This content was originally delivered as a sermon on Sunday, August 13, 2017 at Arbor House a community of Northgate Free Methodist Church in Batavia, N.Y. The full sermon by Jae Newman, has been edited into a three-part series for the Northeastern Seminary Blog. The first post in this series was published on August 18, 2017. Readings referenced in this sermon can be found here.
Elijah, one of God’s most valiant prophets, had faith to see God’s word through. His boldness for God is that of legendary status. He tells the worshippers of Baal that the Lord Almighty is the only true God and that their god is nothing more than mere fantasy.
All of this work lands him blessings, prosperity, and a nice house with a picket fence. Oh. Wait. It doesn’t. It lands him a bounty on his head and so he flees. He runs for his life. Eventually he ends up living in a cave by a ravine drinking out of a brook and eating bread bestowed by birds. That sounds, to me, like a pretty good example of living in complete darkness.
And yet 2 Corinthians 12:9 states: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Instead of shriveling completely, instead of letting his faith melt into a puddle, God uses Elijah’s dire situation as the way to send a firecracker, a whizzing rhetorical barb to sharpen his prophet. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” is asked in verse 9 and 13. After God asks this, Elijah takes him literally, “Why am I in the cave? I’m in the cave because people want to kill me.” Elijah’s ministry was his all, his everything—perhaps the wellspring of his identity. While waiting for what’s next, I imagine Elijah in a kind of trance-like despair full of holy brokenness. We do that too. We are constantly looking forward to next month, next year, next next.
And yet uncertainty does not prevent Elijah from continuing to gaze into the darkness—all that is unknowable. Out on a mountain ledge, Elijah is instructed to wait for the LORD to “pass by” (1 Kings 19:11). Think about that. Wind and earthquakes follow. Neither conceals the presence of the LORD. It is not in a fire either (v.12).
“The sound of absolute sheer silence” follows and here is where the question resurfaces: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v. 13).
In this encounter, God tells Elijah something revolutionary. Although Elijah projects himself to be the only living prophet keeping alive the LORD’s reputation, he is wrong. The LORD declares that there are still 7,000 in Israel. Does this speak to your heart? Do you feel alone? Do you think you’re deserted? The LORD will speak into your life too if you allow it.
What can we learn from this? If we’re brave enough, we might note that we are prone to be mistaken: about life situations, people, perceived danger, and our own importance. Who of us can’t relate to the simple question: “What are you doing here, ___________?” All our names fit here.
Each of us must answer where our own obedience fails. We all find ourselves in the ghost towns where we need to be reined back to some reminder of who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing. God shows up in a big way for Elijah, but it is only in the darkness that Elijah’s own greatness and purpose can find their measure in tandem. It takes a soul-burning holy energy (light) in the world (dark) to produce a story where greater audiences spanning centuries can see truth.
Readings from the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28, Psalm 105: 1-6, 16-22, 45b, 1 Kings 19: 9-18, Psalm 85: 8-13, Romans 10: 5-15, Matthew 14: 22-33Jae Newman (MAT ’15) lives with his wife and three children in Rochester, N.Y. He teaches graduate research courses at Northeastern Seminary and English Language Arts at St. Paul Lutheran School in Hilton, N.Y. His poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and his works have appeared in publications such as Rock & Sling, Ruminate Magazine, The Cresset, and Relief. His first collection of poetry, Collage of Seoul, was published in 2014.