Facing Jezebel - Primera Iglesia, May 26, 2013

This message underwent some transformations.  It began as the first sermon I gave without notes, in my preaching class with Professor Lincoln Galloway at Claremont School of Theology this past semester.  Then it became a talking point for my first message and discussion at St. Brigid in the Desert on a week ago.  Finally, it morphed into this final version, given today at Primera Iglesia Metodista Unida.  Read it with passion.

Please join me in a prayer -

Lord, may the Holy Spirit move among us that we may hear and understand Your message for us today and every day.  Amen.

The Scripture - 1 Kings 19:1-15a

1 Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword.2 Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." 3 Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. 4 But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." 6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.7 The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you." 8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. 9 At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 10 He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." 11 He said, "Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by." Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" 14 He answered, "I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." 15 Then the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; 

The Sermon - "Facing Jezebel"

Let me just say that Jezebel is a pip, isn’t she?  Over the years, her name has become another word for a “bad woman.”  You know what I mean, right?  Every negative behavior that a woman can do is attributed to Jezebel.  If a woman is promiscuous, she’s called a “Jezebel.”  If she has an affair with a married man, she’s called a “Jezebel.”  If a woman does anything wrong, she’s a “Jezebel.”   But you know, that’s just not what the scriptures tell us about Jezebel. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying she’s a good person.  Jezebel was a princess and a priestess of Ba’al who married Ahab, the king of the Hebrews.  So, of course, now she was the queen of the Hebrew people, who followed Yahweh.  Ahab was such a weak and ineffective king that it was easy for a powerful woman like Jezebel to use his resources to introduce the worship of the god Ba’al and his consort Astarte into Israel.  Looking at it from her frame of reference, Jezebel was just doing her job as a priestess of Ba’al.  But of course, we aren’t looking at it from her frame of reference.  We’re looking at it from the prophet Elijah’s viewpoint, and Elijah was in fear of his life.  You see, Jezebel had ordered all of Yahweh’s prophets killed, and they succeeded in killing most of them.  Then, Elijah had proven Yahweh to be more powerful than Ba’al.  Then HE had all of Ba’al’s prophets killed.  Now, Jezebel had ordered the deaths of all the rest of Yahweh’s prophets, including – no – especially Elijah.  Listen again to what she says:    "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." 

In essence, what she’s say is “I’m going to KILL you!”  Now, THIS is the real Jezebel.  There’s nothing about promiscuity or homewrecking.  She is strong, powerful, and cruel.  Jezebel could be the prototype for every wicked stepmother, every evil queen Disney has ever made.  She is horrifying.

And Elijah is terrified.  He thinks he’s the only one of Yahweh’s prophets left alive.  He runs.  He runs into the wilderness, sits under a tree and begs God to kill him!  Kind of ironic, isn’t it – he runs away from Jezebel because she wants to kill him, then begs God to kill him!  But of course, God doesn’t do that.  God’s angel feeds Elijah and sends him on his way. Elijah goes to Mount Horeb, and spends the night in a cave.  When he wakes up, the Angel of God tells him to go out and stand on the mountain, because the Lord is passing by.  Elijah waits inside the cave, and he hears the wind, the earthquake, the fire – but he doesn’t hear God in the wind…or the earthquake…or the fire.  Then…there’s absolute silence.

In the silence, Elijah remembers.  God didn’t tell him to hide in the cave.  God told him to go out.  And so he does.  Once he leaves the cave and stands outside, the Lord comes to him.  It isn’t that God wasn’t in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire.  Of course God was in them, God is in everything!  But Elijah didn’t hear God in them because he had to leave the cave.  He had to step outside his protective lair to hear the Voice of God.  He had to go outside the cave; taking the risk that Jezebel’s army might find him.  I’m thinking he might have been happier staying inside the cave.

Let me share a little story with you.  Those of you who have seen the big church where I used to work know that it was built in the mission style, with an arch in the front.  This arch doesn’t lead to doors, but is instead an alcove.  For years it was just a big empty space where they would put the manger on Christmas Eve, and Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus would stand there in the living nativity.  For years, they talked about getting a statue or something to put under the arch.  Well, one day last year when I was still working there, the pastor and his wife found the perfect statue of Jesus.  8 feet tall and bronze, it was standing outside a gallery in Sedona.  The gallery was closed, so the pastor called when he got home to inquire about the statue…eventually, they were able to arrange to purchase it.  They got a smokin’ deal, too.  The original price on the statue was 90,000 dollars, and they got it for 38,000 because the gallery was closed down, the artist was getting hungry, and they had to get Jesus off the sidewalk.  A wonderful woman who knew she was going to be passing from this world very soon donated the money to purchase the statue.

So, one day they brought Jesus down from Sedona, but since the foundation outside wasn’t ready yet, they put him in the narthex of the church.  There he stood, this 8 foot tall, bronze Jesus, greeting the people as they came to church.  He was there for a few weeks, holding out one hand, a lamb tucked under his other arm.  People began to get used to him, and they would stop and look at him.  They loved him.  Some would touch his hand; some would reach out and touch his sandaled feet. Some would pet the lamb, and still others would stand in silent prayer at the feet of Jesus.

When the foundation outside was ready, they began to get ready to move Jesus outside.  As the day got closer, I started to have people say to me, “I think they should leave Jesus inside, don’t you?”  Say what?  Really?  Why?  I would ask.  Well, they would tell me, the statue might be defaced by renegade kids, covered with graffiti.  Or, someone might try to steal it – I mean, can you imagine someone driving up to the church and taking off with this 8 foot, bronze statue?  It took a crane to put him on his pedestal!  Of course, there was always the chance that birds might poop on him.  He was, after all, a statue.

When they asked me, “Well, don’t you think he should stay inside?”  I said no.

Now, you might think this story has nothing to do with Elijah.  And you’d be right.  It’s not about Elijah, and it’s not about a statue of Jesus.  It’s about God.  It’s about us.  It’s about following God’s directions.  Remember when it was that Elijah heard God’s voice?  It wasn’t when he heard the wind, the earthquake or the fire, because he was in the cave when they passed by – and the Angel of the Lord had told Elijah to go out on the mountain.  When he finally remembered to go out, do you remember what God said to him?  God said, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.”  Return?  Yes…the Lord told Elijah to return to Jezebel!  To face the very thing he feared the most before he could go on to the next place God was sending him.

We all have Jezebels in our lives, don’t we?  Our Jezebels are the things that we fear the most.  The things we avoid at all costs.  The things that hold us back from hearing the Voice of God.  The world is filled with Jezebels, and we do our best to stay inside our caves of safety, hiding from them.  Even Jesus’ disciples were faced with Jezebels of their own.  Listen as I share with you something that Jesus said to them, as recorded in Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

How do you think the disciples felt, being told they would have to leave Jerusalem, and the Galilee, where they felt comfortable?  Remember how the Jews felt about the Samaritans?  They were enemies.  They avoided crossing paths with the Samaritans.  I can imagine that they were terrified when they heard him tell them they were to go to the ends of the earth – including Samaria!  Yet here they were, being told by the Resurrected Christ, just before he ascended, that they must face their fears and carry his Good News into the world.

The story of the 8 foot bronze statue of Jesus is a perfect metaphor for our fears and for what it is we are called to do.  Jesus can’t stay inside the church if God’s work is to get done.  We can’t keep him hidden inside, safe from the ravages of the wild world around us.  Just as Elijah was comfortable in his cave, the disciples were comfortable in their home district, and we are comfortable in our own homes and our own churches.  But you see, it’s all about going out.  It’s about facing our Jezebels.

And there are Jezebels everywhere.  We all have them.

Yes, the world is a scary place.  When we leave our comfort zones and venture out into the world, we take chances.  We will be hurt, we will be rejected and sometimes we will be reviled.  Heck, we might even get pooped on once in awhile.  But, like Elijah…like the disciples…we are called to go out.  We are called to step out of the cave, and to listen for the Lord.

As followers of Jesus the Christ, we are listening for the Holy Spirit to empower us and to lead us to where we can do God’s work the best.  Just like the Disciples, we might be led out of our comfort zones.  Like Elijah, we will have to face Jezebel before we can reach our fullest potential in service to the Lord.

Yes, we all have our Jezebels.  What are yours? What will you do when you face them?

Pray with me –

Gracious God, we are afraid.  We just know Jezebel is out there, waiting to destroy us on our way to You.  Send us Your Spirit, Beloved One, so we can find the strength to face whatever it is that holds us back from serving You.  In the name of the One who created us, the Christ who walked with us, and the Spirit Who fills us, connects us, and makes us One, we pray.  Amen.

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