Preached: February 24, 2013
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts is 1 Kings 19
Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah and said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God almighty. You see, the Israelites has forsaken your covenant, torn down our altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I am the only one left, and they are going after my life to do me in.
[The LORD] said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD. The LORD will be passing by.”
There was a strong, powerful wind tearing apart the mountain and shattering the cliffs before the LORD. But the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake. But the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire. But the LORD was not in the fire. After the fire, a quiet whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his cloak around his face and went out to stand at the cave's mouth. And then a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9b-13).
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
Jesus looked like any other man. The prophet Isaiah writes, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him” (Isaiah 53:2 NIV84). He wouldn't have made the cover of /People Magazine/. Yes, on the Mount of Transfiguration a glimpse of his divine glory shined through. Peter, James, and John witnessed it.
But soon Jesus hid that glory again. He came down from the mountain top. For you see, dear friends, he did not come to the earth to display his glorious majesty but to accomplish the glory of salvation in the shame of the cross. At the cross human eyes see only the lowest disgrace, the most excruciating pain, and the darkness of death. But faith sees our glorious salvation in Christ's bloody cross.
As his followers, we too live under a cross. Yet we're still attracted to what appears successful, prosperous, exciting, promising, or outwardly spiritual. And even though we know better, when things don't turn out the way we were hoping and praying for, the weight of despair crushes our spirits.
Elijah felt that weight. He tried to run away. He gave up and wanted to die. But the Lord strengthened him. Despite his feeling of failure and despite his questioning of why God didn't act more forcefully, the Lord was at work. For you see, his real work -- his saving work -- is accomplished by his gentle whisper.
Still today we hear the Lord's gentle whisper calling out from the Scriptures, his written word. That's the theme today. Listen to that voice. And speak to other with that voice. The Lord's gentle whisper calls out from the Scriptures.
“I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty” (1 Kings 19:14 NIV84), Elijah said. And recall from your Bible reading what a mighty prophet Elijah had been.
He had told wicked king Ahab that there would be no more rain or dew for the next few years. Famine set in. But Elijah trusted the Lord to send the ravens to bring him food, as he had promised. When the brook that had provided him water dried up, Elijah followed the Lord's instructions and went to Zarephath outside of Israel. He asked a window for some water and a bit of bread. She told him that she has no bread and only enough flour and oil to make one last meal for herself and her son before they starved. He asked that she make him a small piece of bread first, for the Lord had promised that the flour and oil would not run out until rain came. What faith, holding on to the Lord's word of promise, though it seemed so impossible! And later, when her son died. What a miracle when the Lord raised the boy from the dead in answer to Elijah's prayer!
And what zeal Elijah showed when he challenged the prophets of Baal. They would prepare a sacrifice to Baal and call on him to send down fire to burn it. He would prepare a sacrifice to the Lord and call on him. And you know what happened. Nothing came from Baal, even though they called out all day and cut themselves hoping he'd take pity on them. Elijah prayed and the fire came down and burnt not only the sacrifice but also the wood, the stones, and the soil and licked up the water. The people rallied to the Lord and put to death the prophets of Baal. What a spectacular victory!
But the next day Queen Jezebel, Ahab's wife, threatened Elijah's life, and he ran away. Soon he had totally given up and wanted to die. He sees the trouble out there and feels so alone, so isolated. “I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too!” (1 Kings 19:10 NIV84).
The Lord's way often leads us through dark valleys and we wonder why. We see what appears to be the success and the triumph of others, even those who don't follow Jesus. Why doesn't God act? How come those who oppose his ways succeed, and we, his children, suffer or fail? Why doesn't our congregation grow? Why does our country drift farther and farther into evil? Where are God's mighty works?
But from God's Word learn the Lord's way, dear friend. He was not in the mighty wind, the earthquake, or the fire. He came in the still, small voice -- the gentle whisper of his grace and mercy. His grace and mercy called Elijah to repentance: What are you doing here when I had sent you to proclaim my Word as prophet to Israel. His grace and mercy whisper the comfort of forgiveness in the Savior, for the Lord had not abandoned Elijah. His grace and mercy promise his continual care despite what goes in the world around us. For as he continues to speak to Elijah, the Lord makes it clear that he, the Lord, determines which kings rise and fall.
Yes, the Lord can use mighty wonders: raining down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, devastating Egypt with ten plagues. But that was the might of judgment against sin and unbelief. He came down on Mount Sinai in storm and fire. But that was to give commandments. His grace and mercy come with that gentle whisper, that still, small voice. They come through the words of the Scriptures.
Jesus came in grace and mercy not leading an army of angels in mighty array but as baby -- a tiny, weak, dependent baby laid in a manger. In his ministry he did miracles, but miracles of mercy, healing the sick, not bringing the storm but calming it. The religious leaders did not accept them as proof. They wanted different signs from him to prove his authority. But Jesus' gave them only the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, so Jesus would be in the belly of the earth three days. Yes, he would die, die a most weak, ignoble, dark death, nailed to a cross on public display. But he rose from the dead and the third day. That's the proof that in the dark, dismal cross is God's true, saving glory. Jesus walked the darkest path to bear your sins and mine and sacrificed himself as the full payment to redeem you. Hear that gentle whisper from his lips and believe with all you heart: “You are forgiven. You will be with me in paradise.”
Yes, dear friends, listen. Listen to the gentle whisper of his grace and mercy. God may use winds, earthquakes, and fire. But he is not in them. Don't count on what appears powerful, attractive, or effective. Listen to his gentle whisper. He calls to you through his word in the Scriptures and the Sacraments. You need no other source. The Lord's gentle whisper calls out from the Scriptures. Listen to it.
And speak with that same voice. Speak to others with that same gentle whisper.
The Lord has work for Elijah to do. He is to anoint Elisha to be his successor and teach him. Elijah was to continue to proclaim the word of the Lord, trusting the Lord. For he was not alone. The Lord had reserved seven thousand in Israel who had not worshiped Baal.
So dear Christian friends, since you have heard the gentle whisper calling out to you from the Scriptures, share those words of grace and mercy with others. We often say that in the context of doing mission work and evangelism. But today I want you to think of how you can share the Lord's grace and mercy with your fellow Christians. How can you encourage them, even as the Lord encouraged Elijah?
Encouragement is one of the spiritual gifts listed in Romans 12. The world has its share of encouragers including motivational speakers, self-help gurus, and life coaches and counselors. And their skills can be helpful. But that's not what I'm talking about here. Rather when you encourage by using the same message that the Scriptures proclaim, you are doing the work of the Holy Spirit. For the Scriptures are the sword of the Spirit. You are speaking with that gentle whisper that flows from God's grace and mercy.
How can you spiritually encourage your fellow Christians? No doubt you are doing that in ways you may not even realize right now. But here are a few thoughts as well. Let's picture a fellow Christian like Elijah who is feeling so alone and useless. The Lord's gentle whisper flows from his grace and mercy. So as you speak to others with that gentle whisper, do so out of grace and mercy. Fight the temptations to feel superior or to think that this other Christian must've been feeling a little too high and mighty so God put him in his place.
Let God's grace and mercy show in the way you speak. Saying something like, “Don't you know that a Christian would be happier,” sounds like an accusation or put down. Speak wisely, letting God's grace and mercy shine through your words. Speak with the desire to draw them closer to Jesus.
What could you say? The exact words depend on the situation and your relationship, but encourage them with God's promises, recorded in the Scriptures. He promised, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV84). Remind them how close Jesus came to us, taking flesh and blood to be our Savior. He certainly won't leave us for whom he bled and died. Point out to them how great the care of our heavenly Father is who watches over us night and day. Point to our risen Savior. No matter how depressing the news of this world is, he, who died for you and me, reigns over all. He presents you to the Father as his bride, washed clean of your sins and dressed in his righteousness. Remind them how God adopted them into his own family through Baptism giving them his name. Share with them your own struggles to believe the Lord's promises, but despite our stumbling God is faithful. He is the Lord, who keeps his word.
The Bible proclaims so many more gracious and merciful promises to us as the Lord's gentle whisper calls out from the Scriptures. Listen to that voice more and more so that you can speak with that same voice to encourage others. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.