As I noted last week when I posted "Are You Working For God?”, this series of sermons that I preached at the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches were the first that I ever preached outside my home church.
This was the first in a five-week assignment while the conference sought to find a pastor for the churches. One of the things that I did in this message/sermon was try and relate what was happening in the world today to what I found in the Scripture readings that I was using for that particular Sunday.
Scott O’Grady was the Air Force pilot that was shot done over Bosnia on June 2, 1995. As I mentioned last week in my message “The Problem With Change”, if we do not find ways to make the passages of the Bible relevant to today’s world, then the Bible becomes a fixed document trapped in history.
So, here is the first message I gave in the role of long-term pulpit supply at the Elk Falls, Longton, and Elk City United Methodist Churches on the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, 18 June 1995. The Scriptures from the New Common Lectionary are 1 Kings 19: 1 – 8, Galatians 2: 15 – 21, and Luke 7: 36 – 8: 3.
I am sure that as a child or even perhaps as a parent playing with children, you have played hide and seek. For us, it is a pleasant game by which we can pass the time. For Captain Scott O’Grady, the game of hide and seek took on a little more serious meaning this last week. Shot down over Bosnia, he had to play hide and seek with the Bosnian Serbs who shot him down until such time that he could communicate with members of his combat air wing and arrange for his rescue. As has been noted by others all ready, the story of his rescue would make a very good movie-of-the-week.
What I found interesting about this rescue story was who Captain O’Grady thanked first when he came back to his airbase at Aviano, Italy. While he did thank the men and women of his wing for looking for him and to the Marines who went in to get him, the first person that he thanked was God, for giving him the strength to persevere.
The last point made at the Escape and Evasion school is that one should always keep the faith that he or she will be picked up. Captain O’Grady’s training provided him with the skills to survive but only through his faith were those skills of any use. For Captain O’Grady that faith was more than just a faith in the system but the knowledge that God would protect him, which is what he did. As Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, success comes not by living the law but by our faith in Jesus Christ. Only by our faith does following the law make living possible.
The passage from the Old Testament gives us another example of escape and evasion. In the passage from 1 Kings that we read, Elijah is fleeing from the queen Jezebel for having shown the prophets of Baal to be powerless against God and having killed them all. And now, as one might expect, Elijah is running for his life. But, as he seeks solace and security, Elijah also feels that he is not ready to be the servant of the Lord "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." (1 Kings 19: 4)
For a moment, his faith in God has lapsed and he is ready to die. But an angel of the Lord comes to him and provides him with enough food and water so that Elijah can travel to Horeb. In making this journey, Elijah retraces the path of the Israelites through the wilderness and comes to the place where Israel’s covenant with God was first made.
In effect God said to Elijah, "I am not done with you yet. You may feel that you are alone and helpless but I am still here and I will provide and protect you." That is the challenge that we face today. Do we have the faith that God will protect and provide for us? We need not be shot down behind enemy lines for this faith to be tested. How different would our lives be if we did not have faith in Jesus Christ?
Faith simply means trust. It begins with a conviction, knowledge that our righteous does not meet God’s standard. The law, as Paul tells us, helps us to discover this reality. Faith is not blind. It builds on authentic biblical facts, so it is not mere speculation. We stake our lives on the outcome. Faith is trusting Christ to prove his promise.
Look at verse 16 in Galatians again.
"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.
That is a personal commitment to Jesus. We can actually run to Him for refuge and to seek mercy.
It took a great deal of courage for that woman in the passage from Luke to come to Jesus and even more courage for her to wash his feet. In society at that time, a woman with her reputation had no chance of being seen in the Pharisee’s house; but her love of Jesus and her understanding of what he could offer her overcame any resistance she might have had.
As was noted in one of the books which I used to prepare for this sermon, just as the people at the Pharisee’s house were watching that woman, other people are watching us as we go through our daily lives. Do we show our loving worship of Christ? Have we given our reputation to Him? Do our actions each day show that we love Christ, just as He loved us?
We see — and who does not? — the numberless follies and miseries of our fellow creatures. We see on every side either men of no religion at all or men of a lifeless, formal religion. We are grieved at the sight, and should greatly rejoice if, by any means, we might convince some that there is a better religion to be attained, a religion worthy of God that gave it. And this we conceived to be no other than love: the love of God and of all mankind; the loving God with all our heart and soul and strength, as having first loved us, as the fountain of all the good we have received and of all we ever hope to enjoy; and the loving every soul which God hath made, every man on earth, as our own soul.
Those comments come not from me, but from John Wesley some two hundred and fifty years ago. But those words still hold true today. For if we do not love God first and show this love in our actions each day, how will we ever change the world in which we live?
Where would Elijah have been if he had refused the offer of food and drink from the angel? Where would we be if we refused to acknowledge the presence of Christ in today’s world and the love that He has for us. Will we continue to play hide-and-seek with the Lord?