Forsaking the Covenant
3rd Sunday after Pentecost – C (Proper 8) LSB #’s 913, 754, 575
Text – 1 Kings 19:10b
For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, & killed your prophets with the sword, & I, even I only, am left, & they seek my life, to take it away.
FORSAKING THE COVENANT
Do you intend to hear the Word of God & receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, & in faith, word & deed to remain true to God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, even to death? Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession & Church & to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?
Those are the words of a covenant sworn to by millions, upon millions, of Lutherans over the past several centuries. That’s just in our own denomination. Yet the number of our fellow members in the body of Christ that skip weekly services continues to grow. Being in the house of God isn’t that important to their way of thinking.
It’s a situation that faithful members of God’s kingdom today lament on a regular basis. The OT reading tells us that it’s nothing new. Even the great prophet Elijah had to deal with members who were not only forsaking the covenant, but killing prophets with the sword. Rather than suffer through the despair, Elijah wanted God to take him to heaven.
Elijah’s problem is the same one all of us deal with – we want to see results for all the time & effort we put in. Not seeing any, he felt alone, helpless & broken. In our terminology, he was suffering from depression, but God does not write out a prescription for Prozac. Rather, He comforts Elijah with His presence. He reconnects His prophet to the Vine.
But 1st, Yahweh shows Elijah results. A great & strong wind tore the mountains & broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord. After the wind an earthquake. After the earthquake a fire. Now there’s some power. Maybe it’ll put the fear of God into the people. Can you remember the last time you threw a temper tantrum? Our sinful nature loves that feeling of power as objects, or feelings, or relationships are destroyed while our anger is being vented upon others. Then, we see results. Isn’t it interesting to note that our concept of power in those circumstances never builds things up? Rather, it always tears things down.
Instead of coming to him in power & glory & might, Yahweh comes to Elijah in the sound of a whisper. Well how’s that going to drive the devil away? Lord, we need some explosions here! In the Gospel reading Jesus was in a situation similar to Elijah & His disciples ask if He wants them to call down fire from heaven to consume His enemies!
Maybe Elijah was thinking the same, given that God 1st sent the wind, the earthquake & the fire. But the Lord was not in any of those three:
“And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak & went out & stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him & said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:12b-13 ESV)
Has that question ever been directed to you? In the midst of a particularly dull & boring sermon haven’t you asked yourself that question? Have you considered all the time & effort you have put into being in church, serving on committees, & sitting through meetings, & then thought to yourself, “Why don’t I see results?”
It’s much easier to get down into the pit then to struggle out of it. What’s going to happen to this congregation? What are its prospects for the future? Jezebel & Ahab & Baal, they’re posting spectacular victories. What are we doing here? What is God doing – here? Satan is the master of working unbelief. Only Yahweh is able to overcome unbelief.
Yet He prefers to do that, not with thunder & lightning, but with the still small voice of a dark stall in Bethlehem, & with a bloody cross on a lonely hill at Golgotha. Think about the times in your life when God’s Spirit has touched you most deeply. Hasn’t it been in the quiet moments of some struggle, or during a time of suffering? Maybe it was a silent moment of discovery as you’re by yourself reading the Holy Word of God.
Maybe it’s a moment on your knees at the communion rail as you ponder the real presence of Jesus in the bread & wine – given for you for the remission of your sins. All those times that you yourself have forsaken the covenant, yet Jesus invites you back – quietly, gently & with a love that carried Him to the cross to breathe His last breath for you.
Instead of a way out of our struggles & our suffering & our sins, Yahweh sends the 2nd person of the Holy Trinity to take on human flesh so He can suffer & struggle with us, carrying our sins for us. In our weakness, & in our sinfulness, we look for a way out. In the extreme of that, more & more governments are allowing assisted suicide as a way out.
In the OT reading, God does not give Elijah a way out. Instead, He strengthens him & sends him back in: “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.” (19:15 ESV) Instead of a way out, the Book of Hebrews tells us that Yahweh provides a way through our suffering, struggles & sin:
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new & living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, & since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience & our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love & good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, & all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (10:19-25 ESV)
As the Lord asked Elijah, so He asks you, “What are you doing here? Are you here to encourage one another, & all the more as you see the Day drawing near?” Are you here so the Lord can reconnect you to the Vine? Are you here that your Creator might overcome the unbelief that lives in your heart? You see, the New Covenant that our heavenly Father enacted through His Son Jesus Christ, is a one way covenant. There are still two parties, but one party, Jesus, does everything to fulfill the covenant, & we, the other party, receive all the benefits as His gift. We do not earn heaven by keeping the covenant. There’s nothing for us to keep, but since we’re already included in the covenant, we can lose heaven if we forsake Jesus.
With all the blessings & comforts of life that we have in this country, it’s easy to be seduced into thinking we can, & are able, to get through life without regular attendance in the house of God. With that thinking we are risking heaven itself. Our time here is, by God’s design, a foreshadowing of heaven.
During these moments & hours in the house of our Lord, He is God with us by His specific Word & instruction. Yahweh is here to set us free from sin, to grant us health & healing, to draw us in to the new creation.
As we wait for Christ’s triumphant return, we find all kinds of unfaithfulness & disobedience, even among those who identify with Jesus Christ & His Church. Should we give up? Should we think our lives don’t matter? Should we wonder what God is up to? No. He has matters well in hand.
His plan is unfolding in a way that may appear excruciatingly slow, but the heavenly Father is faithful. From God’s dealings with Elijah, we learn what this means – believe the promises of our Lord, especially in the face of threat & trouble. We are privileged to live out the vocations to which Yahweh has called us, & He has all things under His control. Amen.
Entrust your days & burdens to God’s most loving hand; He cares for you while ruling the sky, the sea, the land. For He who guides the tempests along their thunderous ways will find for you a pathway & guide you all your days. Our hands & feet, Lord, strengthen; with joy our spirits bless until we see the ending of all our life’s distress. And so throughout our lifetime keep us within Your care & at our end then bring us to heaven to praise You there. Amen. LSB 754:1, 6.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet