The Rev. Stephen Norris preached this sermon for St. Andrew’s on June 23, 2013

The Future Breaks In
1 Kings 19:1-15a and Luke 8:26-39

For most of this week, I have found myself meditating on a sentence which seems to sum up the scriptures for today. It is this: “how we envision the future breaks into how we live our present.” I have thought about this sentence over and over again, pondering what message it might have for us today.

The story of Elijah from today’s Old Testament lesson is a story which has a lot to do with envisioning the future. You will recall that we pick up today’s lesson just as the prophet Elijah has finished demonstrating the power of Yahweh by calling down fire from heaven to consume an offering on an altar that was drenched by twelve jars of water. Scripture says that the fire of God which came down from heaven consumed not only the offering and the altar, but also the stones and dust and even the water that surrounded the altar. Immediately after the great demonstration, Elijah ordered all of the prophets of Baal to be slain. After Elijah slays the prophets of Baal, he prophesies to King Ahab that it will soon rain to end the drought that ravaged the land for years. And soon after his prophecy, it surely does.

standrews-exteriorWhen King Ahab returns home, he tells his wife, Jezebel, all that Elijah had done to the prophets of Baal. Now Jezebel was sympathetic to Baal and reeled with anger because Elijah had killed her friends. She threatens to take Elijah’s life just as he took the lives of her fellow Baal sympathizers. Elijah hears of Jezebel’s pronouncement of death upon his life so he runs away in fear to find a cave on Mount Horeb in which to hide.

Now hear the irony in this story—Elijah faced 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and challenged them to a duel, 450 to 1. He faced odds that were ridiculous when he took on all of those priests, but his faith in God’s future never falters; that is until Jezebel threatens to take his life. Only then does Elijah forget God’s future and consequently fear for his present life! An entire army of priests with knives and swords doesn’t shake him-but one female sets him on edge!

Maybe you remember what happened to Elijah as he retreats into his cave. Elijah experiences anew the God of his future. First, there is a great wind so strong that it splits mountains and breaks rocks into pieces. Then, there is an earthquake and fire. But, in all of these very familiar natural occurrences, God is nowhere to be found. Then the story says that sheer silence follows. The story goes that in the silence, God shows up. And in the midst of his immobilizing fears, Elijah is reminded of God’s promise to be with him, to deliver him, to give Elijah and the faithful remnant of Israel a good future. That’s all it takes to strengthen Elijah to rise up and return to his work-to continue to be about what God is calling him to do in his present. God ever so gently reminds Elijah that how he envisions the future must summon how he lives his present.

If it is true that how we envision our future breaks into how we live our present, then we who know God’s future cannot help but to testify to it as we are caught up in God’s life even in the here and now. The power of God enters our lives, our context, and frees us from all oppression and domination just as Elijah was liberated from his immobilizing fears of Jezebel, and just as the Gerasene Demoniac was set free from the evil spirits which oppressed him for years.

What do we need freedom from this morning? How do we need God to liberate us in the present? What are the fears and anxieties holding us back in the here and now? What is preventing us from realizing God’s good future even as we live our lives today?

One of my favorite prayers is the prayers of the prayer book is the prayer we pray at ordinations. The words of the prayer embody the vision of God represented by God raising up among his people a visible symbol of his salvation-God raising up an ordained leader to be for his church a symbol of redemption and reconciliation. Let’s hear anew God’s promised future in this still, small, peaceful prayer:

“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably
on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the
effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the
plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things
which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had
grown old are being made new, and that all things are being
brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made.”

This prayer proclaims the good future of the vision of God. It’s a future which ever yearns, even in the here and now, for a reconciliation of all things to their creator God. And we are the vehicle through which this future of righteousness, peace and joy enters the cosmos. We are called to proclaim and prophesy that swords will one day be beaten into plows and spears will be used to prune, not pierce. We are called to preach of a future when nations shall not fight against nations and war will one day cease. We are a people called to live in hope for the future because we ourselves are caught up in the future of the one who gives us hope.

And we who know of this hope first hand, like the demoniac who was set free from the powers of darkness, cannot help but to live out God’s good future in the here and now. Just like the demoniac’s declaration of Jesus as Lord, our declaration of Jesus’ lordship comes from the difference he’s made in our lives. And once we’ve experienced the freedom he brings, every hindrance, every set back, every force that tries to bind us or separate us loses its power. So we need not be afraid or disappointed when we reach our limit in the present, because the God within us is greater than the powers of this world. And even though we see through a glass darkly now, the God who is limitless and infinite will surely remind us that we and all of our present circumstances are already caught up in his good future. And in this future, all shall see and behold the salvation of the Lord as he comes among us as one of us, to deliver us and make us partakers of his heavenly kingdom. Therefore, no matter what we face in this life, we need not fear because God’s good future gives us strength and hope for our tomorrows, and for our today as well.