THE GIFT OF THE DARK WOOD
GETTING LOST

by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
March 11, 2018
Text:   I Kings 19, Psalm 46:10

 

Dante, as he began his poem “The Divine Comedy” wrote these words: “In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”1

 

As we continue our series, the Gift of the Dark Woods, we turn to that experience of being lost.   When you hear that phrase “being lost” or “getting lost”, what images or memories come to mind?    When have you been lost?   Take just a moment and turn to your neighbor and tell them about a time you have been lost.

 

            As I was remembering times of being lost, my mind wandered back to the many times I would lose one of our kids – and it especially seemed to be our son David.   One of those times was in a store, like Target or Wal-Mart.   He was with me and all of the sudden he wasn’t.   I panicked.  Where was he?   All of the sudden I heard over the loud speaker, that there was a lost boy at the service desk.   Would his mother please come there to find him?    Thankfully, he knew to go there for help.   Another time, our family was in Kansas City for General Assembly of our denomination.   A group of us walked around the downtown area one afternoon, looking for a place to eat.   All of the sudden, I noticed David, who was 10 years old at the time, was not with us.     We had no idea where he was.   Greg said, “stay here” and all of us waited as he ran back as fast as he could in the direction of where we had been walking.   There he found him, just looking around at the fiberglass sculptures of the cows that had been painted creatively and were displayed in downtown Kansas City that year.   Greg and I were so relieved when we found him.   We both said that we felt like Mary and Joseph who discovered 12-year old Jesus wasn’t with them on their way home from Jerusalem.   And they had to frantically look for him back in Jerusalem.

 

            When someone we love gets lost – or if we get lost ourselves – what is our first instinct?  I must admit for me it is to get pretty anxious.   What do I do?   Where do I go?  Where can I find help?  

 

            When I am lost while driving, I realize I need to turn off the radio – and focus and think.  I become a lot more attentive to the signs and landmarks around me to see if I can figure out where I am going.   If I can’t figure it out, I know I need to stop and look at my GPS – or ask someone for directions.    Now I know that a lot of men don’t want to stop and ask for directions – but I know I can get to where I need to go much better, if I stop – calm down – and ask for directions.

 

            And I think the same advice goes for when we are feeling lost emotionally or spiritually.   Think about those dark woods times in your life -  times when we find ourselves troubled or worried – feeling like we are bearing the weight of the world on our shoulders.   We wake up dreading the day – or when we toss and turn and lose sleep due to our worries and trials.   We are discouraged or even depressed because of stress, broken relationships, unresolved conflicts, dreams that have died or health that has failed.  A loved one has died, or a marriage has failed.   We are just lost.   The way we thought we were going is not there anymore.  We don’t know what to think or where to go.  Have you ever felt that way?   It is during those times of feeling lost – I need to stop – to listen and rest in God.   And when I do, I know I can find a new direction and purpose.   There really is a gift in the dark wood of being lost.

 

            That is what Elijah found out in the story we read about in our text for today, found in I Kings 19.   Turn in your Bibles to the book of I Kings, found in the Old Testament.   Open your Bible to the center, near the book of Psalms and then take a left hand turn and I Kings is about a ¼ of the way back.   Find I Kings 19 and we will look at some of the verses that describe the struggle Elijah was experiencing.

 

            In I Kings 18 we read the story about how God worked an incredible miracle through Elijah in defeating the prophets of Baal, the false god that the people were worshipping.   After God flashed fire from heaven and consumed the altar – proving his power – Elijah killed all 450 Baal prophets.    It must have been a huge spiritual high for Elijah!   Seeing God’s presence so very real in that fire!   I imagine it was one of those “Thunderstruck” moments – like Greg talked about last week.   I imagine he may have even thought that this incredible show of God’s power might even change the hearts of the wicked King Ahab an Queen Jezebel.   But, as we open I Kings 19, we find that was not the case.   Beginning at verse 1 of chapter 19, we read:

 

1 When Ahab got home, he told Jezebel everything Elijah had done, including the way he had killed all the prophets of Baal. 2 So Jezebel sent this message to Elijah: “May the gods strike me and even kill me if by this time tomorrow I have not killed you just as you killed them.”  3 Elijah was afraid and fled for his life. He went to Beersheba, a town in Judah, and he left his servant there. 4 Then he went on alone into the wilderness, traveling all day. He sat down under a solitary broom tree and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life, for I am no better than my ancestors who have already died.”

Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree. But as he was sleeping, an angel touched him and told him, “Get up and eat!” He looked around and there beside his head was some bread baked on hot stones and a jar of water! So, he ate and drank and lay down again.  Then the angel of the Lord came again and touched him and said, “Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you.” So he got up and ate and drank, and the food gave him enough strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Mount Sinai,

 the mountain of God.

 

            40 days and 40 nights Elijah wanders in the wilderness.   Much like Jesus wandered in the wilderness after being baptized by John the Baptist.   Much like Moses and the Israelites, who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years --- and like the great flood when Noah and his family were in the ark – how many days and nights?   40!   And yes – that is how many days of Lent we have 40 days – reminding us of our spiritual ancestors, like Jesus and like Elijah who walked through the dark woods of life – many of them feeling lost and alone.    They experienced times of testing and trial – and yet they also experienced the presence of God and a sense of new direction.

 

            After hearing the news about Jezebel, Elijah goes up Mount Sinai.   Here is a picture that shows the pathway Elijah would have walked – and what is the traditional site of Elijah’s Basin.   There in a cave, Elijah went to hide.  He is filled with fear.   Elijah has taken his eyes off of God – and now was looking at Jezebel instead.   He focused his eyes on his circumstances and his fear of what Jezebel could do to him.   He is lost and alone and feels like he can no longer continue on.  He says to God – “I’ve had enough.   Just take my life now.”  

 

            But in the midst of this lost, dark time in Elijah’s life, he is about to hear God in a powerful way.   Let’s read on, starting at verse 9.

 

There he came to a cave, where he spent the night.

But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10 Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” 11 “Go out and stand before me on the mountain,” the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.

 

            God had revealed Himself to Elijah on Mount Carmel, as he was fighting the prophets of Baal – in a great fire!   But this was a different mountain and a different time in Elijah’s life.   He was down and depleted – full of fear and feeling very much alone.   I am the only one left and they are trying to kill me.”   So, God tells him to go out and stand on the mountain – and God sent a strong windstorm…He sent an earthquake, and there was also a great fire.   Elijah thought that he would hear God’s voice in all of that – but he didn’t.  Rather, God spoke to him in a soft gentle whisper – or as some translations say, a “still, small voice.”

 

            Sometimes God can speak to us in those dramatic “thunderstuck” moments – like we heard last week, storms, lightning bolts – a Damascus Road moment – when God gets our attention and we have a new direction in life.   But so much of the time – God speaks to us in those still small voices – those gentle nudges.   It might be while we are reading our Bible – or a teacher or pastor teaches us something – or when we are praying – that we just know in our hearts that God is speaking to us, telling us what He wants us to do.   But the main thing we must remember is that we need to be quiet enough to listen. 

 

            When we are lost – feeling afraid, worried, discouraged – our first instinct is to get frantic, panic or just to worry and pace or run and hide, like Elijah did, to the cave on Mount Sinai.  We hear that age old saying, “Don’t just sit there, do something.”   But we don’t know what to do and we’re scared or feel all alone and helpless.   What we really need to hear are the words, “Don’t just do something, sit there – be quiet – and listen.”2   God said in Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.”   We need to sit and wait – be still and listen for His voice.

 

A Midwesterner from the farm was visiting his college roommate in New York City. Walking near Times Square one day, the farm boy suddenly remarked, “I hear a cricket.”

“You’re crazy,” his city friend replied. “It’s the noon rush hour, and in all of this traffic noise you heard a cricket? C’mon, man!”

 

“No, I did hear a cricket,” the visitor insisted. Focusing more intently, he walked to the corner, and looked all around. Finally, he approached a shrub in a large cement planter. Digging beneath the cover mulch, he found his cricket.

 

His friend couldn’t believe what he had seen. But the friend from the farm said, “My ears are no different from yours. It simply depends on what you have learned to listen for. Here, let me show you.”  He then reached into his pants pocket, pulled out a handful of change, and dropped the coins on the sidewalk. At the sound of the money hitting the pavement, every head along the crowded block turned. “You see what I mean?” the visitor said, as he began picking up what was left of his coins. “It all depends on what you are listening for.”3

 

            What are you listening for?   

 

            Our world is a very noisy place.   We listen to all the news broadcasts and can be filled with worry or fear by what we hear.   We are bombarded by mailings, right now, for political ads – screaming at us, really, trying to tell us who is the right and wrong candidate.   We read social media and those voices often rant and rave – filling us up with loud voices of frustrations and irritations.   All of it just sometimes adds to our anxiety, our discouragement and weariness…and a feeling of being lost.  

 

            And sometimes – it is not what is going on outside of us that makes us feel lost.   It may be that within us, we are filled with memories of the past, regrets and sadness.   Or maybe even just having a “to do” list - and not enough time to do it – or not enough money to cover all the bills.   We feel lost and alone.   So, in the midst of all that noise – both within and without – we end up exhausted and weary – with no direction or hope.   But the hardest thing we have to do in times like that – is exactly what we need to do – be still and listen.   Be still and know God.   Listen to Him speak to us in our lostness.  He wants to lift us up and fill us up and give us new direction and hope.   But it takes stopping and listening.

 

            C. S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, … the real problem of the Christian life comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”4

 

            Elijah went to the cave in fear and trembling because he had his eyes on Jezebel.   All he could hear was her voice saying, “By this time tomorrow I will kill you just as you killed the prophets of Baal.”   He fled in fear.   When he got to the mountain, he said, “I’ve had it – I can’t go on.”   But God met him at that mountain.   He spoke to him in his lostness in a still small voice.  He told him that he wasn’t alone.   There were some 7,000 people in Israel who hadn’t bowed down to Baal.   He also told him that He still had work for him to do – and gave him instructions of who to go see to anoint as king and help in his ministry.   God had a plan – He gave Elijah a new direction to go – and encouraged him to keep going. 

 

            All of the sudden, because Elijah had stopped and listened to God’s voice, instead of Jezebel’s voice – he had fresh strength and hope.   Once he heard God’s voice, he knew God was with him and that He had a future and plan for his life.  Instead of being paralyzed by his troubles, he was now able to move on through the power of God.   As the saying goes, “Troubles seem smaller when we remember the greatness of God.”5

 

            What voice are you listening to?   Are the voices of this world – and our own voices – so loud that we are filled with fussings and frettings – like wild animals taking over our lives?   Let me encourage you to, as C. S. Lewis said to, “Listen to that “other voice” – that voice that is larger and stronger and quieter – the still small voice of God.   It may come just as a gentle whisper – a quiet nudge – in the midst of Bible reading and prayer – or even on the lips of a friend.   Stop – listen – and then act on the direction God gives us, in the silence.

 

            As we come to a close, I want us to hear a call to prayer from Mother Teresa – and then have a time of silent prayer.  And then we will end by together saying “The Listener’s Prayer” by Sir Paul Reeves.  May these words be our prayer this morning – a commitment to stop and rest and listen for that still small voice.

 

            Let’s pray.

 

"Let us adore Jesus in our hearts, who spent 30 years out of 33 in silence; who began his public life by spending 40 days in silence; who often retired alone to spend the night on a mountain in silence.  He who spoke with authority, now spends his earthly life in silence.  Let us adore Jesus in the eucharistic silence."6

 

(Give just a few moments of silent prayer)

 

Join me in prayer:

 

God, grant me to be silent before you-- that I may hear you;

at rest in you--that you may work in me;

open to you--that you may enter;

empty before you--that you may fill me.

Let me be still and know you are my God. Amen.7

 

 

 

INVITATION

 

 

 

 

 

 

RESOURCES

 

1Quote from Dante Alighieri. https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/79818-in-the-middle-of-the-journey-of-our-life-i

 

2 I was very inspired with this sermon from Dr. Tim Bruster.  He gave many of the ideas and illustrations I found for this sermon.

"The Gift of Feeling Lost" by Dr. Tim Bruster, Senior Pastor, at First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Third in the series: "Gifts of the Dark Wood."

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jwWlBKDbTsA

 

3Sermon from Trinity Lutheran Church in Astoria New York.

www.trinitylic.org/2017813-on-elijah-the-still-small-voice- of-god-in-our-own-time-and-lives

 

4C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. http://pdbooks.ca/pdbooks/english/L/Lewis-C-S--Mere-Christianity/yudbwx_files/OEBPS/Text/Section0037.html

 

5David C. Egner, “What to do in a Crisis”.   Devotional from Our Daily Bread, August 25, 1994.

 https://odb.org/1994/08/25/what-to-do-in-a-crisis/

 

6Quote from Mother Teresa.  Blessed Mother Teresa Of Calcutta (1910 to 1997)
Quotes on the Importance Of Eucharistic Adoration
http://www.stfrancisadoration.org/mother%20teresa.htm

 

7Sir Paul Reeves, “A Listener's Prayer”Christianity Today, Vol. 35, no. 11. http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/1997/october/2658.htm