United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

“Going to Pray”
by Rev. Mike Capron
September 3, 2017

1 Kings 19:1-13; Psalm 85:8-13

  1. There was a real news story a few weeks ago about a Google company memo that went viral. It had to do with gender differences.
  2. I stumbled across a satire on that memo, which I liked much better than the real story. It was a pretend-piece from a manufacturing robot complaining about the problems of human employees. They need to eat. They take breaks. They waste a third of their time sleeping.
  3. And, worst of all, they do not follow instructions or act in a predictable manner.
  4. Speaking as a human being, I can say that I’ve had the same observation. Human beings are not completely rational.
  5. By that I mean don’t consistently operate out of what makes sense.
  6. When I say that I don’t just mean people in other countries, or people from the opposite political party… I don’t even mean everyone in this room except me.
  7. I mean me. I am not completely rational. <p>
  8. Some of you know that my wife Lynn had a little surgery a few weeks ago.
  9. It was minor, preventative, outpatient surgery to remove a malfunctioning parathyroid gland.
  10. It went fine. I knew it was going to go fine.
  11. There was a 99.9% chance that it was going to go well.
  12. So what did I spend most of my time thinking about on on the 48 hours beforehand and while I was in the waiting room? The 0.1% chance that something would go wrong.
  13. It wasn’t rational. I knew the odds were overwhelming in favor of a successful outcome.
  14. However—and I didn’t tell Lynn this—I had actually thought about who would preach at her funeral.
  15. It’s crazy. I’m crazy. I’m a human being, not a robot.
  16. Why? Because God didn’t want a world full of robots. Got loves us crazy, irrational, passionate human beings.
  17. Now here’s a question: Did I show a lack of faith?
  18. Maybe. I don’t think so… Inside the human psyche there are multiple levels.
  19. There was my crazy freak-out level.
  20. But there was also this grounded, steady level of trust in God.
  21. And it wasn’t either/or. I had both at the same time.
  22. And I’m not the only one. <p>
  23. Case in point: today’s scripture about Elijah.
  24. Except for Moses, he was the mightiest of the Prophets of Old, a bastion of faith and courage.
  25. In the previous chapter, he had his greatest triumph. He had challenged the King and the Queen and the multitudinous priests and prophets of the false god Baal to a duel.
  26. Empowered by the Lord God, Elijah had triumphed spectacularly, killed his enemies and ended a seven year drought.
  27. He ought to feel powerful, elated, invulnerable.
  28. Instead in chapter 19, he is a mess, running for his life and hiding in the mountains. Let me read you that part…
  29. <read it>
  30. Let’s look at this. Elijah runs because he is afraid for his life. Then he says he wants to die. See, he’s crazy.
  31. Did he have a lack of faith? <p>  No.
  32. First look at the place he was running toward—to Horeb, the Mountain of God, also known as Sinai, where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.
  33. No one sitting in church has a lack of faith. No matter how many crazy thoughts you have bouncing around your head, you came here expecting something to happen. <p>
  34. Now, who does Elijah tell his crazy thoughts to? God. He says: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”
  35. He shares it all with God. There is no such thing as a person who doesn’t know how to pray. You just open your mouth and talk; tell God what is going on. <p>
  36. Ideally… you should listen for a reply.
  37. But Elijah falls asleep instead. God can work with that too. <p>
  38. As Elijah is sleeping, an angel touched him, saying “Get up and eat.”
  39. He awakens and finds a meal waiting for him.
  40. He doesn’t interact with the angel, which makes me think maybe he never even saw it.
  41. Suddenly, in the midst of his craziness, another crazy things happens. Out of nowhere he is provided for; he is given sustenance. <p>
  42. Did some stranger cook it in a church kitchen and leave it while he was sleeping?
  43. Who knows? Angels come in many forms.
  44. After he had eaten, Elijah went back to sleep.
  45. Then he is provided with another meal.
  46. Then he finds he has strength to travel for another month; for forty days, actually.
  47. We don’t know what goes through his mind or what his prayer life was like for that time. Maybe he was plateaued.
  48. When he arrives at the mountain of God, he finds shelter in a cave.
  49. Did he find the cave or did God put it there for him to find?
  50. God asks him a question. Or did the question arise in his own mind? It can be hard to tell.
  51. But it is a good question: “What are you doing here?”
  52. His answer comes pouring out of him. I’ve tried so hard. Everyone else does wrong, but I’ve tried to do right. But it isn’t working. I feel so alone.”
  53. Another leading comes to him: “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
  54. Well, won’t that be something. Here we are in this holy place and the Lord is about to pass by. Wow!
  55. there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces, but the Lord was not in the wind;
  56. and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake;
  57. and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. <p<
  58. Listen friends, every now and again, God speaks to people in some very powerful and visible way, with flashy special effects.
  59. But if you want to hear God’s voice, there is a sort of natural habitat for doing that.
  60. That habitat is silence.
  61. Leave your cell phone behind. Turn off the radio and television. If you still have a landline, take the receiver off the hook.
  62. All of this is surprisingly hard for 21st century people. But if you want to hear the voice of God, if you want to speak with God and hear an answer… this is your best bet.
  63. Elijah hears what some translations call the “still small voice” and what our reading today called “a sound of sheer silence”.
  64. And then God really speaks to him, and he really hears, and they have a good heart-to-heart.
  65. You’ll have to open up your Bibles at home to find out what happens next, but I will tell you that God explains that Elijah won’t be alone any more.
  66. As I wrap up this sermon on prayer, I’d like to revisit our reading from Psalm 85, to speak about the character of God.
  67. Our story about Elijah embodies the rawness of human feeling; it reflects our human craziness.
  68. By contrast, Psalm 85 depicts divine sanity. It explains the qualities the God embodies, that God brings to our insanity.
  69. Martin Luther King once said that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but that it bends toward justice.”
  70. He was right about that.
  71. By the words of the Psalm it also bends toward peace.
  72. The calmness that infuses us in the midst of silence spreads to a quietness of mind that we long for.
  73. Verse 9 says that those who fear the Lord will find Salvation and see God’s glory.
  74. There’s that phrase again, “fear the Lord”; we talked about that last week.
  75. I suggest you mentally substitute, “recognize the holiness of God”. We understand that God is not a crazy human like us, but something… someone altogether different. ­That is why we pray and worship.
  76. And in that long arc, on the horizon, at the end of time, there is a merging where our craziness finally winds down and we fully experience the things of God.
  77. Let me read those last few verses again…
  78. Psalm 85:10–13 (NRSV)
  79. 10Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
  80. 11Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
  81. 12The Lord will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
  82. 13Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps.
  83. Doesn’t that sound wonderfully refreshing?
  84. Whenever you read the Bible—and you should do so regularly…
  85. Whenever you pray—and you should do so regularly…
  86. Look for where your craziness intersects the things of God. Have a conversation about it. Imagine God asking you, “Why are you here?”
  87. Pour out your troubles.
  88. Think about the qualities of God that address your particular craziness.
  89. Ask God for those qualities to be manifest in your life.
  90. I believe that God provides.
  91. Over time, you may find that your craziness is a little more grounded and that you feel closer to God. Amen.