"A Fresh Start" - Pentecost 12B
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
August 12, 2018 at 9:15 AM
Central Passage
1 Kings 19:1-8
Subject
Pentecost 12B
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: August 12, 2018 – Pentecost 12B

1 Kings 19:1-8; Ephesians 4:21-5:2

 

A Fresh Start

 

            One might think that Elijah would bask in his glory after his great victory over the prophets of Baal. You all remember the story. Elijah and Baal’s prophets have a contest at Mount Carmel in front of a large crowd. They each prepare a sacrifice, and whoever’s sacrifice is set on fire by that god is the real God. Baal’s prophets go first, and they implore him throughout the day to hear and answer them, to no avail. Finally, Elijah prepares his sacrifice, has attendants pour water over the wood and offering three times, and makes a simple prayer to God, which is promptly – and dramatically answered – with fire from heaven. It becomes clear that this contest was not just for show – there were deadly consequences for Baal’s prophets. And then, God sends rain for the first time in three years, ending a terrible drought and famine.

 

            Yes, Elijah should been able to take a moment to revel in his triumph. But Jezebel, the power behind the throne, has it in for Elijah, and swears to do to him what he did to Baal’s prophets. Out of fear, Elijah flees the northern kingdom of Israel, going all the way from Mount Carmel to Beersheba at Judah’s southern border. He is well beyond Jezebel’s grasp, but not beyond his own fear, exhaustion, and resignation.

 

            Elijah has had enough. Enough of the never-ending struggle with those in power. Enough of being God’s sole representative in a hostile land that should acknowledge God as their God to begin with. He is convinced that he doesn’t have the strength to keep going. He can’t lead the people back to the Lord on his own. Exhausted and miserable, Elijah asks God to just end things here. To just take his life and leave him alone. What more can God expect of him?

 

            Much, apparently. God is not done with Elijah yet. After Elijah gets some rest, God’s angel wakes him up and implores him to eat, after which, Elijah goes back to sleep. The angel wakes him up the second time, and speaks plainly. Eat, for you have a difficult journey ahead. On the sustenance of flatbread from God’s hand, Elijah makes the journey back to where Israel first encountered their God in all his terrifying majesty – Mount Horeb, also known as Sinai. It is there that his faith and his mission will be renewed. Elijah will get a fresh start.

 

            Haven’t we all wished for a fresh start sometimes? Usually we want a do-over after we make a poor choice. In Elijah’s case, it’s not that he makes a poor choice, but that his choices have a terrible consequence – Jezebel wants him dead. And he wants the responsibility of being God’s prophet removed from him. Whether we make bad choices or good choices with bad consequences, the result is the same. We want a fresh start. A new beginning. A do-over.

 

            Well, I am sorry to say that God doesn’t just erase our actions. Our lives are not like video games, where we can start over again with three lives or pick up at the last “save” point. (How often I’ve wished that life had a save button!) God didn’t do the same with Peter, after he denied Christ, or Paul, after he persecuted the church. What God did do was redeem those actions and bring them into the salvation history of the church. God does the same with Elijah. God doesn’t erase what Elijah has experienced. What God does is feed him. God gives him food for the journey to Horeb, where he will be given a fresh start.

 

            And that’s what God does for us every single day. Luther had much to say about how God does this in baptism. While baptism is done once in our lives, it has eternal consequences for us. Every day, as people marked with the seal of Christ, we are raised up from our death to sin and given a fresh start. In his discussion on baptism in the Large Catechism, Luther writes:

 

This act or ceremony consists of being dipped into the water, which covers us completely, and being drawn out again. These two parts, being dipped under the water and emerging from it, point to the power and effect of baptism, which is nothing else than the slaying of the old Adam and the resurrection of the new creature, both of which must continue in us our whole life long. Thus a Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, begun once and continuing ever after. For we must keep at it without ceasing, always purging whatever pertains to the old Adam, so that whatever belongs to the new creature may come forth.[1]

 

            Every day, Luther calls on us to remember that because of our baptism, on which he says, “God stakes all his honor, power, and might”[2]. The Christian life is all about fresh starts. About learning every day to “walk in love as Christ loved us”, as Ephesians tells us. That’s the whole point of all these virtue lists in Paul’s letters. They aren’t about imposing a new law in place of the old one. They are about showing us what “walking in love” looks like. They are about showing us what living as a new person clothed in the Spirit looks like. The renewed human being will be inclined to truth-telling. To anger without sin. To building up the community of faith rather than looking simply to oneself. Yes, as Luther pointed out, the old Adam is a “strong swimmer”, and we will fall back into sin every day. But that is also precisely why we need to remember that we are baptized every day. Because when we remember that we are baptized, we remember that God’s seal is on us. God has claimed us as his child, and nothing can take that away.

 

            There will be times we feel lonely or in despair, like Elijah. But God is also always working within and beside us to renew our faith in the remembrance of baptism, in the holy meal, and in the hearing of his Word. God is always ready to give us a fresh start.

 

            Let us pray.

 

            Help us, Lord, to remember that you have washed us from our sin, and that you have claimed us as your own. As we remember that we are baptized, help us realize that it is in these physical means of grace that you give us a fresh start and food for the journey. Amen.

 

© 2018, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given

 

 

[1] Kolb, R., Wengert, T. J., & Arand, C. P. (2000). The Book of Concord: the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (pp. 464–465). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

[2] Ibid., p. 459