Fr. John Allison
1 Kings 19:1-15
June 19, 2022
Christ Church, Hudson
Our reading today from the First Book of Kings includes one of my favorite images in all of scripture: an angel tells Elijah to go out and stand on the mountain and wait for the Lord to pass by; a great wind comes, so strong that it splits mountains and breaks rocks; but the Lord was not in the wind. Then after the wind an earthquake comes; but the Lord was not in the earthquake. Next a fire comes, but again, the Lord was not in the fire. Finally, the sound of sheer silence, and it’s in that silence that the Lord speaks to Elijah.
But let’s back up a bit because I think we need to understand how Elijah has gotten to this point so that we might understand where God is calling him in that still small voice.
The First (and Second) Book of Kings tells us the stories of Elijah and his call as prophet and as it does so it’s interwoven with the history of Israel. Under David and Solomon all the tribes of Israel had been united into one Kingdom. After the death of Solomon, however, conflict broke out. Of the twelve tribes of Israel ten, the northern tribes, rebelled against the Davidic line of kings and set up their own kingdom—which they called Israel. The remaining two tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to the Davidic line of kings and remained in the south as the Kingdom of Judah with Jerusalem as its capital. The two kingdoms coexisted, sometimes as friends and sometimes as enemies for almost two hundred years until Israel was conquered by the Assyrians. The stories of Elijah take place in the northern kingdom of Israel under the reign of King Ahab. In an attempt to secure an alliance with the neighboring Phoenicians King Ahab married Jezebel, who was the daughter of the king of the Sidonians, and consented that the Phoenician God Baal be worshipped alongside Yahweh.
This situation sets up a dramatic confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal where Yahweh triumphs with the result that all the prophets of Baal are killed. Our passage today picks up with Jezebel vowing to get revenge on Elijah. Fearing for his life Elijah first goes into the southern Kingdom of Judah and eventually into the wilderness where he is so distraught that he wants to die. An angel ministers to him and we are told he goes on into the wilderness for forty days, much like Moses, and ends up on Mount Horeb, which is another name for Mount Sinai, again echoing some of the story of Moses. And it’s here, on this mountain that God speaks to him: “What are you doing?” I hear that as God saying, why aren’t you back in Israel where you’re supposed to be, continuing my work? Finally, after more explanation from Elijah, God essentially does just that and sends him on his way. We’ll hear a bit more of the story much farther along next week but the point is that God sends Elijah back to continue his work and trust that God’s work is far larger than this one man Elijah.
I think that’s a point that Paul directs us to in his letter to the Galatians as well. Written to a group of people that were highly divided as to who was in and who was out, Paul tells us that God in Christ transcends any one group; indeed, Christ transcends any one individual. You see, Paul was responding to the great controversy of his time: how much like a Jew does a Gentile need to be in order to be a Christian? In a church that has been dominated by Gentiles since the late first century this question may not seem to have the relevance it did to Paul’s original audience but its larger point—Who is in? Who is out?—Is one that continues to divide and exclude. For Paul’s audience the question centered on God’s promise to Abraham and Abraham’s heirs. Gentiles are not natural heirs so how do God’s promises apply? Should the Gentiles be required to keep Jewish law? Not doing so made them sinners in the most strict sense. But at the same time the Incarnation happened to save all—to redeem the whole world. This letter from Paul is about how we reconcile those two views and what it means to be baptized into Christ, to be clothed in Christ. Paul says, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The distinctions that for so long had divided and separated fall away as all are reconciled in Christ. He says it even more clearly in the previous chapter: It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. The emphasis as to who “we” are and who “they” are falls away as Christ comes to redeem all. Paul says, before faith came we were under the law—a disciplinarian, our translations says but it can also be translated as a tutor, which I find more helpful—but with the coming of Christ we are saved by our faith in him. We are made one body by our faith in him. Bringing that faith to the world, loving one another as God loves us, is the work that we are given to do and it’s bigger than any one person or group.
When Jesus cast out the demons from the man in our Gospel reading he brought that kind of wholeness. The many demons that possessed this man, legion, in a sense divided him from himself. Jesus healed him, made him whole. In Christ this man’s identity was restored.
The man is so grateful we’re told he begs that he might go away with him but Jesus tells him, “Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you.” I think that’s our call as well. God told Elijah something similar. God has given all of us work to do and it starts in proclaiming what God has done for us. It starts in giving thanks for God’s love, not just with our mouths but in our actions. That’s what it means to be clothed in Christ, to allow ourselves to be vessels of God’s love in Christ to the whole world.
It may not seem as dramatic as a windstorm, or an earthquake, or a fire but it is in the simple acts of love that we do in Jesus’ name that God is heard in a world desperate for his Word. Amen.