Title: Crisis of confidence in God?
Theme: Faith when terrified
Sermon date: 7th July
Reading: 1 Kings 18 v.1-16
Think back to a time when you were really afraid about something.
What reaction did it have on you, physically?
For example not able to think straight; feeling physically sick; not being able to express yourself.
How did it feel when the fear passed, and reassurance came?
Catch-up background to today's passage
Elijah appears in chapter 17, with no introduction; no explanation of who he is; no 'credentials'; no account of how God called him to be a prophet. This is unusual in the Bible. Equally unusual will be the end of his prophetic work, but that's for another day!
In 17. 1, he boldly told King Ahab that there would be a drought, for some years. This message came from the Lord the God of Israel. This was a 'throw down the gauntlet' challenge to King Ahab who had followed his wife, Jezebel, into worship of pagan deities, mainly Baal, or 'The Baal’s'. Baal was seen as the god of agriculture and rain. So this was the beginning of a show-down: the God of Israel is in control of rain, not Baal. And there will be a final proof of God's superiority, in the latter part of chapter 18.
We've followed Elijah as he has been taken to a safe place and fed for three years, through God's provision. During this time he has grown in faith and in confidence: At first he was the passive recipient of help, fed by birds; then he was led by God to initiate a conversation with a widow, and lead her into her role of feeding him and trusting God; and thirdly, he was active in the healing process of her very sick son. It's almost a sort of apprenticeship of ever-increasing roles.
And so now, in this passage, three years after the declaration of drought, God tells Elijah to “go and present yourself to Ahab; I will send rain on the earth”. God has demonstrated his control of rain for 3 years. And Elijah sets off to do so.
Please read together 1Kings 18 v. 1-15
This 'drama' is played out through the text in a classic pattern where only two people are in each scene. First there are Ahab and Obadiah. We are introduced to Obadiah:
Q.1 What sort of contradictions is he living with?
Q.2 What does Ahab want from him?
Q.3 How Obadiah might be feeling in this encounter with Ahab?
So far, only Elijah and we, the readers, know that God will send rain.
The scene changes to Obadiah and Elijah. In V.7 Recognition occurs! Elijah has obviously made a mark on this society, even though we don't have the details here.
Q.4 How would you describe Obadiah's reaction to meeting Elijah?
(Very respectful - my lord Elijah; almost worshipful; is there a hint of awe, or is it fear?)
In V.8 it says ‘Go tell your lord that Elijah is here’. -There is ambiguity as far as who is Obadiah's lord.
In V.9 -14 Obadiah's has rather frenzied and repetitive speech: He [Ahab] will kill me, because he'll come looking for you and you'll have 'done a runner' by the Holy Spirit!! I have been faithful to the Lord since my youth. Don't you know what I have done to save your fellow prophets? Is this all the thanks I get?
Q.5 Can you remember a time when you have remonstrated with God like this?
Why me? You have no idea what you're asking! After all I've done for you!
And underneath it all is the truth: I'm scared.
Q.6 What frightens you about?
being obedient to Him
the risks involved
The cost to your family etc.
Q.7 Where would you look to find the counter-balance to these fears?
(The Bible; examples of other Christians; your own history of service to God, and his care of you; the consolation and comfort of Christian friends who know what you're going through.)
In V. 15-16 Elijah swears an oath
Elijah promises to show himself to Ahab that day, and not run away and hide. It seems to be enough to give Obadiah confidence and he goes to meet Ahab, tell him about Elijah and where he can be found; and Ahab sets off to meet him. The third scene with two players, Elijah and Ahab, is for next time.
As you close
Think of people like Obadiah who are caught in ambiguous relationships with good and evil. [Spies; undercover police officers; people in forbidden churches in oppressive regimes; someone you might know living with domestic violence, etc.] Recognise the confusion and frenzy of their speech as they recount their story. Hear the fear and pain. Recognise their courage in doing right, even under dangerous circumstances.
Pray for yourselves in such situations. Ask for clear-thinking as well as courage.
Pray for leaders who are trying to bring good practices into their societies.
Pray for freedom to worship to continue in our country, and come to all other people who long for the freedom to worship openly.
E. Christine Bailey
Christine Bailey, 25/06/2019