Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sermon -- 6th Sunday after Pentecost (July 5, 2015)

1 KINGS 19:9-18

In the name + of Jesus. 

     There is no doubt that many Christians are upset about court decisions and popular opinions in recent days.  Some have resorted to panic.  Others have been tempted to give in to perverse ideas.  Some have even renounced portions of God's word in order to boast that they are on the so-called “right side of history.”  I understand why Christians are saddened by the events that are unfolding before us, but I don't understand why so many Christians are surprised by it.  Here is the headline that you should all understand in conjunction with the Supreme Court decision about same-sex marriage: Unbelievers acted like unbelievers, and the godless celebrated like the godless.  It should not be a surprise.  It gives you good reason to pray, but not to crawl into your basement to hide.  You are living in a world that has never liked Jesus or his word.  Perhaps it is good if that has finally been made evident to you.  But our days are by no means unique.
     The prophet Elijah found himself at Mt. Sinai after a monumental victory for the Lord.  The people of Israel had been hemming and hawing about which god they wanted to serve—the Lord or the Canaanite fertility god, Baal.  Elijah was the last prophet of the Lord to be preaching in public, and he called the Israelites to commit themselves one way or the other.  There is one God to be obeyed and worshiped.  Would they side with the Lord or with Baal?
     After the Lord had answered with fire which consumed Elijah's sacrifice, the people confessed that the Lord is God and slaughtered the lying Baal prophets.  But only one day later, Elijah heard that Queen Jezebel ordered his death sentence.  So much for glorious victories!  Those who had turned to the Lord turned away just as quickly.  So Elijah ran all the way down to Mt. Sinai.  There, he tendered his resignation as the Lord's prophet.  He also asked the Lord to kill him off.  The Church was done.  There were no faithful people left.  So Elijah asked to die and be done with it.
     The Lord responded, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.”  And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a (still, small voice).  And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13)  
     The Lord was not in the mighty and destructive forces, as we might expect him to be.  Just like you, Elijah might have hoped that Lord would strike the unbelievers with lightning bolts or rain down fire and brimstone.  But that is not where God is at work.  That is not how the Lord changes hearts.  The Lord's still, small voice comforts his troubled Church.
     Elijah was convinced that he was the last believer standing.  The Lord assured him that was not true.  He declared, “I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18)  Despite social pressure to forsake the Lord or at least to add Baal worship to their lives, 7,000 people had been preserved by the Lord.  The Lord had kept them faithful to him.  So the Lord commanded Elijah, “Go back.  They need encouragement.  They need comfort.  They need a pastor to serve them.”  The Lord's still, small voice comforts his troubled Church.
     What's more, the Lord commanded Elijah to anoint his successors.  The Church of God would not end with Elijah or his generation.  Though heaven and earth shall pass away, the word of God shall never pass away.  The Lord's still, small voice is still heard.  The Lord still comforts his troubled Church.
     The Lord told Elijah to go back and anoint those who would act as God's agent of judgment against unfaithful Israel.  The godless would be judged.  But God's people would need the word of the Lord so that they could persevere in their godless society.  Temptations to forsake the Lord were prominent.  They were objects of scorn for having such an inflexible, uncompromising faith.  How long would they endure it?  They did not know.  But God would keep his people faithful.  God would preserve his Church, even in troubled times.  God is not good only when times are good.  God is good even when he tests and purifies his Church through hardship and persecution.  The still, small voice never goes silent.  The Lord's still, small voice comforts his troubled Church.
     Now you, dear Christian, may feel like you live in the same times as Elijah.  I assure you, it is not as bad now as Elijah witnessed.  Churches are not being destroyed, and pastors are not being killed, or even imprisoned for that matter.  Whether the Lord allows our safety and freedom to continue, who knows?  But you need not fear that unbelievers are acting like unbelievers.  And you should not run and hide because the world is becoming more and more godless.  Your hope and comfort have not changed one iota.  Your comfort has never been about being popular with people, being liked by Facebook friends, or even being comfortable in the world.  Your comfort and peace come from Jesus Christ who has rescued you from a world that is defiant, depraved, and marked for destruction.
     The Lord's still, small voice comforts his troubled Church.  That voice was manifested in Jesus Christ who did not come to slay the wicked or lay waste certain communities.  Jesus suffered and died for sinners in order to atone for their defiance, to redeem them from their depravity, and deliver them from death and destruction.  Jesus Christ has cleansed you of every stain of wickedness that dwells in you.  He has covered your iniquity with his righteousness and has created in you a godly spirit.  It is this God-given faith in you which is appalled at sinful defiance and which is grieved at moral depravity—including especially your own.  It is not the sins of others which would condemn you; it is your own sins.  Therefore, you continue to repent, fleeing from the evil that still dwells in you and that still comes out of your mouth and your hands.  You always need to hear the Lord's still, small voice comfort your troubled hearts.  For, it is the Lord who declares, “I forgive you all your sins.  I purify you of all unrighteousness.  I am your refuge from death and hell, and I am your comfort in a corrupt world.”  The Lord's still, small voice comforts his troubled Church.
     The Lord sent Elijah back to Israel to preach God's word.  God's people needed it; so did the godless.  The mission of the Church has not changed.  If the still, small voice of God—that is, the Gospel—is going to be heard, it is the Church which is going to preach and confess it.  Don't worry about converting all of America.  You each have friends and family.  You need only confess God's word to them, one at a time.  God's word will continue to be preached and confessed and believed in this godless world.  The Church, therefore, will continue to speak and act like the Church in a world that has neither love nor use for it.  And yet, God will continue to bring in his elect as you continue to be salt and light to a world that desperately needs it.
     Do not fret, and do not quit.  The Lord preserves his people.  The Lord keeps watch over his flock.  The Lord has redeemed you, and he will never forsake or forget you.  And though the world will perish, the Lord has delivered you from it.  The Lord's still, small voice still comforts his Church.  The Church will never perish.  It will always confess his name, proclaim his word, and rejoice in his salvation.  The Church will always gather to hear the Lord's still, small voice; for that is what saves us and consoles us.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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