I Kings 19:1-14, Mark 4:35-41
August 29, 2010
Let’s face it. Too many people have a vision of God that is far too small. We talk about this from time to time. And that’s good! Because this is something we need to be reminded about constantly! We could spend a lifetime trying to comprehend the nature and the power of God. And perhaps we should. But when we add to that the difficulties, the pressures, the worries, and sometimes the general busyness of life that go on and on and on, it’s very easy for us to begin to doubt God’s power, isn’t it? It’s only natural to do so! And I think we need to be reminded of it – constantly!!
I think that’s one of the reasons for the Sabbath. I don’t need to tell you how few people take that time of rest as they should. But Sabbath was intended to be more than that. The commandment was “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” Sabbath was a time to devote to being in God’s presence. It was a time to think and to study and to know again his power and majesty. And when we fail to do that, we forget his power, don’t we?
The book of Deuteronomy is all about “remembering.” If you read that book, you’ll find there many reminders of the great works of God in the life of the people of Israel. You’ll even find a second reading of the Ten Commandments – the people’s covenant with God. Did you know there were two places in the Bible to find the Commandments? They’re found in Exodus, and in Deuteronomy. The one in Exodus was part of the story, and the one in Deuteronomy was about “remembering.” The people were not to forget their God, but they often did!
If you read through the psalms, time after time you’ll find the words, “Remember the deeds God has done!” “Remember his powerful hand and his outstretched arm!” The Psalms were great devotional studies to help the people – and us – to remember!
The other thing you’ll find in the psalms is a number of different descriptions of the power of God. Today’s reading is like that. This psalm describes the power and majesty of God in a way that is unmistakable! “O God you are very great! You are clothed with honor and majesty. You cover yourself with light as with a garment.” “You ride on the wings of the wind” “You make fire and flames your messengers” And I ask you, do we think of God in those terms? Maybe we should read the Psalms more often!
The problem is, that too many people in our world don’t want to think of God like that! In fact, they’d rather think just the opposite. They want to limit God. They want to diminish his influence in their lives as much as they can. They want to do the very minimum in their faith and in any kind of relationship they have with God, because they don’t want God “interfering” with their lives. And they’re uncomfortable with an “unlimited God.” So if God seems not to have the power in some people’s lives – like we talked about last week – it’s because they have limited that power.
So, like the Psalmist, and the Deuteronomist, I am having us remember the power and majesty of God! I want us to go from this place today with a greater vision of God’s power, and a greater desire to know him even better! So I’ve chosen these two readings which I believe are good for that!
First, comes this story from Kings. I love this story! Here, Elijah has just defeated the prophets of Baal in the great battle on Mount Carmel. He built his altar., just like they did, he laid the wood on it, and the bull for the sacrifice. Then he ridiculed the prophets of Baal, and caused them to “freak out.” Then he poured a huge amount of water all over everything, and he called down the fire of God, which descended and consumed everything! What an amazing scene that must have been! Then he pursued and slayed the prophets of Baal with the sword. And at the time of our reading, he has been threatened by Queen Jezebel for what he has done, and now he has fled for his life. Now, he’s on Mount Horeb, and he’s seeking the presence of God.
I think you know this story. He’s in a cleft in the mountainside, and he’s looking out. And first there was a mighty earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. Then there was a mighty wind, but God was not in the wind. Then there was a great fire, but God was not in the fire. Instead, God came in the still small voice. But! Elijah had every reason to expect for God to be in the earthquake, wind, and fire? Because that’s the kind of powerful God he knew!! That’s the kind of power Elijah had just recently seen! That’s the kind of power he had seen throughout his entire prophetic career!! And I hope we get a sense of that power as we read this story. I encourage you to take some time this week and read the story of the battle on the mountain! I encourage you to take some time to remember God’s power, and remember all that he has done!!
Now, fast forward several centuries. Jesus is with his disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. And suddenly, a storm arises. Now that’s bad news! Storms on that sea could come up quickly, and they could be quite violent! This one must have been pretty bad, because the disciples feared for their lives! “We are perishing!” they said. And I’m sure this is one place in the Bible where we fail to capture the full emotion of the moment when we read it! We think, “Oh, these guys are safe. After all, they’re with Jesus!” But that’s not the impression you get when you read this. We can’t imagine what this was like for them. This statement was not exaggeration! This was not hyperbole! They believed they were about to die!! And I don’t think we can ever get a mental image that comes anywhere close to the true picture of Jesus standing, and crying out to the storm, “Peace! Be still!!” And the wind and waves obey!!! No wonder the disciples say, “Who is this?” Can we even imagine?
Sometimes I think that if we could time travel back two-thousand years, and meet the real Jesus, we’d be astonished at what we saw! And if we set the dial on the “Way Back Machine” twice as far as that, and went back to the time of Moses and Elijah, we would be dumbfounded and amazed at the power of God!
Friends, at the very least, I think we need to read (and re-read!) these stories! We need to read them just like the people of Israel did, and our Jewish brothers and sisters still do! And we need to remember the power of God!! If we don’t, we will certainly forget, and we’ll always be limited in our relationship with him. Our relationship will be perfunctory and even polite, but there will be no power!
You know, there are people who treat God as though he is kept in a little box – like a very annoying camp song I learned last summer! I’d sing it for you, but it might run through your head the rest of the day! But the idea is that they keep Jesus in a little box, and when they need something, they take him out, and then they put him back in there, nice and safe! It’s a song that crosses over the “cutesy” line for me! But worse than that, it’s very misleading about the nature of God in the person of Jesus Christ!
I think it’s much more helpful to think of the image of Christ in the “Chronicles of Narnia” by C. S. Lewis. In that series, the Christ figure is portrayed as the great and powerful lion, Aslan. And when we first learn of him, it’s when one of the characters in the story is told about him. And that person says, “What? A lion? Is he safe?” And I love the answer. The Narnian says, “Of course he’s not safe, but he is good!”
Friends, we need to get out of the mode where we think of God in safe, comfortable, controllable terms! God is not controllable! Yes, he is loving, and compassionate, and gracious beyond our capacity to comprehend. But that doesn’t preclude him being infinite, all-powerful, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal! I started out today by saying that too many people’s “image of God” is too small. Well, by God’s very nature, I think it’s safe to say that all of our images of God are too small.
So let me encourage you to spend that lifetime trying to expand your image – though the real truth is far beyond our capacity to understand. Let me encourage you to try to know that the God that is ultimately “unknowable” – that is, he is beyond our capacity to know! And let us all try to comprehend the length and breadth and height and depth of his love, which is also infinite! For indeed, as far as the east is from the west, so great is his love and mercy toward us!
Eternal God, we are amazed that the Lord of all creation wants to know and be known by us. Forgive us when we limit our relationship with you, and when we feel we need to be in control of it all. Help us to know the infinite and limitless joy of life lived in your kingdom. Help us to know the peace which passes human understanding, even when we walk through the valley of shadow and confusion. Teach us to be people who rely on you. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.