Last week, in the city of Mosul, which is now under control of radical Islamic leaders, they issued a ruling to all the Christians left in Mosul. You have three choices, you can either convert to Islam or you can pay the tax levied against those who are under the protection of Islam or you can die. Those are your choices.
That is not new folks. For hundreds of years our brothers and sisters living under Islamic domination, lived under that system, very simple, convert, pay a tax, usually between 20% and 40% of your income or die or you can leave. Last Sunday, was the first Sunday in over 1600 years that there was not a Christian service in the city of Mosul.
We live in a day and age where to choose Christ, in many parts of our world, is to choose a life of persecution and second class citizenry, it’s the truth. All over this world, in many places in this world, this is the way our brothers and sisters live. They live under the thumb of oppression.
But there is another kind of oppression, it is the oppression that exists many times in our own society. C.S. Lewis said and I like this a lot, C.S. Lewis said, “There is no greater oppressive government as the oppressive government that is done to protect the victims. He didn’t think there was any greater oppression of oppressive government than a government set up. We must protect the victims.
It is an oppressive situation that says that is a victim of something. Oh, you are a victim? Oh, we must set up special protections for you. You have gone through a tough time? You stubbed your toe? Well we must gather a committee to study how to protect people who have stubbed their toes and we must issue regulations to protect people from stubbing their toes because if they stub their toes they will be in pain and we must protect people from their pain. And the regulations begin piling up and the rules good intentions begin to smother the flame of freedom.
In that society, to choose the unchanging message of Jesus Christ is also seen as a threat. Why brothers and sisters, your Orthodox Christian Faith has been accused of bigotry in this country. Your Orthodox Christian Faith has been typified as being homophobic or hate filled. The teachings of the timeless Orthodox Christian Faith has been called bigoted and prejudiced and unlawful and illegal.
This is the society that we are increasingly living in, in this country, so what do we do?
Well I’ll tell you this, there have been many groups that name the name of Jesus Christ that have chosen the option of compromise. They have chosen to water things down, “Well maybe that doesn’t really mean what we thought it means. Maybe it means something else.” And they have chosen to water things down.
I want to tell you a story about man who chose not to water thing things down. A man by the name of Elias, the prophet Elijah. The man that we remember today in our church history. This prophet was a wonderful man and he lived in a day and age of a very wicked king and his very wicked wife.
You ever heard of Jezebel? Ever heard somebody called a Jezebel? “Well that woman ain’t nothing but a Jezebel.” Where do you think that comes from? It comes from in the first testament. The story of Queen Jezebel and her very wicked ways and her very, very selfish ways and the idea that “He who dies with the most toys wins” and the idea if” I am comfortable then it doesn’t matter what anyone else is going through.” Jezebel was a wicked queen and she was an immoral woman. And the prophet Elias would stand and declared to the nation of Israel this is wrong, this is wrong, this is wrong. Guess what?
He was not a popular man in the court. He was not a popular man among the leaders of his day. In fact, it got to the point where Elias had to run for his life and hide in a cave. And while he was there, Elias, looked up to the sky and said, “God I might as well die. I’m the only one left Lord, I am the only who has not compromised, I’m still holding on.”
And God said, “Elias, I have 7000 who have not bowed their knee yet, don’t think so highly of yourself.” And while Elias was in the cave the Scripture say the ravens would come and feed him and God was teaching Elias in the cave. God, was teaching Elias that he had no reason to give up in the face of persecution.
But Elias had to learn a lesson. Elias had to learn the lesson of learning how to listen to God. Many times brothers and sisters, I confess to you that even those of us who do religious stuff in the world, we get so busy doing religious stuff, we fail to listen to the voice of God. We get so busy doing good stuff, we forget to do the best stuff. It happens because our lives are filled with constant noise.
Did you know that in the United States of America, that you are getting so many messages from so many different devices? Those things that are in your pocket, those even who have been caught checking your email during service. The devices in your pockets, the televisions, the screens that are everywhere, the radio, all of your family and friends, you are getting bombarded with messages to the point that marketers have now determined that it requires an American to hear something twelve times before they ever truly hear it once.
That we have so many messages bombarding us that the ability to hear in the noise of our busy lives is becoming increasingly a challenge. So much so, that it is even affecting our memories. That it used to be in cultures that didn’t have all of these distractions, they could pass on their culture through the telling of stories. And they could they have a verbal history that would carry on from generation to generation. But now because of dvd’s and cd’s and mp3s and mp4s and videos and all of these other things. We have farmed out our memories to electrical devices. Consequentially, our attention span is getting shorter and shorter and shorter, to the point that it is very difficult to stay focused on important things.
Hence, in this modern age, important aspects of our lives are being lost because we don’t know how to listen. Elias needed to learn that lesson and so outside of Elias’ cave, there was this huge whirlwind but Scripture says that God’s voice wasn’t in the loud whirlwind. And then came a huge blazing of fire, a blazing inferno but God’s voice wasn’t in the fire.
Then it got eerily quiet. So quiet that Elias had to strain to hear what was coming next and that is where he found the voice of God. In that still small place where the distractions were purposely put aside, Elias was sent to that cave to learn that lesson.
Who knows but what the very persecution of our present day isn’t meant to weed out people who are not serious about the faith and to focus those of us who are genuinely committed to the faith to actually learning how to hear the voice of God in our lives so we might even become more faithful to the God who loves us.
Brothers and sisters, today, on this day when we remember the holy prophet Elias, the second forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ, the first forerunner being of course John the Baptist but you know what was said of John the Baptist don’t you? That he came in the spirit of Elias.
And so brothers and sisters, on this day when we remember the prophet Elias, can you hear God in your life? Do you hear God’s voice- oh I’m not talking about the folks in the rubber room who pretend they are Napoleon that is not what I am talking about.
Is there a place in your life of quiet peace in your own soul where if God needs to communicate to you, you are listening? Is the distractions of life so overwhelming your soul and priorities that you have forgotten to carve out a place to listen for God? Why do you think our Orthodox faith does what she does in our Divine worship services? Why do you think the priest faces away from you? To teach us all precious friends that it is finding a place where I can exclusively focus on God that will ever direct and shape my life to the point, where I will know who I am and how to live in such a way that I will have peace in my life.
My brothers and sisters, is there a place of quiet listening from God in your hectic busy schedule? Is there? Or does this generation need to be driven to a cave, to the point where we feel like no one else understands us but us and then hear from God finally. Not in the hustle and bustle of the busyness of even doing good things but in the focused and purposeful practice of our precious Orthodox faith on a daily basis, setting aside portions of our life so that we might quiet ourselves enough to finally-may I confess to you I am thinking of “Horton Hears a Who” now.
To finally get quiet enough and attentive enough and focused enough and in love enough to hear the only lover of my soul. To tell me who I really am. Amen.