An Anniversary Sermon 2001

An Anniversary Sermon - 2001

(1 Kings 19:1-15 NRSV) Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. {2} Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." {3} Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. {4} But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." {5} Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." {6} He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. {7} The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you." {8} He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. {9} At that place he 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.

(Psalms 42 NRSV) As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. {2} My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God? {3} My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, "Where is your God?" {4} These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival. {5} Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help {6} and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. {7} Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me. {8} By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. {9} I say to God, my rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?" {10} As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, "Where is your God?" {11} Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

(Galatians 2:15-21 NRSV) We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; {16} yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. {17} But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! {18} But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. {19} For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; {20} and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. {21} I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

(Luke 7:36-8:3 NRSV) One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. {37} And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. {38} She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. {39} Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, "If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him--that she is a sinner." {40} Jesus spoke up and said to him, "Simon, I have something to say to you." "Teacher," he replied, "Speak." {41} "A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. {42} When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?" {43} Simon answered, "I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt." And Jesus said to him, "You have judged rightly." {44} Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. {45} You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. {46} You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. {47} Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." {48} Then he said to her, "Your sins are forgiven." {49} But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, "Who is this who even forgives sins?" {50} And he said to the woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." {8:1} Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, {2} as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, {3} and Joanna, the wife of Herod's steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.

1 Kings 19: 1-15a
Psalm 42
Galatians 2: 15-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

Listening for the Silence

On a rise of land just outside of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada overlooking the trans- Canada highway and across from a rock formation known as the ‘Sleeping Giant', stands an imposing bronze statue on a base of granite and amethyst. It is a memorial to the life and efforts of Terrence Stanley Fox a young man who lost a leg to cancer and who wanted to run across Canada to raise money for cancer research. He didn't live to realize his dream of running all the way to the Pacific ocean but his quiet, yet fierce determination inspired missions. The face of the statue shows both pain and courage and is a testament to this truly great Canadian who died 20 years ago this month. Every year since, the Marathon of Hope has continued and runners remember and raise money for cancer research. As the Run has continued and developed though, it is not so much a remembrance of one person as it is a remembrance of the life, the goals, and the mission that brought him into our hearts in the first place. We continue to run because the work continues to be so very important. We run because of his words, "Somewhere the hurting must stop!"

Today we have gathered here in this place to remember those who have gone before us in these two churches and in this community. We not only remember though, we seek to bring to mind and to reality the faith and witness of these our forebears.

I have always been impressed and inspired by the Hebrew Prophets whose lives and mission are recorded in the Old Testament. Elijah is one of the most well known of those. Elijah was called to proclaim the word of God during the reign of King Ahab who had defied Jewish law by marrying a foreigner. To make matters worse Queen Jezebel insisted on the worship of foreign gods or Baals. Elijah and Jezebel did not see eye to eye and when you are a mere prophet coming up against the Queen you don't have a lot going for you! At least, that is what Elijah thought. Elijah came to realize though that he had all he needed on his side, he had the very power of God. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Let's look back over the biblical events surrounding this Elijah, the Tishbite. At the time this story took place he had just been involved in a major confrontation with the prophets of Baal and their royal patron, the wicked Queen Jezebel. The confrontation left no doubt who was the real God of Israel but that did not prevent Jezebel and the power of the Royal House from retaliating! Elijah was literally fleeing for his life.

When we meet Elijah in this passage we find that he has descended into a kind of ‘poor me' syndrome. He compares himself quite unfavourably with his ancestors. This was not a reference to his biological family though, and readers should understand this to mean the prophets who preceded him, in general, and Moses, in particular. The reader is, however, cautioned not to take his feelings at "face value", because God certainly doesn't! God certainly does not take the same dim view of the success of his ministry that he, in his discouraged state, is content to do.

The text tells us that God provides food for him in a very surprising fashion. As we struggle with the full impact of these verses, this is one of those instances in which it would help us greatly to know a bit of Hebrew. I am told that the word used for hot coals is the same one which was used for the hot coal which another angel used to anoint Isaiah's lips. The word for oil jar was the same one which was used in the story of the widow of Zarephath in which Elijah on the run from Ahab was fed and cared for by a woman who had no food in the house. That was the story in which the jar of oil did not run dry while he was staying with her and while she continued to feed him in the faith that she and her son would still have enough to eat! And so, at this time as well, Elijah is fed by the ever gracious hand of God and this food gives him energy enough to travel to God's mountain. He is clearly in step with his prophetic ancestors!

The parallels to the story of Moses are obvious and are meant to stick out for us. Yet this story is different from Moses', very different. On this occasion, God appears to Elijah in a very different way. There is no ‘burning bush' here, no ‘thundercloud', no ‘pillar of fire' to signify the presence of Almighty God. In fact, while Elijah waits for a very dramatic presentation of God's presence and power, he remains alone and unfulfilled. Then, finally, after all of those things have come to pass, there comes the shattering silence in which he KNOWS God is truly present.

Have you ever heard silence? Sometimes it can be deafening. I remember a time when I heard the sound of silence. It was a hot summer day in the mid 70s. We were taking swimming lessons. As usual, these lessons were given in 2 stages. First, we were transported by school bus to a place called "Pondside Park" for conservation, or for the students who had passed the ‘Survival' level badge, boating and boating safety and then to the YMCA for the actual swimming lessons in the pool and games and water safety instruction in the gym. This day began as usual. The bus deposited us at the park and then departed for that place busses go while waiting to pick up kids! Sometime later, as we were playing a game we heard we heard a deafening silence; the birds had stopped singing, there was not a breath of air and the skies suddenly became VERY dark. It was if someone had pressed the mute button on the world! It was very eerie! The silence was simply deafening.

Then ALL OF A SUDDEN the heavens opened, the rain came down in torrents and soon the hailstones were piling up on the ground. Somewhere in the midst of it, those busses returned and we were transported to the "Y" where we holed up in the gym since we couldn't go into the pool on account of the storm.

Did you notice what I said? The silence was deafening! Now there's an oxymoron if there ever was one! How can silence be deafening? Yet, we have all heard it. When is silence deafening? It is - when your active and noisy children in the next room all of a sudden stop making noise! It is - when you live next to a saw mill or an industrial site of some sort. It is - when you are Elijah on a mountain and looking for God in wind, fire and thunder! and hear instead the sound of sheer silence.

At this point, you may also be saying to yourselves, "That's not the way I memorized that verse" or "that's not the way I remember it". The commentaries I read in preparing this sermon disagree over the translation of the phrase ‘ a sound of sheer silence', with some preferring the traditional, ‘still small voice' and others the translation I used, ‘a sound of sheer silence'. We must realize that it is very hard to translate a complex thought from one language to another. The real meaning lies, I believe in the contrast between thunder and silence! It lies in the contrast between the revelation we expect and the revelation we actually receive.

Elijah was a little like us I think. It took a long while to get the message through. He had won , sort of, in a confrontation with the prophets of Baal but he was down in the dumps and worried that he had been a failure. He wanted success as a prophet and popularity with King and people. As they say, ‘he wanted to ahve his cake and eat it too!'

At this annual cemetery service we gather to give thanks for the lives of those who have gone before us, to be sure, but we gather also to rise from this place and then go on our journey to follow the God of our ancestors, in the spirit of our ancestors, but also in the context in which we find ourselves in a new century and a new millennium.

As we sit here in muggy heat of a June evening we may be tempted, like Elijah to bemoan all of things of the past that are no longer. The people of the past are no longer with us. The full churches we remember from the past are no longer with us. The society that at least SEEMED to be Christian and to take the things faith seriously is no longer with us. The communities in which we live are changing dramatically and the old families are gone replaced by empty houses and barren fields or by different families with different backgrounds and different dreams.

We must realize though, that such has always been the case. Even though we may have seen more than our share of change in the last 25 years, change is really the only constant in human civilization! The biblical story was written to guide people through such change. Despite the changes around us though, the beauty of the biblical story is that it continues to speak to us, no matter how far removed we are from the original context.

As we continue to seek God's guidance we are cautioned not to look for God's guidance and revelation and assume that it will come to us in the exact same way it has in the past. As Moses experienced God in the burning bush and as the thunder the wind and the fire became symbols of God's presence so Elijah assumed that this was where God would be found. We are told that Elijah had to open his eyes to the new way God was speaking to him. This way was no less powerful than the older ways to be sure, but Elijah could easily have missed it if he had given up after the wind and the fire and the storm.

All too often we shut out new ways of expressing our faith because they are different but the Spirit of God calls us to be open to the new ways in which the powerful message of God's love is being proclaimed in our day and age.

The story of Elijah also tells us that our call is to keep the broader picture in mind. There are people of the faith who have gone before us and there will be people of faith who come after us. Our expressions may be different from those of our ancestors and we can be sure that the expressions of those who come after us will be different from our own. We are called only to be faithful on our own journey. We can be responsible for nothing else. That is certainly a large enough task for any one of us.

While we are looking at all the changes and wondering what we can rely on, our ears may suddenly realize that all had gone silent. Our senses may become attuned to the presence of One who has been with the faithful always, in every time and age, in many ways and places.

It is the presence and power and love of this God, the God of Moses and Elijah, the God of Jesus of Nazareth, the God of the Apostle Paul and of the early church Fathers, the God of reformers of prophets and of those who risked and sacrificed to make this great love become relevant and alive for their own day and age.

May the God of the past become our God in the present. May this God's presence and love be praised in all of our lives and may we be graced to pass on this faith in a way that can be understood and accepted by those who come after us.

Thanks be to God for never ending love and unfailing presence!