Summary: God teaches us that his way of winning hearts through his Word is the only way.
$20,000. That’s how much our congregation spent last year (not including pastor’s salary) on outreach both here and through our synod. What did that $20,000 accomplish? Well we didn’t grow as a congregation, and our synod’s membership actually declined. Was that $20,000 wasted? Is sharing God’s Word a pointless endeavour? The prophet Elijah came to think so. In Episode III of our sermon series Seer Wars we saw how Elijah became so disappointed in the results of his God-given work that he wanted to die. Perhaps we’ve never felt like dying because our outreach efforts don’t bear more fruit, but we’ve all wondered whether or not there is a better, more effective way to win hearts for Jesus than by just sharing God’s Word. Today in Episode IV: A New Hope, God teaches Elijah and us that his way of winning hearts is really the best way, no, the only way. God urges us to be faithful in sharing his Word and assures us that he is responsible for producing results and will deal with any enemies that stand in our way.
Episode III of our sermon series ended much the same way the movie version did with the good guys on the run beating a hasty retreat into a self-imposed exile. The only difference is that Obi-Wan still had Master Yoda and a handful of Jedi supporters on whom to depend, while Elijah was the only good guy left. At least that’s what the prophet told God at Mt. Horeb. When God asked Elijah what he was doing hiding in a cave 480 km away from his preaching post, Elijah answered: “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kings 19:10).
It’s been said that when you stick your head in Limburger cheese, the whole world stinks (Jeske). That was Elijah’s problem. He was so caught up in Jezebel’s threat to kill him that he had become blind to God’s blessings. Had the Israelites rejected God and killed his prophets? Yes, but that was before Mt. Carmel. At Mt. Carmel the Israelites confessed that the Lord was God and executed Baal’s prophets. Even if the showdown at Mt. Carmel had never happened, it wasn’t true that Elijah was the only believer left in Israel. In his self-pity Elijah had forgotten about Obadiah. Obadiah was wicked king Ahab’s right-hand-man and still was a believer in the true God. Obadiah had even hidden a hundred of the Lord’s prophets in caves and supplied them with food at a time when Jezebel was putting God’s prophets to death (1 Kings 18:1-15).
Are we sometimes guilty of seeing through God’s blessings because we’re too busy complaining about life’s challenges? I know I am. Those of you who asked me how soccer camp went this year heard me say something about how our numbers were down and that we didn’t make as many unchurched contacts. I was so disappointed about these “numbers” that I didn’t notice that one soccer family checked the “interested in membership” box when they signed the guestbook a couple Sundays back. That didn’t happen last year! What other blessings are we missing because we’re too busy focusing on our challenges? God has blessed us with a peaceful country, with caring family, and with his promise of forgiveness. If we only think about these blessings occasionally or take them for granted, we need to ask God’s forgiveness for our ungratefulness and acknowledge that we only have ourselves to blame for our sour outlook on life.
Being blind to God’s blessings wasn’t Elijah’s only problem. When he claimed that his work of preaching God’s Word had not produced results even though he had been very zealous in this work, Elijah was implying that God’s way of winning hearts wasn’t working. God knew exactly what Elijah was thinking and so he invited the prophet to stand at the mouth of the cave because he had something to show him. When Elijah had positioned himself, a wind stronger than a tornado ripped through the mountain smashing rocks. When the wind died down an earthquake shook the mountain threatening to swallow Elijah. The tremor was followed by a raging fire burning everything in its path. As he witnessed these displays of power Elijah must have thought to himself: “That’s what I’m talking about Lord! Send that wind to blow Jezebel to kingdom come. Use that earthquake to shake some sense into King Ahab. And if he won’t repent, then burn him up in the fire of your justice!” (Jeske) Aren’t we a lot like Elijah? Don’t we think that if God would only perform miracles of power like sending fire down from heaven, church attendance would go up?