1 Kings 19:9-18
…and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When 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?’
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him [Peter], saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshipped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’
When Ahab saw Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” He answered, “I have not troubled Israel; but you have, and your father’s house, because you have forsaken the commandments of the Lord and followed the Baals. Now therefore have all Israel assemble for me at Mount Carmel, with the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
And, of course, the assembly took place and Elijah bested (ok, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel bested) the prophets of Baal; then he put them all to the sword. When Jezebel found out she printed up “Wanted” posters and put a price on Elijah’s head. He headed for the hills in order to save his life.
God caught up with him. “What the heck are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah pays the “ain’t it awful martyr card” –“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.” God was not impressed, “You’ve got a word to bring, kings and prophets to anoint. Get on with it.”
Has the church lost its prophetic voice? How about the prophetic voice of its preachers and congregations? I think that at times during my ministry my prophetic voice was a pretty pathetic voice; a case of prophetic laryngitis. Why didn’t I say something? Why was I hiding in my cave? I rationalize and justify by saying that I was keeping the congregational peace or being sensitive to the diverse opinions of others, but the truth is that I don’t like conflict and I like people to like me. The truth is that most of the time I was really trying to save my life – and my paycheck.
I suppose that the prophetic voice of the church began to wane when it crawled in bed with the empire. When you go from being a Jewish sect, to a banned “mystery religion”, to an accepted religion, to the official unifying religion of an empire it becomes difficult to speak a word to the powers that be because you have become too close to and dependent upon the powers that be. And all that may change if you become prophetic again. To channel Dr. Phil, “So that prophetic calling…. How’s that working out for you?”
The “safe” thing to do is to take the entire business of “salvation” (wait until we get to Romans; see below) and project it out of this world and into the next. The safe thing is to start drawing distinctions between physical and spiritual, body and soul, profane and sacred, temporal and eternal, political and religious. The safe thing is to begin to hear words like “My kingdom is not of this world” as “My kingdom has nothing to do with this world.”
But a kingdom, like disciples, can be very much “in” the world while not being “of” the world. “Politics” is not an ugly word nor need it be a partisan reality. It comes from the word polis; living together, city. Politics is the business of how we do life together. Should the church speak no word in the public square about doing life together?
Children fleeing across our boarders, Hamas attacking Israel, Israel attacking Gaza, Ukraine, human trafficking, immigration reform, care for creation…. What shall we say? Shall we say anything? Shall we at least have a conversation?
We are in that section, chapters 9-11, where Paul is addressing the unity of Jews and Christians. Chapters 1-8 was the unity of Jews and Gentiles; 12-16 the unity of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Bottom line: it’s all about a unity that has been created by God in and through Jesus Christ. (This almost reminds me of what Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together; that the church is not an “ideal reality” but a reality created in Christ. Pull out the book and reread Chapter One: Community. If you have never read Life Together, do so immediately!)
What strikes me about this is, while Paul is using what God has done through Christ to talk about unity between Jews and Gentiles, Christians and Jews, and Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians, his words often are used to create disunity. When he says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved”, what he is saying is that there is no distinction and the only thing that matters is Christ. But what people are wont to do is to begin asking, “Well, what about those that don’t call on the name of the Lord?” It is so easy to move from Paul’s “no distinctions” to “making distinctions”. We are bound to do it – as we in some way confess every week.
And then there’s the question of “Saved? From what?” I don’t think the issue for the Romans – or the first century church – was one of who’s going to heaven or not. I think that the language of salvation was much more “down to earth”; perhaps more akin to that cursed “liberation theology”; at least cursed and belittled when I was in seminary – which was a long time ago.
It’s when the church is no longer willing to push back against worldly forces that oppress, marginalize, and degrade… It’s when the church no longer dares be a refuge and provide shelter (Matthew 13:32)… It’s then that the whole salvation project gets projected out of this world and into the world to come. All God’s children got shoes; so went the African-American spiritual. And in heaven you can finally put them on; but in the meantime folks will not be saved from “going barefoot”!
A good read is Worlds Within A Congregation. It expresses “down to earth salvation” in Biblical and existential terms. (These worlds also exist outside the church and have profound ramifications for evangelism.) Now, I fully appreciate and believe what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. We should not proclaim a hope for this life alone. But let’s not jump to world to come quite so quickly. People should not have hope for this life alone, but neither should they be left to have hope for the next life alone! We are not in charge of – stewards of – the world to come. God left us in charge of this one.
This story seems to be a counterpoint to Matthew 8:23-27. In that story when Jesus calms the sea the disciples’ response is, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?” In this story when the wind ceases their response is, “Truly you are the Son of God.” They finally get it; which makes Peter’s confession at Caesarea Phillipi in Chapter 16 a bit anti-climactic.
“Short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun.” The fourth watch – the last watch of the night – is when the wierd stuff happens. Eyes have been straining at the dark and – just as at twilight – the indistinct light can play tricks.
They are scared. They think Jesus is a Φάντασμά; a phantom. He tells them who he is and that they shoud take courage and not be afraid. The Greek is interesting: Θαρσεῖτε, ἐγώ εἰμι: μὴ φοβεῖσθε. Note the ἐγώ εἰμι, which is the same as the “I am” sayings in John’s gospel.
Peter wants to go to Jesus and get out of the boat. There is something that will preach. Can we “get out of the boat” – out of the “nave” – and follow Jesus. Doing so is scary. “But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened…” Strong winds can be scary even when you are in the boat; even more so outside the gunnels. Beginning to sink, Peter cries out “Lord, save me!” (Κύριε, σῶσόν με!) And there we have a cognate of that word σῴζω, “to save” and σωτήριόν “salvation”.
The world and the lives of people are filled with wind and waves that bring fear. In Jesus’ name, how can we bring courage and hope amid their realities? In Jesus’ name, how can we save them?
“Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him…” God’s work. Our hand.
Grace and peace.
Pastor Don Carlson