HILLS & VALLEYS: God’s Many Voices  1 Kings 19:1-18   Author Liz Ditty

If you could have the 100% complete and honest answer to any question this morning, what would you ask?  When I was twelve, I only had one burning question, and that was…..Does Jonathan Green have a crush on me?  Fortunately, I was a child of the 80’s, so my cousin had the foolproof thing that could give me my answer.   The magic 8 ball.  I must have shaken this thing thirteen times, and it always came up doubtful.  The truth is Jonathan Green never had a crush on me.  I’d like to think that’s because early on God knew that He had Mike Ditty, who was going to be the perfect man to walk with me through all the ups and downs of life.  That Mike’s best friend, Rob Colwill, would be the best man in our wedding.  That he and his wife, Kristine, would speak wisdom and life into our marriage years before he became an elder here at South.  That if Jonathan Green had gotten in the way, we might not be here this morning.  I’d like to think that it’s that well thought out, but the truth is I was a quirky kid and I cut my own bangs and I’m pretty sure that had a lot to do with it.

As that little girl grew up, my questions grew up with me.  I wanted to know why it was so hard to make friends and why I was so lonely all the time.  I wanted to know why, when I finally got my dream job, I didn’t actually like it.  I wanted to know why I couldn’t make my family look like I wanted it to look like.  I wanted to know what success actually looked like in my life and how I would know I had it.  None of those questions could be answered by two words on a 20-sided dice.  Today, we’re going to rediscover the most important questions that we have and the best place that we can take them.  I think Elijah can help us.

Elijah is one of the most beloved, well-known prophets of Israel’s history.  If you’ve been following along the series here at South, you know that Elijah has prophesied a drought that he controlled with his own prayers. He has been miraculously fed by ravens in the wilderness.  God provided for him again with an unending food supply at the house of a widow.  Elijah was the first man recorded in the Bible to see someone be raised from the dead and that person was raised when he prayed for them.  He called down fire from heaven.  If there’s anyone who has experienced miraculous provision and incredible answers to prayer, it’s Elijah.  But that’s not good enough for him now.

We shouldn’t judge, because isn’t it true for us too?  No matter how many times God has provided  for us, no matter how many prayers He’s answered, when Jezebel says she’s gonna kill you, you get scared!  But here’s the thing, we are ALL going to come face-to-face with threats in our life—big or small.  The threat of failure.  The threat of rejection.  The threat of intimacy.  The threat of shame.  The threat of obscurity.  The threat of irrelevance.  There’s going to be a voice in our head, just like in Elijah’s, and it’s going to tell us…RUN!  And where we run matters.  If it’s to our nearest screen. If it’s to the nearest bottle. If we put something in our cart.  Where we run matters.  We shouldn’t judge Elijah for being afraid, because what we see is that Elijah runs straight towards God with his fear in hand.

All of us, since we were kids, have been testing out our world to find safe places and safe people.  Many of us grew up in churches where it wasn’t a safe place to bring anger, when we were angry at God.  It wasn’t a safe place to bring fear.  It wasn’t a safe place to bring doubt.  We’re going to find that God is a lot more comfortable with those emotions than we are.  If Elijah’s like our big brother, he’s about to have a really hard conversation in the office with Dad.  If we’re super quiet out here in the hallway, we can listen in and they might not know we’re watching.  That’s where we pick up in 1 Kings 19.

Elijah runs straight to Mount Horeb.  Which might not sound familiar, but it’s also known as Mount Sinai, the Mountain of God, the Mountain of Yahweh.  Any early reader of this text, any Israelite, would know that this is the mountain where Moses first encountered the burning bush and was told it was holy ground.  This is the mountain where Moses met with God, face-to-face, and received the covenant commandments.  This is the mountain where Moses met with God, face-to-face, and watched His presence pass by.  If we haven’t caught on to the fact that this is not just God’s mountain, it’s Moses’ mountain, the writer of this text wants to clue us in.  Elijah has been thinking about his ancestors and then on his way to this mountain, he wanders in the surrounding desert for forty days, just like Moses wandered in that same desert for forty years.  We’re going to find this incredible echo, that catches up in these rocks, between Elijah and Moses.

That echo is going to answer a question.  But before Elijah asks his question, God has a question for him.  What are you doing here, Elijah?  {I want you to turn to your neighbor and ask, “What are you doing here?”}  I don’t know why, when I first read this verse in the Bible, I imagine God’s voice sort of sounding like a troll guarding his own mountain.  I can’t quite figure out why I think that I am more polite than God.  None of us would talk to each other like that .  Elijah answers Him in verse 10:  I have been very zealous for the Lord God 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.

Elijah knows he is standing on Moses’ mountain.  When Moses’ stood on that mountain to receive the covenant commandments, the Israelites were at the base of the mountain breaking the covenant before the ink was dry….building a golden calf and turning to idolatry, before Moses even came back.  So, Elijah comes and stand on the same rock and says, “Isn’t it crazy, just like Moses, I’m the only one left.  The only righteous one while Israel turns to idolatry.”  Elijah would like to use this mountain to remind God of past failure.

If you catch the subtlety, it’s not just Israel’s failure that Elijah is pointing to.  When my husband comes home from work and I tell him, “YOUR son figured out today exactly how much toilet paper fits in our toilet,” it is really clear whose responsibility I think that problem is, whether or not it’s true.  And I want you to hear Elijah’s words again. Israel has not only fallen into idolatry, but they have put YOUR prophets to death, who You did not protect.  If they put them to death and now they’re trying to kill me too, what can I expect from You? 

Maybe Elijah didn’t mean it exactly that way, but I can hear the echo in my own prayers.  When I was in the hospital and I was waiting for the diagnosis from the CT scan to determine if I had the same brain cancer that my dad died of, and my two-year-old is tugging at the hospital blank at my feet.  And I have seen so many good people die from cancer.  So what about me?  What can I expect?  And I’ve prayed this prayer with friends who have been so faithful to God and have waited so well, but there’s still no one to date, there’s still no partner in sight.  They’ve seen other people be single for what seems like forever.  So if God didn’t help them, what can they expect?  And I’ve prayed with my friend, who knew full well that God took the baby that He was growing inside of her…..how was she suppose to trust Him with the baby that was in her now?  What this polite prayer is covering up is Elijah’s true prayer…..God, You have failed me and I have watched you fail others, so what can I expect from you now?

God understands the significance of this space and God remembers when Moses stood there with Him.  So God reminds Elijah of the second time that Moses came up to His mountain.  When God invited Moses to stand in His presence and now God invites Elijah to stand in His presence as well.  You see, Moses, after he had come back from realizing that the Israelites had already broken their covenant, comes back to God again and says, “Lord, how is this going to work?  It’s not!  Listen, if you are going to leave us, leave us now, because we clearly cannot keep up our end of the deal.”  Moses has this deep question, God, are You ACTUALLY going to be faithful to your people, no matter what?  God invites Moses to stand in his presence.  Moses says, Lord, just show me your glory.  Show me a sign.  Show me a miracle. (Exodus 33:19)  Isn’t that what we think we need?  God says I’m going to make my goodness pass by you.  We think we need to see God’s glory.  When He invites us into His presence, He invites us into His goodness.

Elijah wants to use this mountain to remind God of past failure, but God is going to use this mountain to remind Elijah of His forever faithfulness.  Because He told Moses the same thing He’s telling Elijah now…..Your failure, and the failure that you’re surrounded by, does not determine My faithfulness.  You think you need answers, but you need to understand who I am.  Come into my presence and realize that I am faithful and that I am good….no matter what.

Whose failure are you fixated on right now?  My husband will never be the spiritual leader of our family.  My kids were not raised to make the choices that they’re making now.  I can never overcome my addiction to pornography…my addiction to food.  I’ve tried it before and I’ve failed.    All of us have enough failure around us and in us to build an airtight case for hopelessness.  But God invites us to hold all of that in His presence.  And to remember that there is no failure that can determine who He is.  He is the Lord….full of compassion and mercy and grace and He is faithful.

So when God invites Elijah to stand in His presence, in an echo of this good presence that Moses stood in, we shouldn’t be surprised that it looks a lot like the presence that Moses experienced. Except, interestingly enough, it doesn’t look as much like the presence Moses experienced on his SECOND time on the mountain, it looks a LOT like what Moses experienced on the first.  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper. (1 Kings 19-11-12) 

That is a whole lot of the Lord not being there.  We see that this is what the presence of God looks like for Elijah.  There’s wind, there’s earthquake, there’s fire….but God’s not in any of those.  He comes in a whisper.  Remember, we’re echoing back to Moses, so the surprising thing about this is when Moses went on the mountain the first time to receive the covenant commandments, God was in all of those things.  He came in fire.  He came in earthquake.  He came in billowing smoke and wind.  Throughout Scripture, we see God in fire, wind, and earthquake.  Those things are sort of trademark God’s presence.  God appears in all of those things to Moses on this same mountain.  He ends with a trumpet blast to declare who He is.

How do we make sense of that?  I think it’s actually really hopeful, for me.  Because there are these trademark places that we know, through Scripture, through Christian tradition, that God’s presence is known to be.  We know that the Scripture is God’s words.  We know that when we pray, the Spirit intercedes on our behalf and we can meet with God.  We know that through spiritual disciplines we can become more aware of who God is and what He’s doing in our life.  But there are times when I am angry and afraid and I try so hard to read my Bible, because God is suppose to be there….but He’s not.  And I try so hard to pray, because God is suppose to be there….but He’s not.  Does is mean that God has abandoned me completely?

Look at this invitation.  Elijah, you think that you’re Moses.  You think I’m gong to come to you with wind, and earthquake, and fire.  But you just hang out here.  Because I know what you need and you don’t need a trumpet right now.  When we are in some of our most broken spaces, and we are in a spiritual wilderness and we feel so dry, THIS gives me courage to stay there.  That just because I’m not experiencing God the same way that other people have experienced God, does not mean that His faithfulness cannot find me….in a whisper….exactly where I am with what I need.  His intimacy.

We see this echo chamber that we’re standing in with Moses and Elijah, and the writer of this passage actually emphasizes this again, by showing us a bounce back in the actual text.  1 King 19:13, right after God whispers and Elijah experiences His presence.  Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”   The same way He asked Adam and Eve, “Where are you?”  The same way Jesus asked, “What do you want?”  A simple question.  And Elijah answers, verbatim, the exact same way.  Now I’d like to think that with as much that has changed in the emotional tone of the passage, that Elijah’s tone has changed here as well.  Maybe it reads a little less like leveling an accusation against God and a little more like Elijah bringing his problem to God.  Because God’s faithfulness through the ages is great, but down at the bottom of this mountain, Jezebel is still there and his circumstances haven’t changed at all.

So Elijah reminds God that he is alone.  God responds to him and this is where we would love to hear God say, “You are going to be okay!”  You don’t need to worry.  I’m going to keep you safe.  But that’s not how God responds.  He tells Elijah, “Elijah, you feel like you’re the only one left.  Don’t you realize I’m with you and I’m for you?”  There are seven thousand people who are still faithfully following Me and worshipping Me in Israel.  If the mass and the crowd isn’t enough for you, I’ve already identified Elisha, who’s going to be your spiritual companion, who’s going to walk with you through the rest of your ministry and carry your legacy on.  God wants to remind Elijah that he is not alone.  There are people and there is support and there are friendships and there are systems and there are communities that Elijah has no idea that God has prepared for him.  But good things are waiting for him at the bottom of the mountain.

God wants to remind us that we aren’t as alone in our hard questions.  We aren’t as abandoned as we feel.  God has been raising up people, prayers.  He has been raising up systems and support that you may not have even seen yet, that you may not know are there.

But let’s not forget that whisper, the most famous part of 1 Kings 19.  God’s intimate whisper to Elijah.  We don’t actually know what God said or if the whisper had any words in it at all.  But I wonder.  I wonder if there was a little hint, a little hint to Elijah that these echoes are bouncing back and forth in this mountain range, but this is not an endless loop.  The next time we see Elijah on the mountaintop, he is standing right next to Moses….standing right next to Jesus Christ, at the transfiguration.  The next time Elijah meets God on the mountain, he is with Moses and he is with Jesus and they discussing Jesus’s upcoming departure—the cross that nobody saw coming, not even Moses, not even Elijah.  As Moses holds this question of “God, are you ACTUALLY going to be faithful to your people?” on the mountaintop, and as Elijah holds his question of “God, are you ACTUALLY going to be faithful to me?” this time they are standing next to Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s faithfulness, the embodiment of God’s relentless goodness that will stop at nothing to heal us and be with us forever.  And the cross is coming!  The cross is coming when once and for all God’s faithfulness to His people and His faithfulness to us will become unquestionable to the point of death.

You would think that the cross would settle it all.  I believe that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s faithfulness and I believe that that cross mattered.  I believe that that cross was meant to pay for my sin, not to clean up my mess, but to make it possible for me to be with God and enjoy Him forever.  I believe, but God, help my unbelief…..because I still feel alone.  Sometimes that cross feels like it was a long time ago.  It feels kind of metaphorical and kind of like a theology textbook and it just doesn’t feel like it can touch the pain that I’m in right now.

Jesus will come off the mountain and he’s going to talk to his disciples about his upcoming departure, too.  Here’s his promise — I’m going to leave you, but I am going to leave you with the Holy Spirit.  This cross isn’t just a symbol, this cross isn’t just a one-time event, this cross is the beginning of a new chapter in human history.  We want to tell God that we are alone, and Christ wants to remind us that He is with us.  He is with us through the Holy Spirit.  We don’t have to go onto a mountaintop to meet Him, like Moses or Elijah.  He told the Samaritan woman in John 4, there’s going to be a day where you don’t have to pick which mountain you’re going to go on to meet God.  You’re going to worship Him in spirit and in truth.  We as believers carry His Spirit with us, which means the ground underneath the soles of our feet is holy ground.  There is no longer a temple, because we are the temple.  Our very bodies are the meeting place between God and man.  God is with us.  This is what He tells us the Holy Spirit is like—-it’s everything that we want God to be.  He gives us comfort (John 14:18).  He give us peace (John 14:27).  He gives us direction; He helps us pray when we just don’t know how (Romans 8:26).  We have the Holy Spirit, if we are believers in Christ.  If we can only pay attention to those whispers of goodness He longs to speak to us.

There’s this long thread of God’s faithfulness and His goodness that Moses gets ahold of on Mount Sinai and Elijah pulls forward, and Christ pulls forward from him.  The Apostle Paul pulls it into the early church.  It is the rope that we are holding onto desperately now, and sometimes we have no choice but to just not let go.  To realize that if it doesn’t even feel like God is with us, to realize that if it doesn’t even feel like God is good, to realize that even if the failure that is around us and the brokenness that is around us and the failure that is in us and feels like it is eating us from the inside out, that none of that…..none of that failure can define the faithfulness of our God.  He will be faithful to us no matter what.

I talked about safe places and I talked about hard questions.  I hope that we see from Elijah, I hope that we see from Christ, that God is more comfortable with our pain than we are.  We can bring it all—our pain, our doubt, our fear, our anger, our suspicion that God has failed us and that He is not actually good.  We can bring it all into the presence of God.  Because it is the presence of God, we will be met there by His faithfulness.  If we stay there, we will hear the whispers of His goodness, no matter what we are holding.  Maybe He’ll give us a whisper that is just a little hint of exactly how good He is and exactly the beautiful plans He has for our future, that none of us would dare imagine now.

As you go from this place, may you go no less afraid, no less suspicious, no less hurt, but may you go from this place with all of the courage that it takes to take all of you into the presence of God, and when you stand there, may you be met by His faithfulness and His goodness.  Amen.