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“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God”— Ephesians 2:8, 9

Trinity 11, 2019

I Kings 19:9-18

Part I
There are those people whose lives seem to be perfect. The things they do; the words they say; the way the carry themselves all make those impressions. It can lead people to say of them: “He is a saint.” That is, he is a saint not in the sense that he has the righteousness of Jesus by faith, but that he has his own righteousness.

Those sorts of things could have been thought of Elijah. The things Elijah did, the words he said, the way he carried himself could have led some to think he was a saint – that he had his own righteousness. In order to keep things in the right perspective, we read this in Hebrews: “Elijah was a man just like us.” That is to say, Elijah was not perfect. He was a sinner who dealt with the same kinds of sins we all do – a sinner who needed the gracious forgiveness of sins as we all do. We get to see some of that in today’s text.

Part II
Today’s text follows on the heels of Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal. It was one man – Elijah, the prophet of the LORD God – against 450 false prophets of the idol Baal. Humanly speaking, the odds were stacked against Elijah. Yet God gave the win to Elijah. He did because Elijah was on God’s side. It was a glorious moment for Elijah.

As a result of God’s win over the dead god Baal, you can imagine that Elijah expected the king of Israel to get rid of Baal worship; and, to lead the people back to the LORD God. Any hopes he had were shattered. King Ahab’s pagan wife, Jezebel, was enraged. She threatened Elijah with his very life.

She did and Elijah feared for his life and fled. He fled some 300 miles into the desert. Along the way, he felt all alone and even despaired of life itself. Finally, he reached Mt Sinai and found a “safe place” in a cave on the side of the mountain. It was at this “safe place” that God “caught up” with Elijah.

There God asked Elijah: “What are you doing here?” It is not as if God did not know the answer. He did. The question was meant to get Elijah to examine his despairing thoughts.

Elijah answered:

“[God] I have been very zealous for [You]; the children of Israel have forsaken [You]; and, I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

In other words, it seemed to Elijah that all his work had been for nothing. Nobody listened to his words. Nobody changed their evil ways. He felt defeated, burned out, ready to give up.

Put yourself in Elijah’s shoes. How might you or I have thought? “God, I gave my very best. I don’t see any results. Why haven’t you done anything about it? Why don’t you shake the people up; knock some sense into them? They deserve it!” In other words, we might have felt a bit of self-righteous pride.

Isn’t that what we feel when we look around us? We have been good churchgoers; have held to God’s word in its truth and purity; have suffered a loss on account of it – loss in family – loss in society. We have worked hard for the LORD; have given of our time; have given our income. We have – as much as possible – lived good lives; have held life sacred; have held marriage sacred.

We have, yet we see the masses going a different way; running downstream. With the masses running downstream, we can feel pretty alone; and, feeling pretty alone a bit of self-righteous pride: Why don’t they know better; why doesn’t God do something about it; why doesn’t God shake them up?

Part III
God took the opportunity to show Elijah what that would look like. He told Elijah to go and stand on the mountain before the LORD who would pass by. When he did pass by, gale force winds ripped rocks into pieces; an earthquake shook the very cave in which Elijah stood; the heat of a crackling fire quenched everything in its path. Each time we are told: “But the LORD was not in the fire; not in the quake; not in the wind.”

That is to say: the wind, the quake, the fire were all ways of shaking Elijah up – of scaring him. God’s point was this: God does not win people over to him by threats – by shaking them up. That only terrifies. God wins people over by his still small voice.

Luther got to the heart of the matter this way:

The Law is a hammer that crushes rocks, a fire, a wind, and a great and mighty earthquake that overturns mountains. When Elijah could not bear the terrors of the Law that were signified by these events, he wrapped his head in his mantle; and after the storm … was over, there came a still small voice in which the LORD was present.

God’s still small voice is a comforting voice. It is the voice of the gospel. It is the voice that says: “All have fallen short of the glory of God, but are justified freely by God’s grace in Christ Jesus.”

You and I are justified because Jesus was condemned in our place – for our self-righteous pride. The hammer of the Law fell on him like the mighty wind, the powerful earthquake, and the searing fire. That is to say, the hammer of the Law was hell. Jesus innocently suffered hell; and, in exchange, God does not give you and me self-righteous sinners what we do deserve – hell. Instead, God gives us what we do not deserve – heaven.
That is, God justifies us – declares us not guilty – on account of the blood of Jesus. That is grace; the gospel; God’s still small voice. That is the voice by which God wins you – that wins others to him.

Part IV
When Elijah heard that still small voice, it was comforting. When he heard that comforting voice, he stepped outside the cave. Then God spoke. God asked Elijah the same question: “What are you doing here?” Elijah gave the same answer:

“[God] I have been very zealous for [You]; the children of Israel have forsaken [You]; and, I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

Why repeat this question and answer? What is going on here? Well… put yourself in Elijah’s shoes again. The first time you answer it is with a tone that has a bit of self-righteous pride: “God, shake the people up! They deserve it!” After the threatening wind, quake, and fire, followed by the still small voice, your tone changes. Now you answer not with a tone of self-righteous pride, but with a tone of humility: “God, I feel so alone, so defeated, scared. What am I to do?”

God answered by sending Elijah back to his vocation as a prophet. Back in that vocation, God would send him to anoint kings. They would be his agents by which he would bring the hammer of the Law down on those who refused to turn from Baal back to him. But God would not be in them in the sense to win his people back. God would do that only through his still small voice.

God also gave Elijah comfort as he returned to his vocation. He told Elijah: “I have reserved 7,000 in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” That is to say, in his grace, God kept a remnant – a small portion – of the Israelite population. In other words, God’s still small voice had not been in vain.

That was true then as it is now. God still keeps a remnant. When I think of remnants, I think of sewing. Not long ago, people sewed. Some still do. Maybe you do. Either way, imagine you want to sew a shirt. You buy a few yards of cloth. Pieces are cut from that cloth to sew the shirt. Leftover pieces of that cloth are called, “remnants.”. Compared to the original few yards of cloth it does not seem like much. It is a fraction. That is what God compares the church to – a remnant.

Before we connect some dots, though, let’s think about that remnant from just a little different perspective. When you think about remnants, there are different sizes. Some are large enough that JOANN Fabrics might put them back on the sales floor. You can pick through them and find some you might use. Others are small enough that they get trashed.

The point is that sometimes God’s remnant is larger than at other times. If you go back a generation or two, God’s remnant did seem larger – at least in our country. More people out of ten attended church than they do now. There was a little more secure feeling when the remnant was larger. Now, fewer people out of ten attend church. That can lead us to feel less secure – more alone – forsaken – even trashed – as Elijah felt.

… but God does not treat his remnant that way. God will never abandon his church no matter how small the remnant may be. His remnant is precious to him. It has been bought with the blood of his dear Son. You are a part of that remnant, woven into it by the gracious waters of baptism.

Woven into God’s precious remnant, God will always be with his church as its members gather around his Word. That is his promise:

As the rains come down and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to me void. But it shall accomplish what I please and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

In other words, where God’s people gather around his word, God’s still small voice – the gospel – keeps his remnant. It does until he returns.

So we gather around God’s word; we hear His still small voice; his comforting words of grace. We join our hearts in the church’s liturgy, its song, and prayer. As we gather together, the apostle says: “We encourage one another – and even more as we see the Day approaching.” We need that encouragement more than ever. We do in a time and place where the remnant seems to get smaller and smaller.

Encouraged by one another and comforted by God’s still small voice, God sends us back into our vocations. He sends us back as parents and children, as workers and students – as friends and neighbors – to serve in the vocations he has given us – to see our neighbor not in a self-righteous way, but as sinners standing in the need of God’s grace just like we are – and, to speak of that grace when God opens the door. It is God’s grace alone – God’s grace that justifies you – that declares you not guilty of your sin and gives us heaven. Because of God’s still small voice, then, you go home justified. Amen!