By Pastor Bryan Niebanck
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.Psalm 42:11
Do you have a favorite story? Did you enjoy storytelling when you were growing up, or when you were a parent or teacher telling stories to kids? How often have you wanted to find or even have found a reason to tell a story to someone who is also an adult? I had a lot of favorite stories. One of my favorites was the Magic Tree House series: “The tree house started to spin. It spun faster and faster. Then everything was still. Absolutely still.”
The Bible is one long story with a bunch of short stories included in it. Many of us who grew up in a church setting almost memorized the story of Noah’s Ark because we heard it so often. There was a day where Braxton and I were counting the number of Noah’s Ark’s downstairs in the nursery; I think I remember counting more than ten depictions of that story in some form. There are also stories like the one we read today from Elijah’s story. In the movie, Nativity Story, this story is being told to small children gathered around the story teller, and the children are participating in the story as if they have heard it a number of times. We can also remember other stories that have been told in the pages of the Bible, such as Peter telling his story of Jesus in Acts 11: “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story: ‘ I was in the city of Joppa praying…’” (Acts 11:2-5). Each story is used for the benefit of the reader, someone who is also in the text, or most probably, both. Peter tells the story and Luke tells the story of Peter telling the story. We each have our own stories to tell as well. I recall the hymn, “I Love to Tell the Story.” We should all love to tell the story of Jesus.
There is another story told in the 2006 film The Pursuit of Happiness: “A shipwrecked man prays to God to save him. A boat approaches, but the man tells it to go away because God will save him. The boat leaves. A second boat arrives, and the man sends it away, saying God will save him. The man dies of exposure. When he gets to heaven, he complains to God for not saving him when he prayed. God tells the man he sent two boats to save him but the man sent them away.” The point here is this: “We must remain open to God’s communication vehicles, rather than our preconceived expectations” (FOTW C.3.150). Sometimes God acts with a booming voice and action. Sometimes God acts through sending other people.
Let us lean into the story of Elijah and the thoughts he was experiencing. To fully understand his thoughts, we need to understand what was happening in the previous chapter: “First Kings 16:31-33 tells us that King Ahab had cemented an alliance with his Phoenician neighbors by marrying Jezebel, the daughter of the king of ‘the Sidonians,’ and by promoting the worship of their god, Baal, alongside the worship of YHWH in the kingdom of Israel. In chapters 17-18 Elijah appears suddenly on the scene to set up an overwhelmingly impressive demonstration of YHWH’s superiority over Baal, culminating in the slaughter of all of the prophets of Baal. The story in chapter 19 begins with Jezebel swearing to get revenge on Elijah, who flees for his life, going first to the southern kingdom of Judah, then into the wilderness, where he despairingly asks God to let him die” (FOTW C.3.149).
God’s response is not one we might expect, such as God gave his servant Job, ridiculing him for questioning and trying to prove his innocence when it would not compare to God’s greatness. Instead of this kind of answer, God’s answer is to send angels to feed him. There is no command to stop feeling sorry for himself and to get over it. God’s action is compassionate, understanding, and caring. Most importantly, the stories that we read about, such as Elijah’s, tell us that God is so. It is why we should tell our own stories as those before us have done. Stories can restore our faith in God.
Second, we take a look at the story told in Psalm 42. The Psalmist asks, “Why are you cast down, O my soul?” (Psalm 42:5). He writes of an insatiable need as he talks about thirst for God: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:2). He then realizes that despite his thirst, he knows that God is still with him. He remembers going out with the crowd to praise God and he notes, “Hope in God: for I shall again praise him, my help and my God” (Psalm 42:5-6). This could have been Elijah’s Psalm as well. He was downcast, but the Lord met him there and instead of criticizing him, God fed him. God gave him reason to hope in the Lord to make it through the challenge that he was facing. As we come to God in our brokenness, it is important to remember who we are praying to. We are praying to a God who has been there for us in the past. We are praying to a God who is Creator and Savior, who hears us and loves us, who is capable and unchangeable. Knowing these things about God helps us thirst for God, and also to have hope in God. It is crucial to realize that if we thirst for God, we are wanting a relationship with God, but that “we cannot have a close relationship with God – we cannot experience his power, his wisdom, his peace, his joy – if we aren’t going to Him” (Pray, xvi). Our hope is found in our going to God in prayer. Our thirst is quenched by knowing who God is and experiencing the power, wisdom, peace, and joy that is God’s because we have called on Him in prayer. Remember how Jesus told his disciples, “All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:15). What is God’s becomes ours. Even when we find ourselves cast down, thirsting for God, we know that when we call on God in prayer we can participate in everything that God has.
In The Magic Tree House series, it is when everything is still that the story really starts. Jack and Annie look out of the treehouse and notice wherever they are. Also while Elijah was in the wilderness, the sheer silence is when he heard God. The world may be looking for some big declaration from God when God speaks, so that all the world hears and notices, but though God may speak in this way sometimes, this is probably not the way God most often speaks. If you have been listening for something bold and direct, you may have missed God speaking to you many times. Sometimes it is when I let myself be silent that I hear God best. Whether I am just taking a moment to sit and not focus on anything in particular or if I have been praying and I choose to allow a few moments of silence, these are times that I can be most reflective. They are times where I can step back and see things from a different perspective, when I am not blinded by the multitude of things to do that are always before me. Know that God’s voice may be in the silence, but even more than that, know that God’s voice may be in that which you least expect. And when help comes your way, take it. It may be God who sent that help.
There are a few of us who like to do everything on our own. We like to keep things to ourselves. If we are struggling, we try not to show it. We keep it between ourselves and God. And sometimes, it can cause us to be downtrodden. We wonder why God is not giving us what we deserve. When we keep things to ourselves like this, we can often be blind to the people around us who care and want to help. Perhaps God sent that person asking if you are okay, and if you need someone to talk to. Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to open up to others, not just to God. It does not mean that we need to tell everyone our whole life story, but there are usually one or two people that God places in our path with whom it will be helpful to share our struggles. Do not end up like the man who dies of a parched soul because he sent away help that he believed was not God’s help.
Challenge yourself to listen for God in a way that you may not be expecting. That is, know that God speaks in quieter ways many times. Do not refuse something good simply because you cannot be sure it is from God. Next, remember to tell your story so that yours may help another as those before you have told their stories to help you.
We will continue to be frustrated with things that will sometimes cause us to be downtrodden. And we realize that frustration is never completely going away just because we have God on our side. “Elijah does not have to give up his frustration, but God will not let him give in to it” (FOTW C.3.151). This is your next challenge today as well. Do not give into your frustration. Do not let your frustrations either prevent you from coming to God, or from coming to God with the wrong attitude. Elijah wanted to die, but God showed him that he just needed food. Our attitude is to be one of hope, but even when we cannot have that hope, we still come to God because God will still be there to feed us, to care for us, and point us to where we need to go. God will never let us go. God loves us too much. May all honor and glory be to God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
19:1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.
19:2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”
19:3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
19:4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”
19:5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”
19:6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.
19:7 The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”
19:8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
19:9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
19:10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
19:11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces 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;
19:12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
19:13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
19:14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”
19:15a Then the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.
42:1 As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
42:2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
42:3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
42:4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help
42:6 and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
42:7 Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
42:8 By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
42:9 I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”
42:10 As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
42:11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
8:26 Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
8:27 As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.
8:28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”–
8:29 for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)
8:30 Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him.
8:31 They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss.
8:32 Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.
8:33 Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
8:34 When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.
8:35 Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.
8:36 Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed.
8:37 Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned.
8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying,
8:39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.