Evening Prayer, June 22, 2022


Scripture: 1 Kings 19: 1-15a selected verses.  Nigel Bunce

Elijah felt that he had failed completely as God’s prophet to Israel.  He ran for his life and hid in a cave.  But God challenged him. Not everyone had turned away.  There’s a messagh ere for St. George’s and other small, struggling congregations.

I must start by saying why I relate so much to the story of Elijah. It has nothing (much) to do with the Bible. It’s really because I learned the story at the age of 13, when I sang as a treble in Mendelssohn’s oratorio of the same name.

This year, we have read on a Sunday only the end of the story. That’s because the other Sundays when we would have read them were taken up by Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday.

Background to this evening’s reading

Elijah had confronted the priests of the pagan god Baal. Afterwards, God ordered that all the apostate priests of Baal must be killed. This angered Queen Jezebel, who was a Baal supporter. So she had put out a contract on the prophet Elijah. Elijah escaped into the wilderness, feeling sorry for himself. “Just let me die,” he said. Eventually he hid out in a cave.

Elijah’s visions with God

In a vision, God asked him, “What are you doing, Elijah?” Elijah was full of self-pity. He had tried his best but nothing worked. The Israelites had deserted God. He’s the only prophet left. Now, he’s running for his life.

The voice told Elijah to stand outside his cave. The Lord was about to pass by. A violent wind came. But God wasn’t in the wind. Then an earthquake. But God wasn’t in the earthquake. Then a great fire. But God wasn’t in the fire.

Then – silence (or, in the words of the King James Bible, a still small voice). Elijah probably expected God to appear as something spectacular. And out of the silence, God spoke again, “What are you doing, Elijah?”

Elijah began to complain as before. But God said, “Go back to Damascus; I’ve got work for you to do there.” Finally, Elijah realized that this wasn’t all about him. God reminded Elijah that his ministry was to the minority of Israelites. Those who had not followed the god Baal.

God’s voice in the silence restored Elijah’s faith. So, this time, he listened and acted. He went to Damascus.

Relevance to our parish

This story has resonance for congregations like ours that are small and seem not to be flourishing. Perhaps God is saying to me. “Nigel, what are you doing here?”

I could be like Elijah. I could complain that everyone has bowed their knees at the altars of the outlet mall, or the hockey arena, or the restaurants that offer Sunday brunch. But God reminds me about those pairs of knees that make the effort to come every Sunday. I am to minister to the faithful. Those who have not followed Baal.

However, I suggest that God wouldn’t be speaking only to me. God would be — and is — speaking to all of us. The fate of our parish is our collective responsibility. It isn’t in my hands alone. Amen.