Always willing to dive back into worship preparation and preaching, my dear friend Rev. Chris Martin jumped at the chance to preach on Pentecost Sunday so he could fill in for me as Patti and I visited our son Jonah in Texas. I do not have the text of this message, but feel free to watch the video or listen to the podcast and find out why we should all be… Obsessed with Christ.
Have you ever been so busy, or so stressed out, or afraid, or depressed, or angry, or grief stricken, or otherwise distracted, that you just didn’t see how God fit anymore? Or, because of one or more of those things, you somehow lost track of God? You couldn’t hear God anymore, you couldn’t feel the closeness with God that you once felt, you didn’t feel the sense of direction from God or the sense of purpose that you once felt? Sometimes those things happen because of what is happening to us, and sometimes it’s because we’ve filled our lives with so much busyness that there’s no more room for God to fit into our lives anywhere.
But losing track of God because of the stress of everyday living is not something new and unique to the twenty-first century. Our modern, high speed, jet-age, cell phone carrying, computer using, busyness might look different and even alien to the people of the ancient world, but the grief, stress, and busyness of our lives are not that different from the people of the Old and New Testaments. This morning we begin reading from 1 Kings 19:1-15 where we encounter a story that most of us have heard many times. It is a story about how the prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal, was victorious, had hundreds of those idolatrous priests put to death, and then fled in fear as Ahab and Jezebel, the king and queen of Israel, threatened to kill him. You can find more of the story in your bulletins, but in the interest of time, I’ll just say that Elijah ran for his life, was fed by God as he hid in the desert, and finally has this encounter with God:
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn 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.”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn 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.”
15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram.
Elijah had just won an enormous victory over the prophets of Baal. God had visibly revealed himself to everyone present, and through them, to the people of Israel by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifice offered by Elijah. But the threats from the throne of the queen erased Elijah’s confidence and Elijah’s fear made it impossible to remember the power of God. Elijah could no longer hear God over the noise of his fear.
And so, once he was in the desert, God called him and told him to go and wait for him on the mountain. And a great wind came, and although it tore at the rocks and made a lot of noise, God wasn’t in it. And then there was an earthquake, and although it was incredibly powerful, made even more noise, and shook the earth, God wasn’t in it. And after that there was a fire which roared, stole the oxygen from the air, and filled Elijah’s world with heat and light, but God wasn’t in it. And then, finally, came a soft whisper, and when he heard it, Elijah covered his face, went out of the cave, and met God.
This story reminds us that God isn’t always in the noise. Our stress, our fear, our busyness, and other things that fill our lives may make a lot of heat, light, noise, and even shake the earth with their power, but none of those things are God.
We see something similar in Luke 8:26-39 when Jesus casts out a legion of demons. Jesus meets a man who lived in the tombs of the cemetery. Many demons possessed this man, as many as a thousand. And Jesus heals him. The demons beg Jesus not to send them to hell, and Jesus allows them to leave the man and enter a herd of pigs instead… and the pigs immediately run full-speed right off a cliff.
34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, 35and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. 36 Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. 37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So, he got into the boat and left.
38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, 39“Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So, the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.
The point that I want to make is that this group of people lived with a man in their community that was terrifyingly demon possessed. He had superhuman strength that, more than once broke the chains that bound him, overpowered the guards that stood watch over him, and escaped into places where he could be alone. Everyone knew who he was and what he could do, and they were terrified of him. But when they witness him sitting, clothed, cured, holding a normal conversation with Jesus, and in his right mind, they ask Jesus to leave because they afraid of the power that he has. The people of the region of the Gerasenes stood before the messenger of God and the savior of the world, but they couldn’t hear God’s voice over the noise of their stress and fear.
Twenty-one centuries later, we aren’t so different. Our stress, fear, busyness, and other things fill our lives, make a lot of heat, light, noise, and even shake the earth with their power. And while none of those things are God, they often make so much noise in our lives that we fail to hear God whispering to our soul.
But what do we do about it?
I think Paul’s thoughts in Galatians 3:23-29 are applicable here. He said:
23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Before Jesus Christ, before faith, God’s people were watched over by the law just as a guardian watches over a minor child. But now that we have faith, we no longer need such a strict adherence to the law to govern our behavior. Instead of rigid rules to follow, we instead remind ourselves of our baptism and wear the clothing of Jesus Christ. We are no longer divided into classes, groups, divisions, of race, nationality, denomination, language, or political party. In Christ, we are united. We are grafted into the people of God and have the same legal status as the genetic children of Abraham. We are the people of God. We are God’s children. We are the heirs of God and the co-heirs of Jesus Christ.
I suspect that really rich people don’t worry when their car breaks down or when they discover that their wallet is empty. When those things happen, they overcome their stress when they remember who they are. They’re rich. Being in a broken-down car, or having an empty wallet is a temporary condition, it doesn’t define them, and it isn’t who they are. That same advice applies to us as the children of God.
When the storms and the wind scream in our ears, the fire roars, the earth shakes, or any natural and unnatural stress overcomes us, and it will, take a moment to remember who you are. Take a break. Maybe, like Elijah, escape for a while to a quiet place. Get your head on straight, take a deep breath, and remember that you are a child of God, that you are the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, that you are loved by the creator of the universe, and that you have, even now, an eternal future that awaits you no matter what happens today or tomorrow.
Life is full of stress and noise. There are stock market crashes, pandemics, politics, insurrections, wars, famines, fires, floods, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, housing bubbles, violence, death, and all sorts of other things happening all the time. But don’t let any of those things prevent you from hearing God’s whispering to your soul.
Take break, pause, listen, reflect, breathe… and remember who you are.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.