Good, Good Father
by Chris Thomlin
CALL TO WORSHIP
Lord God, you are brilliance without shadow.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world.
You are the love that knows no coldness.
You have freed us to love each other.
You are the life that defeats death.
You have given us this life to live together. We come to sing your praise.
Let us worship God.
PRAYER OF INVOCATION
We believe in God who has created and is creating, who has come to us in Jesus Christ to reconcile and make us new, who works in us and others by the Holy Spirit. We trust God. God calls us to be the Church, to celebrate God’s presence, to love and serve others, to care for creation, to seek justice and to resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope. In life and death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God! Amen.
(Adapted from the United Church of Canada)
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Your love surpasses understanding, Lord. You are not distant from us, trapped in some faraway heaven. You are with us so completely that you once fell asleep in the stern of a boat. Such nearness reveals how far we have wandered from you. Forgive our distrust. Renew our courage. Wake us up. Remind us of your power. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
Hear now these words of assurance:
When we have the patience and courage to wait for the spirit to come, we justify the hope to which we have been called. The Holy One forgives our transgressions and assures us of trust restored.
Glory be to the Father, and to the son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.
All readings are from the New Revised Standard Version bible.
PSALTER LESSON ………………………………………………….. Psalm 42
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul:
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God,
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving,
a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God;
for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts;
all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
By day the LORD commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”
As with a deadly wound in my body,
my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually,
“Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
OLD TESTAMENT LESSON ………………………………………………….. 1 Kings 19: 1-13
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces 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 a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
NEW TESTAMENT LESSON ………………………………………………………… Galatian 3: 23-29
But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
SERMON ……………….… What Kind of Courage? …………………….Rev. Mike Daly
Do these words from the song Elijah sound like the words of a courageous man? “It is enough. I am no better than my ancestors. Let me die! Lord, now take my life away.” Does this sound like a courageous man talking? It doesn’t, but Elijah really was a courageous man.
Elijah was a 9th-century BCE prophet. In the long memory of the people of God, few individuals have made as dramatic an impact as Elijah. It is Elijah who will announce the coming of the Messiah. Even today, at every Jewish Seder feast, the door is opened to let Elijah in, and a glass of wine is poured for him.
Again and again, in the pages of the Hebrew Bible, he is depicted as having the ability to thrust himself into threatening situations. The first view we get of him is of a rugged man living in a most dangerous way–out alone in the wilds of nature. Remember, this was a time of dangerous wild beasts and bandits, so people lived and traveled together. Safety was in numbers. But Elijah was one of the first true individualists.
He also had the courage to go against prevailing customs and norms. This is illustrated in the incident that occurred while Elijah was boarding with a widow in Phoenicia. One day the widow’s son became ill and stopped breathing. Elijah took the boy up on the roof and not only prayed for him but proceeded to engage in some sort of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation–a practice unheard of in an era when everyone was frightened of corpses and refused even to touch a dead body.
Perhaps the most memorable example of Elijah’s kind of bold courage comes with his encounter with the royal family. Elijah appears on the scene when the Hebrew people are divided into two kingdoms. Ahab was the king of Israel.
Ahab married a Phoenician princess named Jezebel. She brings with her 450 prophets of Baal and 400 priests of Asherah (or Astarte) to this political marriage in a backwater kingdom. Jezebel is someone who must be obeyed – she demands obedience even of her husband. When Jezebel orders, Ahab jumps! She orders the altars of Yahweh torn down, and the Priests of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel killed.
Enter Elijah from Tishbeh. He denounces the queen, king, and all who are going along with this affront to God. He announces that the drought that is happening is a judgment from God. Ahab meets Elijah on the road and accuses him of being a “troubler of Israel,” but, courageously, Elijah tells Ahab that he is the one who is bringing trouble to Israel. Elijah says the country cannot go on worshipping two gods. It is like hopping first on one leg and then the other.
Commentators have pointed out the contrast between the kind of religion Baalism represents and the religion of the Hebrew people. The former sees life as fundamentally a cycle – a series of cycles going around without getting anywhere. The main goal of such religion was security and comfort. Placating the gods and getting by were the overall aims. In contrast, the religion of Yahweh saw history as linear rather than cyclical. History was going somewhere, and God was out ahead, beckoning human beings to become what they were not yet but could be.
John Claypool comments, “Sooner or later, every one of us has to decide what kind of religion we are going to practice. Comfort or challenge–which will it be? Will we settle into a state of cynicism and resignation, seeking only to make a better place for ourselves in the world as it is? Or will we dare to become adults and venture forth to make the world a better place–together with God to become creative change-agents? Will we resign ourselves passively to the goal of surviving with as little discomfort as possible? Or will we attempt to create something even at the cost of risk and suffering?” (Glad Reunion)
Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal to a theological showdown, a shoot-out on Mount Carmel to determine who is the real God after all–Yahweh or Baal. It is the ultimate “king of the mountain.” On one side were 450 prophets of Baal, and the 400 priests of Asherah, and on the other side Elijah. He has an altar built for each side, each laid with wood and a bull cut up and put on each altar, but no fire started.
So, he invites the prophets of Baal to call on their god to consume their offering. They pray and dance. Nothing happens. They chant and cut themselves. Nothing happens. Then Elijah begins to taunt them. Maybe your god is daydreaming, and you need to try harder to get his attention. Or perhaps he has gone on a trip! Maybe your god is asleep–shout louder! Elijah has water poured on the altar in front of him. He prays, and fire descends from the sky and consumes everything–meat, wood, water, and rocks! It’s quite a fireworks display. At Elijah’s urging, the people seize the prophets of Baal and put them to the sword.
The rain begins to fall to break the drought. Ahab rides off in his chariot, and Elijah runs ahead of him all the way back to the city. No wonder our spiritual ancestors admired Elijah. We celebrate people who can rise to the occasion when faced with challenges. Of course, few of us are faced with anything like the challenges that Elijah faced. Nonetheless, most of us would like to have an Elijah-like boldness if we needed to.
Most of us as children admired our fathers because they seemed, to us, to have that kind of bold courage. And those of us who are fathers have enjoyed that call from our children (small or big) to come fix something. I am the official, fearless bug remover in my house because both my daughters suffer from a fear of bugs. Not every challenge is big.
Robert Fulghum in his second book says that if he were to make a high school graduation speech, he would tell the class that they cannot consider themselves courageous adults until they could clean the sink strainer, plunge out the toilet, wipe runny noses, clean up the floor when the baby throws strained spinach, clean ovens and grease traps and roasting pans, empty the kitty box, carry out the garbage, and bury dead pets.
So bold courage is not only facing up to kings and hostile priests, as did Elijah. In our own lives, we each have occasions when we must show some kind of bold courage. But today’s lectionary reading is from later in Elijah’s story, and he does not seem to be showing bold courage at all as he laments that he alone is Yahweh’s defender.
Jezebel is not pleased with the news about what Elijah has done on Mount Carmel. She boils with anger and sends the message to Elijah–“I’ll get you for this!” Elijah beats it out of town to this broom tree out in the wilderness, where he mopes, asking to die.
What has happened? It is unbelievable that this unflinching, unflappable man who had fought for Yahweh and won is now so despondent, collapsed in utter exhaustion, something in him defeated.
I don’t know if he was astounded to learn that the Mount Carmel victory had barely scratched the surface, and Jezebel was still a very formidable foe. Or whether he was just spent physically and emotionally so that he cowers under the broom tree wishing he were dead and believing that he is alone in his faithfulness.
But I do know that I’m glad this story is in the Bible because even powerful prophets can know the deep pain of despair. Even Elijah, who was strong at times, was not strong all the time. Here is a case of tension and exhaustion overwhelming a man until he became virtually suicidal.
We all have awakened with that “worn-out-before-the-day-begins” feeling. We use different images to express this: I feel like I’m falling apart; I can’t get my act together; I am coming unglued; Nothing seems to fit together for me; I really feel wiped out. Sound familiar?
Then we know how Elijah felt. But now, Elijah shows another kind of courage. The quiet courage to listen for the voice of God. How does God deal with Elijah and his despair?
First, God does not condemn Elijah. God doesn’t accuse him of being a hypocrite or make him ashamed of having all those negative feelings – aren’t you really glad this story is in the Bible? God first gives Elijah some rest and food. Often the ministry of God’s spirit comes in the very ordinary and practical, not visions and fireworks but ordinary tasks, natural, simple things like rest and nourishment.
Things begin to look different to Elijah after a good night’s sleep and a good square meal and time enough for “his soul to catch up with his body.” It is sometimes difficult for us to understand that the Spirit of God ministers to us in the taking care of our physical needs. It may be a message from God when someone insists we get some rest or go eat.
There is a powerful scene in J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey in which Franny comes home from college a nervous wreck. Her well–intentioned but misguided efforts to explore the depths of religious mysticism have left her extremely tense.
Bessie, Franny’s mother, is concerned and shows that concern by bringing her distressed daughter a cup of chicken soup. Even though Franny knows her mother is trying to comfort her, the offer of the chicken soup annoys her, and she lashes out at her mother.
Franny’s brother, sitting at the table, jumps up and confronts her. He tells her that her approach to religion is all wrong. He says, “I’ll tell you one thing, Franny. If it’s the religious life you want, you ought to know that you are missing out on every single religious action that’s going on in this house. You don’t have sense enough to drink when someone brings you a cup of consecrated soup, which is the only kind of chicken soup that Mom ever brings to anybody.”
We bump into grace all the time. Grace abounds in this world of ours and binds us together–to one another and to God. Finally, the spirit comes to Elijah not in the great wind, not in the earthquake, nor in a fire but in the voice of sheer silence.
It may seem strange to us to suggest there is something redemptive about silence since we live in a culture where the capacity for creating noise is phenomenal and unprecedented. We wrap ourselves in sound. It is true that silence can be frightening because it leaves us open and vulnerable but also receptive.
Elijah had the courage to embrace the silence. It was in the silence that Elijah embraced that the fact that he was able to see that he was still cared for by God, that there was hope, and that he was not abandoned.
In the stories we share week after week, we come to see that it is God’s hold on us, not merely our attempt to hold onto God. That is our hope. That hope is the source of whatever kind of courage we need, from the courage of boldness to the courage of quiet trust. As the Psalmist says, “Wait for the Lord, be strong, and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord.”
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
How Deep the Father’s Love for Us
by Austin Stone Worship
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
Praise Him all creatures here below;
Praise Him above you heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen
May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we are apart one from the other, Amen.
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