1 Kings 19:11-21
So He said, "Go forth, and stand on the mountain before the LORD." And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking 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 a sound of a gentle blowing. And it came about when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. . . . Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him."
Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Trinity 7/12/20
Where Is God?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Let me begin with a confession. I am not going to preach on the entire Old Testament Lesson. I am going to preach on the first four verses and the eighth verse of the lesson. Let me read just those verses, so you know what I am preaching on.
So He said, "Go forth, and stand on the mountain before the LORD." And behold, the LORD was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking 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 a sound of a gentle blowing. And it came about when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Then he said, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, torn down Thine altars and killed Thy prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away." And the LORD said to him, "I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him."
What we want to consider this morning is the angst of Elijah, the answer of God, and what God reveals about Himself and where He is and what He knows about our troubles. Our theme, this morning, is Where is God?
Elijah was an amazing prophet. God did things through Elijah that would take your breath away! This account comes right after the trial between the prophets of Baal and Elijah. He prayed and God sent fire from heaven to consume the offering of Elijah, proving that He and not the Baals was the true God. Then Elijah commanded that the people kill the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of the Asherah, the fertility goddesses. That is just short of a thousand people! The people did that because the law of Israel said that the false prophet should die.
Then Elijah ended a three-year drought by prayer, and outran the chariot of Ahab back to Jezreel in a feat of God-given prophetic activity. Of course, when Jezebel heard about the death of her favorite prophets, she promised Elijah that she would settle for nothing less than his immediate execution. So, Elijah ran for his life. He ran a day's worth out into the wilderness, and collapsed from exhaustion. God fed him miraculously, and the text says that Elijah ran in the strength of that food for forty days all they way to Horeb - Mt. Sinai, the mountain of God. That is where our text picks up. Elijah is complaining to God that his lot is hard, and his enemies are powerful and they seek to kill him. Our Old Testament Lesson repeats his complaint.
Then the Word of the Lord comes to Elijah and tells him to stand outside and face God! This is all amazing stuff! I have no idea how the Word of the Lord came to Elijah or what it was like. The Bible doesn't give us that information. It came, Elijah knew what it was, and Elijah obeyed. The Bible says that the Lord was passing by. Elijah stood there and a powerful wind blew. It was so terrible that it broke rocks and tore up the landscape. But God was not in that powerful wind. Then there was an earthquake – but God was not present in the earthquake. He caused it, but it wasn't the sign of His presence. Then there was a terrible fire. God often used fire, but He wasn't in the fire this time, either.
Then there was the sound of a gentle breeze blowing. Elijah hears this gentle sound and knows by his prophetic vision that God is present in that still, small voice of the breeze, gently blowing. Elijah wraps his face in his mantle, knowing that sinful man cannot come face to face with the holy God and live, and he steps out to present his case before the Lord. Just as the blessings poured out on Elijah, and wonders worked through him, were great, so were his troubles. All of God's prophets were gone. He alone was standing for the Lord in an openly pagan nation. Now the queen of Israel was seeking to put him to death.
Elijah felt defeated and hopeless. We might think that it was odd, considering the miracles God worked through him, but we need to remember the threats and dangers he faced, too. He obviously felt alone. He felt exposed. He felt in danger. He ran to find God. In his time of need, it would be reasonable for him to find God in the powerful things – the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. But that is not where he found God. He found God in the sound of the gentle blowing of the breeze. The power of the Almighty God was concealed in the seeming weakness of the gentle breeze.
We also need to remember that God's presence is not evident in the big things, nor does His favor reveal itself in how well we are doing, or how comfortable things get, or how many people are in agreement with us. The evidence of God's favor and love for us is the cross of Jesus Christ. It was on the cross that God demonstrated His love by taking our guilt and shame and nailing it to the cross forever. When Jesus rose from the grave, He demonstrated the truth of our forgiveness, and showed us both the power of God and the depth of His love for us. Your sins have been forgiven! God has poured out on each of us that believe His promises the free gift of eternal life. Actually He has poured it out on all men and women everywhere, but it can only be grasped and possessed by faith – by trusting God to deal with us as He has promised to deal with us for the sake of Jesus Christ.
When Elijah ran to God's holy mountain, God asked him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He didn't ask because He did not know. God had refreshed Elijah, and sustained him for the journey to the mountain. No, the question was asked for Elijah, that Elijah could pour out his heart and his troubles, and then God could remind him that he was never alone. God is always with His people, and He knows who His people are.
In the entire nation of Israel, several million people, I would guess, there were only seven thousand who were truly God's people. They were the ones who had not turned to idolatry. They had not bowed to Baal – that means to worship him or pray to him – nor had they kissed him – anther worship practice, showing devotion to the Baal. In modern terms, they had not given up their confession, trusted expedience over God's truth, or given in to the temptation to be more "relevant", modern, or effective.
That's what the Baals stood for, you know. They were fertility gods. The Baals were the popular deities of the day. They were fun to worship, and absolutely no one, but a few stuck-in-the-muds like Elijah, saw anything wrong with them, or spending their time and energy on them, or casually worshiping them. It was the "in-thing" to do. Many people probably did it without thinking much about it. They couldn't see the harm. They weren't really serious about it. Like reading horoscopes today, everyone was doing it.
But God knew. It was idolatry. It was unfaithfulness. It was the first commandment. It made a difference with God. Out of the whole nation, just 7,000. Those were God's people. The rest were not. Bad news for the rest. But good news (of a sort) for Elijah. It meant that Elijah, who felt all alone, was not! God was with him, and aware of his troubles, and protecting Him – and there were 7,000 others who were with Elijah. They all felt alone. They were a small and insignificant minority – insignificant to everyone but God, and one another. And God had a plan.
So, we are Lutherans. We are old-fashioned, confessional Lutherans. We are not up-to-date. We are not all modern and with it. We still use the liturgy, still preach God's Word pretty plainly. We sing antique hymns of the faith instead of modern "praise songs". We cling to the ancient Christian practice of "closed communion." And there are a lot of Lutherans, not to mention all the other Christian denominations, that don't still do what we do, and preach what we preach. They are modern. They are fun, or at least entertaining. Women preachers, homosexual pastors, extra-marital sexual encounters, and open communion fellowship with just about anyone who want to come are all the rage in the other churches. Our kind of Lutheran is rare today, even in the Missouri Synod. We take a lot of criticism and mocking – and sometimes some downright persecution.
God still knows. God is still with His people. God still knows who is faithful and who is not, and which people have kissed the Baals of our age and which ones have not. He knows those who are His and He knows those who are not. And God still has a plan.
We do not need to run to the mountain of the Lord. We are the mountain of the Lord. We don't need to go anywhere to find God, but to His Word. And God is still asking us, "What are you doing here? " He isn't asking because He doesn't know, and He isn't asking to accuse you of anything. He is asking to invite you to pray, to pour out your heart to Him, and then to hear that He has you in His sight, He loves you, and He has saved you and forgiven you and has given eternal life to you. He has a plan, and you are not alone. God is with you, and all those other faithful people of God, many of them Lutherans, but certainly not all of them. All who have not bowed to the false gods and ideologies and theologies and movements and fads of the day, and all who have not kissed the Baals – giving themselves over to that which is not faithful just because other have, or because it looks fun, or because it seems like it would work better in today's world. God knows those who are His and who trust in Him alone.
Where is God? He is in His Word, and in the Sacrament. He is in His holy people. He is here today – and in the midst of all those who call upon Him in humble faith. Therefore, fear not! God is not in the trappings of power and success. He is hidden in the seeming weakness of His Word, of His Sacraments, and of the humble-looking groups of those who faithfully call upon Him. He is hidden in the humility of Jesus and the apparent weakness of the cross. But the weakness is only an appearance. He is still the Almighty God, who has a plan, and that plan is our salvation!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)