Elijah had taken matters into his own hands. We can presume that he was actually called by God to be a prophet, although we don’t get that exact story anywhere like we do with the prophet Isaiah and others. God doesn’t seem upset about Elijah’s impulse to speak the truth to power, the very evil and corrupt king Ahab who is introducing the worship of another God alongside Yahweh. What God isn’t too thrilled about is Elijah’s execution of such a call to speak for God. The problem, it seems, is that in his first attempt, Elijah doesn’t try to speak for God at all; he speaks instead for himself. He claims that it is his word, not the Lord’s word that will bring dew and rain to end the coming drought. You might say he’s feeling a too big for his britches.
Too keep him from causing further damage to the cause, God sends him to hide in the east. It had to be disconcerting for Elijah. Presumably it wasn’t what he thought his ministry would be like. He had jumped into this call to prophecy with both feet, doing what he thought he was meant to do, and now he was being sent in another direction. Everything was changing right before his very eyes. The landscape beneath his enthusiastic feet was completely different than he imagined it would be.
Even while Elijah went and did according to the word of the Lord (that same word he should have just waited for in the first place), I can’t imagine he went without some fear, some worry, at least some unsettled nerves about what the future would hold. Elijah had little idea about where he was going. In fact, all he really knew was that ravens would feed him while he was there. Not very promising news about what the future might hold. Wherever he was going, whatever he would be doing, it was going to be completely foreign. Life as he knew it, even if just for a little while, was going to be completely different.
Change happens. Sometimes it happens because we cause it. Sometimes it happens because of circumstances beyond our control. Many times it is a mix of the two, but the thing we can’t dispute or avoid is that change happens.
It happens when we are young and a parent gets a new job. We have to move to a new home, a new community, or a new school. It happens as we grow older and the time comes to move from our parents’ home - - to the workforce or to college or to a family of our own, all are huge changes in life. Anymore a new change young adults face is coming back home, one that can be difficult for both the adult child who wants desperately to make it on her own, but can’t, and the empty nest parent who thought he was ready for the next stage of life. Change continues to come throughout adulthood as relationships shift, careers go in unexpected directions, and death touches our lives.
Change, we have all seen, even comes in the church - -with no less anxiety, if not even more. In the lifetime of the membership of this church, even if your membership wasn’t always with this particular body, the church sure has changed. In the lifetime of members of this church, there was a time when I would not have been able to serve as your pastor. Women have only been ordained as ministers of the Word and sacrament in the Presbyterian Church since 1956.
Music has changed in the church - - many times. I imagine there are some people who can remember not the first guitar or drumset in a church, but the first piano in some sanctuaries. Or how about the shift, at least in the Presbyterian church, from the green hymnal to the red, then from the red to the blue, and now we’re looking at going from blue to purple or red (the color choice is yet to be made).
There were times when children were in worship, but should only be seen and not heard. There were times when children were sent out for Sunday School so as not to disturb what was going on. Now we’re in times when the whispers and even giggles and fidgets are celebrated because they are signs of God’s presence with and call to all ages to worship as one body in Christ.
The church building has changed. Church locations move. Pastors come and go. Sunday School curriculum shifts. Program ideas come and go. We may want to the church to be a place of stability, a constant in our life, but that stability and consistency don’t come by keeping the way we minister the same year after year after year.
Elijah was sent into the unknown. His context for ministry, the context of his faith was poised to change dramatically. He didn’t know what to expect. He didn’t know how it fit into his call to prophecy. He didn’t know how he would be received when he got there or afterward. Elijah faced big changes, and he had a big choice to make about how we would respond to what he faced. He could ignore the challenge and the change in front of him and abandon his call from God, or he could muster his courage and faith and commit to God’s vision for the future.
It’s not an easy thing to do, mustering courage and committing with faith. We human beings, we like to know what’s coming. We like to know what’s just around the corner. We like to be able to predict the future, speak with certainty, count on what brings us comfort. We like to know where we are going and what to expect when we get there. We like to know how long the journey will take and how much we will have to change to adjust once we arrive. In the church we want to know exactly what we’re pledging toward, what the money will pay for, what we will get, who will be served and how and what impact it will make in their lives.
But sometimes we just can’t know. Sometimes, like this year during our annual stewardship season, while we are in the midst of discerning how our church’s ministry and impact in the world is being transformed, we just can’t know. We are being sent by God in what will probably some new directions, but because of where we are in the midst of that discernment we just can’t know exactly what is happening next. That may be causing fear for some people. It may be causing some anxiety. Even for people who love change, like me, who find it exciting and invigorating and full of new possibility, there’s something a bit unsettling about not know what our work as a church will look like 6 or 9 months down the road.
But like Elijah we have to choose how we will respond to being sent into the unknown. Elijah chose courage and commitment. His choice wasn’t made completely blind, of course. He had the promise of God that even in the unknown his physical and spiritual needs would be met. They would be met in an unlikely way, by raven sent to feed him in the desert, but they would be met by the loving, compassionate, and transforming God. Even in the midst of great change and upheaval, even in the middle of the unknown, Elijah could count on the stability, consistency, and providence that comes from the presence, the love, and the grace of God.
In our own lives and in our congregation’s time of transformation we can count on the very same things. As we face unknowns about what shape our ministry will take in the coming months and years we can trust in the very same things – the constant presence, and love, and grace of God. We can trust that God is not leaving us and that we are not leaving God, because wherever we go in the unknown, God is with us. The team that is working with you has been VERY careful to discern the core spiritual needs of our church family - -what we believe, who we are, what we value, our core purpose of existence as Christians in the world and as people of faith in this very community. You can trust that these physical and spiritual needs of our part of the body of Christ are never far from their minds when they meet in discernment retreats. They are not conspiring to change who we are. They are working with God to try to understand how we can be our best self, how we can best follow the Spirit of God into the unknown.
What the team needs now, what God who is calling us to minister in a changing world needs now, is our courageous commitment to the future. What we are being called to do right now is make brave statements with our pledges and with our lives that we have faith in the promise of God to lead us into the unknown future. Next week we will dedicate our financial pledges to the ministry and purposes of God. This year maybe more than some others that dedication will be a significant act of faith; it will be a commitment to be a part of unknown blessings - - blessings we receive like Elijah being fed by ravens and strangers, and blessings we will carry just as Elijah carried the gift of life to the son of his hostess.
Take time this week as you consider a pledge to listen for how God is calling you to be a part of the unknown. Take time this week, if you have not yet filled out a pledge card, if you have NEVER filled out a pledge card, or even if you have already turned one in, to consider how your pledge is a step of faith, a courageous to commitment to the blessings God has in store for us and through us.
Take time this week to consider the unknowns you face in your life. Remember that God is with you in all of them. Remember that God will feed you and keep your life. Remember that God will put you to use to be an unexpected blessing to others wherever you go.
Like Elijah, can we follow God with courage and commitment? Can we walk by faith into God’s vision for tomorrow?