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Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar, November 8, 2015

Believe God

Text: I Kings 17:7-18

This morning, an hour before sunrise, I was out walking. As I looked up at the eastern sky, I saw an incredible sight. The three brightest objects in the sky were all in a line. Venus, Jupiter, and a bright crescent moon. And almost lost in the bright aura of the moon was the planet mars, just about in line with the others. I stood there transfixed for a few moments, and said, “I love you, Lord. You are awesome.”

Just as I turned to continue my walk, a meteorite came speeding across the sky. It was close. It looked like it was headed for the bay off Smith Point. And it was breaking apart and streaming a trail of bright debris. Wow!

A non-believer would have looked at all that in awe as well, and been struck by the beauty of it. But as one who knows God and believes Him when He says He created the heavens and the earth, I was filled with love—the kind of love that you would do anything for the person you love. Or persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Did you ever stop to consider how much it matters to God that we believe Him The Bible tells us, “Abraham believed God, and God credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:3) Think about the way God chose to save us. We are saved by faith, through grace. In other words, God saves those who believe Him when He says, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him.” The very first mistake the human race made, which has led to thousands of years of tragedy and pain, was not to believe God.

“Did God really say you must not eat from that tree?” (Genesis 3:1-2)

“You won’t surely die.” (Genesis 3:4)

If Adam and Eve had believed God instead of the wily serpent, things would have gone very differently.

The story we read today about the prophet, Elijah is about believing God. The prophets were people who believed God. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have told the world, “Thus sayeth the Lord.” They wouldn’t have given up their way of life to be God’s prophets. They wouldn’t have said all the unpopular things that got many of them killed.

Elijah was a prominent prophet who believed God. He went where God told him to go, and did what God told him to do. And through Elijah’s trust and obedience, God did miraculous things. In fact Elijah expected to hear from God. He expected God to do miracles. And God did not disappoint him.

We just read about the incident between Elijah the widow of Zarephath. It was a time of famine. There was a drought throughout the land which lasted for years. God had sent Elijah to foretell the drought, and He had sent Elijah to a certain brook where he would have water to drink, and where the ravens would bring him food. But the day came when the brook dried up. And the scripture tells us:

The Word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath of Sidon and stay there. I have commanded a widow there to supply you with food.” [1 Kings 17:9]

It’s an interesting phrase, “The word of the Lord came to him.” Did God tell Elijah this in an audible voice Or did a thought jump into his mind, and he said, “That must be from God?” God speaks to us in different ways. Some in this congregation have experienced God speaking to them audibly. It’s a very exciting thing when it happens. But most of the time, it isn’t that dramatic. There are many times in our lives when we wish God were more obvious with us. Wouldn’t it be nice if He said things like:

• Tell your classmate about Jesus.

• Take that job.

• This is the girl you should marry.

• Go minister to that stranger.

• Become a Sunday School teacher.

• Give $50,000 to the building fund.

• Tell your boss his behavior is unethical.

• Move to the Northern Neck.

Wouldn’t it clarify things in your life if it were that easy But most of the time, God doesn’t appear to us or whisper audibly in our ear. Most of the time, we get a notion, or an urge. Or several different people will independently say the same thing to us, and we ask ourselves, “Is this God speaking?” Is God revealing the next step in His plan for me Or am I dreaming about the next thing I want to do?

We don’t know how it was for Elijah. The scripture tells us simply, “The word of the Lord” came to him. And what does it say next “So he went to Zarephath.” Once Elijah discerned that it was God’s will, Elijah went and did it. He believed God and acted accordingly. “So he went.”

Again, I raise the question of how it is with us. Could it be said of us, “The word of the Lord came to us and said to go, so we went?” Or did we dance around One of our favorite things is to “test it out.” That is a reasonable thing to do, when we are unsure whose voice we are hearing. But testing it out can easily turn into years of avoidance.

Another thing we like to do is to bargain with God. “Yes, God, I’ll go and do this, but let me take some time to get all my ducks in a row.

Or sometimes we just say “no.” We disobey Him. We turn down His offer. We know that God is gracious and merciful, and that He forgives. So we simply say, “No, Lord, I’m not going to do it.” But let me ask you this: What did you miss out on What experience with God did you miss because you turned down His offer or told Him “no?” I can’t help but think of all the people in the Bible who said “yes” to God, and as a result are part of the Biblical story.

• Noah

• Abraham

• Moses

• Joshua

• Esther

• David

• Nehemiah

• Isaiah

• Mary

The whole list is very long. And there is undoubtedly an equally long list—probably a much longer list—of people who turned down God’s request. But we never heard of them. They were lost in history, and God moved on without their cooperation.

What about the widow in this story this morning Elijah asked for something to drink. And as she went to fetch the water, he asked her to bring him something to eat as well. She told him her story. She and her son were starving, and they had scraped up enough flour and oil for what she feared would be their last meal.

Elijah told her not to be afraid.

Go home and ...make a small cake for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: “The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.” [I Kings 17:13-14]

And how does it tell us the woman responded It says, “She went away and did as Elijah had told her.” (I Kings 17:15) A simple declarative statement. Elijah told her this was from God, and “she went away and did as Elijah had told her.”

And then what did God do The text tells us:

So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah. [I Kings 17:16]

Who ever would have heard of a poor, starving widow from Zarephath if she had told Elijah to get lost Instead, she did as God had commanded her, and God did a miracle that is still talked about 3,000 years later. It was a small miracle in the scheme of things. So why is it in the Bible?

• It is in the Bible because it tells us that God wants us to believe Him.

• It tells us that it takes faith and trust in God for us to believe Him and to act on that trust.

• It is in the Bible because it is part of the overall message that when you say yes to God, God does miraculous things.

But notice another thing this story shows us. It tells us that when we believe God and act in obedience and trust, we put ourselves at His mercy. This woman went and made some bread, and she saw that there was indeed some left over. She could have hidden that away. She had been hungry a long time. She had a hungry child to care for. It must have been hard to give some bread away. And to do so put her at God’s mercy. Now she was relying on God to keep the oil and flour from being used up until the famine came to an end. The text goes on to tell us that the widow continued to feed Elijah for all that time, trusting in God. It must have challenged her. But she did what God had said. And God did what He had said.

How does this translate to your life Have you ever done as this widow of Zarephath did Have you ever heard God, believed Him, and acted upon it What came of it What would you have missed if you had said no?

We modern people struggle over these things. First of all we are scientific people. We are technological people. We are taught in school that the laws of physics cannot be broken. We are taught to use our minds to reason things out, and we expect there to be a rational explanation for things that happen. When something comes along that we can’t explain, like miracles, it is hard for us to believe.

The second thing that makes it hard for us is that we are taught to rely on what we are capable of doing. We grow up with successes and failures. We learn from those. We learn what we are good at and what we are bad at. We learn what works for us and what doesn’t. So when God comes along and says “I want you to stand up in front of a group of people and share your faith,” you say things like:

• I can’t do public speaking.

• I’m afraid.

• I’m not up to the task.

That’s when the questioning starts. That’s when the bargaining starts. That’s where the procrastination and avoidance come from. Remember Moses He told God he was not a good speaker, so he wasn’t the right one to go and say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” But when God said, “I will help you speak and will teach you what to say,” (Exodus 4:12), Moses believed Him.

The questions we face are legitimate and not easy to answer. And everybody faces them:

• How do we hear from God?

• How can we be sure it is God we are hearing?

• Do we believe Him?

• Are we willing to trust Him and put ourselves out there in risky territory?

• And there’s one more really good question: What miraculous things might God be planning to do if I say yes?

Today will be remembered as the end of an era for this congregation. It is the last day before we move into our new church. Building that church was an act of faith. It was the result of believing God when we discerned that He said “Do this and I will bring it to fruition.” We also believed Him when we discerned that He was saying He has great plans for what He is going to do through this congregation in our new location. We are expecting God to do miracles. We are making ourselves available to God so we can be part of those miracles.

This kind of trust is not a new thing for this congregation. Back when we were St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, we were presented with a difficult choice.

• Would we follow our denomination as it strayed further and further from the authoritative Word of God?

• Or would we take a huge risk, leave some friends behind, lose our property and set up a new, Biblically centered expression of Anglicanism in North America?

We didn’t just vote and trust the democratic process. We relied on God to lead us, to provide for us, to do the necessary miracles, and to help us believe Him.

We had to face all those tough questions:

• How do we hear from God?

• How can we be sure it is God we are hearing?

• Do we believe Him?

• Are we willing to trust Him and put ourselves out there in risky territory?

• And what miraculous things might God be planning to do if we say yes?

We hear from God in our prayers, in our Bible reading, and in our faithful conversations among believers. So we have to be listening for God’s guiding voice in those times. In the fall of 2006, when we were making that big decision, we undertook 40 days of discernment. We prayed a lot, we held weekly forums, we studied the Bible, and we ultimately voted. You cannot rely on the democratic process to provide all the discernment you need to make a Godly decision. But if you are praying, studying the Bible and seriously talking among believers, you trust that God is speaking to His people, and the majority are hearing His voice.

The issues are the same for individual believers as well as congregations and whole denominations. What are the things you are wrestling with in your life right now

• Have you asked God in prayer to guide you

• Have you read the Bible with the ears of your heart tuned to God’s frequency

• Have you talked the matter over with mature, faithful Christians you trust?

• And are you prepared to go out on a limb with Jesus if you receive an answer that frightens you?

God doesn’t call you to do something that He does not intend to accomplish. How many times do you hear in the Bible, “Nothing is impossible for God?”

Well, if He calls you, and you say yes, He is going to be with you. How many times do you hear in the Bible, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you?”

He will empower you through His Holy Spirit working in you to do infinitely more than you can ask or imagine. He never said it would be easy. But you sure can trust God to accomplish what He calls you to participate in. God tells us in the Bible, word that goes out from my mouth...will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. [Isaiah 55:11]

God can do it all. And He has a plan. And He wants to use those who put their trust in Him as His partners in His great work of redeeming the world. What He wants most is that we believe Him.

• The Gospel of John, Chapter 1 verse 12, says that to all who receive Him, who believe in His name, He gives the right to become children of God.

• Jesus said that God sent His only Son into the world so that all who believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

It matters deeply to God that we believe Him. And when we do, we become a community of people—

• Who expect to hear from God.

• Who expect God to do miracles.

• Who expect God to use us in His gracious work.

• And who are willing to step out into risky territory, trusting in Him.

God will not disappoint us. He will amaze us and delight us.

© 2015 The Rev. Jeffrey O. Cerar

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