12th Sunday after Pentecost
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father — to him be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, “God has spoken by his prophets…spoken his unchanging Word, Each from…each from age to age proclaiming…God the one…God the one the righteous Lord. In the world’s despair…in the world’s despair…in the world’s despair…in MY despair!” I was in 3rd grade, I’ll never forget it, hymnology class on Friday, it was that hymn we had to learn and write out from memory. My mind blanked, the few minutes before school was not long enough to memorize a whole hymn (kids, did you get that?). I was the last one to sheepishly hand in a virtually blank paper. Monday comes. I get my paper back…and there it was a the top, in an unmistakably biting red…F…I had never had an F before. I was devastated. I was hurt. I didn’t get ‘F’s’. And in my family…you simply did NOT fail in grades. I dreaded my parents finding out! My first F. I had failed. Here I was wanting to be a pastor…and I failed…I couldn’t even memorize a hymn! I was devastated. (A beautiful hymn #351 in your hymnal, but don’t be too surprised if we don’t sing that hymn much here : ). How about you? Have you ever failed? It’s not an easy feeling is it? A lump in your throat. A pit in your stomach. The hurt. The pain. Who enjoys failing?
Well, God’s prophet Elijah felt like he’d failed. Elijah was God’s prophet during a time in Israel’s history when they had a very evil and corrupt leader. God warned the nation that if they were unfaithful to Him he would close the skies and there’d be no rain. Well Ahab and his wicked wife Jezebel turned the people away from God to worship the fertility god Baal. So, God sent a severe draught on the land (Baal, fertility god was supposedly responsible for rain and making things grow). God sent Elijah to do a test. He was to meet with the 450 prophets of Baal and whichever God would send fire from sky to consume the offering was the true God. Well, of course, Baal’s altar did absolutely nothing. But when Elijah prayed to the true God, fire fell from the sky and massively consumed everything, even the water that he had poured on top of the sacrifice. Afterwards, Elijah had the 450 prophets of Baal put to death for leading the people to a false god. Now, if you were Elijah what would you expect? Everyone to follow the true God, right? Well, afterwards Jezebel was so upset that she issued a death sentence on Elijah. And Elijah had to run for his life. This was certainly not the result Elijah had anticipated. He said, “I have been very zealous tor the Lord Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left and now they are trying to kill me too.” And so, since things didn’t happen the way Elijah had hoped and since God hadn’t reigned down judgment and destroyed all those who turned away from Him, Elijah fell into doubt. Isn’t God serious about wanting all people to honor and serve Him ALONE? Isn’t God serious when He says, “The soul who sins is the one who will die?” Worse yet, perhaps Elijah thought God had failed.
So does God fail? Has God failed in our world? Look in the newspaper, turn on the tv, listen to the radio. You hear it in the news crimes of all kinds, murders, wars, thefts, cheating, corruption, etc. Sometimes we can certainly sympathize with Elijah, “Why doesn’t God just let loose and show His force and His disgust with all of the wicked in this world and reign down the fires of judgment on the wicked people like He did with Sodom and Gomorrah?”
Maybe we also have to ask has God failed in His church? There are plenty of Christian churches in our world today who’ve lost respect for God’s Word. The going trend in our day is not to look for a church that preaches and teaches God’s Word accurately, but to find a church that makes me feel good about myself, where I can go and have a good time and that’s it. Yet, even here at St. Mark’s where we do treasure God’s Word and hold it in highest esteem, who of us can honestly say we’ve perfectly kept 10 simple commands our Lord gives us in that Word? Who of us can say we’ve never lied, deceived, coveted, lusted, hated, dishonored those in authority? Has God failed in His Church? Shouldn’t God deal with this whole world by reigning down the fires of His judgment?
But God didn’t fail Elijah. He took Elijah to a cave in a mountain. The Lord said, “The presence of the Lord is about to pass by.” Then came a powerful wind shattering rocks and mountains, but the Lord wasn’t in that wind. Then came a powerful earthquake, but the Lord wasn’t in it. Then came a fire, but the Lord wasn’t in that either. God certainly had the power to come in might and strength to tear apart and destroy in judgment. But instead God came in a gentle whisper…literally a “voice, a still, weak one.” Although our plan might be that God should come in the might and terror of judgment, God’s plan and what He wants is to come in the quiet, gentle whisper of His Word.
God hasn’t failed us either, has he? Just think about it for a moment. It wasn’t through a grand display of power or pure force at gun point that God brought you to faith in Him. It wasn’t through an earth shattering feat or an awesome display of power. Rather He used the quiet whisper of His Word. It was the dynamite power of God’s Word, His gospel, that broke down the barriers of sin we had constructed and He worked faith in our hearts. It was through the gentle water and quiet words spoken at your baptism that the Lord did a miracle, creating faith in your heart.
No God doesn’t fail. Although like Elijah, we may not understand His plans, He knows what He is doing. He told Elijah to anoint Hazael King of Aram, in the near future the nation Aram (Modern Syria) would be God’s scourge against the unfaithful Israelites. Eventually the whole N. Kingdom of Israel would be destroyed because of their unfaithfulness. Jehu would also come along and destroy the wicked royal family of Ahab and Jezebel. And Elisha would succeed Elijah in continuing to preach God’s Word. God hadn’t failed. There was still 7,000 people who had not lost their faith in the one true God. And today God hasn’t failed. There are still God’s own in this world. There is still God’s band of believers who have not bowed their knees to the gods of our age today. There is still God’s band of believers who have not kissed the god of worldliness in our age today.
But in this world we are going to be faced with plans that fail us, failures of all kinds, and disappointments. Perhaps there will even be times when full of self-pity we will say things like Elijah, “I have had enough, Lord, take my life.” Perhaps there will be times when things don’t happen the way we expected and we wonder, “What in the world is God doing?” Perhaps wrapped up in our own self-consciousness we’ll fail to see any good in situations that confront us and we’ll wonder has God failed? Has God the one who’s promised me that all things work out for the good of those who love him, has he failed that promise?
But God hasn’t failed us. God keeps all of His promises. How do you know for sure? Look at the most important promise He made and kept. He sent His own Son into this world. He didn’t come with earthquake, wind or fire, but with the gentle, quiet voice of the Gospel He proclaimed His love to a lost world. Yes, occasionally God pulled back the veil to let us see Jesus for who He is, the Son of God who walks on the water and calms the storms.
But then there’s other times when we have to wonder, really? Can it really be? God’s plan was certainly not what mine would have been. I mean Jesus was arrested, bound by sinful men, spit upon, beaten, mocked, harassed, sentenced to death. He had nails driven in His hands and feet and dying a criminal’s death he suffered the full amount of all sins of all time. There he died. There he died looking like the greatest failure of all! Had God failed? Does God fail?
But look a little closer…look a little closer and see that tomb burst forth Easter morning…look a little closer and see the proof of Jesus’ victory over sin, death and the devil. He didn’t fail, he won the ultimate victory! He powerfully rose from the dead! He won life eternal for you!
So when you face failure, trust in God, He has never nor will ever fail you. When doubts come, remember what God’s freely given you- life eternal! When frustrations come, when you feel you’ve failed, when you realize that God’s plans are not your plans, remember where God settles your doubts, remember how He comes to you… through the quiet, gentle, loving whisper in His Word. No, God never fails you!