All Quiet on the Mountain Top
My family recently had the opportunity to go to Pikes Peak, and we were in awe at the wonders which God has done. At around 9000 ft above sea level, we looked out at the valley and all the of water below as well as across at the other mountains nearby. In one moment you could see multiple shades of blue, green, brown and white, none of them man-made, all things which can only be replicated as a pale reflection. As we got closer to 12000ft we entered into a cloud, and I was grateful that someone else was in control of driving as we rounded bends you could only see 1 second before you were on them. We got to the top of the mountain and enjoyed one of the best donuts I have had in my life. Just the right amount of fried taste without being too heavy. Just the right amount of sweetness without being sickening. But one of the most awe inspiring moments happened after we had gone a bit further back down the mountain. We had gotten out of the vehicle at one of the shuttle check points, and while we were climbing up to the top of a ledge there, we suddenly here “Boom…” The echoing of the thunder bouncing from mountain to mountain was powerful and I was struck silent at its presence.
In our Old Testament lesson for today, Elijah has a somewhat similar and yet profoundly different mountain top experience. Now before I retell that account from 1 Kings 19, I want to set the stage a little bit. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel are the rulers of the Kingdom of Israel and they were as wicked as they come. As a means of God trying to call His people back to a right relationship with Him, He sends a drought upon the land that lasted for a few years. During that time, God provided for Elijah. After that time, God commanded Elijah to go to King Ahab and that God would bring forth the rain upon the land. So Elijah goes to Ahab, and Ahab blames Elijah for the lack of rain, but Elijah instructs Ahab to call all the people of Israel and all 450 of the prophets of the false god Baal, for there would be a battle royale of Divine proportions. So Elijah, the false prophets, the people of Israel and Ahab go up to the top of mount Carmel for this heavenly contest, and Elijah says to the people, look, there is clearly only 1 almighty God. If YHWH is God then follow Him and Him alone, if it is Baal then follow him, but stop this going back and forth. And the people remained silent. So then Elijah says here are the rules for this celestial showdown, the prophets of Baal and I will each set up our own respective altar with firewood and a bull sacrifice, but we won’t light the fire. Instead we will call to our respective gods and the Deity that lights the fire will be recognized as the true God. Then the people responded, what you say is good. So the prophets of Baal set up their altar, place the firewood, and prepare the beast for the sacrifice, and then call out to their god. But of course nothing happens. They even attempt painful rituals as a means of trying to elicit their god to act, but nothing happens. Then Elijah prepares his altar to the true God, he lays out the wood, puts his bull on the altar, and then even digs a trench around the altar. He then instructs to have four large urns of water be poured over the altar until the trench was filled. Just in case you have not lit many fires in life, this would make the wood so wet that it would be practically impossible to light. Elijah then calls to God, and fire from the Lord comes down and consumes not only the offering and the wood, but the fire is so great that it also consumes the stones and the dust, and licks up all the water that was in the trench. Clearly God is the God in Israel, and so Elijah tells the people to capture and kill the false prophets of Baal. Then God brought forth the rains ending the drought.
If that were the ending everything would be great. God has demonstrated before the people of Israel and King Ahab that He is the living God, the true God, the Almighty. Elijah should be treated to a place of honor within the kingdom, being the only one who unequivocally supported the true God and never faltered. But that is not how the story continues. Instead, the king, who witnessed all these things, tells his wife Jezebel what had happened, and her response was to declare with an oath that the gods should cause her harm unless by that very day she does to Elijah what he did to the false prophets. Ahab doesn’t even come to Elijah’s defense after what he saw God do. So Elijah immediately flees and wishes for a swift end to all of this. He is done with it. But an angel comes to him and gives him food and water to prepare him for a long journey. Elijah traveled hundreds of miles to go to the place where he knew God had revealed himself, all the way to Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai, the Mountain that God revealed himself to Moses.
Now we come to our reading from earlier. Understandably Elijah is upset. The people and the king ought to have defended him, but after the queen wants him dead, then his life is in danger. And God says to Elijah, “What are you doing here Elijah.” It is as if God is saying, this is not where you are supposed to be right now, you have other work to do. But Elijah states his case before God and says “I have been very zealous for YHWH the God of Hosts, but the people aren’t following you and they killed your prophets and now I am the only one left, and they want to kill me too.” And God tells him to stand on the mount before the Lord, but Elijah doesn’t go right away. The text says the Lord passed by and then three cataclysmic events take place. A strong wind blew, a wind so powerful that it broke rocks into pieces, and then an earthquake, and then another fire. But according to the text, neither this fire, nor the earthquake, nor the wind contained God’s presence. But after the fire, was the sound of a low whisper. Some translations even say it was the sound of silence. And when Elijah heard it, he covered his face and went out and stood at the entrance to the cave. And once again God asks Elijah, what are you doing here? And again Elijah mounts the same case “I am alone, and it feels like following you has not worked out for me, all I see in my future is more pain and anguish.” And the Lord responds to Elijah Go, return on your way.
Sometimes this is how life seems to go isn’t it. I am not suggesting that any of us have had our life threatened by the Governor of Colorado for following God. Rather what I mean is that sometimes we feel alone and worn down and beaten. We strive to do our job, to do our part, and follow God’s will for our lives, and yet still somehow trouble comes our way. It could be other people failing to communicate with you when you are trying to get stuff done for your family. It could be unforeseen bills suddenly pilling up making you wonder how you are going to get through this week much less this month. It could be the illness of a loved one that the doctors don’t know what to do to make that person all better. There are these and numerous other examples of the difficulties that we face in this life, and everytime we are left feeling so alone. Adding further challenge is that in these moments we might even faithfully turn to God, and yet the answer it seems like we get back is nothing more than what are you doing here, go back on your way. But Elijah’s story doesn’t end there, and neither does our story with God.
God tells Elijah, go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael, and Jehu, and Elisha…and I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him. You see God’s response to Elijah is not simply Go, as if God were communicating to Elijah that he is just some lowly person and God is the Big supreme God that doesn’t have time for Elijah. Our God is not the God that solely comes in power and might and strength, and how dare you come to him with your miniscule problems. Our God is one who comes in the gentle whisper and the sound of silence. Our God listens to our cries of pain and feeling alone. He cares about our hurts. God does not simply tell Elijah to go, but instead tells him to go with a plan. You see while in the midst of pain it may look as though nothing good will happen in the future and everything will be lost, but remember that our God has a plan for us. God’s plan for us does include some work on our part. Just like Elijah had somewhere else to be, God does not just tell us “come to me with your hurts and I will fix them all for you with the snap of my finger. Instead God guides us and uses us in His plan, and we do have work to do.
The other thing that is important for us to notice today from Elijah’s story is that you are not as alone as you think you are. Elijah’s words to God were “they have killed your prophets with the sword, and I alone am left.” Elijah felt as though his pain, his brokenness, his struggle was upon him and him alone. But God told Elijah not only that God would raise up 3 specific individuals to help with the needs of the kingdom, but God also says that there are 7,000 other people who are faithfully working for the kingdom. I want you to take a moment to look around you at the other people sitting here in church with you today. These are your brothers and sisters. We are a family. All of us have been equally adopted into God’s family. Each of us have been called to care for each other as a part of being family. God has charged us and equipped us to be able to care for our brothers and sisters when they come to us with their burdens. Sometimes we are simply equipped to pray for our brother or sister in need, all of us can do that. Sometimes we can give a comforting hug or share a word of care and love. Sometimes you might be especially gifted to help a struggling sibling with your gifts or talents, or you might have a connection with someone else who can help that sibling.
What I am trying to tell you is that in this broken world, at this current age before the end of ages, we feel hurts, pains and struggles. But know that God has a plan for you. The plan might not be what you want, expect, and you may not even be able to see it at the time, but the plan is for your blessing. Know as well that you are not alone in your hurts, pains and struggles. For God has provided for you a family. A family who is called to carry each other’s burdens. May you find comfort amidst any pain this week in the knowledge of these two truths. And if anyone comes to you with a burden to share, may you be ready to care for their needs as you are able. Amen.