Sunday, June 20, 2010

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen. +

Text: 1 Kings 19:11
Theme: “The Presence of the Lord”

Dear friends in Christ Jesus,

God knows our weaknesses. We may fear to reveal how vulnerable we really are. But we should take great comfort in knowing God uses this knowledge to tenderly but passionately draw us to Himself. As fragile human beings we easily succumb to the temptation of self-pity. It’s the tactic of playing the sympathy card. People may feel they’ve been so beaten down, kicked around and the victims of such bad luck that God will surely take notice and make some exceptions for them. This is all the more true when people seem to suffer for doing what’s right. Elijah appears to be driven by this mindset. He was the one who remained faithful against all opposition and yet there he was fearing for his life.

So Elijah fled to Mount Sinai where God had issued the Ten Commandments to the people through Moses many years before. There He had ratified a covenant with them. It was a place that represented God’s power and judgment. Elijah was ready for God to render judgment again. The apostasy of the Israelites had been sufficiently documented. They had forsaken the Lord. They had turned away to other gods. Warning after warning went unheeded. There was little repentance. Note Elijah’s complaint, “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

But Elijah wasn’t where he was supposed to be and didn’t yet understand God’s plan. God called Elijah to stand in His presence. Then God sent a windstorm, an earthquake, and a fire. All were violent displays of raw power; possible signs of God’s pending judgment. But God was not present in any of them. The last was a gentle whisper and through that God made His intentions known. God would not yet mete out the retribution Elijah was hoping for. He would continue to deal gently with His people seeking to lead them to repentance. God always desires to bring people to repentance by the gentlest means possible. The Scripture says, “Do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you towards repentance?”2 Unfortunately much harsher measures of the law are often necessary.

The gentle whisper should not be misinterpreted as a manner in which God promises to speak directly to people’s hearts- a still small voice- giving individual and unique guidance. That “still small voice” might well be your selfish ego desperately trying to justify something that is not in accord with God’s will. He speaks openly and clearly through his word. Regarding things He neither commands nor forbids we make decisions to the best of our ability with the well-being of others in mind. Your conscience should always be obeyed but that is not the same thing as a new or unique revelation from God.

Dear friends, how generous is the patience of God! How can we measure God’s gentleness? These are fruits of pure grace. They are never givens. The forbearance of God is not our entitlement. We can presume upon His patience no more than we can presume we deserve His grace. We have no right to it. It is not a guarantee. It is however, an overwhelmingly observable expression of His compassion. Were God not patient we would have all been consigned to condemnation long ago. God condemned His Son instead so that all who trust in Him are spared from His wrath. Jesus was crucified to absorb God’s just impatience with our sinfulness. His resurrection proves that the Father’s wrath has been appeased. God withholds no spiritual gifts from believers- He gave His Son.

The story is told that one day a beggar by the roadside asked for alms from the mighty conqueror Alexander the Great as he passed by. The man was poor and wretched and had no claim upon the ruler, no right even to lift a hand to beg. Yet the Emperor threw him several gold coins. A member of his court was astonished at his generosity and commented, "Sir, copper coins would adequately meet a beggar's need. Why give him gold?" Alexander responded in royal fashion, "Cooper coins would suit the beggar's need, but gold coins suit Alexander's giving."

God abundantly supplies us with more than we could ever need. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God.”3 We are nothing more than beggars, orphans, adopted by the King of Kings. We are lavished with His generosity. We are clothed with His righteousness. We are granted a heavenly inheritance. We are His baptized children. We dine at His sacred table. We have forgiveness, life, and salvation through His Name.

The mission of the church is not merely about developing strategies to compete for people’s attention in a culture that is dynamic, affluent, and secular. The living voice of the Gospel always speaks a divine message to a world alienated from God. Always the changer of people’s hearts and minds it remains itself unchanged. Because God’s will doesn’t change His message of salvation doesn’t change. Christ isn’t one option among many that lead to spiritual fulfillment. He doesn’t peddle a particular version of an otherwise common philosophy of how to get the goodie out of this life and still make it to the life to come. Everything apart from Him is temporary and can only lead to death and despair. He said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”4

The Holy Spirit’s efforts to create and sustain faith through the word do not take place only in the sphere of human existence. One of the most important reasons to be in God’s house regularly is to be armed against Satan’s schemes. If we’re not in regular contact with God’s word than we are cut off from our spiritual life-line. Then our faith becomes compromised, our resolve becomes weak, our witness will lack clarity and inspiration, and our focus will stray from the plans and promises of God.

The gospel is opposed by all the forces Satan can marshal. That is evidenced again today by Jesus’ encounter with group of demons so large they were called Legion.5 The Bible says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”6 That struggle still goes on. The element of the demonic cannot be explained out of existence by modern psychological theory or eliminated by militant evolutionary philosophy. Spiritual evil, Satan, and hell are menacing dangers that only Christ can defeat.

We can hardly blame Elijah for his impatience and misunderstanding. At His wits end he retreated to the place where he confidently thought God would squash all opposition. But God’s patience and grace were to be further extended. The writer to the Hebrews draws upon this analogy as He explains how Christ has fulfilled all things for us,
“You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom, and storm…But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”7 Thanks be to God!

+ in nomine Jesu +

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
20 June 2010 Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 1 Kings 19:14 2 Romans 2:4
3 1 John 3:1 4 John 14:6
5 See Luke 8:30 6 1 John 3:8
7 Hebrews 12:18, 22-24