August 16, 2009
Scripture: I Kings 19:4-8
Sermon Title: "The Journey"
Rev. George N. Miller
It’s an honor to be here today, as a guest preacher and as a fellow wanderer who is wondering what God has planned for him next.
Allow me to introduce myself: my name is George Miller and three weeks ago I was the pastor of Burlingame UCC located in Grand Rapids, MI.
For various reasons, the church has closed down, and its members have scattered into the wilderness, each person on their own journey, unsure of where they will go.
They and I are on a journey, one that requires
sustenance and strength. One thing I’ve been doing is watching movies and reading books. What’s been interesting is just how many of the DVDs and books involve an aspect of journey.
It’s a common theme in pop culture: Dorothy goes over the rainbow to discover there’s no place like home. Luke Skywalker leaves his home planet to become a JEDI. And Harry Potter realizes just how special he is by attending Hogwarts School of Magic.
The same can be said about people in the Bible. A new covenant is established when Sarah and Abraham leave their native land. Moses and the Israelites cross the Red Sea into freedom. And salvation is offered to all when Jesus journeys to Jerusalem and Mary comes to the garden alone.
And, as we heard today, Elijah’s flees into the wilderness and has an encounter with God.
Life is often about the journey. And it’s usually not until we take a journey of some sort that we begin to understand and embrace life.
I think back a few years ago- I was teaching Sunday School and a youth asked "How come God doesn’t speak to us and miracles happen like in the Bible?"
I was shocked by the comment. I wanted to say "What do you mean God doesn’t speak? Look, listen, see: there are miracles everyday."
That boy’s question stayed with me, but it wasn’t until this week that I realized why he said what he said. He wasn’t speaking as someone who had lived 20, 40 or 60 years.
He was speaking as someone barely in the double digits. Someone who had not yet left home, traveled the country, or experienced the realities of life: working, struggling to pay the bills, aging.
He was, bless his fortunate heart, a child. A child who had two loving parents who worked hard, raised him in a good neighborhood, where he attended a good school, went to a good church, and had all his basic needs met.
In other words, his parents, teachers and church were doing such a good job that he was unaware of God much the same way we are unaware of air and a fish doesn’t think about water.
For this young man it would probably take a major life experience or leaving the comforts of home for him to truly realize just how present God was.
To experience his miracle he may need to journey and experience his own moments of fear, worry, loneliness, and loss.
And I pray that God was present for him just as God was present for Elijah.
In today’s reading we meet the prophet Elijah. If there is one thing the Bible makes clear, is that Elijah is a man of movement.
When we first meet Elijah he is told by God to go east. Then he’s told to go to the outskirts of town. Then to a king. Then he’s told to go south.
When he’s hiding he’s told to go out, when he’s resting he’s told to get up. When he’s on the mountain top he’s told to go down.
East, south, up, down, out. Elijah is on a journey just like Dorothy, Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter. And like them, he has a moment of crisis: Queen Jezebel, unhappy with his ministry, wants him dead.
And so he runs away, far, far south, as far south as one can go. He travels until he can’t take another step. He stops, he rests, he’s scared and burn-out.
It seems so hopeless. So full of despair. No point, no future, no reason to go on. He’s in the wilderness surrounded by no thing and no one to help him out, just a solitary tree to give him shade.
Anyone here know what that’s like? To feel alone? To feel uncertain about your present? Afraid of what’s going to happen next and all that’s around you is an empty wilderness?
We’ve all felt that way one time or another, when fear, depression and despair creeps in.
Some people try to deny how they feel, to cover it up. But not Elijah. He calls out to God. "It’s too much!" he cries out. "Take my life. End it all right now. I’m a failure, a loser, a flop. Take it away, I’m tired. I’m tired."
Depressed, Elijah falls asleep. God sends an angel to wake and feed him. Elijah eats and drinks, and sleeps again. A second time God sends an angel. "Get up and eat," the angel says, "So it will not be too much and you can finish your journey."
Here, here is a story in which a man in his moment of vulnerability admits his weakness, cries out to God and God responds by supplying the strength needed to carry on. A miracle.
This is a story for all time and for all fellow journeyers about how God can take the bleak moments in our lives and transform them into new sources of strength.
Listen to how it happens: First, it took Elijah being on a journey. This is not a young man staying stationary on a couch or being sheltered from the world. This is someone who is facing life head on.
Second, it took Elijah calling out to God, not with pretty words, or trying to hide how he really felt. No, it took Elijah speaking the truth.
Elijah tell it to God, warts and all. So what if it wasn’t a text-book perfect prayer? So what if he expressed a desire to die?
What Elijah did was brave and honest. He owned up to his emotions, said what was on his heart, not ashamed of how he felt.
He didn’t fool himself with a boot strap theology or cover up his true feelings, he put it all out on the line and said "God, it is enough."
We can all learn from Elijah because we are all journeying people. And we journey in different ways. There are those who have been born and raised here but there is also a number of folk who come from places like New York, Ohio and Illinois.
We have traveled through time, some more time then others. Time that saw a world war, a president killed, towers that fell; but also time that saw footprints on the moon, a wall come tumbling down and a black man in the White House.
We have journeyed through life and death experiences: of babies placed in our arms, children leaving for school, illnesses faced with dread, anniversaries celebrated with joy, loved ones who have died.
We have each had our own journeys this week through the wilderness of life, journeys that have brought us together right here, right now. And like Elijah, we have the chance to sit, relax.
And hopefully through these journeys we have each experienced ways if which God has been present and the ways in which miracles can and do occur.
We can also learn something else from Elijah and his experience with God. Did you note how God responded to Elijah’s request for death?
God did not respond the way Elijah wanted, nor did God act like a magician and remove his problems or solve them for Elijah. What would be the point of that? Where would the life lesson be?
Instead what God does is provide Elijah with strength, the strength he needs to continue his journey, the strength he needs to face what lies ahead, the strength he needs to discover he is not as alone as he feels and the strength the continue experiencing God doing things in new and exciting ways.
Elijah, in a moment of fear and worry wants to die, but God says instead "Sit, eat, let me make your strong."
Yes, wether we like to admit it or not, we are all Elijah’s, traveling in one way or another, we have our good days, and we have our bad.
And when we have those bad days, let us realize that it is OK to take a time out. It is OK to sit. It is OK to hold our own pity party.
And those are the moments when we should cry out to the Lord. When we should not be ashamed of what we feel, we should tell God what’s truly on our hearts, no editing, no shame, because God already knows.
Because when we open ourselves up to God, we are opening ourselves to the gifts that God brings and the strength God offers so that we can continue our journeys and do the work that God has planned for us.
Going back to that teenager who wondered why God doesn’t speak or do miracles like in the Bible: I pray that he has lived enough, loved enough, and hurt enough that he’s called upon God once or twice, and I pray that he has indeed experienced just how God does act and speak, saying "Look at what I am doing for you."
May we all take a lesson from Elijah, trusting that God will give us whatever strength we need to make it on our journey. May the Spirit send you angels who can tend to your needs, and may Jesus Christ walk with you along the way.
Amen and amen.