Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday After Pentecost

The Introduction

The theme for this Sunday found in our collect, is Orthodoxy, right praise, and Orthopraxy, right practice. It may even be said that the theme of this season we call “ordinary time” is grasping a life of right praise & right practice, and to take it with our very beings.

In order to explore this theme, I want place our focus on the Old Testament reading from 1 Kings 17:17-24. There we find 2 contrasting views of God, one is wrong & leads to misery, and the other is true & leads to Joy. I would even be so bold as to say that Christian orthodoxy & orthopraxy springs form the second.

The First view of God emanates from our natural “spiritual under development”; perhaps it should best be identified as our natural condition of being spiritually challenged.

This trait by the way is universal, all are born this way, it is on display everywhere and at all times. In today’s world it appears as crass atheism, by that I mean what we find when otherwise normal, intelligent people talk themselves into the non-existence of God. This, by the way, is no small accomplishment, nevertheless because they are developed intellectually, but suffer from an arrested development of the spirit, they succeed at buying into the creation of their own minds.

Historically however, this has not been the case; historically most people were not smart enough to talk themselves out of the obvious. Most people in the past took reality at face value, at least to the best of their ability. The evidence of intelligent design, order, and the incomprehensibility of the world coupled with the immovability of natural physical & supernatural laws has left most persons, even those with the most simplistic of educations with a certain knowledge of God that the so called intellects of our day cannot see.

They still however, suffered from a very common problem, it is the force behind all pagan religions. We can explore this trait more deeply in the testimony of the widow, verse 17 of 1 Kings:

17After this the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”

The setting

The verse begins with after this- After what? The main character in this account is the prophet Elijah, the task assigned to Elijah was to confront idolatry in Israel, namely the idolatry of Ba’al worship. Ba’al can refer to any god and even to human officials; in our text it is used as a substitute for Hadad, a god of the rain, thunder, fertility and agriculture, and the Lord of Heaven. it is in ligh tof this view that we have Elijah praying for no rain, & God answers his prayer by having it not rain for 3 years & 6 months (Lk 4:23), thus showing that He is God over Ba'al.

It is after this drought begins that Elijah is called by God to become a monastic, & to go out to the brook of Cherith, east of Jordan Where in 1 Kin 17: 4 God says: I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.

Elijah then goes out to the dessert like Israel, & like Israel is fed by God with manna & quail. However, due to the drought this seasonal brook dried up, & the prophet must himself live in the evil of the world, experience its hardship & pains, only not without knowing god personally- He knows the character, kindness & love of God. It is at this point that we read in vs 9:

9 "Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you." 10 So he arose and went to Zarephath.

Elijah went to this woman who was in the midst of despair, waiting to die of starvation, & brought to her the presence of the living God, the God for whom Ba’al was a mere shadow, & he brought to her the very provision for life he had in the desert. So then, to summarize this setting, we have a gentile woman in despair of death, to whom Elijah comes and presents her give an unending source of life, the food that God provides.

The Spiritually Challenged

It is at this point that we read our opening verse in context, & begin to understand, in verse 17 the woman complains to Elijah.

17 After this (meaning after all of the good God brought to them) the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became ill. And his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. 18And she said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”

The woman’s son dies, & even though they were only kept alive by God’s grace & kindness, not allowing them to starve to death, she still concludes that this God of Elijah has only come to us to bring death & judgment as the consequence for her moral failings. She says to Elijah, why did you choose to do this to me! Why Me????

The Crisis

The problem we witness here is that of a person dealing with God while having little to no spiritual development. She has created a god in her mind who is not the true God, & consequently she does not know how to relate to him except with fear. The only god she knows is an Angry God! She only knows the God of the pagans, a God who is offended & needs to be appeased for our evil. & in case you haven’t noticed, this God is no stranger to western Christianity, all too often the gospel is presented this way you have offended a Holy God, & if you do not repent, he’s gonna kick your butt, & you will loose, & YOU’LL BE SORRY!!!!

This view of God took a hold of our theology by way of neo-platonism, mostly as expounded by Augustine and His offspring. In this mindset, the most important trait of God is his purity, & if his purity is offended by our lack of it we are deemed his enemies, thus he must be appeased. These folks simply see Jesus as an anger satisfying sacrifice that will keep God from take out his rage upon us. All I can ay to this is that this is an incredible skewing of the God of the bible.

The Spiritually Mature

Conversely, let us compare the woman’s immature relationship to God with that of mature Elijah. Let us consider Elijah response to all of this:

19 And he said to her, “Give me your son.”

First, I would have you notice that he does not go off on a diatribe saying "how dare you say this, don’t know that God is holy, & he has kept you alive up to this point, & you have no right to say these things," no, none of that, instead we read:

And he took him from her arms and carried him up into the upper chamber where he lodged, and laid him on his own bed. 20And he cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?”

Here we see that Elijah simply took the boy and presented him to God, he prays for him, without accusing God of being angry, yet, acknowledging that all life rests in his hands. Then he turns to the gosple and enacts a typology of Jesus before God - vs 21:

21 Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the Lord, “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again.”

Elijah covers the body of the dead person; he calls out three times, bringing the ppresence of the Father, Son, & Holy Spirit over this child- pointing to 3 days in the tomb, and then he pleads for a resurrection. Now let us look at God’s response to Elijah:

22 And the Lord listened to the voice of Elijah. And the life of the child came into him again, and he revived. 23 And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house and delivered him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives.”

We are told the Lord heard Elijah; Life was brought out of death, and he was restored to his former life in his family. Here we have a pre-view or type of the resurrection of Jesus and of mankind. Because of his spiritual maturity, Elijah first treats God as the one who first and foremost loves to do good rather than to judge us for our brokenness, and in doing so he never gets to see the judgment. The woman however, simply treated God as the one who judges evil, & there it ended for her; here we see Elijah being a gospel man- mature in spirit, & the woman, without any spiritual insight only concerned with the legality of it all.

Spiritual maturity is much more than conceptual knowledge, it is experiential knowledge of God’s goodness; notice her response after this experience:

24 And the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth.”

Please notice the result; it is Orthodoxy & Orthopraxy, praising God rightly (meaning according to the truth) and acting rightly (meaning according to the truth).

We cannot praise God rightly unless we know his love experientially; & we cannot know his love experientially unless we call upon his love in spite of our unworthiness. If you notice nothing else about our classic Anglican liturgy, please notice the continuous repetition of God’s forgiveness that recurs over & over again. Spiritual maturity can only come to those who finally learn to live with the reality that God knows every one of our flaws, hates them violently, and yet because of his great love for us they are forgiven in Christ. Christ has trampled them down, and to us who were dead, has given life within the mystery of the Godhead.

By Jesus’ resurrection we are presented with the same experience that the widow had. In the resurrection of Christ we have the son of the new Eve (Mary), the mother of the new humanity returned to her. By extension he has been returned to the whole world; why? So that we too can experientially know that God loves to bring us good & not evil, & that God is much more than a judge, he is our savior. It now falls to us, to embrace the true loving God with all of our being over the vengeful God of our natural paganism.

It would only be right at this point to ask, "when did Elijah gain this maturity?" All we ahve to attribute to this maturity is his time learnig to live with God in the dessert; his time as a monastice deliered to him this spiritual growth, these eyes to understand the sacrafice that is acceptable to God. It was then that he expereinced the christ that was to come.


And just like elijah, only by the experience of the resurrected Christ in the soul, will have the trust necessary to turn all things in this life over to God’s goodness, & then to live out our lives resting in His love.

Only by the experience of the resurrected Christ will we eventually grow enough to be healed from all our spiritual maladies, which are always the cause of our moral failures.

Salvation by faith is totally free, it is a gift from God, but spiritual maturity is hard earned, it is synergistic, and it occurs only within a life lived out with God; knowing the safety of being alone with God due to Christ's provision. Only then can we enter into the strugles of prayer and fasting while fighting against our own delusions. This is how elijah grew, and this is how we must grow!




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