1 Kings 19:1-15a
I wonder if you’ve ever read or seen the film of The Lord of the Rings? A friend of mine had never read the book and was taken by his wife to see the first film, and came away saying it had a funny ending, not knowing that it was the first part of a trilogy. It strikes me that The Lord of the Rings is a story that you either love or hate. I’m a philistine who found it crushingly boring as it just went on with journeys and battles interspersed ad nauseam.
I rather think that’s the situation poor old Elijah found himself in. By this point in his story, he’s probably suffering from both mental and physical exhaustion. He’s just fought a very long and tiring battle with the followers of Baal – he’s won the latest round with dramatic victory on Mount Carmel, but the battle’s very far from over. Yet, God provides miraculous help, and encourages Elijah twice before he makes his way to Sinai, and the nature of this encouragement is God reminding Elijah that he’s not alone in being true to God.
Elijah was trying to defend God against those who worshipped Baal, but I wonder if he was trying God’s patience. We know that God is really all that keen on fighting and killing and that kind of thing. Was Elijah making God persevere with him? Well, Elijah persevered in finding God. He looked in the wind, but God wasn’t there. He looked in the earthquake, but God wasn’t there. He looked in the fire, but God wasn’t there. Eventually he found God in the sound of sheer silence. Perseverance, in every way, was the story of Elijah’s life, and the end of the perseverance was the sound of sheer silence.
This same struggle with the faith is taken up by Paul in his experience with the Christians in Galatia, who need to learn that being Christians and being a church is a long term business, and not something they can pick up quickly. Patience and perseverance is needed. The Galatian Christians wanted to find short cuts to everything, and Paul was writing to them to tell them, in no uncertain terms, why and how they were quite wrong, and what they needed to change. One of the things Paul was telling them was that being a Christian’s a long and sometimes difficult journey, and there are no shortcuts in trying to follow Jesus.
And then in Luke’s gospel we meet Legion who wanted to be healed of his demons. Clearly he’d been possessed of these demons for a long time, and was so relieved to be free of them. As we heard he was so pleased with what Jesus had done for him that he wanted to stay with Jesus for ever. Perseverance was an understatement for Legion, who’d borne this terrible situation, trying to live a life, until Jesus set him free.
One way or another, I think there’s something about perseverance most of us can relate to in our readings today. Some people find themselves fighting long battles in life. Some people find themselves looking everywhere for God, and missing him in the sound of sheer silence. Some people try and take shortcuts that lead nowhere. Some people are trapped under heavy burdens for many years. Many people are persevering in one way or another on their journey through life.
What happened to the people in our readings was that their perseverance paid off. God found them, and they found God. The Galatian church survived and thrived, taking the long pathway to faith. Elijah eventually found God in the sound of sheer silence. Legion met Jesus, who freed him from his demons and gave him a new life. That reminds us that the liberation and the healing that Jesus offers is not always welcome, because it challenges the status quo, by offering new values and a new way of life. We can see this where the Galatians found their image of themselves questioned, and Elijah found his view of God questioned.
Yet, if we perseverance in whatever we must do, like Legion, like Elijah, we can meet God and discover his goodness for us. And when we endure our perseverance, when we eventually meet God, we can discover that as we have persevered in waiting for God, we can find that God has persevered in us – persevered in loving us, without condition for all time.
We respond by reading together, as a prayer, the words of the hymn “Father, hear the hear we prayer offer”