The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire



Sermon - August 12, 2018
Scripture Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-15      
Sermon Title: Discouraged?

The Rev. Robert Vodra


     Poor poor Elijah.  Things have not been going too well for him.  For much of the ancient history of Israel, there was a flip flopping of dedication.  King David was the mighty ruler of Israel, of the United Monarchy, when Israel and Judea were one nation.  King Solomon, his son, built the first temple or arranged for it to be built, in Jerusalem.  Nobody knows for sure, but the temple appears to have been huge.  Imagine the biggest church you can, then imagine a temple complex many times larger than that.  By the time Elijah comes along, only about 100 years after the temple was built, it appears that interest had shifted away from Yahweh, the one true God, our God, and onto idols, or at least dedication is split.  Elijah is talking about Yahweh, but the current king and queen also have prophets for their gods.  Elijah orders that the prophets of their gods must be killed, so the queen orders him killed.

     So Elijah, not wanting to be killed, heads out of town quickly.  Heís got nothing going for him, and nothing with him.  She wanted him killed in 24 hours, which is why he left quickly, probably half running into the wilderness.  And then he gives up.  He collapses into the shade of a tree and falls asleep.  And that could be the end of the story.  He did what he could, but when he had finished what he could safely accomplish, he went off and died.   Elijah must have been feeling discouraged.  He had a servant he left behind, before going into the wilderness.  If you had a servant, you probably had a house, maybe family, friends, possessions.  All gone now, just him alone to die.  He does not blame God, at least not that we hear about, but I imagine him as a man without hope. 

     But God is not done with him quite yet.  God does not shake him awake and tell him to get back to work.  God provides food and water; an angel brought it to him.  The angel wakes him up, he eats and drinks, and falls back asleep.  The second time the angel came, Elijah must have had a feast, as whatever he was fed that day keep him satisfied on the long journey he started.  40 days he walked, or a really long time, until he came to a cave. 

     When Elijah arrives at the cave, he hears Yahwehís voice.  ďElijah, what are you doing here?Ē  Well God, you see, the king and queen have killed all your prophets except me, and now they want to kill me.Ē  Actually God still had lots of prophets, but God does not correct him.  Elijah was correct in saying that his life was in danger.  Can it get any worse for Elijah?  He is talking to God, and still sounds like there is no hope, nothing left to live for.  I am not sure what the clinical definition of depression is, but pretty sure he is beyond that.  And notice God does not give any advice or false hope ďDonít worry, Elijah, I will protect you.Ē  God does not even offer that.  Sometimes when you are feeling really discouraged, maybe even depressed, you donít need someone offering to help you or offer you false hope, you just need someone to listen and understand.    

     And Elijah is faced with a decision.  It is not spelled out, but based on his situation, both physically and mentally, he has the choice to live in fear of being killed by the queen or live with hope in God.  Stay in the safety of the cave, paralyzed by fear, or trust in God.  You know, this was a long, long time ago, almost 3,000 years ago, but we still face the same question today. 

     At some point in the next few months I will be leaving Marlborough.  About 20 months ago I agreed to stay with you for 12-24 months more.  This would give you a chance to put together a profile, circulate it, and hopefully find a candidate.  The search committee has put together a profile, it has been circulating, and they have received profiles of people who might have some interest in coming to Marlborough.  And of course, I updated my profile and sent it out to some churches.  As of today, I have no idea where I will working be in 6 months.  This makes me nervous.  My choice is slightly different than Elijahís. Iím not faced with death, nor living in a cave for the rest of my life.

     I did sign a contract upon my arrival saying I would not apply for the called position, and I am going to hold to that contract, but not all ministerís do.  Some apply for the position, others just kind of stick around.  I recently heard about a local minister who retired after 11 years as an interim minister in a church.  Not leaving the cave may seem safe, change is hard, the unknown is hard. 

     Fear paralyzes people.  I have several friends who hate their jobs.  Openly, at least to me, they are desperate to get out.  But they can not leave.  They donít have any money saved, so they can not afford housing and food if they are out of work for very long.  Insurance is even bigger; many employers will give you health insurance after 6 months.  Yes, COBRA allows you to buy your own insurance for a few months after you leave one job, but it is expensive, and what if the next job falls through.  What happens if they donít like you during your probationary period?  And until recently, and maybe the rule is returning, what if you have a pre-existing condition or you have a child with special healthcare needs?  That fear keeps you in a job you hate because of the possibilities of what might happen if you leave. 

     So God tells Elijah to go stand outside the cave.  ďGo out and stand on the mountain, in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.Ē  Storm, earthquake, fire and silence occur.  Elijah does not see God in any of those. Of course Elijah was not standing on a mountain; he is still held up in the safety of the cave.  And then he hears a whisper ďElijah, what are you doing here?Ē

     How does God get Elijah out of the cave?  God gives Elijah hope - I want you to go and anoint a new King.  A King chosen by God, his God, our God. Things will be better for him.  It is not just a hope that things will be OK. God gives Elijah hope and a job to do.  God understands that one way to get over discouragement is to be busy. 

     Now I donít want to suggest that there are no legitimate fears or dangers in this world.  If you were to leave a job today, and are unable to find a new job, you could be in trouble.  If you decided not to have a medical procedure, that could have life changing consequences. 

     I think that fear, depression, lament and disappointment, are often closely related.  Often in the church you hear lament.  Many of you remember when the parking lot was full, you had to park over at the library.  There were so many kids all the classrooms were full.  Maybe you even had to arrive early at church to find a good seat.  That is not the case here anymore.  This is not just in Marlborough, but nationally we have fewer children, and fewer people attend church than did 10 years ago.  But that lament leads to fear.  What is going to happen in another 10 years or 20 years?  Fear is a safe place.  If everything stays exactly the same, maybe the children will come back. 

     Maybe God is asking us what we are doing here. 

     I think I need to pause here and issue a warning.  This is tough stuff.  I am not here to criticize anyone or anything, and I realize that there are sacred things all around I want to avoid bumping into.  I also clearly recognize the value in tradition and history.  So maybe when God is asking what we are doing here, maybe it is not an invitation to change everything, but maybe making some uncomfortable changes.  Maybe some are hesitant to change things because of those around them.  This family may leave if we do _____.  Maybe that is the fear that holds us back.

     Since I have used it as an example before, the 13th printing of the Pilgrim Hymnal, which we use, was published in 1966.  That was before I was born, or over 50 years ago.  It wanted to contain the hymns that were established in churches, nothing too new or modern.  If you look in the back at the index of authors and translators, most contain birth and death dates.  If they do not contain a death date, it is likely that they have died, donít know if anyone is still alive who was born in the 1800ís.  So it is safe to assume that none, or very few of the writers of the hymns we sing on Sunday morning are still alive.  It is certain that none of the hymns are under 50 years old. 

     Remembering that I like history and tradition, I still wonder why do we use a 50 year old hymnal?  We donít have the money?  Maybe.  We want the next minister to help in choosing the new hymnal?  Could have some value.  We like the hymns in there.  I am not suggesting disposing of them, I like some of them also, and they could always be taken out some Sundays or even printed on an insert.  Or is it fear?  We lament the past, and it is safe in our cave. 

     And it is not just about changing something in a church service, or even just about church.  We all have things in our lives we donít want to change.  My parents have two cars.  They just traded in the 1997, a 20 year old car for a newer used car at the urging of my sister and I.  They live in Connecticut; it snows.  They avoid it, but sometimes do have to travel in snow.  But fear, and some New England Thrifty blood mixed in, prevented them from replacing a car until it was an antique.  They have never had antilock brakes before.  Never had all wheel drive before.  This one has lots of buttons, and even a touch screen that can give you all sorts of information.  So mostly it sits in the garage and they drive around in their 16 year old car.  There is comfort in what you know, there is fear that keeps you from going into the unknown.

     What fear might be holding you back from something you need to do?  Or what lament, disappointment or depression might you be experiencing that is holding you back from what God is asking you to do?  God gave Elijah what he needed to get by when he arrived in the wilderness, let him sleep, gave him food to eat and water to drink.  Godís angels even directed him toward the cave where he would hear Godís whisper.  But first God listened.  God was not in the dramatic events, but quietly asked Elijah why he was there.  Knowing that there was more that Elijah must do, God sends him back, with hope and a job. 

     God gives us rest, gives us what we need, listens to us, and we listen for Godís whisper.  When Godís whisper says to us ďWhat are you doing here?Ē we choose how we react to that call.  We have Godís work to do, let our fear no longer hold us back.