He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.” 5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs. 9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
("What is Prayer?" courtesy of Those Crazy Liberals...and Conservatives
Most Sundays the drone of prayer can be heard echoing from churches around the US… (lifeless) “Our father – who art in heaven – hollowed be thy name – thy kingdom come…” Most of us feel comforted or peaceful when we pray it, but do you ever feel…challenged, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer? Because you should. The Lord’s Prayer, when prayed with real understanding, is a challenging prayer, a prayer that convicts us and a prayer that reassures us.
When you pray the Lord's prayer, do you feel like you are saying something radical, making claims that no person in their right mind would make – running against the grain? Because you should. I believe that that was not only how Jesus felt, but that that was his answer to the disciples when they asked, “Teach us HOW to pray,” - “when you pray, say something radical.” I believe those who heard Jesus’ teachings on prayer were uncomfortable with what he was saying. I believe they might have thought, “Well, I could never pray that...that...that’s crazy.”
We don't know much about how Jesus prayed. Good historical material about this aspect of his life is hard to find. In particular, we know that some of the prayers that we do have are the compositions of the author, not the words of Jesus.
What we do have, however, is a formalized fragment commonly known as The Lord's Prayer. The way it has survived the ages in Luke is most likely very close to what Jesus said.
So, it would seem an important question to ask – “What does it mean?” That is, the prayer is framed in words that refer to a model of the world to which many today can't relate. This prayer reflects the way most thought about God, people and nature long ago. How then do we make sense of it? How do we avoid the tendency to recite the prayer in such a mechanical way? How can it be understood within our contemporary landscape? When we pray, what are we to say? The actual request the disciples gave Jesus was not, “teach us what do we pray,” but rather, “teach us how do we pray.” Do you hear the subtle difference? They are not asking for a prescription of what to say, but rather a description of how to pray. They are not asking Jesus to prescribe for them the words of a prayer, but rather to describe for them what a prayer is to say.
What did Jesus answer? He said…”When you pray, say…”"Father."
Jesus used the word Abba, an Aramaic word meaning "Father" or more precisely, “Daddy.” In doing so he was saying first that we depend entirely upon the care of God. This was in stark contrast to conventional wisdom of his time which taught dependence upon nation, family, temple and financial security. Second, he was also making a point about religious perspective. Everyone around him knew that Yahweh, not Abba, was God's sacred name. It was a name suitable for a mighty, severe, distant God in heaven – a god that was so distant and so powerful, Jews were not even allowed to say "Yahweh" out loud.
Jesus chose to use Abba because he chose to assert that, no matter what appearances may indicate, all humans are valued by God in the same way that parents value their children. In a more traditional metaphorical language, he taught that God loves us.
We are to address God in terms of the love of family. At the same time, particularly in the age of Jesus, Father IS a term of authority – love AND authority, all at the same time. Today we see this duality of love and authority in fathers, mothers, step-parents, grandparents, guardians and many other close relationships.
Jesus was saying, challenge modern conventions. For him that meant maybe God is not so distant that the name of God cannot even be uttered. For him, not only could the name of God be uttered, but it could be described in the most personal of authoritative relationships – “daddy.” How do we translate that challenge to modern conventions, the new insight into God, into today’s world? We can recognize, God is too big to be contained by such a small human concept as “Abba” and yet loves us in a way that only those closest to us can.
When you pray say, “Holy Creator, giver and sustainer of life, the one that we love. The one who loved us first - the one whose name is above all names.”
When you pray, say…“Thy Kingdom come.”
AS we have just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the landing on the moon, I am reminded of James Erwin, who was one of the first few people to reach the moon. In an interview, he said that on the moon he prayed for the first time in his life. He looked up to the earth with all its beauty, he thought of his wife - somewhere on the earth; he thought he must return and put right an argument he had had with her; he thought of all the wars and hunger on the planet he was looking at… and then he said: "What is more important than man walking on the moon is that God should walk on earth."
Martin Luther writes in the Small Catechism, “God’s kingdom comes indeed without our praying for it, but we ask in this prayer that it may come also to us.” This does not mean we can become complacent, passive or apathetic. Instead, let us pray to be open to the various ways God might use us to bring God’s reign to this earth. That is radical. In people as ordinary as us, God might find a way to walk this earth and do something extraordinary.
Thy kingdom come. This is a proclamation of one of Jesus' most significant teachings. The realm of God is here, now, all around us on this earth. Not on Mt. Sinai, not in the "sweet bye and bye." God's great good place has come to earth. In this prayer, we are willingly opening ourselves to be the conduits through which God ushers it in.
When you pray say, “This world is not what it should be but it is ready to be what you desire it to be – to be what it oughta be. Let us be your hands, your feet, your face, your love to one another and to the world.”
When you pray, say… “Give us each day our daily bread.”
We know as a highly probable historical fact that Jesus, as an itinerant sage or preacher, sometimes lived off the generosity of others. At some points in his life, Jesus probably didn't know from day to day from where the next meal would come.
For most of us however, this petition to God has no real meaning, because it is the prayer of someone who is willing to live from hand to mouth on a day-by-day basis. We are not only unwilling to do that; we look with considerable disdain, or at least with pity, upon people who are willing or have no choice but to do that. In fact, one of our deepest commitments is to achieving a level of income and a stock of assets that will ensure that we will never be really dependent upon God or anybody else for our daily bread.
When the Israelites were destitute in the Sinai desert after their deliverance from Egypt, God provided “daily bread” in the form of “manna,” but they were prohibited by God from gathering more than was enough for one day, otherwise they might lose their deep sense of dependence upon God and of God’s dependability in meeting their needs. The danger of affluence, such as all of us here enjoy, is that it undermines, and even destroys, this deep sense of the dependability of and our dependence on God.
The reason it is hard for rich people, such as ourselves, to enter heaven is that committing to God means being able and willing to live day by day, depending upon God, and without inordinate concern for the future. It does not necessarily mean giving up what we have, although it might for some of us, but it does mean it is tremendously more difficult to truly depend on God when we are all so self-reliant. There are some of us here today who have discovered the wonderful liberation of living depending upon God. There are others of us who have not ... and who do not want to. Until we want to do that and are willing to do that, the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread,” is essentially meaningless. Now that is radical and very challenging.
When you pray say, “We commit ourselves to strive for what we really need and not for what we might need or should need or even don't need. Remove the things in our lives that undermine our sense of the dependability of and our dependence on You.”
When you pray, say…“Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone indebted to us.”
The Lord's Prayer in sign language translates this phrase, "We wrong, wrong, wrong, you forgive us. Other people wrong, wrong, wrong, hurt us, you help us forgive them." Now whatever word you use for transgression against your neighbor - debts, trespasses, sins, or wrong, wrong, wrong -I think the interesting thing about this phrase is the connection between forgiveness and forgiving.
Now, I don't think that God requires us to forgive others before God will forgive us. That would be a negation of the gift of grace, which is given freely given, no strings attached; God's forgiveness is not conditional. However, I do think that in order to be released from our own sense of guilt for wrongdoing, we need to let go of the anger, and the bitterness, and the blame that we hold toward others. The “radicalness” of this petition to God is in saying that we play a part in our own forgiveness. Note that I did not say we play a part in being forgiven – that comes only from God. We do, however, play a part in our forgiveness. If someone gives you a gift, you must accept it to complete the giftedness. It is no less a gift if you don’t accept it, but you must play a part in receiving the gift to complete the giving. Just as giving is not complete without receiving. Forgiving is not complete without receiving.
When you pray say, “As you gift us with forgiveness, help us forgive others and in doing so be ready to receive your forgiveness.”
When you pray, say…"May we not be severely tested."
Like Jesus, in his life and witness, it stirs things up - it is a radical prayer. It challenges us to live in God’s desires, not in the desires of the world or even in our own.
The way God does things is neither recognized nor followed by many in this troubled world. It's inevitable, then, that those who try to do things God's way might be perceived as enemies and face negative or even repressive pressures as a result. Running against the grain, as God asks us to do as disciples, may cause you to be severely tested. With the love of God, we can endure all things. With the help of God, the severity of worldly things can be lessened.
When you pray say, “We are your people and we seek your desires for ourselves and for the world in which we live. It will not be easy. Be with us in times of trials and sustain us in your love.”
When you pray say … something radical. If it makes people uncomfortable… well, you might be doing something right. Do not let the earthly existence you have now be enough. Do not let the relationship you have with God now be enough. Ask for something better. Ask for something that is more in line with God’s desires than the world’s desires. Ask for something that is more in line with God’s desires than YOUR desires.
When you pray say,
Holy Creator, giver and sustainer of life, the one that we love. The one who loved us first - the one whose name is above all names. This world is not what it should be but it is ready to be what you desire it to be. Let us be your hands, your feet, your face, your love to one another and to the world. We commit ourselves to strive for what we really need and not for what we might need or should need or even don't need. Remove the things in our lives that undermine our sense of the dependability of and our dependence on You. As you gift us with forgiveness, help us forgive others and in doing so be ready to receive your forgiveness. We are your people and we seek your desires for ourselves and for the world in which we live. It will not be easy. Be with us in times of trials and sustain us in your love. Amen
BONUS:New Lord’s Prayer from the Anglican Church of New ZealandEternal Spirit,
Earth-maker, Pain bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us. Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth! In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever.
A Palm\Passion Sunday Sermon
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 5“Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
15Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.19While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”24So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.”25Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
Celebrations! Joyous parades! Throngs of people clamoring to follow, willing to give anything for just one look. People lining the street with their cloaks, as if they were making way for a king. People waving branches and shouting, “Hosanna” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It is the picture of a moment in which we would all like to take part.
Desertion. Fear. Loneliness. Betrayal. Weeping. The most faithful followers being unable to stay awake and keep watch. Disciples willing to give anything just to get away. People crying, “Blasphemy” and “He deserves death!” I would venture to say this is the picture of a moment of which we would all like to stay clear. Had it happened to anyone else we might even say, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”
Contrasts. On this Sunday we celebrate the procession of palms with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and we also begin to look toward the passion of Jesus and the cruelty of the cross. What a difference a week can make! This week starts with celebration and will end with Jesus’ death. The stark realities of praise and desolation come crashing together on this day that we refer to as Palm Sunday. How did it happen – how did things go so quickly from celebration to death?
The week started with a joyful parade. Jesus was entering Jerusalem on a lowly donkey yet he was being hailed majestically. The crowds of people were growing. The excitement was building, the people were shouting, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Who were these people? None of the Gospel accounts tell us who they were. Perhaps most of them had heard Jesus teach about the coming of the kingdom of God. Some may have known Jesus since he was a child, knew his parents and brothers and sisters. Some may have been the family members of the disciples. Perhaps some were among the 5000 Jesus had fed with the loaves and fish. Some had been healed by Jesus – others had witnessed the healings. Some had seen him eating with prostitutes and tax collectors; others had opened their homes to give him and the disciples a place to stay. They loved him – they believed in him. “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
If someone were to read the passage on the procession with palms, and read nothing else, they might be left with the impression that Jesus went on to Jerusalem and established his kingship there, and reigned with power and might. Instead, we read in Matthew that immediately after Jesus entered Jerusalem he overturned the tables in the temple and drove out the moneychangers and all those who were selling and buying in the temple. Jesus claimed the authority of God, but it was not the kind of authority the people were looking for – it was not the kingship they were expecting. The crowds who cheered “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” would soon turn fickle – their exultation would not even last a week.
As the Passover approached, Jesus and his disciples shared their final meal together, and each one of them pledged their undying support for Jesus. The people closest to Jesus – his dearest friends, his companions, his flock – would not be able to keep their pledge for even one day. Before the night was over they would betray him – they would deny him – they would abandon him.
Contrasts – fellowship and abandonment - praise and derision. An intimate meal shared, where Jesus says – remember me - and a time of anguish and trial when even Peter “The Rock” says, “I do not know the man.”
Contrasts - Crowds who shout “Hosanna -Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”” as Jesus rides by on a donkey, and in less than a week crowds who spit and jeer as Jesus walks by carrying his cross.
We enter Holy week in a whirl of contrasts, wanting to embrace and celebrate the glory of the palms but being unable to forget the agony, the suffering and death that follow. We may be tempted to jump from the palms straight into the joyous resurrection of Easter without wallowing in all the murky stuff in between. But if we do, we follow in the footsteps of Peter, denying Jesus.
Jesus experienced a wide range of what it is to be human in just one week, from – cheers and elation to jeers and abandonment. In the passion Jesus experienced true humanity in its darkest moments of despair – moments when he must have felt emotional pain to the core of his being – fear, rejection, abandonment, loneliness – just as his body felt the very real pain of being flogged, stripped, spit on and nailed to a cross.
We all know Jesus overturned the tables in the temple. What we tend to loose sight of is how he overturned the meaning of words like king – ruler – power – and death. The crowds who hailed his entry into Jerusalem expected a king who would rule on earth – they might have believed Jesus was the Messiah, but they expected a Messiah who would rule with might. Jesus came riding a lowly donkey, a ruler who humbled himself like a servant. After his arrest the crowds tried to get Jesus to exalt himself, to call upon God to prove who he was – If you are the Son of God then save yourself – but Jesus humbled himself by dying in the most shameful way imaginable – death on a cross. Jesus overturned all our ideas about life and death by giving himself willingly to the cross so that he might be raised from the dead as the first fruits of the promise God has for all of Creation. He who was without sin took on our sin so that we might have new life. But for the grace of God, there go I.
As we enter Holy Week we seek to know Jesus, to answer the question the people of Jerusalem asked 2000 years ago – “Who is this man?” We seek Jesus, but now, as then, he is found in unexpected places. When we seek Jesus among the places of power and influence we will not find him. Jesus overturned all the old ideas about power and rule. Now, as then, when we seek Jesus we must look among the outsiders. You know the ones. When you see them you might even find yourself sympathetically saying, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”
Jesus will be found among the outcasts – in the company of prisoners, with the homeless, the sick, with prostitutes and sinners. Jesus can be found among the lonely, the grieving, among the neighbors we recognize and the neighbors who look and speak and act very different from us. We can reject those who are outcast and say, “I do not know what you are talking about – I do not know this man.” We can fail to see Jesus in the homeless man, the welfare mother, or the condemned criminal and say, “I do not know the man.” We can look them in the eyes saying all-the-while, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” Or we can do as Jesus instructed his disciples at their last meal together – we can remember.
Remember the Jesus who came to establish a new covenant and a new and improved way of being human (being humane) together. Remember the Jesus who died for us and for “THEM” so that we might all be brothers and sisters in God’s new kingdom. Remember, so that we might no longer simply say, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” Remember, so that we will say it the way the Jesus did, “There go I.” You see, we speak volumes about people who suffer in this world when we say, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” We speak volumes, not so much about them but, about our perspective of them.
Faced with a man blind form birth the disciples asked, “Whose sin made this man blind?” Jesus responds saying, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned.” But in saying, “But for the grace of God, there go I,” what are we saying about the other person? That God has no grace for them? Jesus will be found amongst the outcast. He did not say, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” Out of love for all, he simply said, “There go I.”
As they shout, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” may we be able to say, “There go I.” As they shout, “Crucify him,” may we also be able to say, “There go I.” Like passion week, our lives are full of contrast - celebration and death – fellowship and abandonment. Sometimes they will be shouting at us…sometimes they will be shouting at others. No longer will we say, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” In our remembering Jesus, our cry of love as we stand with them will simply be, “There go I.” “Blessed are they who come in the name of the Lord!”
1 Kings 19:9-15
9At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 11He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.
This is probably my favorite story in the Bible. The more time I spend with it the more I hear God speaking through it and each time there is a new wrinkle that wasn’t there before. For me, each new wrinkle is a reminder that God is a living God and that the Spirit speaks to us fresh and new every day.
We enter the story where, under a royal death sentence, Elijah has fled the northern kingdom of Israel and ultimately will find refuge at Mount Sinai. Now it would be great to be able to say the holy prophet Elijah sought out the holy ground of Sinai where his ancestors received the word of God. That’d be a great way of telling the story and of building up the piousness of Elijah, but that’s not even close to what happened. In this case Elijah is frustrated, mad and feeling a bit hopeless, so he does what any great man of God would do under such circumstances…he lays down under a tree and asks God to kill him.
It’s kind of pathetic when you stop to think about it. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going;” well it would seem that Elijah took the whole “get going” thing a little too literally. Elijah, the great prophet of God, sees things getting tough, see that all of his hard work and obedience to God isn’t paying off the way he wants it to so he runs away from his troubles, lies down under a tree, refuses to eat and hopes to die.
Fortunately, God has other plans and sends food for Elijah and has an angel tell him to go stand on Mount Sinai. Now with all that had gone wrong, as hopeless as he had felt, this ultimately should be good news. After being chased by a mob with no sign or help from God, Elijah clearly felt put out by God, forgotten by God, left behind by God, but then and angel of God appears (with food!, best kind of angel) and tells him to go to Sinai. The angel with food aside, the thought of Mount Sinai alone should have given him hope. It would have reminded him of a different image of God, a God who is not missing, absent, silent; but rather a God who is bold and very clearly present.
As Exodus 19 states:
Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and the smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. (Exodus 19:18-19)
On the mountain of Sinai, God was fully present and Elijah probably expected to encounter God in those three symbols from the Exodus story: wind, earthquake and fire. But quite the opposite happens to Elijah in his Sinai experience. In one of the Bible’s most surprising moments, the God of Creation, the God who destroyed the Tower of Babel, flooded the world and led Israel out of Egypt by a pillar of clouds by day and a pillar of fire by night – that God let the fire pass, let the hurricane pass, let the earthquake pass and then was revealed in a still, small voice – basically, in silence – God’s voice in a still silent voice, where you would least expect it. Certainly, it was where Elijah least expected it. He thought he'd find God on the mountain top in some grand form: wind, earthquake, fire; but rather, he found God in the simplest thing.
We rarely give ourselves the opportunity to experience God that way – in silence. We surround ourselves with noises. Whether it is the Musac of an elevator, so we don’t have to suffer the 30 second ride in silence, the constant drone of the TV, or the non-stop chatter of our own minds reminding us of what we need to do next, not to forget, or to worry about some more – while we don’t like to admit it, it is all there because we are, at least somewhat, afraid of the silence.
Our story today, if we look at it closely, might also suggest the we surround ourselves with noise not just because we fear the silence, but because, despite the fact that we say we long to hear God, we busy our lives and fill them with noise so that they are neither still nor silent - and if we are lucky we can go through life believing that we are following God’s call without ever really having to hear God truly speak to us.
There is a story that, I think, comes fairly close to conveying this discomfort with hearing God, or more specifically what God might say to us: Once, there was a tourist who wandered too close to the edge of the Grand Canyon. He lost his footing and plunged over the side, clawing and scratching to save himself from certain death in the chasm below. After he went out of sight and just before he fell headlong into empty air, he encountered a scrubby bush, which he grabbed desperately with both hands. The tourist was terrified. He called out to heaven. “Is anybody up there?”. A calm, powerful voice came out of the sky. “Yes, there is.”
“Well, who knew?” thought the tourist. “Can you help me? Can you help me?”
The calm voice replied, “Yes, I probably can. What’s the problem?” The tourist replied, “I fell over a cliff, and now I’m dangling here in space holding onto a bush that’s about to come out by the roots. Help!” The voice from above said, “I’ll try. Do you believe?” “Yes, yes,” said the tourist. “I believe!” “Do you have faith?” “Yes, yes! I have strong faith!” The voice, still aggravatingly calm, said “Well, in that case, just let loose of the bush and everything will turn out fine.” There was a tense pause. Then, the tourist yelled, “Is anybody else up there?”
Whether we realizes it or not, we live out the truth of that little tale. We frequently think we want to hear the voice of God... until - we actually hear the voice of God, hear what God is calling us to do. Frequently, what God wants us to do, what God is calling us to do, is not something that we want to do, is not something with which we are particularly comfortable. So we busy ourselves and our lives, in ways that make it difficult for us to actually hear God’s call.
Let’s go back to this story and considering what deeper, possibly hidden meaning, might God have waiting here for us? What new divine wrinkle might we find?
Looking closer at the story I realized that, contrary to popular belief and a slue of renaissance era paintings and etchings, Elijah was not “standing on the mountain” before God as God had told him to do, as God called him to do. The texts say that after the wind, the earthquake and the fire, and then finally the still, small voice of God, after all of that... now this is a quote, Elijah “wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.” Three things to notice here about Elijah. 1) Elijah was not standing on the mountain before God as God called him to do - Elijah was cowering in the perceived protection of a cave. 2) Even after hearing the voice of God, Elijah was only willing to risk it out to the entrance of the cave – in effect still in the cave or at least where he could get back to it quickly and 3) even after hearing God’s voice, recognizing it as God, he wraps his face up as if he could hide from God like Adam and Eve in the garden.
Elijah wants to trust in God, wants to follow God, but like the person hanging in the Grand Canon, his actions say, “Is there somebody else up there?”
God called to Elijah telling him to stand on the mountain, to face the challenges of the mountain by trusting in God and doing what he heard God calling him to do. Elijah hedged his bets. Oh, he climbed the mountain and he saw the fiery storms - but only through the opening of the cave. To that God responds, “What are you doing here?”
Like I said, there’s always a new divine wrinkle in this story for me and I’d like to conclude by offering a final lesson based on the new wrinkle. In divinity school we called this particular kind of lesson, preaching against the text - because the truth sometimes lies outside of what the text seems to be telling us.
I'm going to preach against the text a bit here. You see, I think God was in the fire, the wind and the earthquake. I mean...let’s face it, those three things didn’t occur naturally one right on top of the other. And, as we heard from Exodus, God has appeared in those three modes on this very mountain before.
I believe that God was in those three things, but Elijah simply didn’t see him in them because, instead of following God’s call, he was cowering in a cave. The same is true for us. All too often, our fears of where the call of God may lead us – to places we don’t really want to go – leave us calling out, “Is there anyone else up there?” Our inability to do what God asks, the relative safety we feel in hunkering down in the same old cave rather than following God to the mountain top, prevents us from seeing God in things and places we never thought possible.
All the while - all the while, God calls to us, just like with Elijah, “what are you doing here?” From our mountain tops of power in this world we rest protected from the harsh realities that pass us by. We rest in the perceived protection of our air-conditioned, carpeted, well insulated caves that we sometimes allow to separate us from the reality of the experiences God desires for us. From time to time we may click the remote to watch the majesty and tragedy of Creation through a small opening, but – like Elijah watching from the cave - we only catch glimpses of the grandeur of God and God’s creation. All the while - all the while, God is calling us to stand fully before God and - until we do - God will ask us, “What are you doing here?”
Have you opened yourself to the full possibilities of God? Have you trusted in God’s call to you enough to step out of the cave opening so that you can fully experience the Creation of which God has chosen to make you a part? When the fiery storms of life hit you and others, do you pack it in and settle for a screen sized vision of the reality of God’s Creation or do you step out on faith and experience life the way God desires it for you?
Vandalia Presbyterian Church, what are you doing here? Is this where God wants you to be? Does the life of this church, the worship experience at this church, really reflect God’s call in today’s world? Are you stepping out on faith and trusting in God? If you will, if you are, you will find God in places you could have never imagined.
As life constantly changes, as we peel back the layers of life we will discover God sometimes in the fiery storms and sometimes in the still small voice – but, if we can step out of our caves, if we can fully follow the call of God, what we can be assured of is that every time - every time we find God, it will be a fuller experience and we…we will find ourselves growing in ways that our caves could have never contained.