Elijah as model of the evangelising church

Today in I Kings 19, we meet a very different Prophet Elijah then perhaps we are more familiar with – especially from the dramatic story that unfolds in the previous chapter when he single handedly takes on the 450 prophets of the false Caananite god Baal and defeats them. This does not please Queen Jezebel who sets out to destroy Elijah. He is so afraid of her and the warriors that she sends after him, that he flees for his life into the wilderness of the Negev Desert. It is here, lying under a tree that we find him in our reading.Unlike Jezebel, who sends out messengers of death, the Lord sends Elijah a messenger of life, who wakes Elijah and invites him to eat and drink. He responds by returning to his sleep – perhaps simply because that is his greatest need. Perhaps we should learn this first lesson – there are times in our life cycle and in the seasons of the church when we have fought hard and long and the battle has left us exhausted. Perhaps the best thing that we can do is indeed to sleep!

The messenger again comes to Elijah, and again invites him to eat and drink, but this time adding an explanation – ‘otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ Now Elijah has been strengthened by the food and drink that the Lord provides – just as we are invited to come regularly to the table of the Lord to be nourished by his word and especially by his body and blood in the Eucharist. Then Elijah is able to continue on his journey of Lenten purification through the wilderness to the mountain of the Lord (here called Horeb, but known also as Sinai) and thus the mountain of the covenant, where Israel was first called by the Lord as a people and nation into covenant relationship. It is on the side of that mountain, in a cave that Elijah experiences first a strong and mighty wind; then a powerful earthquake; then a blazing fire – but the Lord is not in any of these signs and wonders (which evoke the presence of the Lord on the mountain during the time of Moses in the book of Exodus) – but the Lord is in the gentle breeze and the sound of silence.

Finally, Elijah responds to the Lord, declaring that he has been filled with zealous zeal for the Lord, the God of hosts – but that it seems that he alone is left. Sometimes we can feel exactly like this – that we are the only ones who continue to battle for the Lord – particularly in the area of the New Evangelisation that the Proclaim 2012 conference this week began to explore within the Australian Church. Instead the Lord says to Elijah to return to his ministry of prophet, because he is not alone; there are seven thousand others who have not bowed their knees to Baal. When we feel alone in our work of proclaiming the name of the Lord, the Lord will say the same to us – we are not alone. There are thousands of others who also have a zeal for evangelisation and are working to proclaim the wonder and beauty of our God!

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Recorded at St Paul’s, Camden, 10am (9’26”)
Sunday 19B; I Kings 19:4-8; John 6:41-51

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