillside of a red rock formation. It was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright, whose architectural school we had visited in Phoenix. As we came into the chapel and gazed on the crucifix presiding over the vista below, there was the prayerful sound of a men’s choir singing in the background. And both Lynne and I were reduced to tears. I felt the suffering of Christ for an ungrateful world. The news of the sins of the world, contrasting with God’s goodness and love, was more than my heart could bear.

When we feel that, there are different ways we can respond. In our moments of weakness, we may try to run and hide, as Elijah did.

• We run by immersing ourselves in our pleasures.

• We stop trying so hard to make a difference.

• We hole up in the Northern Neck, far from the main action and stop listening to what is going on in the world.

• We surround ourselves with like-minded people and imagine that we are above the sins of the world.

But when we do that, what happens is that we start thinking that our faith is all about ourselves. I was talking to a Christian man recently who was angry at God because God wouldn’t relieve him of the constant back pain he suffered.

To think like that is to greatly underestimate the consequences of the Fall. It wasn’t just a little mistake by Adam and Eve that has left a few naughty consequences. It was a massive spoiling of the perfection of God’s creation.

• ISIS isn’t just a radical fringe of thugs who like to tear things up and kill people in cold blood. It is the spirit of Satan, roaring about the world.

• The new age movement isn’t just a few free thinkers who have silly notions that there is power in crystals. It is the power of Satan, grabbling for people looking for spiritual comfort—turning them away from the only one who can refresh and cleanse and save.

• And when we suffer pains and ask why God lets us suffer, we are asking the wrong question. The big issues in life are not about our needs and how God is going to meet our needs. The big issues are about God’s heart, God’s plan, and how we, as His people, chosen and predestined before the foundation of the world, are going to show forth His glory (Ephesians 1:4-6).

Sometimes God will do a miraculous healing to demonstrate His power. But often, what He wants is for us to handle the things that depress us and cause us pain in ways that glorify Him—

• In ways that show our trust in Him.

• ways that honor His goodness

• ways that show forth His light

• ways that draw people to Him.

When we feel like giving up or hiding out or running away, we need to take it to God in prayer as the angel of the Lord told Elijah. And we can expect that God is going to say the same thing to us that He said to Elijah:

• Go back in there.

• You’ve got work to do.

• I will fortify you and empower you

• And you are not alone. There are many, many who love me and who are prepared to serve me no matter how bad things look.

The new name of our church is “Light of Christ.” God gave us this name because He is sending us back in there, and because we’ve got work to do. We saw the light of Christ in Mark’s Gospel reading today, where Jesus took three disciples up on a mountain. He was transfigured in their sight so that He glowed like the brightness of the sun. We see the light of the Christ in John’s Gospel, which refers to Jesus as the light that has come into the darkness. And then we hear Jesus telling us to be the light of the world. And He says to let our light shine before the world so that they may see our good deeds and praise our Father who is in heaven.

All through the Bible, we see that common thread. In Isaiah Chapter 60, God told His people Israel, and He is telling us today,

Arise, shine, for your light has come. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isaiah 60:1-3)

• Our job is to faithfully and obediently serve God as God redeems the world.

• Our job is to hang onto the truth that God has revealed to us, and unwaveringly to share that truth with others.

• Our job is to love the world that God loves, and to share that love with others.

These are not easy things to do. God’s people have never had it easy. You can read the lives of all the great saints of God had their times when they wanted to quit. They all had times when they wanted to run away. They all had times when they wanted to hide. Look at the twin peaks of obedience we met on the mount of transfiguration with Jesus this morning. Both Moses and Elijah had their moments.

• Both were zealous for God.

• Both were opposed.

• Both faced enormous frustrations.

• Both suffered over the sins of the world.

• But both of them persevered.

• And God used them mightily to advance His Kingdom.

So be encouraged this morning. Let your light shine before others. For there is a promise we hear in that same chapter 60 of Isaiah, and then we hear it again at the very end of the Bible. God promises that there will be a day when He brings to pass the heavenly city, where there will be no more sun and no more moon, for God Himself will be our light. Revelation tells us:

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:3-5)

© Jeffrey O. Cerar 2015

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