Today we are going to talk about the death of dreams, real uplifting huh? Sometimes dreams die with a whimper. My dream of playing college football died when I broke my leg. It was sad but I didn’t lose too much sleep over it. I shed some tears and moved on. Other dreams we hold much more intensely, when they die there are huge consequences for us. Usually these dreams involve the way we find meaning and purpose in our lives. For instance some of us have big dreams for our families. We dream about them going to college, getting a good job, raising their families and bringing their grandkids to visit and everyone sitting around table laughing and enjoying being with each other. Another dream might be of simply having kids and being parents, or owning a house, or getting married or growing old with your spouse together, or finding a spouse. A pastor might dream of having thousands come to Christ through his or her ministry, or being used by God to make sure their are no people sleeping on the street tonight. These are examples of big dreams, dreams that provide us meaning and purpose in our lives. Each of us probably has one. They provide the motivation needed to work two jobs, make double mortgage payments, drive a crappy old car, read to your kids every night before bed, even when the seahawks game is on, get up at 4 am, be away from your family 4 days a week... They motivate us. Help us make good choices. Help us be selfless. They are good loving and kind. Many are God given. They might even be in direct obedience to scripture. They aren’t wrong. They provide very concrete meaning and purpose. We all have them and we hold to them very tightly because of all they provide for us but sometimes… these dreams die…
This competitive nature seems to have continued into adulthood and into his life as a prophet. Shortly into his time as a prophet he looks around and sees idol worship everywhere. The people of Israel and especially the King and Queen themselves were worshiping Baal, a Canaanite God. Jezabaal, Israel’s queen at the time was named in honor of Baal. Her dad was a priest of Baal. Baal worship was horrible. Jeremiah describes Baal worship as including Human sacrifice. It also seems to have included self mutilation and various sexual practices. Because of the prevalence of Baal worship God brought a drought on the land as punishment. In a culture that depended on farming for its existence this drought was a death sentence. The people were angry. He had death threats and spent much of his life running for his life from Baal’s followers. They blamed him for the drought. While on the run a dream began to form in his head. What if, what if, this could change? What if I could get the people to worship the one true God again? Then I wouldn’t have to keep running. I could live in peace. I could have a family. I would eat well, I wouldn’t have to count on Ravens to bring me food. And my country, my people, would be blessed. The land would produce great crops. They would be the envy of everyone around them. Eventually it would be obvious to all the people around them that YHWH (that’s God’s personal name) was the only true God. So he has this vision for his life. It was a good vision. He has this dream of peace and prosperity and then he begins to dream about how he could pull it off. He thought, what would have to happen for the people to change who they worshipped? It seemed pretty obvious to him. YHWH would have to prove he was the only true God but how? What if he could get the prophets to agree to a contest that would pit their god with His God. He thinks YHWH would be up for it. He knew that YHWH was a jealous God and figured he would be eager to prove himself to his people. And he was pretty sure the arrogant prophets of Baal would be up for it. So Elijah comes up with a contest, A battle between 2 Gods for the hearts of the people of Israel. So the big day comes and as you all know from Carl’s sermon 2 weeks ago, it works!! YHWH shows up! Fire comes down from the sky when Elijah prays while no fire comes when the prophets of Baal pray. It is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that YHWH is the true God. And change happens almost Immediately. The people of Israel who witnessed this showdown chase the prophets of Baal down to the river and kill them, ridding Israel of this vile disease. He runs back up to Mt Carmel, the highest place around and looks towards the sea where he prays until a cloud appears… the drought is ending… surely more evidence for the people that YHWH is God and Baal is not. He thinks to himself its happening… The people really are going to change… They are going to worship God alone. I will be able to have a house and a family. I won’t have to run anymore. Ahab with change and so will he wife. So he runs down the mountain and catches up to Ahab who was riding in a chariot back home to tell his wife what had just happened on the mountain. He passes him and beats him there. Ahab arrives in the capital and goes straight into the palace to talk to his wife. He tells her about the contest and the fire and how YHWH had shown up. He also tells her about how Elijah had ordered the people to kill the prophets and how they had done so. Meanwhile Elijah is waiting outside the palace in anticipation. How is Jezabaal going to respond? Is his dream, the thing he has been hoping for, praying for, working for, going to be realized? After what seemed like hours, a messenger comes out of the palace. Elijah! Elijah! Anyone here names Elijah? I have a message for Elijah. Elijah walks towards him. He says matter of factly. I have a message for you from the Queen. This is what she told me to tell you. “I’m gonna kill you like you killed my prophets” Wait, what? How is this possible? This can’t be happening… Elijah thinks. He pauses. And then he runs… He runs for his life from Jezreel which is in the Northern part of Palistine to Beersheva which is towards the south, right on the edge of the desertl, a 120 miles away. The whole time he is running he is thinking. What’s just happened? How could this happen? She didn’t change? He didn’t change? Didn’t he see the fire? Didn’t he see coming rain? I mean she has an excuse, she didn’t see any of it, but he did!! In that moment he realized his dream was dead. The king aint changing, the queen aint changin, the people aren’t changing. So what the heck had he been doing these last years. Why had he risked his life by challenging the King and his gods? Why had he chosen to live off locust and honey and the kindness of a widow's? Why had he left his family and lived as a wanted man on the run from the royal police?
Why have I bothered to pray for the health of my family only, to have my daughter get sick? Why hasn’t God given me a husband? Why don’t I have a job I can support my family with? Why have I been working 2 jobs all these years? Why haven’t I been able to have a child? Why have I saved for my wife and I to travel after I retired only to have my wife die. Why did I bother looking for a Christian husband only to have him leave me with no money and 2 kids. The dream I had for my life is dead. Now what? How do I move on? How do I go on living? How do I move forward after this? A loss of dream can be just as life altering as the loss of a close friend, parent, or sibling. This is what Elijah experienced in this story. It explains how he could go from the Lush Mountain Top of Mt. Carmel, where God played along with the game he had set up and proved himself to everyone, to the desert of the Negev.
So he arrives at Beersheva after over 100 miles of running. The journey has pushed him deeper and deeper into despair and depression. He still can’t quite believe what has happened and he can’t shake the feeling that everything he has done with his life was somehow a waste. He is in a dark place. So he tells his poor servant, who managed to keep up with him on his ultramarathon from Jezreel to Beer Sheva, to stay in town while he goes for a walk. By himself. Into the desert. Without water. in 110 degree heat. For no reason. So off he goes. After a days journey he finds a small bush, and sits down under its shade. If its not clear to us already based Elijah’s actions, the writer of 1 kings makes it explicit, Elijah has gone into the desert to die. The pain of loss was so great his hatred of life outweighed his fear of death, So he cries out "I have had enough, LORD," "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." I have failed like the prophets before me and now I am gonna die in the desert before ever seeing the Promised Land like many of my ancestors. And he goes to sleep, hoping he never wakes up again, but God hears his cry. God sees his pain. God knows his loss. And God sends help. First he sends a messenger, an angel to wake him up. Just a side note, Can you imagine Elijah’s surprise? Did he think he was dreaming? Did he think he was dead? So he wakes up and gets his bearing and the man hands him some bread and water. Here eat, he says. Who was this guy and where did get this bread and water? I haven’t had bread this good since the widow’s house I stayed at. So he eats the bread and drinks the water. God saves him from his passive attempt at death. And Elijah falls asleep. Loss is exhausting. It’s depressing. Sometimes the thing we most need when we are going through loss is food and sleep and our friends sitting next to us in silence. We don’t need someone to tell us its gonna be ok, or tell us God is control, or ask us what we can learn from the situation. We need silence, and food, and rest and that’s what God gave Elijah.
So the next morning the Angel wakes him up again and gives him directions. Go to Mt. Horeb or what most people call Mt. Sinai, the food I gave you will keep you full until you arrive. This was a special place. Mt. Sinai was where God spoke. He spoke to Moses 3 times there, once through the burning bush and twice again when he was given the law. So Elijah traveled for 40 days. He was having his moment in the desert. He knew the story of his people. The story of Moses and how he had ran from Egypt through the desert after killing the Egyptian. How after 40 years God spoke with Moses on Mt. Horeb through the burning bush and called him to go back to lead his people. Coincidence? He was beginning to doubt it. Maybe God was going to do something yet with his life. So he arrives at Mt. Sinai and doesn’t know what to do. The angel didn’t tell him. So he does what Moses did, he goes and hides in a cave, behind a rock.
And waits. And sleeps. And instead of sending an angel this time God sends his word. Something mysterious that was a fairly common experience for Elijah. And God asks him a question… “Why are you here Elijah?” Elijah is honest with God he says, "I've been very passionate for the LORD God of heavenly forces because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I'm the only one left, and now they want to take my life too!" He feels the same way all of us feel when we experience loss. He is angry at God. Angry because God allowed Ahab and Jezebel to continue in power and angry because he has had to live his life on the run. His dream has died and he holds God responsible for its death. Part of the process of grieving loss is being angry. It is crying out to God. It is questioning God. There is nothing wrong with that.
Immediately after Elijah cries out the word of God tells him to get up because God just happens to be walking by outside. Its as if God is out for a stroll. He moves close to the exit of the cave and the wind kicks up, the earth shakes, and just like on Mt Carmel and the burning bush there was fire. But God wasn’t in any of those things. He wasn’t gonna play the games Elijah wanted him to anymore. But there was a thin, quiet sound, a still small voice. And Elijah recognized it immediately. He knew it was God’s. So he wrapped his face in his coat stood at the entrance of the cave. While he was standing there God asked him the same question he had just asked. “Why are you here” and Elijah gave him the same answer. "I've been very passionate for the LORD God of heavenly forces because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I'm the only one left, and now they want to take my life too."
This time however there must have been something different in his voice. His despair was slowly receding. God was present with him now. In his grief. He was not alone anymore. And God decided it was time for him to move forward. Elijah wasn’t over his loss and never would be. Anyone who has experienced loss knows it isn’t something you get over but something you move forward from. But God knew he was ready to move forward so God gives him a task. Go anoint new kings in Israel and one in the neighboring city of Aram and go anoint a new prophet, Elisha. Together those two kings will fight for God against Ahab and the wicked Israelites while Elisha will join with Elijah. So Elijah is given a choice, he can move forward in obedience or stay in the desert. And he begins his assent down the mountain, one foot after another, towards Abel-meholah, the home town of Elisha. He has a long journey ahead of him, some 300 miles. As he walks he has lots to time to himself and he starts to dream again.
Many of us have experienced loss. Loss of loved ones or the loss of a dream, an ideal. We have been angry, lonely, depressed, perhaps even suicidal as a result. Some of us today may be in a very dark place. But there is a good news. God will meet you there, in your darkness, in your loss.
The story of Elijah tells us. As does the whole story of God culminating in Christ coming into the darkness of the world and rescuing us from the power of death and sin. God loves you more than you will ever know.