27 February 2014

Homily for Specialized Pastoral Ministry Educational Event

[1 Kings 18:30–39 / 1 Peter 3:13–17 / Mark 8:34–38]

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tremendous irony, isn’t it? The massive success of Elijah in the confrontation at Carmel. The people’s hearts turned back to the Lord. And then, though we didn’t include it, his prayer for rain after the long drought (I’ve always wondered where the water came from that they poured over the sacrifice – did someone hike down the mountain to the Mediterranean to get it?), and then the answer from God as the skies open and not fire this time, but water pours down, and Elijah runs in triumph before the chariot of the king. Old man he may be, but energized by the Spirit he fairly dances along.

Joyous triumph, no? A ministry moment when it all seemed worthwhile. When the Word of the Lord actually seemed to work and that there might be a modicum of honor for the man of God. Moment is the key word.

You know the story. It didn’t last long. Minutes don't. Jezebel, Mafia Queen of the Old Testament, let’s Elijah know that she’s ticked off now and that he is toast. His life is forfeit. And suddenly vanished the euphoria of his ministry. Gone in the twinkling of an eye his hope that his nation might hear and heed the words of God and turn back. Gone everything. He feels so isolated, so alone. He turns to the desert and leaves even his servant behind. He thinks he’s it.

But he’s not alone. There was One with him. One who watched over His Word to perform it. One whose angels tended and cared for Elijah even when he was ready to throw in the towel. Miraculous food, angelically prepared, sends the man of God to the mountain of God where he prepares to tender his resignation for he is nothing but a failure, just like all those before him.

The God of Israel, of course, ignores this and gives him his next assignments. Success or not wasn’t to be his concern. His concern was to go and do His Master’s bidding.

And as we reflect on that, isn’t it massively comforting? You know the moments of success, the moments where the prayers are answered and the gifts of God rejoice the heart. You also know that they are but isolated moments in your life and ministry. You know the weakness and failure of the Word you’ve been sent forth to share – how often it is rejected, mocked, ridiculed and before long I fear we’ll see even here, persecuted once again. You know the moments of wanting to just throw in the towel and be done. To walk away from the living God’s assignments to you that seem so hopeless. But He doesn’t hold you responsible for the failure of His Word even as He doesn’t allow you the credit for its success. That’s entirely in His hands. That’s the joy of the Augsburg V’s ubi et quando visum est Deo – where and when it pleases God. The giving of faith that is. It happens in those who hear the Gospel and He sends us out to speak that good news into the sadness and brokenness of this age and yet we have zero control – zero – over its taking hold or not. And God won’t be holding us accountable for that, but He does expect an accounting of us of our stewardship of speaking it.

So our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel. He summons us to the losing of life. Bonhoeffer nailed: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” But it’s okay. The life that we’d try to save and preserve is a life we’re going to lose anyway. Maybe today. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe three or thirty years from now. Who knows. Elijah figured it wouldn’t take Jezebel long to get him. But you can hold onto your life in this age with a lose hold when you know that He’s got a life to give you that simply has no end. More life for you than you’ve got death, more forgiveness for you, than you’ve got sin. This is the hope that His words hold out to you, and are summoned to hold them out to the world, to the concrete persons that the Lord has sent you to serve in your various settings. The Lord speaks a frightful judgment of being ashamed of His words. The Lord Jesus will also then be ashamed of such a one when He comes in the glory of the Father with the holy angels.

It’s in view of the certainty of that coming, the final fulfillment of His every promises to you, the making of a new heaven and a new earth, the future of this world really being the triumph of Love, and the destruction of everything that is not love, that fills you with the courage to speak His words and not to be ashamed.

But there is speaking and there is speaking. The Westboro Baptists are not afraid to speak out, and to give them their due, they have something of the fire of Elijah of old in their witness to judgment, death, damnation. But can you see the instance that St. Peter foresaw happening to them with their signs of judgment upon the streets of America" “…Always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience.” People loved by God, be so filled with the hope of your Lord’s return, and with the certainty wrought by His blood that He will not being ashamed to own you as His own family, that people inquire of you about the reason for your hope. You be a people so brimming with the hope of the gospel that even the suffering that comes your way can’t quench your joy in the Lord.

Elijah had his miracle food to sustain him on his journey, and you have yours. Tonight once again He who will come again to make all things new, comes to you even now hidden beneath the bread and wine with His body and blood, His forgiveness, life, and salvation. He comes to you who have been discouraged and ready to throw in the towel. Who have been silent when you should have spoken and at times filled with fear. Who have been troubled and filled with doubts. He comes with blood-bought mercy and compassion. He comes whispering: You are mine. Be not afraid. My undying body will be your life. Your sins are covered in my blood. Your death was left behind in my tomb. My Father, is now your Father; my home, your home. Be refreshed and then go forth from this place renewed to share the hope. My Word will not return to me empty. It will accomplish what I send it to do. Be of good cheer. Amen.

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