Sunday, August 7, 2011

Lectionary 19A
1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 85:8-13
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

I ordered some linens for Zack from an online company because we were having trouble finding something he liked for his dorm room. The website listed shipping times, and I was confident that the items would arrive in plenty of time for us to get it ready for move in day later this month. When nothing showed on my account several days after my shipping date, I wrote to the company to ask about the item, voicing my concern that the items would not arrive in time.

The email response was not very satisfactory; the writer said that my product was being sent directly from the manufacturer and that it takes extra time. She assured me that my account would be updated shortly. Three days later there was still no sign of shipping.

I tried to call the company, well within their business hours. When the phone at the company answered, it gave me the business times, and told me which button to push, but then gave me a message that they were on summer hours, to call back on another day. I sent them another email letting them know that my account was still not showing any information. I told them that I wanted to cancel the order if it would not ship immediately. I had to wait through the weekend, but just as I was ready to try to call again, I got an email with shipping information. The item was set to arrive the next day.

We finally got his box, but the process was very frustrating for me. I’m so used to better customer service from online companies. Some orders, especially from book distributors, arrive in unbelievably short periods of time. Most online companies have twenty-four hour service, are quick with responses to questions and solutions to problems. The responses from this company were slow and were not really helpful. Though I dealt with this problem in email, I knew the tone of my voice was getting angrier with every day that passed. I felt like I wasn’t being heard. I felt like my concerns did not matter. The linens arrived in plenty of time and I probably had no reason to be concerned, but I have to wonder if they would have arrived at all if I hadn’t complained.

Have you ever had a situation in which you’ve had to repeat yourself over and over again and how did your tone of voice change over time? Did you get frustrated? Did you get angry? Or were you humbled by the experience? I wonder how Elijah’s tone of voice changed over the course of today’s Old Testament lesson.

In the chapters before this story, Elijah did a miraculous thing: he defeated the prophets of Baal. It must have been an incredible experience to see God’s hand work so mightily in the presence of Elijah’s enemies. And yet, it must have been a little intimidating, too, to fight against so many. In the end, Elijah won and the prophets of Baal were destroyed. In the epilogue, however, Jezebel found no grace in the moment and threatened to kill Elijah. Elijah thought he won, but now he was running for his life. Shouldn’t God have done something to protect him after all he did for God?

When he defeated the prophets of Baal, he thought he had accomplished something his ancestors had never done. The people were amazed by the burning water and called out to God. He thought, perhaps, he might be able to lead the people and accomplish more with them. But, he didn’t convince everyone. Jezebel was unrelenting, and because she threatened to kill him, Elijah thought he failed. So, Elijah ran away. He not only ran away, but he begged God to let him die. God doesn’t work that way, though. He sent angels to care for Elijah’s needs and then sent him on a journey. Perhaps at the end of the journey Elijah might discover that success is not always what we want it to be.

Elijah’s fear of Jezebel and her gods is a lack of trust in God, however. Despite defeating Baal, he ran because she called on the name of her gods. He ran because he still felt alone. He ran because he couldn’t imagine that anything bigger than burning water that could convince Jezebel that her faith was wasted on useless gods. Though he knew God was the only God, he feared the vow Jezebel made on her own gods. He ran because of fear, but he asked to die because he was disappointed. He failed. And since he failed just like his ancestors, he might as well go to be with them.

With this in mind, as you read today’s passage from 1 Kings, how do you hear Elijah’s tone of voice? Twice he says, “I have been very jealous for Jehovah, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword: and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” Is he boasting? Is he justifying what he did? Is he desperate to find encouragement? What is his tone as he explains to the voice of God why he is running away?

I doubt that I would have reacted any differently than Elijah. Now, I don’t know if I would have asked to die, but I am sure I would have ran away and hid myself somewhere to have a pity party. I’m really good at saying, “Woe is me.” I’m really good at turning into myself when things do not go as I want them to go. We think we hear God's voice calling to us or see God's work in our world, but we doubt. We doubt because we also see the evil in the world, in our neighbors and in our own hearts. We feel alone. We feel scared. We feel burnt out. We feel like there is no way we can do anything that will make a difference. We feel like it is all a waste of our time. Running might have been the right thing to do, after all Jezebel wanted him dead. However, Elijah turned inward. He was being self-centered instead of God-centered. God did not allow Elijah to wallow in his fear and self-pity; He invited Elijah into His presence.

At the mountain, a powerful wind, earthquake and fire shook the mountain, but God was not in them. Then Elijah heard a gentle whisper. He put the hood of his cloak over his face and went to the mouth of the cave. There he met God, voiced his complaint and waited to hear God's answer. God does the same for us, meeting us in our doubt, fear and grief as a quiet voice calling us to trust in Him and follow His word with courage and faith.

Elijah did what he thought was right, according to God’s Word, and in doing so believed that God would overcome the disbelief of people like Jezebel. The rejection of Jezebel was discouraging and even shameful. The world wants to mold believers to fit into their expectations. But Paul reminds us that the person who believes God’s Word and lives accordingly will not be put to shame. The work God calls us to do will not always be accepted or acceptable according to earthly or cultural standards. We can see that in the response of many to our proclamation of the Gospel. We can’t even pray in Jesus’ name anymore, or seek God’s help in our times of distress, or share the love of Jesus with our neighbors. We can’t speak of our faith without offending someone, and so we are put to shame by society. Yet, Paul says that if we believe in Christ, we won’t be put to shame.

Paul also reminds us that the word is near to us. It is in our mouths and in our hearts. The word is the word of faith that has been proclaimed to us. “…if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” It isn’t enough to just believe. It isn’t enough to do great things. We are called by Jesus to confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord. People will see your good works and they might glorify God, but the reality is that they probably won’t even know you are a Christian unless you confess Jesus’ name. Paul says, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek: for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich unto all that call upon him: for, Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Christ won’t be known by your outward appearance or by your work. He’ll be known to others by the proclamation of His Word.

By proclaiming Jesus’ Lordship, others will hear. And when they hear, they will believe. And when they believe and confess their faith in Him, they too will be saved. Christ calls and sends us out into the world to take His message of grace and mercy into the world, not just in our deeds but with our mouths and our confession. We are witnesses, and as witnesses we are instructed to speak. We speak in faith, trusting that God will accomplish His work in their hearts and in their mouths, so that they too will speak in faith and confess His Lordship.

Peter knew that Jesus is Lord. He’d seen Jesus do the most incredible things. He’d heard Jesus speak about God, and he believed. He followed Jesus. He went out and did the same work as Jesus. He was often confused and he was very, very human. He made mistakes. But we have little doubt that Peter believed and even trusted in Jesus.

One of the biggest mistakes Peter makes is his bravado. He needs to prove himself constantly. I suppose that has to do with the fact that Peter has those underlying doubts and he’s afraid to admit it. He is the leader of that motley crew. He’s the one Jesus turns to. He’s the right hand man. He’s got to be the brave one, the smart one, the powerful one. Or, at least he seems to think so. We see it in the way he interacts with Jesus, telling Jesus what Jesus ought to do. He even rebukes Jesus. Yet, he seems so uncertain sometimes.

I wonder what he was really thinking when he saw Jesus walking toward the boat. He was probably just as fearful as the other disciples, yet when Jesus said, “It is I,” Peter jumped at the chance to prove his boldness. “Tell me to come,” says Peter. Did he really want to walk on water? Was he hoping that Jesus might tell him to stay in the boat? After all, there was a strong wind raging around them. It was even foolish to be on the water in a boat, let alone on foot! Was Peter truly trusting in Jesus when he stepped out of that boat? Or was he seeking more proof from Jesus that He is who He says He is? I think, perhaps, that it is more likely the latter than the former. Peter still did not fully trust in Jesus. He needed proof that Jesus is the Son of God.

Jesus gave him the proof, but not in the way Peter expected. Peter expected to walk on the water, to be like Jesus. But in his quest to prove Jesus, he lost sight of Jesus. He knew Jesus was the Messiah, but he was still frightened by the world around him and for that instant he forgot to trust Jesus. That’s when he went down, just as Elijah’s moment of fear came when he did not trust God.

Peter was saved when he cried out, “Lord save me!” He confessed Jesus as Lord, and Jesus came to His rescue. He was right there with Peter. He was able to do the miraculous, to get Peter out of the boat and onto the water. But even more importantly, Jesus showed Peter, and all of us, that when we get distracted by our own fears and doubts, He’s right there to save us. And when we cry out, we confess our faith that Jesus can and will bring us out of the water.

I have to wonder about this whole scene. Did Jesus intend on teaching this lesson to the disciples? How is it that the boat was so close to the shore that the walking Jesus could reach them hours after they left? Could it be that Jesus caused the wind to blow so that they would be stuck in one place? After all, if you couldn’t go on to the other shore because of a heavy wind, wouldn’t you turn back and wait until the wind passed? Why were they stuck on the lake so long? Did Jesus want to keep them there so that they would see and confess that He truly is the Son of God?

We believe, but we certainly have moments when we are fearful and when we doubt. We have times when we just want to run away from the dangers we face because of the Gospel of Jesus. We have times when we want to prove that we have faith even though we are actually afraid. But in today’s lessons we learn that God is with us. When we confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts we will not be put to shame and we will be saved.

Elijah and Peter forgot that the miracles they were experiencing were by God’s power and for God’s purpose. The real world made them turn inward, think of themselves instead of seeing that it was God doing something incredible. With our eyes on Christ, we’ll see, and know, God’s salvation and His peace.

Those who fear God see His salvation. His salvation is available to all those who turn to Him, who listen to Him, who hear His Word of peace. The psalmist says, “But let them not turn again to folly.” Having heard the word of peace, let us remember to keep our eyes on the truth, which is where mercy dwells. If we turn from the truth, we’ll turn away from the peace that comes from the assurance of faith in God’s salvation. As we trust in God, we’ll see that faith grow and flow into the whole world. As we follow God’s word and take it into the world, others will hear our confession and believe in the One who can save.

We’ll make mistakes. We fall into doubt and uncertainty. We’ll get frustrated and our tone of voice will change as we try to deal with the disappointments and failures. We’ll try to get out of the work God has called us to do because we won’t believe we can make a difference. We’ll fail because we’ll lose sight of the One who is changing the world by His Word. But God will remind us, in a whisper or the blowing wind: He is with us. He’ll reach out and grab us and pull us out again. He’ll send His angels to watch over us. He’ll feed us with His grace. And then He’ll send us back out into the world with the promise that we’ll never be put to shame because He is with us.

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