“Same As It Ever Was”
I Kings 19:1-15
All Saints Sunday
November 3, 2013
First Christian Church
You may ask yourself, where is that large automobile?
You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house
You may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful wife
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground
About a year ago, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, held the first annual cat video festival. They hosted the event in the Sculputre Garden across the street and for several hours showed nothing but YouTube videos of cats. Believe it or not, 10,000 people showed up on an August evening to watch these videos. The whole event got a write-up in the New York Times and a second one was held this year at the State Fairgrounds.
The winner of last year’s event went to Will Braden, a gentleman from Seattle with his video feature Henri. The video, which is now a series of videos, is called Henri, Le Chat Noir or Henry, the Black Cat. Henri is a cat with ennui. In video, Henri who is a tuxedo cat, look longingly into the camera while depressing piano music plays in the backgrond. The films are in black and white and Henri speaks in French with subtitles showing up on the bottom of the screen. Henri asks existential questions on the meaning of life, quoting Camus whenever the need arises. In the video that won the prize Paws de Deux, Henri drops angst filled phrases like, “The 15 hours a day I sleep have no effect. I awake to the same tedium.” He learns some important things as he questions his existence: things like the whipped cream in the bathroom isn’t whipped cream and that sometimes the cat door is closed.
Henri is a hit. It’s funny because the last being that you’d think to have an existential crisis would be a house cat. I’ve known a few cats in my lifetime, and while I don’t know what they think, it’s hard for me to believe they are wondering if they feel anything in life.
But the thing is, we do ask questions. We do sometimes wonder what is life all about. We wonder if we are making a difference. We wonder if anything we do actually matters.
Today we are commemorating All Saints Day. All Saints Day, which took place on Friday, is a day we remember those who have died in the past year. But it’s also a day to give thanks for not only for those saints who have passed on, but the saints around us. You don’t have to be dead to be a saint, you know. All of us who are followers of Jesus are saints.
You might be wondering how in the world could you be saint. You haven’t done anything great, you might say. You aren’t perfect. That’s okay, none of the folks we call saints were either. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians in chapter 2 verse 19 “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.”
So this day isn’t just remembering those who have passed on; no it’s also a reminder of who we are, the living saints of God.
So back to those existential questions. The phrase I started this sermon with is from a song called “Once In a Lifetime,” by the rock group Talking Heads. The song asks a lot of questions, with the singer of the song wondering how they got where they are and basically wondering what life is all about. Today’s text is also an existential journey. That said, the person asking the existential question isn’t the main character, Elijah, but God.
The prophet Elijah has a tough job. He was God’s chosen prophet to the people of Israel. That should be a great job, except that most of the people aren’t worshipping God but Baal, a false God. King Ahab decides to worship Baal, taking on his wife’s faith. Jezebel, the Queen was not from Israel and worshipped Baal. Together they persecuted the prophets of God until there are very few left. Elijah decides to challenge the King to prove whose God is bigger. First up, the prophets of Baal pray for their god to send fire on their offering. Nothing happens. Then it was Elijah’s turn. He prays to God and God answers, powerfully burning the offering, including the altar. Elijah is then able to perusade the people to capture the false prophets have them killed. When Jezebel hears of this, she swears vengence against Elijah.
Now, after such a dramatic event, one that he won, you would think Elijah would have been confident in God. He would be able to stand up to Ahab and Jezebel, telling them to do their worse.
Instead, he takes his servant and high tails it out of town. He drops off his assistant and then keeps going until he sat under a tree hoping to die. But instead of death, a messenger comes and tells him to eat some food that had been mysteriously perpared for him. This happens one more time. Afterwards Elijah starts on a journey; he keeps walking and walking and walking. When he finally stops, God asks him an odd question: Why are you here, Elijah?
What’s even stranger is that Elijah never answer God’s question. Instead, Elijah talks about how vigilant he was and how he is the last prophet and his life is threatned. Then God tells him that God is about to pass by and there are fires and wind and earthquakes. Finally there is the sound of silence where God speaks, asking the same question with Elijah giving the same answer. This story ends with Elijah being sent onward.
Why are you here, Elijah? It’s an existential question. Why was Elijah where he was? Why didn’t he answer the question? Why did God even ask the question? Didn’t God know?
Why are we here? Why do we gather each Sunday to worship? Why does this matter?
Elijah never answered the question. Or maybe he did. His response to God is one of frustration. The people of Israel have broken the covenant and he is the only one standing in the way of Ahab and Jezebel’s evil designs. He says twice that he has worked hard and now feels alone.
Why are you here? This is a question that is asked again and again. We hear it when we’re laid off from our job. Or when your baby boy dies after being born premature. We here it when we get the cancer diagnosis or when our loved one decides to leave you. Why are you here? We hear that question and feel it hanging in midair. We try to search for an answer, but more often than not, we don’t have an answer.
The reason this all matters on this All Saints Sunday is that we are all trying struggling to answer that question. Why are we here? We don’t know and that scares us. All saints, living or dead have asked that question and at times fear that we won’t have the answer. Saint’s don’t always have the answer. We can feel as lost as Elijah.
We don’t have the answer, but we do have a God that answers. In this passage God calls Elijah to annoint a new king. He learns at the end that there are 7,000 who have not bowed down to Baal. Why are we here? Don’t know, but we know that God was with Elijah and with us.
Being a saint is hard. Living saints on this side of heaven will face despair and will more often than not ask questions like “Why are you here?”
But God sustains God’s saints. In this time of despair where Elijah just wants to die, a messenger comes twice to offer Elijah food and drink. We have to acknowledge and trust that our power comes from God and not from our own work.
We will struggle, but God is there and we are have fellow Christians around us to help when we feel like we want to give up and not go on.
Being a saint isn’t easy. It can be draining and scary and lonely. Actually, to be saint means that you will suffer in some way because life on this side of heaven is always a challenge. But it is in God that we can keep moving forward. Saints are people who are empowered by God to do God’s work.
As this community of faith makes it way forward, I hope that all of you saints take this passage to heart. We are not alone. God is with us. We are part of a community that lifts each other up.
I started with a cat with ennui. I want to be a little bit more serious at the end. One of my favorite poems is one by the great African American poet Langston Hughes and it’s called Mother to Son. It’s a poem about hardship, but it’s also about being able to rise above adversity. I think it’s one response to the question of why we are here.
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Why are we here? I don’t know. But I can say, fellow Saints of First Christian, don’t you fall now. Our journey isn’t a crystal stair, but God is with us. Keep going, saints. Thanks be to God. Amen.