1 Kg 19:11-21
There is a diversity of opinion about what to call Edward Snowden. Snowden is the former National Security Agency employee who revealed details to the public about a NSA program called Prism. Prism is the code name for a classified program under which the NSA accessed the central computer servers of nine U.S. Internet companies, extracting e-mail, audio and video chats, photographs, documents, and other material.
The revelation about the NSA surveillance which has included the information of U.S. citizens has raised many questions. There are concerns that intelligence officials deceived Congress in hearings about intelligence gathering operations. This new information has followed on the heels of recent scandals involving the IRS as it has become clear that the IRS targeted groups that the current administration considered to be political threats. This scandal has created an environment of suspicion and people fear how the government could use the information it has been secretly gathering.
Some people call Snowden a “whistle blower” and a hero. They believe that he has courageously revealed illegal activity that threatens the privacy of American citizens. Other people call him a traitor. They say that he has illegally revealed information that harms national security.
One thing I know for sure is that I wouldn’t want to be Snowden right now. The U.S. government has charged him with espionage. The administration and the national security apparatus have been embarrassed and it seems clear that they are going to do everything they can to see that he ends up in prison. As this sermon was being written, Snowden was stranded in a Moscow airport, looking for a country somewhere in the world that would take him.
In our Old Testament lesson for today, the prophet Elijah finds himself in a very similar situation. Elijah lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the ninth century B.C. It was a time when a power vacuum in the near eastern world had allowed Israel and her neighbor Tyre to prosper. Tyre was a prominent shipping point on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Israel and Tyre had worked out a very profitable relationship and business was booming. In order to strengthen the relationship, the daughter of the king of Tyre, Jezebel, had married the king of Israel, Ahab.
Paganism was already rampant in Israel. When the nation had split into northern and southern kingdoms after the death of king Solomon, the northern king had feared that his people would become disloyal because the temple was in the south in Jerusalem. So he created his own cult sites at Dan and Bethel in his own territory and set up golden statues of calves there to be worshipped as god. He intentionally created pagan worship sites.
Jezebel took things a step further. She was a worshipper of the god Baal. She used her royal power to promote the worship of Baal in Israel. The prophet Elijah opposed this and called for a showdown between Yahweh and Baal on Mt. Carmel. There the priests of Baal were unable to call down fire to burn up a sacrifice. Instead, Yahweh burned up a water logged sacrifice along with the stone altar itself. When it was all over the people said, “Yahweh he is God. Yahweh he is God.” And Elijah commanded that the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal who were misleading the people were to be put to death.
When Jezebel heard about what Elijah had done to the prophets of Baal, she sent a message to him that said, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Elijah knew that the queen had the power to kill him. So fearful, he ran for his life into the wilderness. Despairing, he travelled forty days and forty nights until he came to the mountain Horeb, which we also know by the name Mt. Sinai. He came to the place where God entered into the covenant with Israel and gave the Ten Commandments through Moses.
In the verses just before our text we learn that Elijah as living in a cave when the word of the LORD came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
As we look back on the events of this past week, it’s not all that hard to relate to what Elijah was feeling. In its decision, the Supreme Court has made it very likely that homosexual marriage will be coming to every state in our nation – whether they want it or not. The language of the decision says that opposition to homosexuality is purely based on animus – ill will that seeks to denigrate a group and suppress their rights for no reason. Equipped with such an opinion there really are few limits as to how far homosexuality can be forced upon society and the Church.
At the same time, is spite of the recent horrors revealed at the Gosnell abortion trial, 196 congressmen voted against a bill that would forbid abortions after the twentieth week because scientific evidence demonstrates those babies can feel pain. Our nation’s president said he would veto such a bill if it ever came to him. National leaders, the media and large portions of our country think there is nothing wrong with tearing apart and dismembering a baby in the womb – an act that if it happens to occur just outside the womb brings the charge of murder.
And then we see the complete breakdown of sexual conduct in our society. Sex outside of marriage is considered normal – part of the “hook up” culture on college campuses. Living together outside of marriage is considered normal. Pornography saturates our culture as it destroys lives and marriages. When we look around at all of these things, it’s not hard to feel like Elijah – to feel alone and threatened in a land awash with paganism and sin.
God told Elijah to go outside the cave. Next there occurred a great wind, and an earthquake and a fire – but Yahweh was not in each one of them. And then we hear in our text, “And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’” God called Elijah to hear him, not with something awesome and powerful, but with the sound of a low whisper.
Elijah replied with the same lament about his situation. And so Yahweh said, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
God told Elijah to get back to the life he was supposed to be leading. He told the prophet that he was to anoint three men, including his successor Elisha, through whom God would act. And he declared that Elijah was wrong. He was not alone. God had preserved a remnant – seven thousand faithful Israelites who had not worshipped Baal.
What would you have thought if you had been Elijah? God had revealed himself not in the mighty and powerful, but in a low whisper. He didn’t promise instant answers, but rather that men were to be anointed through whom he would work. His “good news” was that there were all of seven thousand faithful believers in the whole of Israel. It would have been easy for Elijah to feel let down. And often this is how we feel with God, because we don’t want to accept the ways in which he works; because we don’t want hardship; because we think we know better.
God’s answer in the face of all that we encounter is that he has done something. In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has conquered sin, death and the devil. God has reconciled us to himself. He has made us his children. On Easter he began the resurrection of the dead that we will receive on the Last Day.
Like Elijah, he gives his Church things to do through which he is at work. He tells her to proclaim the Gospel; to make disciples by baptizing and teaching; to forgive sins in Holy Absolution; to celebrate the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood. On the surface they may not seem like all that much. But these are the means through which he creates faith, forgives sin and sustains believes unto eternal life.
And like Elijah he assures us that there are seven thousand who have not bowed their knee to Baal. Sustained by his Word and Sacraments, our Lord has assured us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against his Church. She may seem small and haggard, but she is his bride and nothing will change this fact.
Yes, we are called to suffer and face hardship. But this is simply to take up the cross and follow our Lord. And we can do this because in Jesus Christ we have already seen where the way leads. It leads to resurrection and eternal life. In the midst of our weakness it is God who is a work through his Spirit.
We gather in this place today, and we hear the low whisper. Through his word God asks, “What are you doing here?” And when we tell him about that our world is circling the drain and that we face hardships, he listens. He tells us that he has put his name upon us in Holy Baptism and made us his own. He feeds us with his Word and with the saving body and blood of Christ. He equips us with the Good News of the Gospel. And at the end of the service he sends us to return on the way with the assurance that he is at work and that there is – and always will be – seven thousand who have not bowed to Baal.