Fifth Sunday after Trinity, June 30th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, Montana
Our Fear and God’s Word – 1 Kings 19:1-21, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, Luke 5:1-11
Many Christians, indeed, I’m sure many of you, are feeling pretty glum, even fearful, about the state of things in America these days. The Department of Health and Human Services, while giving an exemption to Churches, is trying to tell every other employer of more than 50 employees in this country they must pay for abortifacient drugs in their health plans, regardless of the faith and principles of the owners. That is, employers are being told they must pay for the chemical abortions of their employees, regardless of their personal belief about the sanctity of human life in the womb. In this the government is effectively saying you can believe what you want Sunday morning, but it can’t be put into action on Monday in the marketplace, unless the government approves. So much for freedom of religion.
The IRS has been caught persecuting groups that seek to promote liberty and constitutionalism and patriotism, all the while giving extra scrutiny and often audits to nearly every family who adopts a child and seeks to take advantage of the tax credits they are offered in federal tax law. Adopting parents do a wonderful work, both for the children they take in, and for the nation, as they give children in need their best chance for a productive life. For their trouble, they are treated with suspicion and harassed by their government.
And then, just last Wednesday, the Supreme Court told the voters in California they have no right to decide that marriage in their state will only be between one man and one woman. Oh no, the judges who overturned the voters’ decision get to have the final say. So much do judges have the final say over the definition of marriage that the Supremes also declared the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act which prohibits federal benefits for same sex couples to also be unconstitutional. The Court stopped short of openly declaring that there is a constitutional right for a man to marry a man and a woman to marry a woman, but they’ve paved the way.
On every front it seems, the way the Church has traditionally taught about any number of issues is being ignored, kicked to the curb, or outright banned. In the place of a common morality that was most heavily influenced by Christian teaching, today America is a moral free-fire zone, where everyone is free to do whatever they want, unless you want to do and say traditional things and cling to your faith and your Bible. Then you are a bigot and a fruitcake who must be shouted down and regulated into obscurity.
What’s worse, many clergy and church bodies who used to maintain traditional Biblical morality have in recent years caved to societal pressure, and are now full supporters of the radical homosexual agenda, the radical pro-abortion agenda, and pretty much any other group out there that is trying to tear apart the moral fabric which has held chaos in check in our nation for two centuries.
All of this means we are in a somewhat similar situation as Elijah in our Old Testament reading. Just before, Elijah had served as God’s man, achieving what seemed like a great victory for the Lord and His faithful. Elijah won a public contest with the prophets of the false god Baal, a “call down fire from heaven” contest. I’d like to see that on reality TV. Of course the wooden idol Baal could not deliver, but the Lord God Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob delivered in spades, burning up the altar, even after Elijah had prepared by baptism, dousing it with 12 pitchers of water. Following the steamy conflagration, Elijah directs the execution of 450 false prophets of Baal, and it seemed that right was going to prevail in Israel.
But Elijah underestimated Jezebel, the wicked queen who had influenced her husband Ahab to lead Israel into false worship of Baal. She vowed in her rage to destroy Elijah, which caused him to flee across the wilderness. Elijah wantsd to give up and die. He seems to be utterly abandoned, alone, helpless before the evil intentions of Jezebel. Elijah is tired of running, tired of fighting, ready to die. Take me now, Lord. There is no one left fighting but me, and the cause is hopeless. Take me now.
Maybe you’re not quite there with Elijah, not yet. But the arc of history does seem to be turning sharply against authentic, Biblical Christianity, against traditional morals and family life and society, and against the right of Christians to argue freely in the public square. The future appears to be dark. Should we fear for ourselves? Maybe the glide path will be long. Maybe the descent into paganism won’t engulf us before we die, at least not here in Sidney/Fairview Montana. But what about our children? What about our grandchildren? Should we fear for them?
Fear not. Do not fear, God will have the last Word. To despair, to give up hope, is a sin, for in His Word the Lord has promised good to us. So let’s hang on a moment longer, and see what His Word teaches us this morning. Let’s listen and hear a bit more of what God has to say, and see where He takes us.
God’s response to Elijah’s resignation to defeat was direct and concrete: bread, water, strength for the tasks ahead, and a list of things to do. Yes, the end of the course of service for each servant of the Lord does eventually come, and it isn’t wrong to want to be with the Lord, to desire that your long struggle against sin be over. But as long as the Lord gives us breath and a calling, He will also give us the energy and courage to continue on. God’s angel fed and watered Elijah, and he went in the strength of that bread from heaven forty days, arriving at the Mount of the Lord, where God had made so many promises to Israel, centuries before. There, the Lord reminded Elijah how He works, and where God’s people are to look for comfort and assurance.
We might look for comfort and assurance in earthly power and fame and fortune. We might look to the things of the earth that impress and frighten us. As Christians, we might be tempted to think the only hope we have of altering the course our nation is to win elections, to raise more money for advertising to expose lies, to win the public debate for our side. We might be tempted to hope for a great hero to arise who will fix everything and lead us into a brighter day.
Well, elections and public opinion and good leaders have their place, in this life. Indeed, God had Elijah appoint two kings, along with one new prophet. But do remember this: in the Old Testament the people of God and the political nation of Israel were the same entity. Church and State were one by God’s institution. This is no longer the case. The United States of America is not the people of God, for the Church is universal, with members spread in every nation on the globe. The Church of Christ can and should speak in the world, including public life, and we can work to improve our society, but the purposes of God are not achieved through politics.
Indeed Jesus said “My Kingdom is not of this world,” and so Christians seeking to influence the world for God had better look elsewhere for their tools. What we should take from our Old Testament reading is how the Lord appeared to Elijah, to remind Him that He will protect His people, He will build His Church, He will achieve His purposes. But don’t look for the Lord in loud, powerful and flashy things. He isn’t in a wind so strong as to break rocks. The Lord isn’t in an earthquake, shaking the very earth. The Lord isn’t in the raging fire.
The Lord is in His Word. Even if His Word is just a whisper, even if His Word is spoken by just one prophet, there the Lord is, and that is all we need, for that is all He needs. For by His Word the Lord brings good out of evil, and strength out of weakness. The Word of the Lord calls things into existence that were not. The Word of the Lord is living and active, accomplishing the things He intends. The Word of the Lord can even overcome the shedding of blood and the death of its champion. For all of the struggles of Elijah against the false prophets and wicked queen are precursor to Jesus’ struggle against satan and the world and all evil. The Word of the Lord is ultimately the Word of the Cross, the preaching of foolishness and offense which destroys the kingdom of hell and makes sinners into saints, through the sacrifice and resurrection of God’s only begotten Son.
The Word of the Lord, the Word of the Cross, is always surprising, always unsettling, even to us who believe, because we are still sinners, believing, yet still struggling with unbelief, still prone to believe our eyes over our ears, and the words of the world over the Word of Scripture. So one day the preaching of Christ crucified may seem foolish to you, and the next if may offend, but the Spirit keeps bringing you back, to hear it again, because only by that Word of the Cross are you delivered from sin and guilt and shame. Only the Word of the Cross gives you victory over death, and the devil. And only by the Word of Christ Crucified are you given peace, peace which removes your fears, peace in which to rest, peace in God’s forgiving love, which then moves you to share that forgiving love with others.
That’s what Jesus did with Peter, and with James and John, and all the rest of His Apostles. The first obstacle to their service as Apostles of Jesus Christ was their sin. Their sin was the ongoing obstacle to their ministry as well. Peter and the rest were miserable sinners, but Jesus came to them anyway, speaking of His Kingdom, helping Peter by the miraculous catch of fish to understand that Jesus is the Lord God Almighty, and then, giving fearful Peter peace by the forgiveness of his sins. Yes, you are a sinner, but fear not, says Jesus, I choose you. From this Word of power and mercy, Peter was changed into God’s man, sent to capture more sinners for God, through His Word.
Jesus is still working, in just the same way, today, by putting His Word into the mouths of sinners like me, and into the ears, and mouths, of sinners like you. Like Elijah, Peter would face many dark days in his ministry. Peter was arrested multiple times, and eventually died, crucified upside down, for refusing to stop speaking the Word. Peter was also stopped short in His sin many times, as when he denied that Jesus should die, and when he denied he knew Christ after He was arrested in the Garden, and when he shunned Gentile Christians when influential Jewish Christians pressured him. In every case, the Lord sent a Word of rebuke to Peter, in order to turn him in repentance from his sin, and back to Jesus, who is the love and forgiveness of God, come to us in the flesh.
And so, I think we can see what’s ahead for us, as well. I don’t mean to predict the future. It could be that despite how negative our current situation seems for the Church, the Lord might be preparing a great revival. Or, there could be a great persecution. Or, the Father could send Jesus tomorrow, to resolve all our struggles in God’s final peace. But regardless of what the immediate future holds for us, we know that God is in and with His Word, the Word of the Crucified One, the Word of Repentance and Faith, the Word of Forgiveness, found in the Body and Blood of Christ. This Word is our future, and in it we find God’s peace. So fear not, rest in God’s peace, for He has promised to sustain His Word, and to sustain us, come what may, through that same Word, the Word of the Crucified and Resurrected One, Amen.