Sunday, August 09, 2015

When Crises Come

[This was shared during worship with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Springboro, Ohio, this morning.]

1 Kings 19:1-8
Into every human life, times of crises come. 

Pastor H. Beecher Hicks, Jr. calls our life’s crises, storms

It seems an apt metaphor. Like storms, crises can toss us around, make us lose our bearings, challenge our stability, make us wonder whether we’re going to go under or stand upright. Hicks says that in this life, we are either about to go into a storm, are in a storm, or have just emerged from a storm. I think he’s right.

Some of our storms--or crises--are self-created by our sin or carelessness. Others, the Bible teaches, come from the devil. Still other crises are ones that God allows to come into our lives in order to help us grow in our faith, integrity, courage. And there are times when other people can be the sources of our crises. 

But whatever their sources, crises are an inevitable part of life in this fallen and imperfect world. Now, given their inevitability and the fact that God can even use our crises for good, the real question that should occupy us when we’re in the midst of a crisis is not, “How can I avoid having crises in my life?” The question should be, “How will I handle the next crisis to come my way?” 

Or to put it another way: “Where will I turn when my next crisis arrives?”

Elijah was the greatest prophet in the history of God’s people. When, centuries later, Jesus went to the mount of Transfiguration, He was greeted by the two figures who represented the two great strands of Old Testament history: the Law, embodied by Moses, and the Prophets, embodied by Elijah. 

A prophet is one who speaks God’s Word fearlessly. 

When people have wandered from God--by doing things like failing to trust in Him, deciding which of God’s commands they’ll obey and which they’ll disobey, putting other things or people in place of God, or by perpetrating injustices against the weak or the despised, the prophet’s job is to confront people with God’s commands. 

When people suffer or are tempted by sin or feel convicted for the sins they’ve already committed, or when they feel discouraged or overwhelmed or empty, the prophet is to speak God’s seemingly impossible Word of hope and grace and forgiveness to them. 

As we discussed in Journey Through the Bible recently, the prophet’s message is often viewed with skepticism or hostility, meaning that prophets have to be confident in God. Prophets aren't usually A-listers for parties and they don't make red-carpet appearances. 

Because of this, prophets have to be people of strong faith and strong spine. They must be unafraid of human opposition, willing to stand with God no matter what. 

Elijah fit this understanding of the prophet par excellence. He spoke God’s Word with boldness, conviction, and faith.

Yet today’s first lesson, 1 Kings 19:1-8, finds Elijah in a crisis under which he nearly crumbles. 

Just a short time earlier, at God’s direction, Elijah had engaged in a contest on Mount Carmel with the prophets of the false Canaanite deity, Baal. Through Elijah, God showed His people once again that there is only one God and King of all creation, the God Who, today, through faith in His Son saves us from sin and death. 

The contest at Mount Carmel was the great triumph of Elijah’s career as a prophet, God’s proof that the words proclaimed by Elijah had, all along, been God’s Word. Elijah was vindicated and victorious.

But then, incredibly, a textbook case of crisis began for Elijah. Through Elijah and his experience in today’s first lesson, God can teach us how to cope with the crises in our lives. 

Look at verse 1: “Now Ahab [Ahab was the seventh king of Israel, the breakaway northern kingdom that came into being after the reign of King Solomon] told Jezebel [Ahab’s wife] everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, ‘May the gods [notice she doesn’t acknowledge the one God of the world, as God’s people had been taught by God Himself] deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 

Jezebel vowed that within twenty-four hours, she would be sure that Elijah was dead

So, how did the great prophet Elijah react? 

“Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there,  while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said.” 

Do you know the first thing that often happens to Christians when we confront a crisis? Our memory goes. 

Faced by temptation, we sometimes forget how destructive sin is, how it can destroy our relationship with God and harm others. 

Faced by unwelcome news or a challenging problem, we forget how God has helped us face past unwelcome news and challenging problems; we think we’re on our own. 

Faced with the reality of a sin we’ve committed--some shady business about money, a cutting comment we’ve made about someone else--we either forget how God’s Law teaches us the seriousness of our sin or we forget that the God we know in Jesus Christ died and rose so that sinners like us can experience God’s forgiveness and live new lives. 

In his moment of crisis, Elijah forgot the power of God Who had just given him victory at Mount Carmel. Crises may be inevitable in this life, but we always make them worse when we focus on the crisis instead of focusing on God

Frightened out of his mind, Elijah focused on Jezebel when he should have focused on God. 

Eventually, Elijah does turn to God. But his prayer doesn’t, at this moment anyway, mark him as a profile in courage. He prays to God: “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 

Elijah prayed for the easy way out. Rather than confront his crisis, Elijah wants to be dead. 

I know that feeling. Six years ago, when the denomination of which many of us were part fully affirmed a trend that had been ongoing since at least 1991, of utterly rejecting the authority of God's Word and the truth of the Lutheran confessions, I remember wishing that I had died before this great betrayal had come to fruition. I could easily have been persuaded to pray a prayer like Elijah's.

And I have often prayed for the easy way out in my life as a Christian. 

Even Jesus, God in human flesh, did this as He confronted the prospect of the cross. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed that it it were possible, God the Father would remove the cup of suffering and death from Him that He had come into the world to bear. But then Jesus prayed in Luke 22:42 “yet not my will, but yours be done.” 

The only way to the resurrection is through the cross. 

The only way to make it through crisis is to go through crisis with the God we know in Christ and trust Him to get us to ther other side. And Jesus' resurrection is the certain proof that He always will.

The next thing that Elijah did after running miles and miles away from Jezebel, was sleep. He slept a lot. 

Sleep can be a way of avoiding crisis, you know, especially those crises associated with sustained depression. 

But sleep can also be part of the rest and restoration we need to face our crises. This is especially true when, like Elijah, we pray for God’s help. 

It’s true that God didn’t give the help that Elijah asked for; God didn’t bring death to Elijah. But when we pray for God’s help with our crises, even when we have suggestions on the type of help God may offer us, we’re really inviting God into do what He thinks best

To reach up in helplessness and need to the God we know in Jesus Christ is to give him total access to our lives. It was good that Elijah did just that, because God had more for the prophet to do on this earth.

Twice in the midst of Elijah’s long nap, God sent an angel to feed Elijah bread and water. The reason was simple. Verse 7: [The angel touched Elijah and said;] “‘Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.’ So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.” 

God was sending Elijah to Mount Horeb, which is another name for Mount Sinai, the place where God gave His Law to Moses. It was 200 miles from where Elijah was at that moment. He needed strength from God!

When you’re going through a crisis, know that God has not forgotten you, even though we may sometimes forget God. Psalm 121:8 promises all who trust in God: “the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” Even when we confront crisis. 

Through Jesus, Who promises everlasting life to all who turn from sin and trust in Him, we have the same promise that God gave Israel through the prophet Jeremiah long ago: “I know the plans I have for you...plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” That promise belongs to us in times of crisis and times of calm, as we live, as we die, and as, in eternity, we face the God Who made us and sent His Son to die for our sins and give us eternity with Him. As was true of Elijah, God has plans for individuals, as a congregation. Never forget that!

We all either have just come through a crisis, are going through a crisis, or are headed for a crisis. But we can weather them faithfully if we learn the lessons today’s incident from Elijah’s life teach us: 
focus on God, instead of the fear induced by the crisis; 
  • commit to going through the crisis with God, rather than sidestepping it or running from it; 
  • trust that God will respond to our prayers, usually in ways we couldn’t have imagined; 
  • trust that God will give us what we need for the next step in our journeys--just as God strengthened Elijah with bread and water; and 
  • finally, trust that God has plans for us, plans that no crisis can derail. 
Crises come in this world. But for the Christian, they are opportunities to remember and observe Jesus’ promise, “With God all things are possible." Amen