“after the fire, a sound of sheer silence.” 1 Kings 19:12
We had a wonderful week of Vacation Bible School and Afternoon Adventures with lots of children, an amazing staff of mostly teenagers and some adults, and of course, God was here too. My role was to be the story-teller. Since many of you didn’t get to go to Bible School, with my magical shawl, I will be transformed from Pastor into…
into the widow of Zarephath, which is why I wear a black shawl. My name is Leah, after the long-suffering first wife of our ancestor Jacob. I lived with my husband and my son Aaron in a beautiful beach town right on Mediterranean Sea called Zarephath. We had good life, but then my husband died unexpectedly and the drought began. I thought I could carry on, but there was no rain. No rain meant no grain growing in the fields, no food on the table. No rain meant no water to give the animals, who all died. No rain meant Aaron and I were always hungry and thirsty
One day I was out gathering sticks for a cooking fire. When a man approached me and asked for some water to drink and something to eat. I told him I only had a handful of flour left and a little bit of oil and that I planned to use it to make a last meal for my son and myself before we would die. The man said, “Don’t worry about a thing. Go ahead and prepare the meal, but first make a small biscuit for me.” Then the man said, “The jar of flour will not run out and the bottle of oil will not become empty before God sends rain on the land and ends the drought.” I hesitated, for I didn’t know if I could trust him, but then a still, small voice inside of me told, “Go ahead. Do this.” I did and had enough flour and oil until the finally rain came. Before the man left, my son became very sick and stopped breathing, and this man, now I knew his name, Elijah, healed him, restoring him to life. I said, “You are a holy man. When you speak, God speaks – a true word.”
A number of years went by before the Prophet Elijah visited again. By then Aaron was tall and strong. This time he didn’t have to ask for water or a biscuit, Aaron immediately brought him both. That evening after dinner Elijah shared with us happened since we had last seen him.
He began, “It was in the third year of the drought when God told me, ‘Go present yourself to King Ahab. I’m about to make it rain.’ When King Ahab saw me, he said, ‘He’s a trouble-maker.’ I replied, ‘You’re the one making the trouble. You abandoned God and have run after false gods, the Baals.’ After this, I challenged the people, saying, ‘How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him. If it’s Baal follow him. Make up your mind.’ Nobody responded. So, I proposed a contest – a Battle of the Prophets – may the best God win. Me, one prophet of God against 450 prophets of Baal. Two bulls – one for the 450 prophets, one for me. We both would prepare for a sacrifice and then call on our Gods to provide the fire. Well, I won’t go into the gory details, but the Baal prophets dance and dance around their altar, cry out, on and on for hours, they even cut themselves so that their blood flowed upon the altar. Nothing happened. No fire. No sacrifice. Then it was my turn, I built an altar, using twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Israel. Then I laid firewood on it and then the bull. After that I pour buckets of water all over everything, (it was like water day at Bible School only more water than that.) Then I prayed: ‘O God, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, make it known that you are God so that your people may turn back to you.’ And fire came down consuming the bull, the wood, the stones and even licked up the water. After the fire, there was rain, rain, rain. God won. Baal defeated. I was so excited and thought for sure King Ahab and Queen Jezebel would lead their people back to God.
Only they didn’t. When King Ahab told Queen Jezebel what happened, she sent a messenger to me saying, ‘By this time tomorrow you will be dead.’ I was devastated. What more could I do? What more could God expect of me? I was afraid and alone and I ran all the way to Beersheba. It was about hundred miles, but instead feeling better I felt worst.’
Elijah asked me, “Leah, have you ever done all that you can only to find out that it was not enough?” I told him I felt that way after my son and I shared our food with him and instead of being rewarded by God for our generosity, my son died and was only alive now because of him. Elijah continued, “Here I was the victorious prophet of Israel, but it didn’t matter. I was so depressed all I wanted to do was die. So, I laid down under this little bush and prayed to God, ‘I’ve had enough. Take my life. I’m ready for the grave.’ Exhausted, I fell asleep. I woke up when an angel, at least I think it was angel, shook me while saying, ‘Get up and eat.’ There was a loaf of bread and a jug of water next to me, so I did eat and drink. Leah, it reminded me of the biscuit you made for me and of the water your Aaron gave me the day I met you both. I fell back asleep and the angel shook me awake again and said, ‘Eat some more you have a long journey ahead of you.’ And on that food and on a tiny little bit of hope, I walked all the way to the mountain of God which some call Horeb and others call Sinai, the place where God gave Moses the 10 Commandment. It took 40 days and nights of walking and when I finally got there I crawled into a cave and went to sleep.” Take off shawl.
We’re going to stop here because I need help with the next part of the story. There are special effects – the first great wind, a category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 mph and some tornadoes spinning of it. So, we need center part of the congregation to swing their arms going whoosh, whoosh, louder and louder, while those on the edges, swing where arms over their heads in circles as if they the funnel clouds of tornadoes. Let try it. After the wind, we need an earthquake. You can do that by pounding your feet on the floor and banging on the pews with your hands. Quickly try it. After that fire. How does fire sound? Crackling, sputtering, snapping, roaring, blazing, popping, sizzling, the crisp “snip-snap-whoosh” of a terrible inferno. Some crackle, some snap, some roar. Everyone gets to help with all three of the sound effects. Put the shawl back on.
Elijah continued telling the story to me and Aaron saying, “I heard God asking me, ‘So, what are you doing here Elijah?’ I responded, ‘I’ve been working my heart out for you God. The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship and murdered your prophets. I alone am left and now they’re trying to kill me too.’ Honestly, Leah, I didn’t want to whine, but I was exhausted. If winning the battle of the prophets wasn’t good enough what would be good enough. I had nothing left. I was done.
Then God told me, ‘Go, stand on the mountain before God for God is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind…..so strong it ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks…. It felt as life itself was blowing away. But God was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake, shaking the earth, rumbling and shifting the ground, a seismic tremor quaking my very soul. But God was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake, a roaring, raging fire with unimaginable heat, like flames of hell broken lose. But God was not in the fire. And after the fire, a sound of sheer silence…………………… So quiet, I could hear my own heart-beat. A gentle whisper invited me to leave the protection of the cave, and pulling up cloak over my face, I went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. A soft voice asked, “So Elijah, now tell me, what are you doing here?” I answered with the same words as before, but now it sounded they completely different. The hurricane of fear I was carrying around became a gentle breeze. The earthquake which shifted foundations upon which I had built my life, was replaced by God’s steadfast and sure love and the firestorm of rage when the so-called people of God rebelled was doused in the waters of grace and forgiveness. So, though I said again, ‘I’ve been working my heart out for you God. The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, destroyed the places of worship and murdered your prophets. I alone am left and now they’re trying to kill me too.’ I knew that I was and would never be alone, that God was with me.”
Elijah continued, “Leah, the quiet voice then told me, a tired, depressed, worn-out prophet, that he had more for me to do. Leah, God trusted me. God said a new order is about to succeed the old and instructed me to anoint two new kings – Hazeal and Jehu. Ahab and Jezebel’s reign of terror was ending. Then, God said there was another prophet waiting in the wings, Elisha, whom I was anointed, to bless too. And that there were thousands of faithful ones ready and willing to follow God. Leah, that includes you and Aaron.”
When Elijah said that I remembered the still, small voice in my own heart that told me to share the bread and to offer a cup of water at a time when my son and I were about to die, but instead by grace, we lived. We lived. Remove the shawl.
Know, among the thousands of faithful ones are others, including you and me as well as the children, youth and adults who went to Mars and Beyond at Vacation Bible School last week. Ready for the adventure of living, growing and sharing God’s love through Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.