Sermons : 2015 : August 9, We Want God to Be That Cowboy - 1 Kings 19:1-8

Sometimes in life, you just do everything right, everything perfect, but it all falls apart anyway. A week ago, I was cutting some 45 degree miter joints for some molding I was putting on a bookshelf that I’m making. I was so impressed that I cut those joints to a perfect 45 degrees. I could put them down on the ground and they lined up and had no gaps. I was pretty pleased with myself. And then I went to put them on to the actual bookcase. But while the miters were cut correctly, the bookcase wasn’t exactly straight, so I had to spend all this time trying to put them on there and still had gaps anyway. That didn’t happen to Norm the carpenter in his youtube video, but I guess I’m not Norm.

Elijah the prophet is having one of those kind of days. The day before, he did everything right. He challenged the prophets of the false god Baal to a duel. If they could summon Baal to light a sacrifice on fire, they would prove that Baal was the greater god. But if Elijah could summon Yahweh to light a sacrifice on fire, then He would prove that He was the true God. Elijah even went so far as to drench his sacrifice with water just to make it that much more sure that His God would be that much greater upon lighting up the sacrifice.

And sure enough, that’s what happened. The false prophets of Baal marched and paraded around even cutting themselves in an effort to motivate their god to send fire from the heavens, but nothing happened. But when Elijah summoned Yahweh, his sacrifice went up in flames immediately.

Elijah, so to speak, had done everything right. He did everything God commanded Him to do and on that day he showed himself to be the true prophet of God. Yet today, He is on the run. The Queen blamed him for the loss of her prophets (which happened after their god failed to light the sacrifice). So even though it was entirely God’s doing, Queen Jezebel is now going to pay Elijah back for doing God’s work.

We’re not quite sure how Elijah came to feel how he does in the latter half of our reading. He either thinks he has failed in some way or he’s ashamed or depressed. Whatever he’s experiencing, there is some notion here that he feels like he doesn’t deserve to live. And so he prays this prayer to God asking Him to take him now as he no longer sees that he has a purpose.

Maybe you know how Elijah feels. You can think of a situation in which you did everything right. You were respectful, you were considerate, you were faithful to God in regards to how you treated someone or how you handled a situation or how you stuck in there. But despite all of that, things in your life fell apart. They got worse and made you want to run away or give up because you feel on some level that you simply cannot win and so why bother anymore?

Another aspect to this story is how quickly Elijah goes from victory to defeat. It’s not just that he did everything right, but He had actually received a victory. But then suddenly, that victory was snatched away. One commentator had this to say about Elijah’s dilemma, “In three short verses the writer has totally changed the flow of the story. Victory seems to be transformed into defeat, the brave prophet into a cowering refugee, and the victory over death and Baal into an opportunity for death to reassert itself through Jezebel’s oath to take Elijah’s life.

Now at the heart of this story is something that really escapes us. This whole thing started as a way for the Lord or Yahweh to prove that He was God. Remember, whichever prophet’s God ignites the sacrifice really is God. So how does it square up if God’s representative is put to death? How will this allow Yahweh to prove that He is God?

And so once again in the Biblical narrative, we reach this recurring theme. All seems lost; God’s people are on the run; the enemy looks victorious and it’s time to put up the white flag. And life feels that way too for you sometimes. You want to give up on things. You want to give up on your marriage; you want to give up on yourself; you want to give up on your life. Nothing will ever change or get better; you feel you’ve done all that you can and now you find yourself being Elijah offering up this prayer of defeat to God.

In the story, God deals gently with Elijah. He wants Elijah to go on a journey where God will speak to Him again. In the meantime, God feeds Elijah with what we can only call His daily bread. Now this journey will be to a place called Mount Horeb, which you may remember is where Moses spoke to God in the burning bush. It’s also later where God said He would be when Moses struck the rock that gave water in Exodus 17. Deuteronomy gives us the impression that Horeb is also another name for Sinai, which was the birthplace of the old covenant.

So God will speak to Elijah there, though not necessarily in the way Elijah might have expected. If you remember, it was through a gentle whisper. People in many Christian circles today dream of getting big signs from God; large unmistakable clues that our prayers have been heard and God is now going to step in and forcibly change our circumstances like a cowboy wrestling a steer to the ground at the rodeo.

And we so often want God to be that cowboy. Really, our human expectation of God as we conceive of Him is that this is who He essentially is or should be. He is a God of power. He is a God who controls. And when we think of what our human nature’s version of the Gospel is, we think, He is or He should be a God who controls events in this world for me. He should change my situation; He should change my life. Use His lasso like a cowboy would or his pistol or His brute strength. And yet, that’s not often what happens. Our dilemmas don’t get subdued and tied up.

In the life of Jesus Christ, things were going pretty well up for Him until His arrest. But then, He is apprehended. He brought into custody and He goes through this trial. He’s sentenced. He has to drag His cross. He has to carry His cross. They crucify Him on this cross. And from his feet, people mocked Him. If you really are the Christ, come down. In other words, change your own circumstances. Show yourself to be the God of power. Show yourself that you are mightier than this and then we will believe.

But you know in His sacrifice and in your life, you don’t really get the God of power, do you? You get the God of weakness. You get the God of suffering. You get the God who does not overpower His own circumstances, let alone yours. And yet, this is the God who reveals Himself to you. This is the God you have in your run away into the wilderness and pray the prayer of defeat kind of life.

But this God of weakness, who doesn’t overpower circumstances, still achieves the greatest of all possible victories when He banishes your chief accuser to hell and gives you an eternal future with Him. We often underestimate or overlook the importance of what Christ has done. Our culture doesn’t do a good job of emphasizing that there is still such a thing as right and wrong. But despite all the ambiguity today, that reality does exist. We focus on our circumstances because we’re told that having the best circumstances means having the best life, but that’s not true.

Having the best life means having eternal life with God. It means being assured that your sins are forgiven. If our world were focused more on right and wrong, you would understand the importance of forgiveness much more than you do. It would eclipse this obsessions with our circumstances in which we all live. We would no longer dream of God being the cowboy and we would come much further in seeing the importance of Him being the Savior. Because no matter how perfectly you do everything in your life, sin is the intrusive reality. It does not respect any compassion you might feel or sense of sacrifice for others you might make. It is not alleviated through good intentions nor put off by acts of kindness. It does not sit on the sidelines and really, it can often become the force that wrestles your life into the ground like a cowboy does a steer.

But sin cannot bind you eternally; it cannot rule over you forever. In Christ, it is a defeated villain and it is far weaker than the One who has already subdued it. In Christ you find the strength that is mightier than your circumstances and is stronger than your sins. Elijah would later come to see the bigger picture and the Bible later tells us of how all of God’s enemies are ultimately defeated in the end. Not through force or brute strength, but through the Savior whose weakness is still mightier than the sin which once subdued the whole world. Amen.

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