“It was not surprising that John the Baptist ended up in prison. Speaking truth to power brings confrontation,” said the Rev. Allan Aubrey Boesak at the 9:15 a.m. morning worship service Wednesday. “The prophet ends up in chains, set aside to be dealt with.”
His sermon title was “Remember the Seven Thousand” and the Scripture texts were I Kings 19:9-18 and Matthew 11:7-15.
John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one we should look for or should we wait for another?”
“John was not concerned for himself. He was concerned for the work that God sent him to do,” Boesak said. “His message was that the Kingdom of God was near and everything was about to change. He is sitting in prison and knows that he will not get out alive, but he is concerned about who will continue his work.”
Jesus, Boesak continued, tells John’s disciples to tell John what they see and hear — the blind see. The lame walk. The dead are raised. The work is carried on. And, Jesus added, “blessed are those that take no offense at me and the message.”
The great and powerful may think you are done for, Jesus said to John. The Kingdom of God will be seen in the world, and those who believe will suffer attack because the empire always strikes back.
“What I find surprising,” Boesak said, “is the reference to Elijah. What does it mean? I don’t think John saw himself as the resurrected Elijah. I don’t think this is a symbol of John’s greatness. It is not about greatness at all. Jesus says that the least in the Kingdom of God are greater than John. And it is not about the manner of John’s death. What is it?”
Boesak reminded the congregation that Elijah was a prophet in confrontation with Ahab and Jezebel. He was a prophet in mortal combat with the priests of Baal.
“He was not only a man who stood up for justice and truth,” he said. “He was also a man so afraid that he runs away. He tries to find a way to save his life and he curls up under a bush and says [to God] ‘Just take my life. Being your prophet, I can’t do it any more. It is too much. I will die of being courageous. I am tired of standing up in your name.’ ”
Boesak continued, “I know what it is like. There are too many moments like that [in my life]. God says to Elijah ‘I understand, but I am not ready to let you go.’ Elijah responds, ‘I alone am left, there is nobody like me; I want to quit right now.’ ”
Elijah wanted a strong, omnipotent, all-powerful God, Boesak said. He wanted God to face down the violence of Ahab, Jezebel and Baal, to sweep Elijah’s enemies off the face of the earth. But God says no and takes Elijah from under the bush and spirits him to a cave. God tells Elijah he will see him there but it is not in the wind, fire or the earthquake.
“God says you will discover me in the still, small voice; look for my power when there is silence,” Boesak said. “Look for me in the gentleness of silence. You don’t hear me because you talk too much; shut up so you can hear me. Look for me with those who have small voices.
“I understand Elijah a little bit because I have had moments where I longed for God to rise up in power, an omnipotent God to fight fire with fire, to put people in their place [and administer] divine justice,” he continued. “I was in the Eastern Cape in 1985 after 45 people were killed, and I sat with a mother who lost her 10-year-old son. She had a piece of cloth in her hand. It was a T-shirt that had the words ‘please take care of this little bear’ on it. But I could not see the bear for the bullet holes and the blood, and I said, ‘Where is this God?’ I wanted God to avenge this little boy and show his mother that he would wipe out evil. But he did not come.
“Don’t look for God in the fire and wind but in the gentleness of small voices,” Boesak said. “That is where you find the power of love, mercy, forgiveness and healing. This is the message that Jesus sends to John — there is a God whose power will match Herod, the power of God in small things that Herod will not notice. The leper is cleansed. The blind see. The lame walk. They will have life and that is power, Jesus says.”
God had one more thing to tell Elijah.
The prophet had been complaining that he was the only one left. God said that is not true — there are 7,000 who have not bowed down to Baal.
“You can’t see them because you have run away, God says to Elijah. Don’t tell me you are alone. See and remember them, and they will stand with you and not give in to Ahab and Jezebel,” Boesak said. “There are 7,000 small voices that you will see if you just open your eyes. The only reason you don’t see them is because you are not with them.”
Boesak continued, “I thought the prophetic voice in the United States was gone. It is not like the ’80s. Where are those people? And then I see Rev. [William] Barber stand up to the politicians in North Carolina. He tells them, ‘Don’t say you work in the name of our God.’ The politicians call Moral Monday ‘Moron Monday,’ but there are 7,000 in North Carolina who have not bowed the knee to Baal. They come together on Sunday and say, ‘We can’t talk about Jesus in the pulpit if we are not with Jesus in the street for the poor on Monday.’ ”
In 1987, Boesak was under house arrest and he received a letter from an 11-year-old girl who lived in the Netherlands. She told him not to be afraid and to read the Psalms. He read Psalm 23, and there was a shepherd with a staff who was walking with him.
“I was not walking alone,” he said. “There were 7,000 children with small voices walking with me. I stopped feeling sorry for myself.
“In the 1980s I felt like Elijah,” Boesak continued. “I thought my work was in vain. I was tired of fighting the best equipped army on the continent. I was tired of the tears and burying people. I would come to the United States, and I found strength and encouragement. I felt like the man whose friends lowered him through the roof for Jesus to heal him. Jesus told him, ‘Your friends’ faith has made you well.’ I felt I had so little left and was filled with doubt and fear. But I came and talked and prayed with people who showed me solidarity. Maybe you were one of those 7,000 20 years ago.”
He said to the congregation, “You are never alone, never abandoned. You may think you are fighting alone, but you are somebody called by God and there are 7,000 outside. If you can’t see them, know that they are there. It is not just one, not just two, not just three. If Jesus can be in the midst of two or three, what do you think God can do if we ask the 7,000?”
The congregation stood and applauded.
The Rev. Susan McKee presided. Rabbi Adam Rosenwasser, assistant rabbi at Temple Sinai in Washington, D.C., and a member of the New Clergy Program conference during Week Eight, read the Scripture. The Motet Choir sang “Glory Hallelu!” words by John Parker and music by David Lantz III. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the choir. The Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund and the Randell-Hall Chaplaincy support this week’s services.