Sermon for August 11, 2002

Scripture, 1 Kings 19:9-18, Psalm 85:8-13, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33...

Several years ago I met a young man in an Internet chat room named Tony.  Tony was lonely and needed a willing ear to listen to his complaints about the many difficulties of his life.  His health was failing, his financial situation left him wanting many things, and his personal life was empty.  He was even finding it difficult to believe in God.  We spoke often.  I suppose it would be more accurate to say he spoke and I listened.  I had no advice to give him to help alleviate his earthly troubles, and the words of hope and faith I shared were often hollow to this man who seemed to have nothing.  One thing about our conversations made me very uncomfortable.  He was awed by my faith.  He thought there was nothing that could make me falter. 

            One day I said, “Tony, listen.” And I began typing the following words.  There are days that something happens when I wonder if it is all worth the trouble. There are days when I want to just give up the ministry. There are days when I get so angry with God for allowing evil to happen to those I love. There are days when I fear everything and everybody. There are days... There are days when I want turn from God and say NO MORE! And YET, He's still there... He sends someone to remind me of HIS LOVE for me. He gives me love through a friend, or He gives me a rainbow.  He shows me a field full of daffodils and then He whispers ‘I LOVE YOU.’  Then... I feel so sad that I turned away, I feel so unworthy of that love, I feel like God should just let me go,
But… He sticks around.  And He loves me. EVERYTIME.”  I still refer to these words often, especially during those times when my own faith wavers. 

            In today’s scriptures we heard stories about two incredible men of God whose faith wavered.  Tony’s problem was not that his faith was weak; we all face doubt and fear.  Tony’s problem was that he tried to find faith in all the wrong places.  In today’s stories, though they wavered, they knew to whom they could call for help.  Let us pray.

            Heavenly Father, we ask with humble hearts to hear your word for our lives today.  Remind us of your ever presence in our times of need and give us the strength to share Jesus with those who need His saving grace.  In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.

            Elijah had a tough job.  He was a prophet who lived in an age when the people believed that they could worship both the LORD and Baal.  Ahab was king, and he was married to Jezebel, a woman whose name has become synonymous with ‘a scheming, shameless woman.’  Jezebel was an ardent believer in false gods and she convinced Ahab to worship them with her.  He built temples to Baal and set up Asherah poles, establishing a culture of syncretistic worship that offended God.  Ahab had given the false gods equal footing with the God of Israel.  God sent prophets to speak out against this attempt to fuse together such differing beliefs, but Jezebel had them killed.  Elijah was left alone, the sole voice against Baal worship.  Though he was in danger, Elijah went to Ahab and rebuked him for disobeying the Word of God.  Then he held a little contest between the prophets of Baal and the Lord God Almighty.  Two bulls were prepared for sacrifice.  Elijah challenged the prophets to pray to Baal to set their offering ablaze.  Four hundred and fifty prophets could not make anything happen despite the taunting of Elijah.  Meanwhile, he covered his offering with water, making it too wet to burn.  When he prayed, the fire of the LORD fell and burned up the sacrifice and everything around it, including the rocks and water.  Then Elijah ordered the slaughter of the prophets of Baal.  When Ahab told Jezebel all that happened, she immediately threatened to end Elijah’s life.  Elijah ran.

            Elijah stood alone against hundreds of false prophets and witnessed a most incredible act of God.  Yet when he faced the possibility of death at the hands of Jezebel, he ran away to hide in the desert, praying to God to end his life.  “I have had enough LORD,” he said.  “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”  He felt his work was fruitless and he was tired of fighting.  Elijah thought that the challenge against Baal would prove once and for all that the Lord God Almighty is the One True and Living God and the false gods were not worthy of worship.  When Jezebel continued her quest to stop Elijah and His God, he felt like a failure. 

            In today’s story, we see Elijah standing on a mountain waiting to hear God’s answer to his prayers.  A great and powerful wind shattered the mountain.  An earthquake shook the earth and then a fire came.  Our expectation is that God would be seen in these mighty acts.  But it is when Elijah hears a sound of gentle stillness, that still small voice, that he covers his face and steps into the presence of God.  Elijah was drawn into His presence by His mercy not His power.  God’s answer to Elijah’s prayer was not death, but rather a commission to anoint those whom He had chosen to continue the work.  God sent him back into the fray even though he had faltered.  God assured Elijah that he was not alone; a remnant existed that had not worshipped Baal.  Elijah left the mountain in peace and completed the work God had called him to do.

            Peter had witnessed the incredible power of God in Jesus Christ.  As a matter of fact today’s story follows immediately our story from last week.  Peter had just seen Jesus feed more than five thousand people with just five loaves of bread and two fish.  After the dinner, Jesus sent the disciples ahead in a boat and dismissed the crowds, then went into the hills for prayer.  The boat sailed a great distance from the shore, but then the wind began to blow making the sailing difficult.  They were stuck in the middle of the sea unable to go on.  Very early in the morning, between three and six a.m., Jesus approached the boat.  The sight of their Master walking on the water frightened the disciples.  They did not recognize Him. “It is a ghost!” they exclaimed.  Jesus answered, “Take courage!  It is I! Don’t be afraid.” 

            The disciples were frightened but Peter’s response is typical for his personality.  Peter is a study in contradictions.  One minute he is humble, the next arrogant.  In one breath he proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, the next he told Jesus how to accomplish His work.  In today’s story, he seems to have incredible faith.  “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  Jesus said, “Come.”  So, Peter jumped out of the boat and began walking to Jesus.  But then he became aware of the wind and the waves and how totally ridiculous this action really was.  Just like Elijah, the noise of the world became much more real than the faith that set him on the path to begin with.  And just like Elijah, despite having seen the incredible power of God, Peter sank into the depths of despair that comes with doubt and fear.  The world appeared more powerful than the still small voice of God, so he lost sight of His presence for a moment.

            As we look at the stories of Elijah and Peter, we see that life is not necessarily easy for those who know the Lord, for those who have seen His power.  It is possible to get lost and distracted by the noise of this world.  I think most of us in this room are in exactly the same boat.  We believe in God, follow His voice the best we can, but we still face doubt and fear.  Can you imagine what it must be like for those who do not even know to whom they can call when they are sinking?  Peter cried out “Lord save me!”  And Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  People like Tony call out for help, but they don’t really know to whom they should call.

            Tony wanted my faith.  As I look back on those discussions, I think he even wanted me to save him.  This is why our conversations made me so uncomfortable.  I am no more able to save anyone than the gods of Jezebel.  Yet, Tony kept coming to me, calling out for help. 

            In today’s epistle, Paul writes, “For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” 

            We are called into God’s presence, drawn by that still small voice and filled with His Word.  As Paul says, it is in our hearts and on our lips.  Once we’ve been called, Jesus sends us out to be witnesses of His love and to take the Good News about Jesus to those who are lost and alone. Yet, because we face doubt and fear, we wonder if we are able to share the message of God’s salvation with the lost.  We hold back to let others be His witnesses because we think we don’t have enough faith.  Elijah, despite his small faith, was sent to anoint kings and his successor Elisha.  Peter, despite his small faith, became a great witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  In the case of our story today, it may have even been his small faith that made him the greatest witness.  When Peter floundered in the water, he cried to Jesus for help.  Jesus saved him.  Then Jesus dragged Peter back onto the boat.  All the disciples knelt and worshipped Jesus, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”  Would they have done so if Peter had accomplished his quest to walk on water to Jesus?  Perhaps it was because Peter faltered that the disciples saw Jesus as Savior. 

            We don’t need great faith to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.  God gives us exactly as much faith as we need to turn to the One who can save us, Jesus.  We think it is only in the moments of great faith that God uses us.  We usually think of Elijah and Peter as great men of God, strong role models to exemplify.  In my conversations with Tony, I always tried to be strong.  But what makes Elijah and Peter great witnesses is not that they could hold it all together, but that they knew to call to God in their troubles.  It wasn’t my knowledge of God or my ability to speak the Gospel that helped Tony.  When I fell apart and shared those words of doubt and fear, Tony realized I was no different than him.  Tony was moved far more deeply when he saw me look toward my Lord Jesus for help.  He watched Jesus save me from despair and realized the Jesus is the Savior.

            There are many out there like Tony.  There are people who are lost and lonely, tired and sick, who don’t really know Jesus or how to call to Him for help.  Perhaps you have friends who are looking to you for salvation from their troubles.  Always remember, you aren’t the Savior.  Do not try to hide your doubts and fears behind some façade of false strength.  Instead, remember that it is in your weakness that God can display His power to save.  God has called you into His presence with His still small voice and He has commissioned you to continue the work of sharing His love with the world.  Sometimes it may seem like the noise around you is more powerful than God, but rest assured that you are never alone.  We all falter in our faith from time to time.  Don’t let it stop you from stepping out of the boat.  Just remember to whom you can call when you fall.  Call on the name of Jesus and he’ll save you.  Thanks be to God.

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