This is the transcript of a sermon I preached at the Methodist Campground in Des Plaines, IL on Aug. 12, 2017 based on Matthew 14:22-33, 1 Kings 19:9-18.
After a rough day I would often come home and say, “A pity party for one, please!”
You know, a lot can happen at a pity party. Like I can eat or drink whatever I want. I can be silent or listen to music. I can set the place settings however I want. We all have pity parties. Elijah was having a pity party in today’s Old Testament passage and for a split second Peter was having a pity party too. In both passages, Elijah and Peter witnessed God’s power. Let’s look at Elijah.
“There he went into a cave and spent the night,” verse 9. Sounds like he found a location. The cave Elijah ended up at was not a random location, it was the very place where Moses encountered God, where Moses received the 10 Commandments. This isn’t any ordinary mountain or pity party location it is believed “The mountain is Ho-reb (v. 8)—probably synonymous with Mt. Sinai… (Exodus 19ff.) — and the place where the Lord protected Moses by covering him with his hand while the Lord’s glory passed by (Exodus 33:22).” https://www.sermonwriter.com/biblical-commentary/1-kings-191-21 Sometimes our pity party leads us to some place comforting and familiar.
In verse 10, we have the reason for his pity party, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”
This might be a good reason for a pity party. He has been on fire for the Lord. God showed up when he battles the Baal priests in the previous chapters. But still no one is listening….those Israelites will not turn from their wicked ways. He had expectation and things didn’t turn out the way he thought they should. We’ve all been there; when everything seems to be going wrong in our lives and we feel alone in our misery.
But what led him here? What leads us to reserve our pity party?
Pity party reservations just don’t happen overnight. If we go back a bit in this chapter we see that Elijah was being pursued by Jezebel because he killed all of her priests. He is being chased. But the cave isn’t his first stop. His previous stop was under a bush. Where the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and fed him. Where Elijah slept. Then he got up and headed to Mt. Horeb. Interestingly Mt. Sinai is only a 7 to 8 day walk from the bush where he was sleeping but the bible says that it took him forty days and forty nights. I wonder if Elijah realized that he did not get hungry during this journey. Did he realize that the food the Angel provided sustained him for 40 days? The bible doesn’t say why he takes the long way. But I can imagine Elijah wandering around the desert; kicking a rock, thinking about all the things that went wrong and all the things that God had done to show Himself to be the one true God and the Israelites still didn’t get it. He risked his life and killed the priests, now he was on the run and is all alone.
When making the reservation for your pity party think about what has lead you there:
In Elijah’s case he was overwhelmed. He was paralyzed by defeat and fear. He felt that the Israelites were ungrateful. He felt alone. https://bible.org/seriespage/15-crisis-elijah-1-kings-194-14.
The most interesting part of this passage is that God does not allow Elijah to stay in the safety of his pity party. God forced him to move on and not as a command but as a still small whisper reminding him he still had work to do. Imagine the sound of the wind, the sound of the rocks falling all around from the earthquake and the sound and smell of the fire. Yet Elijah only hears God in a whisper.
Can you hear God’s whisper among all of the noise around you? The demands of your life? Caring for your ailing parents, the campground flooding issues, the political climate in our state and our country? Can you hear God above the talking heads on TV? What is God whispering to you?
“What are you doing here?” God asks in a whisper for a third time. Elijah gives the same response. “The Israelites aren’t listening and I am alone in this fight.” God does not go into small talk with Elijah. He doesn’t try to explain anything. He does not rebuke him. He simply gave him instructions. What is God instructing you to do?
In the midst of our pity party we lose focus. Just like Elijah, we cannot hear or see that God is calling us. I’ve had my share of pity parties. Sometimes I know exactly what has led me there, I know the route and the scenery and the rock I kicked along the way. The first 3 years of my walk with Christ, I experienced significant loss. In 2000, just weeks after my adult baptism, my Aunt, my mom’s oldest sister was killed in a car accident. She was only 55 years old. I asked God, “Why?” The tragedy of 9/11 in 2001like so many of us, rocked my world and caused me to ask, “Where are you, God?” In 2002, my cousin, age of 32, died of a drug over dose, my grandfather passed away and a dear friend died suddenly at the age of 28 all within a month. So much senseless death. So many unanswered questions. My heart and my faith were shattered. I would go from being angry with God; to feeling guilty for being angry and my lack of faith.
I applied to Moody Bible Institute in the fall of 2002 and in August 2003. I went there with all the shards of my heart and faith; I wanted God to show me who he was and what a better place than Bible college…”Bible” after all was their middle name. I wanted to believe that he was real even if he didn’t answer my questions or my prayers for healing and protection or spare me and my family from these tragedies and pain. The Moody campus became my cave.
I was in over my head in so many ways, I was 11 years older than my classmates, I did not grow up in a Christian home; therefore many of the theological terms were foreign to me although many of my classmates were very familiar with many of the terms. I commuted an hour each way; every day. I listened for the voice of God in my bible classes, my theology classes….I learned so much but it was a lot of noise. My soul was still restless and I wasn’t focused.
Until I entered into my second semester of my freshman year. I had to take an English 102 course. In that class we read “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis. The book is Lewis’ private journal entries during the time after his wife died. Lewis was angry with God. He wrote that “Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.’ … Of course it’s easy enough to say that God seems absent at our greatest need because He is absent— non-existent. But then why does He seem so present when, to put it quite frankly, we don’t ask for Him?” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis, p. 6-7). I imagine that was what Elijah was thinking while in the cave. Why wasn’t God dealing with those Israelites? Why was God bothering him in the cave? I was thinking that in my cave, I was in danger of believing such dreadful things about God.
But God did not leave Elijah in the cave. He did not leave C.S. Lewis in the cave. He didn’t leave me in the cave. And he will not leave you in your cave. But we have to listen in the mist of the wind, earthquake and fire; we have to listen for the small whisper with our spirits. C.S. Lewis concluded that his wife knew him in his most rotten places; she knew him in his pity party and loved him anyway and the same was true of God, despite the ugliness of the world. Lewis said, “So can you. Rebuke, explain, mock, forgive. For this is one of the miracles of love; it gives—to both, but perhaps especially to the woman—a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted. To see, in some measure, like God. His love and His knowledge are not distinct from one another, nor from Him. We could almost say He sees because He loves, and therefore loves although He sees,” (A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis, p. 72).
Things will go wrong. We will have pity parties. God doesn’t always speak to us in a windstorm, in an earthquake or a fire. Sometimes He speaks to us, like he spoke Elijah in a whisper. God saw Elijah at his pity party and met him there in that cave. God saw me in my pity party; He met me in my English 102 class. God sees you. His love does not stop no matter how many rocks we kick along the way. His love comforts us in the still small whispers in our souls.