Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (June 30, 2013)

Wordle: Untitled

“You Are Not Alone” (1 Kings 19:9b-21)
With some material adapted from CTQ 47:1

This has been a tough week for Christians who still think that the Bible speaks clearly about the type of relationship which makes a marriage.  One man.  One woman.  That’s what God instituted when he gave Adam and Eve to each other as husband and wife.  The way we view marriage has huge ramifications.  It affects the very message of the Gospel, because marriage reflects Christ’s relationship to his Church as Bridegroom and Bride.  Anything else is not a marriage, no matter how the culture or the courts attempt to redefine it.

This is not the only moral issue in our nation which is at odds with what the Lord says in his Word.  Add to this the fact that the official teaching of numerous Christian church bodies have acquiesced to the culture on many points.  Much of what was once clearly understood and confessed by most Christians is fast becoming passé … old-fashioned … out of step with the times.

These cultural shifts have infected our own ranks, too.  A survey of LCMS youth in 2004 said that 70.5% believed in the traditional view of marriage.  In 2007 – a mere three years – that number had shrunk to 57%.  In 2010 the number was 53.2%.  Just barely over half of our own Lutheran high school  youth agree with the traditional view of marriage!  It will be interesting to see what the number is this year if another survey is taken at the national youth gathering this week in San Antonio.  “Interesting” is probably not the right word.  I imagine it will be disheartening.  Disheartening to see how our young people are being influenced by the spirit of the age rather than the Holy Spirit.

Increasingly, the doctrines of Christianity are slipping from the mainstream.  Confessional Lutherans like ourselves are fast becoming an anomaly.  It seems like our voice is a voice in the wilderness.  It’s at times like these when you begin to feel like you’re all alone.

It’s also easy to resent … even hate … those who are opposed to God and his Word.  I can relate to James and John when they encountered people who did not receive Jesus.  They asked him, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). Instead, remember how Jesus responded to those who did not receive him.  He desired to care for them as a mother hen cares for her chicks (Luke 13:34). He prayed that his Father would forgive those who had nailed him to the cross.  He instructed us to love our neighbor and to show forth the fruit of the Spirit … love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Indeed, there is a time for righteous indignation.  But not hatred.  Not vengeance.

Nor despair, either.  Elijah was tempted to despair in today’s reading from 1 Kings 19.  But as the Lord revealed himself to Elijah and encouraged him, our Lord also assures each of us that “You Are Not Alone.”

Elijah felt alone.  In the two chapters just prior to our text, Elijah had acted on God’s behalf against evil.  He predicted that a drought would come about as God’s judgment on a nation that had turned to idolatry.  He had eradicated the prophets of Baal in a “duel” of sorts on Mount Carmel.  Afterwards, he foresaw a refreshing rain coming upon the land.  It appeared that evil’s influence was broken.

But after King Ahab’s wife Jezebel heard that Elijah had the prophets of Baal put to death, she sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow” (1 Kings 19:2).  Fearing for his life, Elijah fled into the wilderness, and that’s where we find him in today’s text.

The Lord asks Elijah, “What are you doing here?”  Elijah’s response seems to be full of bitterness:  “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”  Can you hear Elijah’s frustration?  Can you hear his bitterness?  He had been jealous for the Lord’s cause, but the result was Israel’s apostasy to the extent that he finds himself alone and threatened with death.  Where is God in all of this?  Has he hung Elijah out to dry?  Elijah certainly felt like he was all alone.

As God’s redeemed, baptized people, you and I can experience isolation, too.  We experience isolation when we take a stand for the truth of God’s Word and our confession of it.  We stand up for our Christian faith and principles and we are snubbed, perhaps even ridiculed.  If the harassment is intense, we might flee from the situation, mind our own business, become convinced that we are alone.

And this loneliness doesn’t only occur because of opposition to our faith.  A cartoon in the Saturday Evening Post showed a young boy about five or six years old talking on the telephone, saying, “Mom is in the hospital, the twins and Roxie and Billie and Sally and the dog and me and Dad are all home alone.”  Well, of course, they weren’t really alone, were they?  But isn’t it true that we can be isolated even when people are all around us?  Even in our own homes?

A study by the American Council of Life Insurance reported that the most lonely group in America are college students. That's surprising! Next on the list are divorced people, welfare recipients, single mothers, rural students, housewives, and the elderly.

To point out how lonely people can be, Charles Swindoll mentioned an ad in a Kansas newspaper.  It read, “I will listen to you talk for 30 minutes without comment for $5.00.” Swindoll said, “Sounds like a hoax, doesn't it?  But the person was serious.  Did anybody call?  You bet.  It wasn't long before this individual was receiving 10 to 20 calls a day.  The pain of loneliness was so sharp that some were willing to try anything for a half hour of companionship.”  That was some time ago.  These days, interactions on the internet have taken the place of telephone conversations.

It’s even possible to feel alone right here among each other.  Maybe hardly anyone greets you when you come to church.  Maybe you have many things on your heart and mind that you haven’t shared with anyone, so others don’t really know what’s going on in your life and the burdens you are carrying.

In all of this, it’s possible to feel so alone and become so bitter like Elijah was that we come to the point where we are convinced that even God does not care.

But God answered Elijah’s cry of desolation, and he answers ours, too.  God’s mission in our life and in the world continues and he assures us that we our not alone.

Look at how the Lord reassured Elijah.  Elijah was given new direction.  God first asks him why he is hiding.  He patiently listens to Elijah’s miseries, without making any judgment upon him, without saying, “Come on, Elijah, quit your griping.  Things aren’t so bad.”  No, God allowed Elijah to get things off his chest.  Then, he reveals his intimate presence to Elijah … not in the powerful wind, not in the frightening earthquake, not in the scorching fire … but in the gentle whisper.  And with that still, small, voice, the Lord sends Elijah back into his world on a new mission to accomplish God’s will by anointing the new kings of Aram and Israel and to anoint Elisha as his successor as prophet.

God also has purpose for our lives, even in a sinful world.  We do not influence the world when we hide from it.  You and I also face the question, “What are you doing here?”  Like he did with Elijah, our Lord patiently listens to our complaints, to our miseries, without making any judgment.  Our lives have purpose because of the purpose for which the Son of God came into this world.  Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).  He became flesh and lived in all humility and poverty.  “The Son of Man [had] nowhere to lay his head” … but upon him the sins of the world were laid at the cross.   Forsaken by the Father, Jesus knows what it is to be all alone.  Having died to pay the price for our sins, he laid his head in a borrowed tomb and burst forth in victory on Easter morning.  Now, by baptism and by faith, you and I are forgiven and exalted, with the resurrection to eternal life awaiting us.  By faith, we are declared to be sons of God with an everlasting inheritance … the riches of heaven itself and a place at the eternal wedding banquet.

You are not alone.  We are not alone.  God is with us.  Not always in the spectacular.  Not always in earth, wind, and fire.  God is with us in the gentle, yet firm voice which in Baptism certifies that we are His … which in the Absolution declares our sins are forgiven … which in the Sacrament of the Altar assures us of Christ’s true presence in his Body and Blood … which in the Scriptures gives us direction, strength, and eternal hope in Jesus.

We are not alone because we are also with others.  Elijah was informed of 7,000 fellow-believers.  Elisha became his companion.  And you and I join with fellow-Christians and together we support one another – listening, caring, encouraging – as the Lord sends us out to participate in his mission.  Our mutual conversation and consolation encourages us and fends off loneliness.

God loves you no less than He loved Elijah.  He fills your life with His presence.  He gives us each other.  You are not alone.


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