Summary: In every age the Holy Spirit does these wonders, and in our present difficulty that same Spirit is doing it again.

Tuesday of the Tenth Week in Course

In our era we are experiencing a dislocation of everything we routinely counted on to anchor our existence, are we not? Many of us in the West define ourselves by our occupation, our plans, our religious practices, our social interactions. And for most of us that means physical contact with, not just proximity to, our friends and relatives. How has everything changed because of our fear of infection with the Chinese novel corona virus! I even see churches where singing is discouraged. Imagine if we had been told just a year ago what would be happening right now, where once again the color of one’s skin has begun to define a person’s rights and responsibilities, where people of certain ethnicities fear appearing in public. All this seems unprecedented in human history.

And that notion, of course, is completely wrong. Look at this story about Elijah, from the 9th century before Christ. Israel was supposed to be a paragon of religious devotion to the One God, Yahweh. King David had worked his whole life to draw together the disparate tribes of Israel into one nation, with one centralized place of worship, a Temple built by his son Solomon. But Solomon ended his life in apostasy, because he had acquiesced in the worship of foreign gods his many wives worshiped. And his successors not only allowed the nation to be ripped apart into two, they also fell into false worship. Instead of drawing the nations into right worship, the Israelites themselves fell into the opposite, even sacrificing their firstborns to Moloch, the Carthaginian monstrosity.

Elijah had prophesied against the current Israelite king, Ahab, and his foreign wife Jezebel, and for his service, he has been driven into exile. But not before showing God’s total disgust with the situation by calling down a forty-plus month drought that dried up the whole land and brought famine on the people, who still didn’t repent. Today we hear Elijah whose sermons appear to have been in vain among his people, and he has moved up into the foreign country of the Sidonians. He comes across a widow with one child, asks for water, which she could get from the local well, and a piece of bread, which would have just hastened starvation for her and her boy.

And so the great prophet, whose words “thus saith the Lord” shook the foundations of nations, invoked his gift of prophecy over a jar of corn meal and a cruet of olive oil, and these fed that little family, including Elijah, for months until the drought was broken by the word of the Lord spoken through the prophet.

You know, I don’t believe Elijah enjoyed his prophetic gift or ministry very much. In fact, a little later we’ll see him fleeing Jezebel’s Gestapo into the desert, and praying for death. But the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not for our entertainment, but for drawing believers and nonbelievers into communion in the church established by Our Lord. And a lot of that time it’s more work than fun. But it’s the right thing to do, our calling from God. If we fail to exercise those gifts, and in obedience spread the Gospel, we are salt crystals useless for cooking or preservation. We might as well be spread on the pavement to keep the roads from deicing.

There are challenges in every age that are opportunities for us to call ourselves and those around us to repentance and healing and union in Christ. Fourth century Syria was caught between the non-Christian hammer of the Persian empire and the anvil of the Byzantine. The focal point of the ongoing conflict was a town and region called Nisibis, an area now right on the border of Turkey and Syria, so still a place of conflict. A young Christian named Ephrem, who operated a school there, was a deacon who wrote hymns to use with his teaching. The whole Christian population, however, was forced by Emperor Jovian to leave their homes so that the Romans could give away the region to the pagan Persians. He had to do this in order to extricate his army from a trap that his predecessor, Julian the apostate, had gotten it into. The Christians had three days to evacuate the town!

But Ephrem refused to be grist for the mill. He knew the light of Christ had to shine forth. He moved his school and then wrote so many orthodox hymns and essays that a hundred years ago he was named a Doctor of the Universal Church. In every age the Holy Spirit does these wonders, and in our present difficulty that same Spirit is doing it again. So we close with a line from one of Ephrem’s hymns: “Blessed is the one, my Lord, who has become the salt of truth in this generation.” Amen and Alleluia.

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