Download or listen to The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, “You’re Not Jesus” (1 Kings 19:9b-21)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you think Christianity is all about putting on a happy face, always smiling so that no one around you will ever know that things in your life are coming apart; so that people will never guess that you are not fine, that things are not okay; so that people will never know that you suffer from depression, or that you’ve had suicidal thoughts; then maybe you’ve never heard the story of Elijah. Elijah the prophet, who prayed that it would not rain, and it didn’t. He prayed that God would restore life to a dead boy, and God listened and did give him back his life. He called down fire on his enemies, and they were consumed. He set up a test to show the people of Israel that Yahweh was the real God and Baal was not, and it was successful. God sent fire to consume the sacrifice, and the rocks, and the water. And the people said, “Yahweh, He is God! Yahweh, He is God!” But when Jezebel, the queen, hears that Elijah has killed all her false prophets, she sends a messenger telling him that she’s going to kill him by that time the next day. Instead of standing up to her, instead of standing firm in the promises of God, Elijah runs away. After all these experiences proving that God was real and that He could be trusted, Elijah goes into the wilderness and lies down under a tree, and prays to die. But this time God doesn’t answer his prayer. This time God sends an angel to feed Elijah. Elijah eats and goes back to sleep, and the angels wakes him up again: “Rise, and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” Elijah eats, and then he goes for forty days and forty nights in the strength of that food.
But he doesn’t go back to Israel. He goes and hides in a cave on Horeb, the mountain of God. And that’s where we find him today. In a cave on a mountain. And that’s where God finds him, too. “Elijah, what are you doing here?” Elijah says, “I have been extremely zealous for Yahweh, my God. [In fact, Elijah’s name means “Yahweh is my God.] But the people of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, they have broken down Your altars, they have put Your prophets to the sword, and now they are trying to kill me.” And God says to Elijah: “Hold that thought.” And He sends a wind that tears apart the rocks. And then an earthquake and then a fire. But God is not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. And then there’s a small, slight, barely audible whisper. And when Elijah hears it, he wraps his prophet’s cloak around his face and goes to the mouth of the cave. And God says, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And Elijah repeats the same things. Elijah, what are you doing here? What do all those things have to do with you? What if the whole world is against you? You go do what I gave you to do. You be Elijah the prophet, and I’ll be God. Even if wind and fire and earthquake and everything that looks powerful is against you, the Word of God is with you. Go anoint Hazael king of Syria, and Jehu king of Israel, and Elisha prophet in your place. Oh, and by the way, I’ve kept for Myself a remnant of 7000 faithful who have not bowed down to Baal or kissed him. So don’t worry about My Church; you just do what I’ve given you to do.
So Elijah goes, but it doesn’t seem like his mood improves much. He finds Elisha and throws his prophet’s cloak on him, and just keeps walking. He doesn’t even say anything. And when it hits him in the head, Elisha stops plowing and says, “Wait a minute! Let me go say goodbye to my parents and I will go with you.” Elijah says, “Do whatever you want. What do I care? It’s God’s call, not mine.” Elisha burns up everything of his old life, has a goodbye barbecue, and goes with Elijah as his vicar, his intern. But I know that Elijah wasn’t a very good vicarage supervisor, because Elisha is the only one God lets him have. After that, God finally answers Elijah’s last prayer, and takes him to heaven in chariots of fire.
Elijah knows that everything around him is going to hell. The people all worship idols, the king and queen are trying to kill the true prophets, and no one seems to think anything’s wrong. Elijah’s problem is not that he’s discouraged, but that he forgot that he’s not Jesus. He is not the only one left; he’s not in control; it’s not all up to him. Sometimes we forget we’re not Jesus. We put on our smiley faces, pretend everything’s okay, and we work at being nice, happy, good Christian people. But people like that don’t need Jesus; they are their own savior, even if they need a little help to do it. On the other hand, we despair because we look at everything around us going to hell, and we get desperate. But it’s not up to us; we’re not in control; we are not the only faithful ones whom God has reserved for Himself. You and I will not save this congregation; we will not save the LCMS with convention resolutions, or bylaw changes, or electing the right president, or purifying it. We will not save the USA by voting for the right people, or electing the right president, or returning to some imagined Christian roots, or getting the right justices on the Supreme Court. We cannot save any of it. We are not Jesus.
But there is a Jesus, and He wants to be Jesus for you. He was the only one left; all His friends had left Him, deserted Him, denied Him. And if we had been there, we wouldn’t have done any different. The proof is how many times we have been silent about Him when we should have spoken, and how many times we have spouted our opinions under the mask of Christianity. When the religious people tried to kill Him, He didn’t run away and hide under a tree or in a cave. He set His face to go to Jerusalem. He knew what was going to happen there. And He wasn’t going to let anything stop Him: not people who rejected Him, not those who, like James and John, misunderstood Him, not those who refused to follow Him. He set His face to go to Jerusalem, and He wouldn’t be turned aside. And when He got there, He had nothing. No place to lay His head. No home. No friends. No defenders. That cross had been used for other executions. That tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea. He didn’t even have any sins to cause His death; He had to take yours. In the end, He didn’t even have life. But God reserved for Himself a remnant in Jesus; when it looked like everything was lost, God raised Him from the dead.
Everything is not okay in this church, in this nation, in this world. The best just about rise to the level of the shit-pile. The works of the flesh are more than evident everywhere we look. It is too much for us. But there is a Jesus, who set His face to go to Jerusalem, and when He looked to the cross, He saw you. And He wouldn’t let anything keep Him from accomplishing your salvation. Let Him be Jesus; you go and do what God has given you to do, as a father, a mother, a teacher, a student, a voter, a citizen, a legislator. The wind can blow and tear up the terrain; the earthquake can shake what it will; the fire can scorch the earth; but we have a Word that appears no more powerful than a whisper. Even so, this Word raises the dead. You are forgiven. Rise and eat, the journey is too much for you. You are not Jesus. But He is, and you can go in the strength of this Food, this Body and this Blood, forever.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/29/13