Pentecost 12B – August 12, 2018

Many of us have felt what Elijah felt out in the wilderness. “Things are going quickly from bad to worse and I am the only one left who cares!” That was Elijah’s weary response to God. It came after Elijah’s momentous victory over the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. Elijah not only won that contest, when it was over, he got to kill all his opponents as well. It doesn’t get any better than that in life. The psalmists even prayed for that. Any yet here he was moaning and groaning that he was the only loyal one left. Queen Jezebel was after his blood and Elijah was afraid. He was hiding in cave. God comforted him in that cave and asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
It was a fair question. After all it was God who had given Elijah the victory over Jezebel’s priests. It was God who consumed the fire the sacrifice that had been drenched in water. Elijah was God’s man, God’s ambassador, God’s champion. And here he was hiding in a cave. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” God asked. God could have asked, “Why are you not at the palace confronting Jezebel?” or “Why are you not in the marketplace telling all the people about the great victory that I gave you?’ or “Why are you not in the sanctuary offering up your praise?”
God did not say these things. But Elijah knew that God’s question, “What are you doing here?” was a rebuke. And he answered very defensively, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with a sword; and I, even I only am left, and they seek to take my life away.”
Have you ever felt like that? “I’m the only decent person left in the world. I am one of the 10 sane people left on this planet. Everyone else is going to pot. All the other kids in school have had sexual experiences. I’m the last 16-year old virgin in the U.S. Everybody’s had two or three husbands by now. I’m still with my first. Everybody’s out to get you. I’m the only one who is still trustworthy. There’s no use in trying to make your voice heard anymore. Today’s problems are too big and too complex. Besides, I’m the only one left who cares, and what can I do?” Stanley Greenberg, writing in the Sunday Review section of The New York Times, says the majority of the population in this country feels that way about our government now. “It’s out of control. What can I do?”
Have you ever felt like that? Let’s take a look at how we might deal with such feelings and get out of the debilitating doldrums.
First of all, it’s true. The world is in bad shape. I like the story of the shipwrecked sailor all alone on an island for several years. Then one day, he spied a ship on the horizon. He built a big bonfire to catch the crew’s attention. Soon the ship was dropping anchor off the little island and a small rescue boat was lowered into the water. One solitary crewman was in the rescue boat. He was carrying an armful of newspapers. “Read these,” he said to the sailor, “and decide whether you want to be rescued.”
Perhaps you would agree with Ogden Nash. “Progress,” he said “was once a very good idea; however, it was been going on far too long.”
As humorist Robert Orben says, “You have to question any period of history in which people are saying that God is dead and Elvis is alive.”
The world is in bad shape. But then it always has been; at least since homo sapiens have become the dominant species. For with humanity came lust and greed and resentment and malice. Our time is no better or no worse than any other time, because people are no better or worse.
This is not to say that we do not have some staggering problems. As the threat of nuclear war recedes, many thought that the world could give a sigh of relief. But no sooner is the cold war over, than terroristic violence skyrockets. Each little group has its own pet peeve and is willing to kill because of it. We would do well to remember the strife in Yugoslavia when we consider how the many ethnic groups in our our nation do or do not get along.
Then there are the environmental problems. There is an old story about three men in a boat, none of whom could swim. When they got out in the middle of the lake, one of them took out an auger and began boring a hole in the bottom of the boat. The other two shouted, “What are you doing?” “Mind your own business,” said the one with the auger. “I’m drilling this hole beneath my seat alone. It has nothing to do with you.” “But” shouted the other two men, “we are all in the same boat!”
It’s almost laughable that the U.S. has requested that Brazil stop cutting down its rainforests, while we permit loggers to cut down our own last reserves of virgin timber. And did you notice that nobody in our country was too concerned about the hole in the ozone layer so long as that hole was over the southern hemisphere? But when that hole developed in the northern hemisphere, we were suddenly much more alert to the dangers it posed.
Someone noted that fifty people showed up at a meeting to protest air pollution. After the meeting, they went home in 47 different cars. We need to remember that we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and that fact that it rains. Our planet is a delicate planet. Until people and nations everywhere are willing to pay the price of conservation, the problems of exploitation and abuse of the earth will remain.
And then there seems to be an overall decline in the general character of our adults. How does one even describe it, let alone remedy it? It seems to have started in 1888 when the Kodak Company came out with the first simple camera; a piece of equipment that everyone could use. They coined the slogan, “You press the button, and we do the rest.” Eliminated were the containers of chemicals, the heavy equipment, and the need for technical knowledge—things necessary up to that point for anyone who wanted to produce a photograph. Since that day we have seen invention after invention that performs difficult tasks for us at the push of a button. We have come to expect many tasks to be reduced to the simple and the effortless for us. And now we are in the “clicking society.”
I wonder if this attitude hasn’t bred a certain laziness; a certain unwillingness to struggle with some of the important things in life that will always be hard work. How do you build a solid marriage or raise well balanced children by clicking?
I can remember Pastor Guiser many years ago persuading me to preach at Trinity in Norristown on Good Friday by saying, “It was be your last chance to preach in the old church. Next year we’ll be in the new church in Fairview Village.” Five years later, they had just purchased the land. It took another five to build the new buildings. Clicking it was not!
Now all this would sound rather gloomy. And we could end up like Elijah hiding from the problems and challenges of life, hunkering down in a cave all alone. But God knew how to handle Elijah. He said to Elijah, “Look, there are 7,000 people who have not worshiped Baal. They are good people, concerned people, and dedicated people. And they are waiting for you to lead them.” And to prove his point, he sent Elijah his disciple Elisha to assist with the work.
We are not alone! There are thousands and thousands of good people in our country and in our church that are making marriages work; that are raising wonderful children; that are running homes and businesses; that are working to protect the environment; who are trying to help the less fortunate. If they can do it, so can we.
One of the greatest challenges in life is to make a difference in whatever you undertake. People can make a difference. Look at Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. He organized our church in this country, bringing order out of chaos. Better yet, look at Elijah. He almost singlehandedly brought Israel from Baal back to God. Look at Jesus! He brought the whole world back to God. We can make a difference, if we are willing to put forth a genuine effort.
So the world is in bad shape. It always has been since people have been the dominate species. We have some specific enormous problems to deal with. But we are not alone. There are many others who also care and are willing to work. Don’t hide in a cave. Use your life to make a difference. Amen.