Angels For A Moment In Time

The following is only an excerpt of this sermon. The full sermon can be heard by clicking the audio link below.

1 Kings 19.1-15a

These stories from the Old Testament, they’re great stuff. Amen? Nice, juicy, just full of stuff for us to chew on. There’s this great image, just before our story: There has been a drought on the land that Elijah pronounced because of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God and just after the triumph on Mt. Carmel, God tells Elijah that the drought is coming to an end and he takes him up to the peak of Mt. Carmel and he says Look out over the ocean, and there’s a small cloud that begins to rise up and says You better tell King Ahab he better get to his royal residence in Jezreel. And so Elijah tells him, You’d better get into your chariot and head to Jezreel because there’s a storm coming. And so Ahab hitches up his chariot and you know how fast chariots go, right? They go pretty fast! And so he’s riding as fast as he can, but the bible tells us that 17 miles away (well,you can measure it now), but 17 miles away he’s urging his horses on and on to try and beat that gathering storm, but out in front of his chariot is Elijah! Like the Six-Million-Dollar Prophet. Running! 17 miles! There might be some marathoners out there, but even so, that’s pretty impressive. I bet you couldn’t beat a chariot. 17 miles. In sandals. And a robe. Actually, the bible doesn’t say what he was wearing, but I’m guessing. Still pretty impressive.

All that leads into this wonderful story that we have before us this morning. Oh, it is a wonderful story. It has danger and suspense. It has excitement. It swims in despair and hopelessness, but it doesn’t end there. It’s a story that displays tender grace. It models good communication and it moves toward healing and renewal and action. The larger story is very real and profound and I like it because it portrays for us Elijah’s humanity. Here he is, one of the greatest prophets of the Hebrew tradition, and we can see it leading up to the story. Can you see him there, bellowing out against the prophets of Baal, challenging them in the power of the Lord, proclaiming! That’s what prophets are supposed to do! Bring down fire! And it happens and that’s Elijah at his best. He’s strong, he’s confident, expressing the power of the Lord. He’s on top of his game up on that mountain. He’s victorious. This is the public Elijah, the one everyone sees. This is the one everyone knows. The one, gussied up on Sundays. The one always looking their best.

But in the next episode, just a little bit later, Elijah is running for his life! He’s depressed, he’s alone, he’s questioning himself. He’s questioning the God who brought all of this on him. This is the private Elijah. This is the one you don’t see gussied up on Sundays. This is the one the Israelites and the prophets of Baal and Ahab and Jezebel didn’t see. This is the real inside of Elijah, in his moments of struggle and weakness.

These stories together picture Elijah a lot like us. We have our moments when we are strong, when we are confident , when we discover our gifts, we know who we are! We’re successful, we’re strong, we’re confident , we’re collected, we’re gussied up on Sunday. I have to tell you, honestly, you see me gussied up on Sunday. We have those moments when we look and feel and perform our best. This is the one that everyone sees. This is the we who everyone knows about. But then we also have other moments, as human beings. Those moments when we feel alone, when we feel drained of energy and strength and inspiration, when we struggle with despair. Like Elijah. The great, but human prophet. How human is this story.

(To listen to the sermon in full, please click below)

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  • Breakfast Encounter

    Last Friday morning, I stopped by my GP’s office to let them draw some blood for a test and to get my flu vaccine for the year. Because of the blood test, I had to ‘fast,’ arriving for the blood draw without having any food that morning. When the phlebotomist had drawn the blood and given me the shot, I went to a nearby diner to get some breakfast. Little did I know I was about to witness something extraordinary.

    While I was eating my pancake, egg, and piece of sausage and reading a book about Oscar Romero, a young man went up to the counter to pay. I didn’t notice any of this, of course (occupied as I was with not only Oscar Romero’s life and ministry to the poor of El Salvador, but also all that butter and syrup…) until the young man started yelling at the woman behind the counter.

    “Swipe it again!” is what drew my attention.

    She did, and the card must have been denied a second time. She ran it again, and the look on her face told me the same thing happened. Denied.

    The young man was getting more agitated and saying things to her under his breath. I was paying more attention now, and she asked if he had another card she could try.

    “No! I don’t have another bleeping card!” he yelled at her. Except he didn’t say bleeping.

    Now I’m not a stranger to harsh words. I’ve said them myself. Usually when I’m trying to get a rusted bolt off an old machine and it finally comes loose, taking some of my knuckle skin with it. And I think I quietly swore under my breath in January of 1988 when the Washington football team beat my beloved Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl, 42-10. There have been other times too. But never, ever at a person.

    Upon being sworn at, the young woman stared at the man like she didn’t know what to do (how could she?). Tears were about to appear. And the air in the room went real still. Like in the movies. I’m sure the background music was still playing, but it seemed deathly quiet at that moment.

    I was about to get up and walk over to the counter—not exactly sure what I was going to do once I got there—when another man who had been eating nearby wandered up real slow, eyes staring at the young man. He was a tall guy, with white hair under his old IFA ball cap, probably in his sixties. He asked the young woman, “What seems to be the problem here?”

    And that’s when the young man made what I thought was a fatal mistake: he answered when he hadn’t been spoken to. “It’s nothin’. My card won’t work,” he spat back.

    I thought a fight was about to break out, but the older man, his eyes searing into the young disgruntled one’s face, reached for his wallet and said to the cashier, “Aubrey, I’d like to pay for this young man’s meal, if that’s okay with him.” And after getting out some cash, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder, not one of those friendly pats on the shoulder, but one of those firm grips that, well, made me think he was making sure the lesson was going to stick.

    I’ve had those kinds of hands on my shoulders a few times over the years. Perhaps from a coach, maybe from my dad once or twice; they happen when a boy or young man really needs to start paying attention.

    And after staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, the old guy said, “Be kind.” And then walked away.

    The young man left the restaurant and climbed into an oversize truck that was parked right out front, cranked up the volume on his radio, and left some rubber on the road as he departed.

    I went into the church office sometime later to finish my sermon, but I kept thinking about angry people and hurt people and kind people and people who teach lessons to those who could use them. I also thought about people who have a head full of kind words who refuse to tolerate ugliness.

    I hope I can be someone like that.

    I have a feeling Aubrey earned a whole lot of tips that morning. She deserved them.

    Be kind.

    That’s all for now.

    —Pastor Derek

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