1 Kings 19:9-21
I want to start out with something big. Bold. Inspiring. I feel like there’s momentum here. It’s that time when you know I’m a sinner but don’t know what kind yet. Where we feel like big things are about to happen and the excitement and the hope for something…good is everywhere. But Elijah’s hiding in a cave waiting to die. Something happened that gets passed by too often. Elijah forgot how to be disappointed. Because he forgot how to hope.
It’s the kind of thing we’d rather rush past, especially in the excitement of the moment. Usually, we don’t know what to say. We can talk about bad days and grey clouds that clear up. But hopelessness: it’s not natural.
We were created to hope. It was built into how God shaped us. He made us to worship Him. Fear, love, and trust in Him. Children are born trusting in their parents’ voices. They look at the world in wonder and pretend to be the things we’ve long given up on. Like a superhero, or an astronaut. Or a ninja rock star. And hope only goes away painfully – by having it beaten and crushed and kicked until it’s ground down to nothing. One of the hardest things in the world is to see children who aren’t disappointed by their parents anymore. That isn’t screwing up. It’s doing it so often that hope died. You can’t be disappointed if you don’t expect anything.
We all of us have those corners of our heart left abandoned to where hope has died. Sometimes it’s not so bad. Fine, I won’t be a ninja rock star anymore, and I can deal with that. I make a perfectly mediocre pastor and husband and father, and those are pretty cool now that I’m starting to settle into them. But sometimes it’s worse. When there’s nothing to replace the hope that was lost. When it’s too important. When it’s life and death. That’s different.
It’s easy to rush pass by Elijah in the cave. Especially in the excitement of the moment. Still, I don’t even want to know how many people have that abandoned little corner of their heart where hope in God died. Not that He doesn’t exist. That they can’t depend on Him.
That God won’t protect us, so we better make sure we can do it ourselves. That God won’t speak up for us, so we better make sure important and respectable people in society will. That God won’t be clear about what His will is, and so we better fill in the blanks with what makes sense at the time.
Because…we have gone without for a while too long. Because we have waited for Him to avenge us. To answer muttered prayers. Fix what’s broken. Even just a clear path forward. Plenty of folks looked. And they did not find God.
Elijah is on the mountain looking for God too. Because He can’t find much around him to hope in. He’s afraid there are no other believers. He’s afraid for his life. He’s got nothing left. Everything he fought for fell apart. There’s no getting back what’s gone.
So He goes to look for God, And God said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke 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 the sound of a low whisper.
There was God. Not in the wind, not in the earthquake, and not in the fire. But in the low whispering word. Not to rush past him and all his questions we don’t have good answers for. To remind him exactly where the answers were.
The reason so many have given up hope is that we look for God in places He isn’t. It’s a trick the devil uses to grind down hope. Even fallen sinful man loves to put hope in the wrong thing. It’s called an idol. But to kill it altogether, that’s only from one place. So satan points us to where God isn’t And never promised to be…and asks why isn’t He there? And he makes more sense than we want to admit. The small whispering word doesn’t seem too impressive, and it doesn’t make me too happy, and it won’t stop people from sinning against me.
Those are the places we want Him to be. The places that make me feel safe. Powerful. Fulfilled. Happy. God is not in the power of the government’s protection, not in hearing the personal testimonies that your religion isn’t horrible from famous people. God is not in the size of the bank account, or in the cookouts or the days at the lake. He is not in the power of the earthquake or the vengeance of the fire.
If that’s the God you’re looking for, I understand why it’s hard to swallow the foolishness I ask of you. Trust some invisible guy who, if real, and if powerful, let you get into that mess to begin with? Never mind He warned you thou shalt not and you sinned and did it anyway. Confess and hear absolution. Come, lay self bare so I can say “in the stead and by the command of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I forgive you this and all your sins.” Splash around in some water joined with a name. Eat and drink cheap crackers and cheaper wine that a pastor spoke over. And what? Now it’s just…ok?
And why? It’s what your parents believed? You were raised in this church? Married into it? This is hard enough on a good day, let alone when you’re sick, scared, or alone. When hope is being ground down. I cannot by my own reason or strength believe. That has to come from somewhere else. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the low whispering word of Christ.
And He still speaks. What are you doing here? Why are you hiding? why are you afraid? You’re not as alone as you think. God would not limit Himself to Your good days or your good attitude. He passes by Elijah, whispering words of peace and hope, and He passes by you too. Not to rush past, but to dive into the valley of the shadow of death, that hope would live where there rightly should be none.
If you’ve known Elijah’s woe, if you have the same dead corner of your heart where hope has died, know. God will not abandon you. He can save us without those things we think we need. He went without them too. He entered this world and took on human flesh. Human need and human want. Even human sin. He bore the attacks and the lack and the sufferings and the pain. But more, He did it for you. Because of all the places we look for God and don’t find Him, He does insist on being near to you. He just wants to do it in a way that endures.
There were great earthquakes and sham trials by firelight that pierced the darkness where they accused our Lord of blasphemy and worse as Peter hid in the courtyard. There was the wind that blew as it wished, and the gale of the crowd that cried for His death. But the words worth hearing were whispered from a cross. It is finished. He has died for you. The sun came back to the sky, the earth stopped shaking, but it’s still finished. Hope.
For Christ is risen.
Hope lives with our Lord, even hidden in caves, alone and afraid. Hope rises from death, even as hospice does the best they can. Hope stands even as so much crumbles around us because Christ crumbled with us and then He rose again. This is the peace that can endure where it shouldn’t be able to. Hope. God has conquered sin and death. God has not left us. He carved a path through the dark, through the tomb, and out again.
Yours is a God who works life through death. Of all the places you look for God, we find Him on the cross for you. We find Him in sacrament so wouldn’t be so hard to find at all. He’s right where He promised to be. And more, He’s here for you. He joins that small whispering word to bread and wine for you so you would eat and drink His body and blood for forgiveness, life, salvation.
When you don’t know what you’re doing here, you can know where God is, and more, you can know what He gives you. Take. Eat. This is my body for you. Take. Drink. This is my blood, poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins. Hope. The small whispering word still speaks peace to you.
That is worth the excitement. That is worth the joy. Not a hope that exists when everything’s perfect, but the one that still stands where so much else falls.
So Elijah calls Elisha to come whisper it too. Let go of family and land and possessions. It’s not a dare to go without, but a promise not dependent on them.
To this day the church stands to repeat these words. Not because the world needs another institution, but because of all the times we’ve buried the last bit of hope in something in the world. Because God wants a place for you to collapse when hope runs thin, when questions get hard, when light seems gone. Because we need something to believe that actually saves. That wipes away tears, that drags us through when everything else gives out. That whispers hope to us that even death cannot destroy.