This was the message that I gave at Walker Valley UMC for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 24 June 2001. The Scriptures for this Sunday are 1 Kings 19: 1 – 15, Galatians 3: 23 – 29, and Luke 8: 26 – 39.
There is something about Christianity and never accepting things as they are. As Christians we have been raised on the tales of the early prophets and the disciples, each one at some time speaking to the righting of wrongs.
From the time of Moses telling the Pharaoh to let the Israelites free to Stephen criticizing the Pharisees, the prophets and disciples have heard the call of God and done what was asked of them. Elijah, the main character in today’s reading from the Old Testament, is no different.
Prior to the passage for today, Elijah has challenged the gods of Baal, the chosen religion of Queen Jezebel. And because Elijah won the challenge, he is now running for his life as Queen Jezebel has sworn to have him killed for embarrassing her as he did.
That’s the problem with following God. When we do what God wants us to do, it seems like we get ourselves into more trouble. And that will always be the case as long as we view life from the standpoint of earth and man rather than heaven and God.
Faith is the matter of doing what you know is right, of letting go of all the wrong things, people, and objects and following Jesus as he directs our lives. Paul spoke of the law imprisoning him but faith, especially his faith in Christ, freeing him from sin and death.
The law defines sin but it cannot overcome it. And those who hold onto the law, as the way to live their lives, will quickly find that such a life is a prison. In one sense, that is what was causing so much grief for Elijah. He saw his work in the name of the Lord as a means of obeying the law. He figured that by doing God’s work, he was entitled to some type of reward, not punishment and certainly not having to run for his life.
But, in the deepest part of his despair, when he was convinced that he was all alone, Elijah came to know that God was still there and that he was not alone. The same can be said for each one of us.
We may think that faith in God will lead out of difficulty, not into it. But if we choose to live our lives firmly rooted in faith, we can be certain that conflict will soon be at our doorstep. And while conflict will be a certain part of our life, we also find out that serving the Lord, living a life of faith brings a joy as easily as it brings conflict and challenges.
And in today’s society, it is no different. Obedience to Christ leaves us no room to equivocate in the face of injustice. Jesus’ own words and actions in responding the Pharisees, the money-changers, the rich young man who wanted to know what he must do to gain eternal life, and even his own disciple Peter are direct and plain. Christian discipleship is demanding and we are quickly called to count the cost and determine whom we shall serve.
Faith in God is also a call to action. When we make decisions based on fear or a consideration for the law of society, we get ourselves into trouble. But decisions made on faith are different.
The act of faith is to rest our mind and heart on Jesus. Faith is acceptance of the Gospel message concerning Jesus Christ and the committal of one’s self into him or God as revealed in him. Jesus, as the object of our faith, unites us with God. This uniting with God provides the strength we need at those times when things seem to be most lost. When Elijah realized, even though he was in the middle of the wilderness, that God had not left him he came to an important realization. God will provide.
And this message has important meaning, not only on the public level, but also on the private level as well. At some point in our lives, we all have to face some demons in our lives, much live the man in the Gospel reading today. And the problem is that no matter how hard we try, we cannot get rid of them. The natural outcome of experiencing Christ is that we discover we are set free to follow Christ. This was the same experience that Paul wrote about.
Faith in God naturally calls us to act on that faith. Christ calls some of us to mission fields or other special ministries. But more often than not, what we are asked to do is stay where we are, used what we have, and be a witness to Christ’s life-changing power. God’s grace merits a response of loving service and joyous, generous living. We must remember that hardships are expected on this faith journey of ours.