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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
St. Paul writes in Romans 11:1-5: “I ask, then, has God rejected His people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? ‘Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have demolished Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.’ But what is God’s reply to him? ‘I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.’ So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace.”
“A remnant chosen by grace.” Whenever I hear the word “remnant” a slight shiver still goes up the back of my neck, though it’s been over fifty years. With its wonderful assortment of candy and toys, the Ben Franklin store in Flandreau was usually a great place for a six-year-old boy. But not on the days when my mom was getting ready for a new sewing project. For a young boy who would rather be outside with his Dad doing chores, there are few things worse than standing in the fabric department, quietly waiting for your mother as she shops for material.
The first place to which Mom always would head was the remnant table. Though I’m sure the whole ordeal scarred me for life, and I’ve managed to blot out most of the details from my mind, the experience did provide some important life lessons. Though the dictionary definition of remnant is “the small remaining quantity of something,” I quickly learned that remnant actually means “good deal.” Following patterns that fit children from the ages of 4 to 6, my frugal stay-at-home Mom could find enough fabric to make several shirts and dresses for very little money. I’ve since applied the same strategy when looking for smaller sections of carpeting or linoleum or scraps of wood.
Perhaps one of the most common uses of fabric remnants today is for quilting. I know many of your societies and/or congregations have quilting groups. A group that meets here at Our Saviour’s makes quilts for the Pipestone County Hospice House, using donated materials. What is not big enough to make an article of clothing can be pieced together with squares of other remnants and make a beautiful, warm, comforting quilt.
A stay-at-home mom or quilter can do a lot with a remnant… but God can do so much more. Time and time again, throughout history, God, with a remnant, chosen by grace, builds His Church.
From Paul’s description in the verses prior to our text it is obvious that Israel as a nation is in serious trouble for their repeated rejection and apostasy. Through Moses, the Lord had declared: “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nations I will make you angry.” Through Isaiah that Lord declared: “I have been found by those who did not seek Me; I have shown Myself to those who did ask for Me. But of Israel, He said: All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Romans 10:18-21).
Given all that, should Paul give up on them? Or a more pertinent question: Has God given up on them?
Paul answers his own question with a resounding no, first offering himself and his apostleship as an example of God’s ability to work His saving will under difficult circumstances; and then, going back to the situation at the time of Elijah (1 Kings 19).
Despite Elijah’s God-given success against the prophets of Baal, Israel as a nation, did not rally behind him. Instead, they aided and abetted the enemy. Fearing for his life and feeling more than a little sorry for himself, Elijah hid in a desert cave, crying out, “Lord, they have killed Your prophets, they have demolished Your altars, and I alone am left and they seek my life” (Romans 11:3).
Are we ever tempted to think or talk like Elijah? This world—our very nation—is in severe moral decline. Perversion of every kind is rampant—some even given a stamp of approval by the government. There is a low regard for the sanctity of human life. The family, a central piece of God’s design for an ordered society, is broken.
And the Church doesn’t seem to be faring much better. Many religious leaders feel that Scripture has very little to say to today’s world. Others are shifting with the winds of cultural change to stay relevant, and too many who know better are afraid to speak out.
We look at our congregations and they seem to be shrinking and growing older. Funerals outnumber baptisms. Regular attendance, once thought of as weekly, is now defined as twice a month, or maybe even one a month. Our communities don’t have near as many young families as they once did. And when new families do join, it doesn’t seem to take long for them to grow slack in worship attendance as the busyness of the world overwhelms them.
Are you feeling like a modern-day Elijah? Alone in your beliefs. Unpopular with society. Therein lies the danger. This text isn’t addressing the blatant unbelief of the “world,” but the condition of our own trust in the Lord. Self-pity and frustration opens us up to another set of temptations. We may begin to harbor a “judgmental mentality” which sees the wrongs all around and wishes God would “do something” about it. But what about me and my sin and my need to repent?
At the same time, we may be tempted to lose confidence in God’s Word. We may be led to throw up to our hands and shout: “Does God really know what He’s doing? Does God really care about me?” And then… to run away and hide.
But God does not leave us alone for long. He comes to us; He speaks to us, though not in the way we would expect. Not with spectacular displays, but in the quietness of His grace.
God did not reveal His presence to Elijah in the mighty wind, or the earthquake or the fire. Why not? Because the Lord was waking Elijah up from doubt and despair to a recognition of His control and His grace. The Lord’s truth was this: judgment, law, and wonders don’t convert or win back hearts. Patience, peace, and grace, do. Elijah, take Me at My Word!
What was the message of the whisper? The text doesn’t tell us explicitly, but the quietness caught Elijah’s attention. The Lord was telling him not to lose confidence in God’s control. Saving souls is the Lord’s main interest, and the message of grace is His main tool. The solution to even the toughest of life’s problems is found in the consistent application the Word of God—just a whisper, not a show of force.
St. John calls Jesus “the Word”—the one who communicated the will and love of God to sinners. Jesus was clear—He preached, “Repent.” He also announced, “Peace.” The Gospel works quietly—we won’t “wow” anybody into belief. We won’t argue anyone into the kingdom of God. Only the message of forgiveness of sin through Christ converts. Wake up. Take heart.
Was Elijah “the only one left”? Not at all! God revealed that He had preserved 7,000 men who had not bowed to idols.
Reviewing this account in his letter to the Romans, St. Paul makes this application his day (and I think, by extension, to our day as well): “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chose by grace.” Such comfort and assurance speaks directly to our fears and anxieties. We are not alone. God promises to preserve His faithful believers in every difficulty wherever they are.
You are a remnant chosen by God’s grace. Purchased not with silver or gold, but with the holy precious blood of Jesus Christ. I can’t wait to see the beautiful ways He has in mind to work in you and through you. Go in the grace of the Lord and serve Him with joy. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.