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Newaygo United Methodist Church
Monday, March 25, 2019
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors
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God In The Silence

God In the Silence
                                                           1 Kings 19:1-15
When we come to today’s Old Testament lesson, Isaiah has already caused a great commotion in the life of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Jezebel has had killed many of the prophets of God, but Obadiah, faithful to the Lord, hid 100 of God’s prophets in 2 caves and fed them food and gave them water. Elijah meets Obadiah and directs him to tell Ahab  that he is here. Obadiah fears for his life but does as he is directed and tells Ahab where Elijah is. The following conversation between Elijah and Ahab is not a friendly one, nor pleasant. Ahab calls Elijah a troublemaker, and Elijah calls Ahab the troublemaker because he has abandoned God and worshipped the local idol Baal. This is when Elijah offers the challenge to have Ahab’s Baal prophets (450) and 400 prophets of Asheroh assemble and call upon their gods to light the fire for a sacrifice. We know that they tried all day to have their gods light the fire but were not successful. Elijah douses the sacrifice with fire, soaking it thoroughly all around then prays to God who consumes the sacrifice with fire including all the water around it. . The people of Israel who were watching fell on their faces and proclaimed the one true God is the one to be worshipped. Elijah orders the killing of all the prophets of Baal. As we start today’s story, Ahab has gone to tell Jezebel what has happened. (Read 1 Kings 19:1-15)
Choon-Ling Seow in the New Interpreter’s Bible has this to say about Elihah’s fleeing Jezebel: “The story is blatantly honest about the humanity of God’s servants. Even the prophet who has experienced God’s providence and power has his moments of darkness.” Elijah has been blessed with much success, but at the sign of a reversal of fortune, he is ready to quit. In this tory we find all the signs of ministerial burnout. Those who are psychologically inclined might point out that Elijah manifests all the signs of depression. He appears to be totally worn out, fatiqued. This prophet who used to refer to himself as standing before the Lord seems to be sleeping a lot in this passage. He complains. He seems somewhat suicidal. He needs to be told to eat. His view of reality is distorted. He is quick to blame others for the situation in which he has found himself. He feels all alone. Given his attitude, one would expect a divine rebuke. There is not one, however. Instead there is a series of epiphanies. (appearances from God) Elijah is touched by a divine intermediary and, when he fails to get the point, the Lord speak to him a third time. Elijah’s perspective is strongly challenged, and a lesson is offered to him but in all of it he is never rebuked for showing weakness. Rather, Elijah is accepted as he is, depressed and all and called back to his ministry: “Go, return to your way!” God does not give up on him because he is burned out and depressed.
One of the most notable things about depression is that when one is depressed, life gets distorted. We see things through an overly focused lens. Like Elijah we begin to feel that we are the only ones who think the way we do. This type of thinking reinforces our depression. Elijah knows there are other prophets left that Obadiah has hidden in a cave, yet he responds to God, “I alone am left.” I have found that as a pastor it is easy to isolate oneself and believe that I am the only one who thinks like I do. I used to attend Wednesday morning meetings with area Methodist ministers at Bob Evans, sometimes only 5 and other times up to 20. Our discussions were lively. We laughed a lot and shared a lot. But I found myself not agreeing on some theological issues. My opinion seemed to be the minority opinion. I had this habit of finding the exception to the rules. After a while of listening to opinions I found difficult to accept, I began to doubt my thinking and felt somewhat separated from my colleagues. Oh I liked them as companions along the way, but a distance began to assert itself. I even began to challenge my own call to ministry. A form of depression began to settle in. Like Elijah, I began to have this “I alone am left” complex. 
But things changed when a young man came to my office to talk about an issue that had arisen in his life. He was somewhat agitated when he arrived. He didn’t waste any time but blurted out right away that he had committed the unpardonable sin. He continued that in a fit of rage, he had blasphemed against the Spirit of God, denying that God existed and that he would no longer obey him. This young man was so consumed by what he had done, so sure that he was doomed that he could not see his emerging repentance. He could only recite those passages of scripture that dealt with the unpardonable sin. He was quite capable of listing all the ways he had denied God in the past and believed that his future lay in Hell. His thinking had become distorted. What he could not think about was the loving, forgiven God that had called him to a life of faith in the first place. This God of his had become only a God of vengeance and the young man was sinking into the depths of depression. He felt worthless, evil, sinful and hopeless. In all of his raging he could not hear the voice of God calling him back. After a time of raging, when that rage seemed to be spent, when he sat in the silence of deep despair, in the silence of depleted emotion, he heard the words he needed to hear. “You cannot be denying God now, if you are able to name the sin and be so upset about it. Perhaps a person who commits the “unpardonable sin” is one who denies God and doesn’t care about it.” It was only then, in the silence that he could begin to hear God’s voice of forgiveness and love and the words, “Go, return on your way!”
It is easy for us to fear that God has abandoned us, especially when our prayers seem to go unanswered, especially when God seems to be silent in the midst of our storms. Elijah learned that the answer to his problem with Jezebel would not be worked out in a fiery, spectacular display of God’s power, but in the quiet march of time, in the quieter working out of the divine will in the process of people leading ordinary lives. Jezebel will be killed during the anointing of Elijah’s successor. Elijah is called to have faith that God is working things out. He is called to continue his prophetic life, doing God’s work as he is directed. 
In the silence of a long isolated walk, I too heard the voice, “Go, return on your way!” It was OK to think differently about issues. It was OK to have a voice of my own to speak about God, as long as God was in it and able to use it. 
Depression distorts life! Faith brings new, more hopeful perspectives. God’s voice in the midst of depression comes in many unspectacular ways. It comes through the voice of a therapist, through an inspiring story that bends our thinking in a new direction, through the voice of an encouraging friend or the lift in life that the ending of long days of dark winter brings. It might come in the silence of a prayer or the crying out to God that happens when all hope seems gone. It might come over the course of a length of time when depression has finally spent its energy and there is nothing left but God.
Our trouble is that we feel bad about having been so depressed. We beat up on ourselves for having gotten so down in life, when we feel we should have had the faith to see us through. But depression is a powerful illness, robbing us of our capacity to see hope.. An important lesson of the Elijah story today is that God does not rebuke us when we have faltered in our faith. God just keeps trying to get us back on course. And when we are finally able to listen, God still does not rebuke us, but sets us back aright. God’s love and desire to have us back is more intense and powerful than the power of depression. God’s love overcomes what we may not be able to overcome ourselves. Do we think that Jesus didn’t get depressed when his disciples seemed not to get the message, when he felt deserted and “all alone” on the cross, when he felt and saw the overwhelming needs of those around him? If Jesus was fully human , then he too must have suffered some depression. But he was called back to his ministry time and time again. He found his strength and hope in his Father God, this same God who called Elijah back, who called Moses back, who called Peter back, who calls all of us back. The overcoming antidote to depression and depressive thoughts is the God who calls us back. A psalmist so eloquently says, “When all else fails, you still are God!” In that simple statement lies the true hope of the world.
When we become depressed about the ways of the world, the wars and tensions in the Middle East, the violence of society, fear of acts of terrorism, depletion of our natural resources, the high price of gas, the inequities of wealth, starving children and many other social issues of our times, God is still God, our prayers are heard and answered, not necessarily in the ways we might imagine, but in the course of history, of God working out the divine will. That is the hope I cling to in the face of adversity. Because God did a powerful act in Jesus, we have that hope with us always, even when we think we have failed. God calls us back!

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