On Meeting God Unexpectedly

Preacher: Nathan Hosler

Scripture: 1 Kings 19:8-19, Matthew 14:22-33, Romans 10:5:15

The prophet Elijah met God.

Being a prophet, Elijah was causing some trouble. More accurately, he was pointing out to the people and the regime where there already was trouble—and he was doing this on God’s behalf. He was calling people to repentance.

Earlier we see him struggling along with the people to deal with a famine that he announced as punishment for the people’s disobedience. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel have a man killed in order to get his vineyard. Today we entered the ongoing conflict between Elijah and the royal family. In the passage we read we join the drama in the second or third act. Something has happened and Elijah must flee for his life.

If we back up a little, we will see a confrontation with the prophets of Baal. A contest was set up to prove which God was more powerful. The arena for this contest was an altar with an offering but no fire. The God that brought fire to burn the offering would be considered the true God. The prophets of Baal start imploring and then dancing and cutting themselves to no avail. Then Elijah comes, prays, and fire comes from the sky consuming the offering and even the water that Elijah had had poured over the alter to make his point. A big God doing a big and dramatic thing.

The people believe and Elijah has the prophets killed. Other than the killing part this is quite effective preaching.

As a result of the people’s belief the drought breaks and the rain comes—Elijah tells Ahab, the king, to get home before he gets caught in the storm and then outruns Ahab in his chariot as the rain comes. In continuation of the spiral violence—in which violence brings more violence– Jezebel vows to kill Elijah.

Elijah flees a day’s journey into the desert and sits under a solitary broom tree—“He asked that he might die saying, “ It is enough; no, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors” Then he lay down under this tree and fell asleep. After much dutiful and energetic the prophetic ministry, he sinks low—what looks like discouragement or depression.

Suddenly he is awoken by an angel, a messenger of God. There is a hot cake—baked on stone—and a jug of water. He is instructed to get up and eat. After this he promptly goes back to sleep.

A second time he is awoken and told to eat—“for the journey will be long.”

Elijah fled and then continues on. After such a definitive victory and one would expect Elijah to be jubilant. But instead there is dejection. He scored a big win for God and now feels abandoned. He is the only God-follower left. All others have turned away. God has left Elijah, a prophet, out to dry—or at least has been insufficiently supportive.

Arriving at “Horeb the mount of God” and going to sleep in a cave, the prophet is confronted by God, the text says “the word of the Lord.” God asks, “What are you doing?” I can’t read this without hearing a parent of a toddler—What are you doing here? Why are you sitting behind this chair?

Elijah—a prophet whose job it is to proclaim the word of the Lord—is called out of the cave to stand before and experience God’s presence. A powerful wind—one as strong as wind that carried our shade umbrella across our small yard the other week (I assume), so strong as to “split mountains” and break rocks sweeps through.

And then the earth rocked—shaken in its foundations! A great upheaval and convulsion.

And then a fire—coming up or coming down?! Or blazing across the mountain slopes with blistering heat.

But God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or in the fire.

And then sheer silence. One translations says a “gentle whisper.” Stillness. Sheer silence. What would seem to be the absence is actually the presence of God.

What would seem to be the absence is actually the presence of God.

With this the prophet arose, wrapped his face with his mantle, and went to the entrance of the cave.

The disciples, after a long day of ministry get battered by a storm on the lake. With little rest and little progress, they are tossed about. And Jesus comes to them. Jesus comes to them.

Peter got out of the boat and walked toward Jesus—in what could be described as a unusual show of faith. But then… “he noticed.” “He noticed the strong wind and became frightened.” The disciples had literally just been “battered” by the storm for most of the night. He was well aware of the storming. Despite the storm raging against and around them the coming of Jesus was so distracting, so enthralling that he forgot—the coming of Jesus caused him to focus to such an extent that the winds and waves were forgotten. They were rendered inconsequential.

Perhaps a month ago Ayuba had a regular refrain. If he was doing something and we tried to talk to him he would respond—“I’m focused on it. I’m focused on it.” Peter—was “focused on it.”

Jesus on the water and Elijah’s encounter are unexpected experiences of God. God shows up and changes the game. “I’m focused on it.” Elijah is brought into focus and then renewed.

Peter, at least for a time, is so overcome by the arrival of Jesus that he mounts up on to the raging water.

As ministers [all of us], how do we plan for the unexpected experience of God’s presence? While pastors may officially be tasked with this, this is the work of all of us. Since we affirm the “priesthood of all believers,” this is the work of the full community.

Perhaps it is less “how do we plan for the unexpected presence of God” than it is how do we “make room for” such encounters. How do we invite one another and others into experiencing God? While having agency is good and empowering, this also sounds a bit like another thing to put on the to do list or a moral obligation. While we do have the call to make room for others to experience God, we very well may be the ones in need of such an encounter.

I am in need of such an encounter.

Not only may we be discouraged or worn out, but we may even, like Elijah, be fleeing…actively avoiding. Or like the disciples tossed about on the raging seas—the raging seas of our own making or the world’s chaos. Perhaps we need a good word and the presence of God.

In Romans we read, “Blessed are the feet that bring good news”

14 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? 15 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

The God of peace is making all things new through the reconciling work of Jesus and the power of the Spirit. Go! Proclaiming and listening for good news.

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