Also Juneteenth and Father’s Day
1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a – Ahab told Jezebel all Elijah had done. Elijah hides in a cave. He experiences a windstorm, earthquake and fire, but God is not in them. God is in the quiet whisper.
Isaiah 65:1-9 – Yahweh will judge, but not destroy everyone.
Psalm 42 – As the deer longs for streams of water, so my heart longs for you Lord.
and 43 – Vindicate me, O Lord, against an evil nation. Why so downcast O my soul?
Psalm 22:19-28 – Save me from the claws of the wild dog. Rescue me from the mouth of the lion.
Galatians 3:23-29 – The law was our custodian until Christ came. Now that faith is here, we are no longer under a guardian. There is no longer Jew/Greek, slave/free, male/female, for we are all one in Christ our Lord. (2013 and 2010 posts)
Luke 8:26-39 – Jesus heals the Geresene demoniac.
The Sound of Silence
Links are available for those who wish to plummet the depths of Galatians or 2 Corinthians. I am following the Hebrew text from 1 Kings. I suggest you not omit verses 5 if you’re are going to preach on this text. Here is the text.
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 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.” 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. 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.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 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. 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.” 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.
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?” 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.” 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; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 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?” 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.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.
Elijah has defeated the prophets of Baal. Queen Jezebel is hopping mad and has sworn to execute Elijah in one day’s time. Elijah is running for his life. He makes it one day into the wilderness. There he falls asleep, physically and emotionally exhausted. When he awakens, angels minister to him with food. Strengthened by this food, he spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness.
Wilderness experiences abound in the Bible. They are very important. It would be hard to miss the parallel with Moses’ 40 days with the Lord (Exodus 34:28). It rained and stormed 40 days and 40 nights in the Noah story. The angel ministered to Jesus during his forty days in the wilderness. The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness. The message is clear. This is a holy moment, like other holy moments. More to the point, it is a holy crisis, not to be wasted. How will God use this crisis?
What crises have you been through? Perhaps you are in a kind of wilderness yourself right now. Can you see the crisis as a holy moment? Where is God in the midst of the crisis, the wilderness? This is a theology of cross. God is there. God may not have created the crisis, but how might God use it?
After the wilderness, Elijah heads up the mountain, Mt. Horeb, which is Mt. Sinai. He complains to God: I’ve cast down idols and even taken lives for you. Now they’re out to get me, what are you going to do about it? A storm arises so great it is shaking the mountain. Then an earthquake, followed by fire. Then the sound of silence. It is in the silence where God asks what Elijah wants. Elijah complains again. Then God puts him back to work.
Elijah’s pathway follows one that would be very familiar to the hearers of this story: the Exodus. Just as the Israelites flee the King of Egypt, wander through the wilderness and end up on Mt. Sinai, so does Elijah. But then the story deviates. In the Exodus, God was in the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night. Not in the Elijah story. Instead, God is in the silence.
One might see in this a sort of meta-narrative. We go through crises in life, followed by wilderness periods, after which we end up on the mountain of God. There, God speaks, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, we hear, not in the thunder, but in the silence.
In what ways have you found yourself on the mountain after a wilderness period? Was there fire or smoke? Thunder or lightening? Silence? How did God speak in the wake of the storm?
Crisis leads to a time of listening
Revelation often comes after a time of crisis. Perhaps this is because desperation drives us back to God. When our own efforts have availed us nothing, and we have nowhere else to turn, we turn to God. Most often living in the illusion of our own self-sufficiency, once and awhile we are reduced to our child-like state, recognizing that most of life is beyond our control. It is then that we let go of our life-control projects and turn to the universe. Our eyes are opened to the vast complexity of the world, and we choose to listen, rather than lecture the world. Desperation can do that.
The crisis may be as simple as an illness. I recently fell ill with a bug that left me fevered and flat on my back. I live most of my life doing what feels like self-sufficient, high-energy work. Then something like this comes along, and you realize how dependent you are on others. At times like this I realize how much I take my health for granted, and my family, who care for me. With nothing to do, but sleep and wait out the bug, the illness forces me into a prayerful state.
For others it may be a flood that takes your house, the loss of a job, or a bad diagnosis. Life can change in the blink of an eye. All our really brilliant plans suddenly seem a bit far-fetched. What was I thinking? I was living in an illusory world.
It’s at moments like this that our world gets put in proper perspective. Our place in the universe is seen closer to what it actually is. Humility os restored. Priorities get reset. God is there.
One final thought about this text, thanks to former New England Synod Bishop Margaret Payne, who writes some thoughtful preaching ideas in Sundays and Seasons: Preaching Year C. We live in an overly busy culture. We work hard. We are surrounded by a cacophony of sounds: TV, radio, DVD, CD, and social media, to name a few. We seem reluctant to pause, to find Sabbath for our souls. We complain that God doesn’t speak, but perhaps the problem is we aren’t listening.
Margaret Payne suggests a play on words. Paint a picture of people rushing along a busy street, “following their own devices.” I like it. With heads bowed down to our phones and hand-held devices, do we look up? Self-absorbed, do we listen? Can we be still, as the psalmist suggests (Psalm 46)? What might it be like to spend some time every day listening for the “sound of silence?”
This could be a good time to teach about prayer practices. Don’t just tell people to take time for silent prayer. Teach them some intriguing ways to get there: lectio divina, meditatio and mantric prayer. Those who use contemporary music, could subliminally plant the “sound of silence” idea in people’s heads, but playing Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence quietly through the speakers before worship begins.
If you follow this direction, be sure to build some times of silence into the liturgy. Perhaps no communion music. Or you could have silence after the sermon instead of a hymn. Give people an opportunity to listen to the sound of silence right there in worship.