- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2000

Excerpts from a sermon given yesterday by the Rev. Paul D. Opsahl at Community Lutheran Church in Sterling, Va.

A New Yorker cartoon once showed a bowling pin lying on a psychiatrist's couch. The caption said, "Why me?" Can you relate to that? In our lesson today [I Kings 19:4-18], our Old Testament hero Elijah certainly can.

He was a prophet for justice, and he stood up to anyone to defend the one true God. But he finally crossed the path of King Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, once too often. She had introduced the worship of the god Baal into the life of Israel, [and] it was her prophets that Elijah had demolished.

So she dispatched a messenger to tell Elijah that her god was humiliated, and she would kill him. Elijah was shook up and he ran. He ran to the wilderness and felt bad that he had run, given into the threats. No wonder he began to doubt his purpose for living. What's the use if everything you've stood for is taken away, and you are haunted by personal failure?

When we meet Elijah today, he is stumbling along and stops under a bush. He says, "God, I've had enough. I've got to die sometime. It might as well be now." As the spiritual says, "Sometimes I'm up, sometimes I'm down." In our down times, when we're on the road of disappointment, it can seem endless. Voices inside and outside criticize. Problems at work, problems at home. Family demands, rebellious kids, headaches and more headaches. Life isn't fair… .

Years ago, a man wrote about how he lost his wife, 4-year-old daughter and mother in a car accident. He received letters of sympathy, and many said, "Why you?" They said, "It's not fair. This tragedy is a terrible injustice."

Listen to what he wrote. "I began to be bothered by the assumption that I had a right to complete fairness." He may not have deserved to lose his family, but he wondered if he deserved such a blessing in the first place. He said, "I began to trust the graces from God that had come in the form of these three wonderful people."

The great French composer Chopin lived in misery, physically fragile and easily depressed. But out of that existence came some of the most joyful, loving music the world has ever known. Our "poor me" prophet Elijah finally sees that there is no life apart from God. No journey is taken without God. God knows us, loves us, cares for us, whether we are tuned in to God's presence or not.

We might think our own experiences and failures are too much for us. Well, they are not too much for God. Our prayers might have a ring of futility at times, but God turns them into life. God turned Elijah's death wish into a life of purpose. The God of Elijah, the God of Jesus, the God of yours and mine will never give in to death. Life is God's answer.

We know from "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" that Regis Philbin asks, "Is that your final answer?" God says, "Yes, the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus. That is my final answer." In our text, God's messenger chased Elijah, found him and said, "It's time to eat for the journey ahead. It's time to wake up and get on with it." …

Elijah isn't quite sure where his journey will take him, but he listens to the angel's words of encouragement. He knows that God does not want a sea of discouragement and failure to do him in. There are still places to go, things God has for him to do. Forty days later his journey leads him to the mountain of God, to Sinai. Whether in his victory over the priests of Baal, or in his fearful flight, he was heading in the direction of God.

This invites us to look at our lives as a journey toward God. There are messengers of God along the way, maybe angels, but also family, ministers, friends. Maybe this congregation. We have nothing else to offer except Christ, who says, "I am the bread of life." He sustains your life's journey. And yes, you can be messengers to someone you know.

Next week: a sermon by the Rev. Elden Moats at Temple Baptist Church in the District.

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