Recovering a Lost Destiny



Inspired by 2 Kings 22:1-11, 23:2-3

For those of you who are tracking the path that God’s people are on in these stories that we’ve been reading this Fall, we are about a hundred years past last week’s story from Isaiah. In that story, the northern kingdom, Israel, was in danger of being conquered by the Assyrian empire. Well, since that story and this one from 2 Kings, that’s exactly what happened. The northern kingdom is no more. All that’s left of God’s people are now in the southern kingdom of Judah, which is where we get the modern name “Jew.”

This was the worst fear for the kingdom of Judah because now the Assyrians are on their doorstep. Over that last hundred years, the southern kingdom had been on a roller coaster of a ride with times of peace and long times of strife. They had a few good kings over the years, but the bad ones, were really bad. All of them though were descendants of David.

Their last two kings, before Josiah from today’s story, were particularly bad, especially King Manasseh. He was quite literally the worst of the worst! I mean, idol worship was just the beginning of his errors. He was so bad, he practiced child sacrifice! Even burned his own son alive. Like I said, the worst of the worst. Judah had to endure his reign for fifty-five years! When he died, his son Amon became king at the age of 22, was just as bad as his father, but was assassinated by his own officials two years later, which is why his son Josiah was so young when he took over the throne. King Josiah, however, was nothing like his father and grandfather. If Manasseh was the worst of the worst then Josiah was the best of the best. Biblical authors wrote very highly of him.

Of all the royal figures in the Bible, Jesus was probably the only one above Josiah. So, King Josiah returned to the worship of the God of Sarah and Abraham. And along with that, he decided to use the offerings of the people, their tithes, to repair God’s temple that had been neglected for many generations. While they are in the middle of those repairs and renovations, a scroll is discovered. They open it, read it, and weep. Why? Because, as scholars now believe, it was the book of Deuteronomy. The book that contained the promises of God for the people of God. As well as the warnings if they didn’t keep their end of the bargain.

They wept because they were lost, and even a good king like Josiah didn’t know how lost they really were, until someone showed him that scroll. This is really hard for us modern readers to comprehend, especially in the information age when nothing gets lost anymore, even stuff you’d like to get lost. But this would be like, ripping up this old carpet, and finding a Bible under there, and everyone looking at it and not knowing what it is! And then opening it and reading the story of Jesus for the first time and then looking around this room and saying, “Oh, so that’s why a cross is there! Oh, so that’s what that table is for! Oh, so water must go in that shell back there!” Can you even imagine that? It’s difficult I know, but that’s the state they were in when King Josiah came to the throne.

After generations of poor leadership, they had lost who they were. One of my favorite theologians, Walter Brueggemann, wrote a fantastic commentary on 1 & 2 Kings. About this particular passage, he writes, “The narrative presents Josiah’s act as an act of such profound importance that it parallels the founding act of Moses at Sinai...This act is nothing less than the recovery of a lost destiny.”

Not only had they lost who they were, they lost what they were created for in the world. They had lost their sense of purpose. That is a frightening place to be for anyone, let alone a whole nation of people. It’s one thing to ask, “Who am I?” Or “Who are we?” But something else entirely to ask, “Why am I here?” Or “Why are we here?” So, what can we learn from this story of King Josiah today? Because, at face value, it seems very far removed from anything we’ve experienced, but I’m not so sure about that.

Even we modern humans have a history of losing our way, losing our identity, losing our purpose, our destiny. We modern humans have a history of allowing things to get in the way of all that. Maybe they’re not as dramatic as idol worship or child sacrifice. Or, maybe they are. God knows that some of the world’s worst atrocities have been committed in our God’s name, in our God’s churches. All examples of times when we have lost who we are and what we were made for.

As I look at my own life, and the journey I’ve been on for the past forty-five years, I can see how I have changed, and grown, and transformed. And it wasn’t easy, let me tell you! I went kicking and screaming the whole way. This may surprise some of you but I haven’t always believed the way I do today. I think a lot of people think because I’m younger that I’ve always been a progressive thinker. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

I once believed that Jews were going to hell, especially after an ELCA pastor affirmed that. I once believed that homosexuals were going to hell, because I thought that’s what the Bible said. I once believed that children shouldn’t take communion because that’s what my church always practiced. I once believed that every word of the Bible came out of the mouth of God and should be interpreted literally, because my church never taught me to do otherwise. I once believed that women should not be pastors because that’s what the Bible says!

And then I went to college and learned how the world has come to be the place it is, how people have become the people we are; the history behind it all, the science behind it all, the psychology, sociology, anthropology behind it all. And then I want to seminary. And had my world and my faith rocked to its very core! It was those two experiences that caused me to rediscover who I was, whose I was, and what I was here for.

And lo and behold, it was not to judge: other people for the religion they were born into, or for who they love, or for what they know or don’t know, or for how old they are, or for what genitalia they were born with; or who God can speak through or not, or who is in and who is out, or who is loved by God and who is not. All these things and more I thought was my purpose here on Earth. Only to find out I was dead wrong. That was not an easy road my friends. It was quite painful in fact. But worth it.

Worth it because as I have rediscovered who I was, and what my purpose here is, I now have the opportunity to share that new life with others, and more importantly, to bring life into this world, instead of the death I was bringing before. Because let’s be honest, we’re not just talking about our theologies and philosophies on life. People are dying, either at the hands of others or by their own hands, either literally or emotionally, because so many humans, particularly the followers-of-God variety, have lost who they are, whose they are, and what their purpose is.

What I love about this story of King Josiah making the necessary changes to realign themselves with God’s will for them is the fact that their world was crumbling all around them. The Assyrians were breathing down their necks, ready to pounce on them like a lioness. And yet, none of that mattered to King Josiah. He could have just as easily thought, “Why bother? What’s the point? We’re about to be conquered, so why even bother returning to God now?”

But for King Josiah, right was right and wrong was wrong. People were suffering because they had lost their way, lost their destiny, and it didn’t matter how much longer they had here on Earth, they were going to do their best to make things right. I love that about them! Like Martin Luther who is credited with saying, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would end, today I’d still plant an apple tree.” King Josiah held on to hope with his last breath. There is something counter-cultural, and bold, and in-your-face about it that is so inspiring.

So, as you ponder this story this coming week, think about the journey you’ve been on. In what ways have you rediscovered your identity, your purpose here? What changes has God lead you to and more importantly, why? I’m guessing that if you really think about it, those changes have not just been for your own benefit, but for the benefit of the world around you.

The challenging part of all of this, and, quite frankly, the scary part, is wondering what’s next for you! Wondering what God could possibly ask you to change next! Wondering what is left for you to discover about who you are, whose you are, and what your purpose here is. “Aren’t I done yet?” you may ask! We’re all a work in progress aren’t we? Thankfully, God is never done with us. Thankfully, we have each other to lean on, the next time we find that next scroll, and dust it off, and read it, and gasp, and start the whole process over again, of rediscovering a lost destiny. What an adventure! Thanks be to God. Amen.

A Love That Just Won't Die



Inspired by Isaiah 5:1-7, 11:1-5

Our reading for today out of Isaiah comes from the same time period as last week’s reading from Hosea. These two prophets were actually contemporaries but there’s no evidence that they knew each other personally. Hosea’s ministry was in the northern kingdom of Israel, and Isaiah’s was in the southern kingdom of Judah. Last week we talked about how bad things had gotten in the north, especially since the split of the two kingdoms, how bad their behavior was, but also how loving and forgiving God ended up being with them.

So, now we shift our focus to the south, where Isaiah’s ministry was. Things aren’t much better there. Isaiah’s got his hands full as well. But what’s interesting about this shift in focus is to see them keep an eye on what is going on in the north. The neighboring kingdom of Assyria is threatening the northern kingdom’s borders. And so, like any country would do, they are paying close attention to how things go with them, especially because, if Assyria invades the north, they might set their sights on the south! International relations were not all that different than they are today. The technology is different but people are people, no matter the time or place.

So, Isaiah has the responsibility to help get his people’s lives in order, particularly their spiritual lives. From Isaiah’s perspective, they need to get right with God because the future was tenuous at best. However, Isaiah takes a different approach that Hosea was taking with the people in the north. Isaiah’s approach is harsh, it’s direct, it’s raw, even quite brutal. Oh, it doesn’t start that way, it starts off very sweet in fact, “let me sing a love song about a vineyard,” Isaiah writes.

It goes on about a friend who dug the vineyard, cleared away stones, planted the best vines, and built a tower and wine press. Granted, Isaiah was a prophet and not Paul McCartney. A love songwriter he was not. I’m glad he kept his day job. Regardless, just one and a half verses in is where the sweet, warm and fuzzy feelings end, and the “love song” takes a very dark turn indeed.

Apparently, the vineyard produced bad grapes instead of the good grapes that were expected. But that wasn’t the most tragic part. The song goes on to describe how the vintner reacts to the bad grapes. It’s not good. The vintner removes the hedges and walls of protection, and then abandons it—leaving it to the wilderness. Oh, and for added measure, commands the clouds not to rain on it, thereby starving it to a very slow death.

Maybe Isaiah should have been a horror filmmaker instead of trying his hand at love songs! I’m wondering if Isaiah had ever even heard a love song before! My guess is no. Now, even though it doesn’t say explicitly who the vintner is, we are lead by Isaiah to believe that it’s God. And I think that’s a safe assumption. What I think is not a safe assumption is Isaiah’s interpretation of events, namely, that this is really how God operates.

But before we get into that, the song ends with Isaiah singing, “God expected justice, but there was bloodshed; righteousness, but all God heard were cries of suffering.” The good grapes that God was expecting from God’s people were justice and righteousness. And we don’t have to guess what Isaiah is referring to by “justice and righteousness.” Those are clearly laid out throughout the whole of the Hebrew scriptures. They include feeding the poor, caring for orphans, refugees, and widows, welcoming immigrants, attending to the sick.

Sound familiar? All the same things that Jesus sends us out to do. But just like today, God was watching the news reports then too. And what God was seeing on the news was not what God was calling people to do. Because just like today, the news was full of violence, like the recent school shooting in Santa Clarita; the news was full of people starving like they are in modern-day Yemen; the news was full of hatred just like it is today with stories of hatred toward people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community.

Again, not a lot has changed over the centuries. People are people no matter the time and place.  And it was this reality that caused Isaiah to take such a harsh stance against God’s people. Because Isaiah knew that if people would only strive for justice and righteousness the way that God had been calling them to for centuries, these world issues would not be issues. Even Isaiah and Hosea knew that there was enough food to go around for everyone, that caring for widows, orphans, immigrants, and the sick was within the realm of possibility if people cared enough. But people are people, no matter the time or place, and so Isaiah, like Hosea, was at his wits end. And so his harshness is understandable even if we don’t necessarily agree with it. So let’s address that now.

Isaiah was a man of his time. Like many ancient cultures, he believed that everything that happened around him was the work of God. Just about every ancient religion believed that when good things happened, it was time to thank God for it. And when bad things happened, it was time to ask for forgiveness because they believed that they must have done something for God to make that bad thing happen.

A drought? Who else controls the rain but God? They didn’t know about weather patterns and meteorology! So God caused droughts and since God is holy, God must have had a good reason to do it. We must have been really bad, they thought. Lose a battle? Who else could give them victory but God? So, every loss was chalked up to something they must have done wrong. How else could you explain God abandoning us on the battlefield?

These examples might seem kind of silly to our ears but this is the way they believed. You only have to take one ancient history or anthropology class to learn this. Every ancient religion began this way, including our own. What I continue to remind people is that just because we started that way doesn’t mean we have to stay that way! Because if I believed that God caused pain and suffering in the world through things like famine and plagues and war and, as in this case, the overthrow of a government, I wouldn’t be standing here as a pastor right now.

My faith just does not have room for a God like that. So, when I hear a prophet like Isaiah blame God for a calamity that has befallen them I just think to myself, well of course he did! He was a product of his era. But we are not. Today we know things like: plagues spread from unsanitary conditions, and droughts are caused by weather patterns, or pollution induced global warming but we don’t need to go there today, and battles are lost due to poor strategizing. We don’t need God to inflict these things on us. We do just fine on our own.

So, why do I continue to remind people of this? Because that type of ancient theology is still present today. Here’s an example: I was on internship in Alabama and my wife Sara was working for a hospice center. She had a family whose child had just died and when they were asked if they’d like a pastor they said yes. Only to have that pastor tell them that it was their lack of faith that caused their child to die.

When Sara heard this she was devastated for them, as well as angry, but when she apologized and asked if they’d like to see a different pastor, thinking me this time, they understandably refused. If that’s the kind of theology that the church is going to spread out into the world, then it’s no wonder that people are giving up on faith throughout the country! People aren’t stupid! They can see right through that bad theology, to the rotten grapes within. And it’s a misinterpretation of bible passages like today’s that perpetuate that bad theology, and quite frankly, destroys people’s spiritual lives.

However, Isaiah is the most quoted prophet by New Testament authors, and for good reason. We may not agree with all of Isaiah’s theology but one of the reasons why Isaiah was quoted so often is because of the many seeds of hope that he planted that were allowed to sprout and bloom and flourish in our Christian scriptures. Today we read from two chapters, we’ve talked about the doom and gloom chapter, but the reading from the other chapter is much more hopeful. Isaiah writes about a stump, a stump with roots. Normally when you think of a stump you think death! But Isaiah’s stump, in spite of its death, sprouts a shoot from that stump! And the authors of our Christian scriptures identified that shoot as referring to Jesus.

In spite of all that had befallen God’s people, and all that was about to happen to them, Isaiah knew, in his heart of hearts, that all was not lost. That even God could help them overcome death. And I couldn’t help but think of those darn rose bushes that we dug up in my new backyard/wilderness. They were not easy to dig up, and we tried to get as much of the roots up as we could. And all was good for a while, all except for this one rose bush. It has come back twice so far. It just does not want to die.

And who does? All it wants to do is live, and grow, and flower. I almost feel sorry for it. Almost. Third times the charm. The next hymn we will sing is Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming. I did not pick it which made its selection all the more serendipitous. It was first printed in 1599 in Germany but the original author is unknown. As you will see in a moment the author clearly had this passage from Isaiah about a sprout from a stump in mind but why it’s interpreted as a rose I have no idea. I’ll give extra credit points to anyone who can find that out!

Whatever the reason may be, I know firsthand how difficult it is to kill a rose bush. And so, when you sing this song, my prayer for you is this; that you remember just how difficult it is to destroy God’s love for you, that no matter your circumstances God will never abandon you, that no matter how much pain and suffering you may endure, none of it comes from God, that no matter how hopeless things may be, God will always get the last word, and that word, will be life to you, in abundance. Thanks be to God. Amen.

God, Hosea, and The Runaway Bunny



Inspired by Hosea 11:1-9 and The Runaway Bunny

[After reading The Runaway Bunny...]

I did some pretty dumb things as a kid. Well, dumb doesn’t quite describe some of my behavior. It would be more accurate to say I did some very wrong things as a kid. When I look back on those years, my misbehavior is quite embarrassing. Like that time I stole money from my parents just to have a good time in San Francisco. Or that time that my best friend and I thought it would be a good idea to climb the roof and shoot neighborhood kids with a BB gun. Or that time I snuck out with my dad’s 67’ Camaro so that I could see just how fast it really went. Or that time…well, I’ll stop there. No one who knew me back then would have ever believed that someday I would be standing in a pulpit, wearing a stole, sharing my wisdom.

Looking back on those years also makes me respect and love my parents all the more. I’m not quite sure how they resisted the urge to strangle me in my sleep. But resist they did. In fact, in spite of their tendency to overreact over small misbehaviors, those times when I really screwed up, like the examples that I just gave you and more, they were surprisingly quite calm.

Those were the times when even I knew I deserved to get my butt beat with my dad’s belt but no, they merely handed out a consequence, like having to paint the house, or apologizing to the neighbor kid’s parents face to face. But when I expected them to go off the rails in anger, or yell and scream at me, or get the belt, they didn’t. I knew I deserved it. I don’t think I would have even protested if they had. But they didn’t. Though they had every right to, they resisted.

Our Bible story for today comes from the book of Hosea, one of the twelve minor prophets. They are referred to as minor, not because of their lack of importance or influence, far from as we will see, but they are called minor simply due to their short length. These twelve books range between only one to fourteen chapters each. In fact, they are so short that they were originally all printed on one scroll, making one Book of the Twelve, as it was known.

It was only much later that they were separated into 12 distinct books. But maybe the most important detail about this book is the fact that it’s one of the oldest books of the entire Bible, predating even most of the book of Genesis! So, being one of the first books written by God’s people, one cannot overstate its importance or influence on that new religion of our Judeo-Christian faith.

Hosea was a prophet to the Northern Kingdom, remember the kingdom split in two a couple weeks ago, and as I mentioned last week they were in almost constant turmoil. The Northern Kingdom, known as Israel, found a short period of peace with King Jeroboam but once he was gone things really fell apart and this is the time that Hosea was prophet there. He did his best to guide them, correct them, admonish them, as prophets do, but to no avail. Israel as a whole was just as misbehaved as I was as a kid. And what was one of its chief sins? You could probably guess by now, idolatry. They just could not kick the habit of worshipping other gods. And there’s good reason for that.

You may remember from about a month ago, when we read about God’s people first entering the Promised Land, there were people already living there and though they were ordered to kill them all, they usually didn’t and ended up living with them, even marrying the native inhabitants. And this meant, infusing their gods with our God. It just seemed like the natural thing to do and for the most part it was allowed, even encouraged at times. And then you had prophets like Hosea who claimed that this idolatry was the reason for all their troubles and tried to get them to stop, again, to no avail. They continue in their misbehavior regardless of the warnings.

So, in this chapter that we read from Hosea, we are given the image of God as parent. And now that we know this to be one of the first books of the Bible written, it’s interesting to know that this image of God as parent was foundational to our faith. Just as interesting, is the fact that nowhere in this imagery is the word “father” used. In fact, you could make a case that it describes a stereotypical mother more than it does a father, with God teaching them to walk and picking them up in God’s arms and lifting them as an infant to God’s cheek.

But for the purpose of this sermon, it’s enough to just focus on God as parent, and specifically a parent in ancient Israel. Sometimes we too easily take these stories out of their ancient context and force them into our own. Sometimes that’s ok but sometimes we lose something when we do that and this is one of those times. The parent/child relationship in ancient Israel was very different than in this time and location. And one only has to look at the Bible for clues.

In ancient Israel, children were thought of as less than, as inferior, as voiceless, and sometimes even as property. And one thing that was expected of them was total and complete obedience. Now, you might be thinking, “Well, we expect our kids to obey us!” Well, yes but they took it to an extreme, this was obedience on steroids! In the book of Deuteronomy, it clearly states that any parent who has a child that misbehaves has the right to execute that child by stoning. Like I said, obedience on steroids.

This is what was expected of them. That’s the kind of obedience that was expected of children. And more importantly, that was the kind of punishment that was expected of parents to hand out. So, in this chapter of Hosea, when God starts speaking about God’s relationship with Israel as a parent to a child, everyone of that time would have begun to shake in their boots! They would have known where this was headed! And they would have figured, “Well, goodbye world! We had a good run.”

But! God, as always, is full of surprises! God does not do what is expected of God to do. Why? As God put it, because “I am God, and not a human being.” But before God comes to that conclusion you can hear the turmoil within God’s own heart as God recounts God’s journey with them over the years, as God remembers raising them, guiding them, teaching them to walk, holding them, cuddling with them cheek to cheek, loving them as good parents love their children. And so God asks Godself, “How can I give them up? How can I hand them over?” And God says, “My heart winces within me; my compassion grows warm and tender.” I love that image of God’s heart wincing! Because at the end of the day, God cannot do what is expected of God to do, by the world’s standards, by human standards.

So God makes a decision right then and there. “I won’t act on the heat of my anger; I won’t return to destroy [them]; for I am God and not a human being, the holy one in your midst; and I will not come in wrath,” says God. You see God isn’t held by the same standards that we hold ourselves to. God doesn’t play our petty games of fairness and revenge and jealousy and obedience and respect that we play. God is God, and so God does as God wants, and what God wants, according to Hosea, is to love, unconditionally.

No matter what we may do or not do, no matter what we may believe or not believe, no matter which gods we allow to be infused into our own lives, no matter what we may say or not say, no matter what we may pray or not pray, no matter what, God, like Mother Bunny, will not let us go or give us up for death. It’s just not in God’s nature. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Silence



Inspired by 1 Kings 18:17-39

When I was with you last, we read the story of the northern and southern kingdoms uniting as one under the leadership of King David. And as you read last week, it didn’t last long. They split again, and our story for today comes from that time period. However, splitting the kingdom in two didn’t seem to help either. Both continued to live out their lives in constant turmoil, with each other, with the world around them, and with God.

In the five chapters between last week’s story and this week’s, they went through king after king after king, none of which were good. In fact, if you read those five chapters, just about every paragraph begins with, “And then ‘so and so’ became king, and he did evil in God’s eyes.” Seriously! Take a look, that phrase is said over and over about almost every king. It’s quite comical really, if not sad, but it’s also a great set up for today’s story of Elijah on Mount Carmel.

Bottom line, things aren’t going well for either kingdom. Any peace that they find is fleeting. And the evil that these kings were doing was usually in the form of allowing other gods to be worshiped, which is not a new problem with them. They had been struggling with monotheism since way back in those stories from Genesis that we read in September! Which brings us to the impetus of today’s story, at least through Elijah’s eyes. Elijah had been trying to correct his people, warn his people, of the error of their ways but it just wasn’t working. Elijah could just not get through to them. And so, Elijah is at his wits end with God’s people. Tensions are high. Elijah is not only having to compete with his people but also with the prophets of the other religions. In fact, tensions are so high that it has resulted in violence.

Elijah is the only prophet left because the rest have been murdered. And what did any of the kings do about that? Nothing. What did any of the priests do about it? Nothing. And so here’s Elijah, feeling backed into a corner, knowing that there’s a big ol’ target on his back being the last remaining prophet of this fledgling little religion. So, Elijah decides to invite them to a duel, to see who has the real God, and that should be clue number one that something is a little off with Elijah. He has run out of ideas and is willing to put everything on the line. What’s he got to lose? This is a pretty risky move, what if this doesn’t go Elijah’s way? He’s dead! Well, he figures, he’s dead anyway. Might as well go out in a blaze of glory. So, he concocts this plan, this duel between their god and our God.

I’m going to be honest with you, growing up, this was one of my favorite stories. As an adult, and especially as a pastor, I have some serious issues with this story and I almost did what many pastors are doing today, and chose something else to read and preach on. But you know me, I have a hard time turning down a challenge. One of my life’s mottos is, if something is difficult for me to do, then it’s probably good for me. And I’m glad I stuck with it because I ended up seeing this story in a whole new way, with the help of some other scholars and theologians of course, I can’t do this all by myself! But this story, and the verses that follow, which we’ll get to in a minute, became more meaningful for me, and I hope they will for you too.

Let me first tell you where I struggle with this story. This story is dripping with an egotistical, condescending, self-righteousness that really goes against my grain as a follower of Jesus. Granted, Jesus was known for being sassy, snarky, even downright insulting if he woke up on the wrong side of the bed, but the actions of Elijah in this story are just unacceptable to me. He goes far out of his way to not only prove the other prophets wrong, but insults them, makes fun of them, and is even quite crass with them but we can discuss that after worship as we don’t have time now. I mean, this is not how I was raised, or trained in seminary, to treat people of other religions. This is not appropriate behavior, then or now, and I know you well enough by now to know you agree.

So, at the end of this whole scene, Elijah believes that he has made his point. And he is basing his whole victory on the silence. Their god never answered with fire like Elijah challenged him to. The writer shares that there was “no sound.” Just silence. And Elijah claims victory after his altar is consumed by fire. Our reading ends with everyone shouting that Elijah’s God is God. But that’s actually not where the story ends, that’s just where they had us stop reading because what comes next is nothing short of horrifying.

Here’s the next verse, “Elijah said to them, “Seize Baal’s prophets! Don’t let any escape!” The people seized the prophets, and Elijah brought them to the Kishon Brook and killed them.” Elijah’s behavior goes from bad to worse. He goes from rude religious guy to homicidal maniac in one verse! There were 450 prophets of Baal! If this was a scene in a movie, the ground would be covered in bodies and the Kishon Brook would be running red! Horrifying doesn’t even begin to describe Elijah’s behavior.

So, what do we do with this? How do we justify this kind of behavior from a prophet of God? How do we read this story and be ok with it? Answer: we don’t. Religious people of every kind have done theological gymnastics to try and explain away stories like this. They say things like, “Well, it was a different time back then.” No. Or, “Well, God was more strict back then, more vengeful.” No. Or, “This was before Jesus so they didn’t know about grace.” No.

But those aren’t the worse ones, the worse ones have been the people that are ok with Elijah’s behavior because he represents their side! Being right, no matter the cost or who has to pay is what’s most important for them. Being on the winning team is priority number one! You know the kind I’m talking about. Those that are ok with the church mistreating certain groups of people as long as the church represents their beliefs. Those that can overlook a politician's behaviors as long as they represent their side. Those that are ok with children being put in cages, as long as the government represents their interests. This story of Elijah is not just some old story from ages past. This story is getting played out every day in our own time!

So, here’s another way to look at this story. What if, we weren’t supposed to accept Elijah’s behavior? What if, as readers of this story, we were supposed to recognize just how wrong Elijah was? What if that was our part to play in this? Now, you might be thinking, “Who’s doing the Bible gymnastics now?” Hear me out. As always, context is key. But instead of looking backward, we have to look at where this story goes next. Stay with me now! So, immediately after this, the drought ends and of course, Elijah takes full credit for this.

And then, the king’s wife, Jezebel, finds out what happened to her prophets of Baal, and is furious! In typical villain fashion, she sends word to Elijah that he is now an enemy of the state and wants him dead. Elijah is terrified, and runs for the hills, literally. The author writes, “Elijah finally sat down under a solitary broom bush. He longed for his own death and said: ‘It’s more than enough, God! Take my life because I’m no better than my ancestors.’”

After being cared for by angels, Elijah continues to flee but this time goes to a very familiar place, to a mountain. And not just any mountain, but God’s mountain, the same mountain that God met Moses on to receive the Ten Commandments. At least one of which, Elijah has recently broken. Once there, he hides in a cave, and is then told to go and stand on the mountainside because God is going to pass by. So that’s what Elijah does.

And this is what our author wrote happened next, “A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before God. But God wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But God wasn’t in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire. But God wasn’t in the fire. And after the fire, a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat.”

I believe that Elijah heard that sheer silence and was horrified. Horrified at the realization that God was in that sheer silence. Horrified that he had just murdered 450 prophets because of that sheer silence that had followed after they had called on their god, and now he knew that God was with them all along, in that sound of sheer silence.

Elijah had a beautiful opportunity to show them just how powerful his God really was, just how limitless his God really was, how far-reaching, how loving his God really was, but turned to violence instead. All for the opportunity to be right. When the reality was, that God was with them, all of them, the whole time, because God cannot be contained or held back by us, or by our beliefs and disbeliefs, or by our faith and doubts, or even by our behavior and misbehaviors. Nothing can keep God from showing up, and this is a lesson that God’s people struggled to learn then, and continue to struggle to learn now.

And just so we’re clear, I’m not saying that God only shows up in silence. For an introvert like myself I find nothing but comfort in that thought but for some, the idea of sheer silence sounds dreadful! I think the point here is that God will show up whenever and wherever and however God wants to show up; and no prophet or priest or pastor or anyone gets to say otherwise! I hope you hear that as pure grace because that’s the way it’s meant to be heard.

Even for someone like myself who loves silence, it can be hard sometimes. Especially on a day like today, All Saints Sunday, when we remember those loved ones who have died, whose voice we long to hear again, whose laughter is just a fleeting memory, whose wisdom is so deeply yearned for. Be comforted in the assurance that God is in that silence. In life’s most joyful occasions and most painful moments, no matter how loud or silent they may be, God is there, and don’t let anyone, not even a prophet, tell you otherwise. Thanks be to God. Amen.