Sunday, June 20, 2010

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

This was my "honoring men of the church" sermon. More or less. I'm sorry it doesn't include the soundtrack of "Truckin'".

June 20
Honoring Men of the Church
I Kings 19:1-15a (elijah)
“What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been!”

If Elijah the prophet had a theme song, I’d like to think it would be the Grateful Dead’s classic, “Truckin’”. Do you remember Jerry Garcia - the lead singer from that long playing band? He kind kinda looked like the prophet . . . I have a couple of pictures, in case you doubt me. I’m going to have you listen to a couple minutes of that song about how it feels to always be on the move, like Elijah. If you don’t get all the words, it doesn’t matter. Just dial your way back machine to tie dye and enjoy . . .

I especially like the chorus: Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me. . . . . Other times I can barely see . . . . Lately it occurs to me . . . . What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

Yeah! Elijah’s truckin! All the way from Israel to Jezreel, to Horeb and now on his way back to Israel to face down Jezabel. Life was a long, strange trip for Elijah and I’m not just talking about the story that we read this morning. What we have to remember, reading the Bible in drib and drabs on a Sunday morning, is that there is often much, much more to a story - especially a story like Elijah’s.

The cycle of Elijah stories in 1 Kings is long. The man Elijah has angry confrontations with powerful people, depends on the kindness of strangers, repays hospitality in a miraculous way, triumphs against tremendous odds, trains his own replacement, and, eventually is swept away by God in a whirlwind, accompanied by chariots of fire. Not a bad exit!

But my point is that this story is just one moment in Elijah’s long life with God. It is just one incident in an unfolding lifetime. It is a moment in time - an important moment, but just a moment in a man’s life.

This incident follows an episode in which he had utterly and completely humiliated the priests of the false God, Baal. He’d bested them in a contest of nerves and will. He’d demontrated God’s power in such a decisive way that he seemed as powerful and invincible as any man on earth. “Sometimes the lights all shinin on me! Other times I can barely see!”

As we meet Elijah in this moment of his life, he is low. Very low. But just a short time ago, Elijah had been on top of the world: Now he seems like a whiny child - dejected, full of self-pity and blaming everybody out there. He tells God that he just wants to lay down and die.

So which is the real Elijah? The powerful warrior/priest, or the pity-party poo-bah? Could it be both? On this day that we honor men, isn’t the man Elijah a reminder that no man can be completely known, or defined by looking at his highest triumph or the lowest that he sinks? Men can be awfully hard on themselves and, to be honest, men haven’t cornered the market on this way of thinking - by a way of thinking that says, in times of difficulty “Oh I’m just a loser who can’t do anything right” or in times when we are riding high, “I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread. I’m different and better than those other mere men.”

Aren’t we smarter than that, really? The news is full of accounts of men - and women - who do wonderful things, and then terrible things. Are they great men, or pitiful losers? Well, if we pay attention to the Bible, we might admit that human beings have it within us to be both. Often in very close succession.

But what the Bible, and Elijah’s story have to add is it is not only a picture of what human beings are and do, it shows us who God is and what God does when the road gets long and the way gets weary. We can see from scripture that God does not abandon us. When we are courageous, God is there. When we are cowardly, God is there, too.
When we are determined - God is with us. When we are despondent, we are still within God’s loving care.
God met Elijah in the wilderness where he had run and gave him bread for the journey. The first time, Elijah went right back to sleep. He said,
I'd like to get some sleep before I travel
Did God say, ‘Well, I gave him a chance?” No. God gives him another chance. “Get up and eat. You have a long journey ahead.”

God fed him in the wilderness. Bread for the journey. I have bread for you men, too. It is bread for the journey of faith that all of us are traveling. You can’t be truckin for Jesus if your fuel tank is on empty. This is “Grateful Bread” (to remind you of the Grateful Dead) but more importantly to remind you that God is always with you, always available to strengthen you when you are down and feeling out. Jesus spent some time in the wilderness, too, and when he was there and hungry, the devil tempted him by daring him to make the stones of the desert into bread. Jesus said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God.” The Word of God is an important source of nourishment and strength on the journey of faith, too. When you are feeling low, open God’s word and hear him say, “I am with you. This, too, will pass. Circumstances will change, but my love for you and my belief in you will always be here for you.” God fed Elijah, and this bread is a reminder that God will always feed you.

Elijah eats and sets out.
I guess they can't revoke your soul for trying
Get out of the door - light out and look all around
He goes, not back to the fight, but to the Holy Mountain of God. Another rest stop, it seems. And God asks, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”
It is as if God said to his downcast man ‘Lijah, you got to play your hand. Sometime the cards ain’t worth a dime if you don’t lay ‘em down.

Another jag of self pity. He felt set up, like a bowlin’ pin and knocked down, it got to wearin thin. why don’t they just let him be? But God didn’t give up on him. He had a warrant and he was gonna come in.

God fed him in the wilderness. Bread for the journey.

God reminded Elijah he wasn’t alone. Elijah complains that he is the only one left who is faithful to God. We often feel as though we are alone. One of the characteristics of depression and depressive thinking is isolation and a feeling of alienation from everyone else. But God reminds Elijah that there are others in the same position. God says there are 7000 others who are also faithful. 7000 is a big number. Elijah is not alone.

God spoke to him in a still small voice. God runs through his repertoire of great loud triumphant tricks. And Elijah notices that what he really craves - God’s presence - isn’t found in the big showy stuff. Then God speaks to the man in the sound of silence.

Sometimes God’s presence is too profound for words. Our lives are so full of noise. Computers, TVs, iPods, give us a different kind of noise. And for some reason I think men’s lives are even noisier than mine and my sister friends. Maybe that’s because yesterday as I sat on the back porch, trying to get this service in order, the neighbor guys on both sides of me were running crazy noisy power machines. Every once in a while a Harley would cruise by with it’s distintive roar. But, from talking to Harley riders, who have told me that their time on the road is often when they feel closest to God, a time apart, when their lives come into focus, I wonder if those motors and machines aren’t one way that men shut out the noise of the world.

I can’t help but think, girly girl that I am, that getting up and walking in the park or hearing the birds call to each other, would be a nicer way to experience the silence in which God’s voice can be heard. I’d recomment going fishing and sitting on the bank of a river, or camping in the woods, or spending some time with a cup of coffee and the Bible in the morning before anyone else gets up. But however we do it, people, men included, might find themselves richly blessed by listening for, opening toward God’s presence in the sound of silence.

I invite the congregation to experience God’s holy silence now for a moment, to let God’s strengthening and loving presence take away the fears of life and fill us with purpose and peace.

Dear God, embracing humankind, forgive our noisy ways, reclothe us in a quieter mind, in purer lives your service find, in deeper reverence praise. Breathe through the pulses of desire your coolness and your balm. Let sense be numb, let flesh retire, speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire. O, still small voice of calm. Through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Sovereign. Amen.

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