11/05/17 – J.Vespers – How Soon We Forget


November 5, 2017
Homily: 1 Kings 19:1-15
Jazz Vespers
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones


Last week we read about the third king of Israel, Solomon. Today we fast forward about 50 years. God’s warning to the Israelites that having kings would not be as wonderful as they thought continued to be proved true. God’s prophets had been doing their best to keep the kings on the straight and narrow, but it was tough and unrewarding work most of the time. Today, we read about one of Israel’s major prophets – Elijah.

Before this particular passage, Elijah had just experienced a spectacular victory in the “My God’s bigger than your god” competition against 450 prophets of Baal. Elijah had challenged King Ahab and Queen Jezebel’s prophets of Baal to see whose God would light a fire on each’s altar upon which two halves of a bull had been set. Elijah was so cocky he even poured water all over the altar he built.  God came through for Elijah with the big win, setting that altar ablaze with the sweet smell of barbecue wafting through the air.  But, this did not endear Elijah to Queen Jezebel, a devotee of Baal. Jezebel vowed to have Elijah killed; thus, Elijah quickly shifts from God’s super-prophet to a common fugitive, running for his life. After traveling some distance, he dismissed his servant and walks into the wilderness to deliver a suicidal rant to God.

How quickly he forgot the great victory God awarded him. In this period of loneliness and despair, Elijah had forgotten all the great things God had empowered him to do and feels abandoned. He conveniently forgot that being alone meant Jezebel’s army didn’t have him in their sights ready to execute him. Considering the alternative, Elijah should have been just a little grateful. In the midst of a crisis – and we have a low threshold for what we consider a crisis, don’t we -we tend to be dissatisfied with anything less than an immediate resolution.

In the same state God has spoken to many prophets, Elijah went from sleep to a barely woken state to find God’s messenger, an angel, watching over him, preparing breakfast. The message begins, essentially, with God telling Elijah to quit whining and eat. God provided him with a cake, which in ancient times was wheat meal mixed with oil and water – flatbread. In the depth of Elijah’s wallow in self-pity, God commanded him to eat, drink, and follow. The bread and water God’s emissary gave Elijah was to sustain him for a 40 -day and 40-night journey in the wilderness to Mt. Sinai.

Sound familiar? We know what those 40 days and 40 nights mean. God was preparing Elijah to participate in something incredibly important that only God can do. God sent Elijah up to the top of Mt. Sinai; and, like he did for Moses who traveled 40 years in the wilderness, God passed by Elijah on Mt. Sinai and spoke to him.

Elijah may have given up on God, but God did not let go of Elijah. God did not become manifest to Elijah by one of the expected means — wind, earthquake, fire. God’s voice broke through the “sound of sheer silence” (v.12).  Any wise teacher will tell you that it is hard for students to hear when you raise your voice in competition. When a teacher speaks softly, the students will most often stop talking and listen.

Out of the silence that felt like absence, God broke through in a still, small voice that Elijah had to wait and listen for in order to hear. Elijah didn’t get immediate deliverance from his trials; what he got was a new commission, a new purpose for his life.

Elijah was commissioned to appoint two kings, one for Aram and one for Israel, and to appoint Elisha as his successor as prophet to Israel. Through a series of events, Elijah did, eventually, get his revenge on the evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and they were no longer in a position to threaten his life. I wonder, did Elijah look back on the time he lost faith and wanted to die? Did he feel foolish for not trusting God?

Sometimes we also find ourselves in a state of spiritual discouragement. It is hard for us to see our way out of a cave of despair. How hard it is to remember how God has delivered us in the past from that “valley of the shadow of death” into new life and given us a new mission. In our culture, we are tempted by false gods, Baals, and threatened by Jezebels, who demand we do their bidding. Yet, even as we succumb, God continues to reach out to us with the promise of new life and enlivening purpose.

As with Elijah, our experiences of weakness and vulnerability can lead to the strengthening and maturing of our faith and our calling. God is always there if we but look up and take that outstretched hand that is waiting for us. God gave Elijah bread and water in the wilderness and commanded: “get up and eat, otherwise, the journey will be too much for you.” (I King 19:8) For their journey Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine and commanded them: “Take and eat… remember me;” and then, he gave them the Great Commission and promised to be with them always.

All honor and praise to the God of our ancestors, who continues to keep covenant with us!


© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2017, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois