Especially when I believe the Word blends with the visuals and creates something both memorable and compelling. All that is why I was genuinely excited about the start of Lost And Found.
We’re following the Elijah cycle from I Kings 17-19 and taking a close look at all that was lost during the course of his ministry and the unexpected ways God helped him find that which is better and more enduring.
One sort of funny thing happened after the 8:30 service. During that first sermon, I pronounced the word fatwa (see context in first sentence below) as it looks: fat – wa. After that service, however, my friend and colleague Chris Thayer — who, it should be noted, is about half my age with a quarter of my ministry experience — approached me some hesitation. “I need to help your pronunciation,” he said. “You’re saying fat – wa when it is actually faht – wa.”
So how did I respond to this mid-Sunday morning advice? I said, “Mind your manners, young man” . . . and then went out and did exactly as he said for the next two services. Ah, youth.
Here’s the message:
the novelist who a generation ago was the victim of a fatwa (AV). What was that? Well, he wrote & published a slightly scandalous novel by Muslim terms called The Satanic Verses & so the Ayatolla Khomeini (AV) of Iran pronounced a death sentence on him. He put a worldwide Muslim bounty on his head. (Parallel if the Pope put a bounty on the head of the guy in charge of the movie The Last Temptation Of Christ.) So immediately, Salman Rushdie became a man on the run. A man alone. A man isolated from friends, family, safety, home. A man who had suddenly lost his sense of place, of security, of connection. When you obey your conscience & speak truth or art to a certain kind of power, the cost can be incredibly high and the losses amazingly deep.
And when Elijah is on the scene, a man named Ahab is the king of Israel. He is the seventh in a series of uniquely bad kings & look how I K 16:30 describes him:
30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him.
Nice! Why is he so evil? Look at 16:31-32:
31 He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria.
And on top of all that he married the original Jezebel. You know there’s a reason no one names their little girl “Jezebel” right? This is the people whose First Cment was “to have no other gods before me” and what have they done? Put another god in front of the Lord. Baal, the god of fertility, the god whose worship serves involved prostitutes, the god of rain & spring & body fluids. Ahab not only allows Baal worship; he builds him his own temple!That’s the kind of man and king Ahab was. Makes the Ayatollah look friendly!
17 Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe[a] in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.”
Now what is a Tishbite? A mountain man. So it is as if Elijah comes from a hollow in KY or WVA and goes to the White House & says to the one in power: Drought’s coming and I’m sort of in control of that. Why drought? Remember? Baal is the god of what? Rain. Fertility. Springtime. Elijah is saying, “my God, the real Lord, the only Lord, is so great he controls all of it. Rain & drought. And Baal.”
So what happens next? Look at 17:2-3:
2 Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah: 3 “Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.
Why? Well, we find out in chapter 18 (and we can figure out just because we know how kings are) that Ahab has put the fatwaout on Elijah! He searches for him all over the kingdom. He hires Dog the Bounty Hunter!
Everybody knows that if you see Elijah alive you better bring him to the king, dead. Or you’ll be dead. And so I’ll get to the specifics of the place God tells him to hide in a moment, but what gets me about all this interaction – the Mountain Man, the wicked king, the drought prediction, the fatwa – is how many relationships Elijah loses because of what he has done. Because of a stand he took and a truth he spoke, he is suddenly cut off from his family. From his hometown of Tishba. From his religion. From his kosher diet. From his nation. From support. From everything and everyone. And this is at a time in human history when, to a much greater degree than now, there was no YOU apart from your group. If you lost relationships, you were lost. A fate worse than death. So in his exile, as a fugitive, the loss of relationships for Elijah was just all encompassing. A moment of courage followed by season o loss.
You know what else? Others of you are Ahab. You’ve DONE the exiling. You got offended, you got upset, you couldn’t handle the truth!
BEST. LINE. EVER.
But some of you “exilers” couldn’t handle the truth about you. Part of you now wants to reconcile that relationship you’ve lost but the bigger part of you is too proud to do it. Lost relationships all around and you’re like, what am I gonna do now?
4 You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.”
So, Elijah, travel by yourself and here’s how you gonna eat: Ravens. Now: it’s one thing to read that word and another to see a picture:
A ginormous crow! 50 inch wingspan. Such aggressive eaters that “raven” is where we get the word “ravenous.” And . . . they’re scavengers. That means their beaks have been burrowing in a whole lot of dead, maggot-infested, animal bodies. If you are a Jew, that’s the worst of the unclean, the least kosher way of eating ever. So God says to Elijah: these large, mean, foul smelling, bacteria infected birds are going to fly to you with meat hanging out of their beaks & that’s your dinner. OK? You know what I would say to that? NEVERMORE!
5 So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there.
Oh, that’s it? Just obedience? Yes! That’s it! Look at what his obedience has cost him far – in 17:1 it cost him all of his relationships and now in 17:4 it’s going to cost him even more – even his sense of his kosher self. Costly obedience everywhere. Even here. The young woman I know, dating good looking guy with a great job and he says either we have sex now or I’m out. She obeys God and loses him. The parent who stops enabling the pot useage by their 19 year old daughter. Obey God and lose her. The wife who stayed married even though parents AND friends said dump him now! In her case, obeyed God and lost them. Costly obedience. It’s not eating meat from raven’s beak, but many times there’s nothing pretty about it.
Yet look at 17:6:
6 The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook.
The pattern is actually quite lovely. Almost like Genesis 1! Morning, evening, good. Morning, evening, good. Serenity, peace, provision. You know what Elijah realized there in the Kerith Ravine? He’d lost all those relationships but God provided him with new ones. Unexpected, unpredictable, unending provision. He learned that the period of isolation was in fact a season of preparation for the ministry to follow (& that we’ll look at over the next few weeks.) He lost one set of things but found something deeper, better, more enduring: the supply of God is limitless & unexpected. He came to regard that time in the Kerith Ravine as priceless. How do we even know about it? He told the author of I Kings! It was like “I’ve gotta tell them this!” Because the ravens may have fed but they didn’t write. Only Elijah. His costly obedience put him in that creek bed but he wouldn’t trade that time for anything.