Where Is God?

Where Is God?
1 Kings 19:9-18
August 9, 2020
Rev. Deborah Dail
Denbigh United Presbyterian Church

1 Kings 19: 9-18

9 At that place he (Elijah) came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

Sermon

Have you ever been disappointed with God? Have you ever wondered where God is and why God isn’t doing more? Have you ever wanted to give up on following and serving God? (After all, the pay is bad, there’s no retirement plan, and it is sometimes difficult.) If so, you are in good company with Elijah.

The prophet Elijah is on the run and for good reason. He’s just had a legendary showdown with some other prophets – not prophets of the God of Israel but prophets of Baal – a pagan god worshipped by King Ahab and Queen Jezebel among others. Elijah demonstrated on Mount Carmel God’s unlimited power and the powerlessness of Baal. What was a triumph for Elijah and God was a slap in the face to Ahab and Jezebel. It didn’t help that Elijah killed the prophets of Baal on the spot.

As expected, Jezebel issues a death threat against Elijah. “You’re a dead man walking, Elijah.” “You’re a goner.” Elijah took the threat seriously. After all, Jezebel had killed other prophets of God for far less. So, Elijah runs for his life. He runs to the wilderness. In Scripture the wilderness is both literal and rich with symbolic meaning. The wilderness is a place of testing and trial, of struggle and hardship. It is a place that one journeys through to reach a better place. It is a place where God’s people are taught important lessons.

Elijah says he just wants to die. He’s tired. He’s terrified. I also wonder if he’s ashamed of killing the prophets of Baal. In his despair, he falls asleep and hopes to “wake up dead.” But, God sends an angel to awaken him and to feed him . . . so Elijah can walk for 40 days to another mount – Mount Horeb.

At Mount Horeb, God has the audacity to ask Elijah: “What are you doing here?” I imagine Elijah thinking and maybe even saying: “Are you kidding me? Let me tell you what I’m doing here. I’m running for my life because I’ve given everything I’ve have to serving you, God. It’s gotten me nowhere except on Jezebel’s most-wanted list, exhausted, and alone. I’m done. I’m submitting my letter of resignation and no, I’m not giving 30-days’ notice. I’m done.”

Maybe you’ve felt like Elijah. Maybe you’re right there with Elijah today. You’ve tried your best to serve God and do the right things. You’re advocating and fighting for justice for all, but where has it gotten you or those for whom you fight? You’re working to help kids – your own and others. Where has it gotten you? You’re a caregiver 24/7 or some part of that, you’re giving of yourself. Does God even notice? You’re trying to be a faithful follower of God, but you find yourself constantly in a hostile environment to your faith – maybe even at home. You’ve been faithful your whole life, but life has still been hard, even arduous.  You haven’t been spared hardship. You’re suffering pain. You’re trying to keep going and keep serving and keep smiling, but it’s all so difficult. Someone in your family or a dear friend has died – perhaps tragically, unnecessarily, prematurely. Where does following God really get you? Are there no perks for following God, for giving ourselves in service, for being faithful?

The Lord says to Elijah, go stand on the mountain. I’m about to pass by. This sounds hopeful. Finally, God is going to give Elijah what he deserves for all his hard work – a real hearing, maybe even some accolades.  Instead, “A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t found in the wind; after the wind and earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.” (The Message)

Elijah is not impressed. It’s the sheer silence or as some translate it the “quiet whisper” that gets him out of the cave. God asks Elijah once more: “What are you doing here?” And, Elijah repeats the same litany about his life as a prophet and its incredible hardships.

Certainly, God will accept his resignation on the spot. Certainly, God will bring comfort and relief to this burned out, despondent, depressed man. Perhaps God will give him a huge pat on the back, a spectacular retirement party, and a gift.

Well, yes and no. God actually sends Elijah on another journey back through the wilderness. Elijah can resign, but first he must get things in order for the next guy and he has to anoint the next guy – Elisha. Seriously?

            Earlier in the service Bill Martin sang “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” a song written by Gospel and jazz musician Thomas Andrew Dorsey. By God’s grace Elijah mustered the strength to go on the journey and complete his ministry. I have to wonder if Elijah might well have identified with the prayerful words expressed in the song as he left the cave: “Precious Lord, take my hand; lead me on, help me stand; I am tired. I am weak, I am worn. Through the storm, through the night, lead me on to the light; take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.”

Thomas Andrew Dorsey wrote these words when he was 32 years old and had suffered the loss of both his wife and son in childbirth. “Grief consumed him. At some point in his journey of sorrow, knowing that he could not move forward without God’s help, recognizing that his trust belonged only with his Lord, he sat at a piano and composed ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand.’” (Mindy Douglas, Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship, Year A, Volume 3, p. 220)

Listen again to the second verse: “When my way grows drear, precious Lord, linger near; when my life is almost gone, hear my cry, hear my call, hold my hand lest I fall; take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.”

God was always present to Elijah, even when Elijah could not feel or see or hear God. God was with Elijah in his triumphs and in his depression and in every location and state of being. And God is also with us wherever we are and whatever we are facing. In Elijah’s story, God sent an angel to give him food for the journey to Mount Horeb. In Elijah’s story, God gave Elijah a place to rest. In Elijah’s story, God listened to Elijah’s heartfelt complaints, brokenness, and utter burnout.

In Elijah’s story, God still had more for Elijah to do and God provided him the strength to do it. Whether Elijah realized it or not, his precious Lord did take his hand and led him . . . even carried him “through the storm, through the night, and to the light.” God also provided someone to take over for Elijah in God’s time, not Elijah’s.

I believe we can count on God to do all the same for us in our weariness, our weakness, our frustration, our depression, our fear, and our deepest needs. Hold out your hand today. The Lord will take your hand and lead you through all you are facing into the light of hope and love.