The Sheer Sound of Silence 6/20/10

1 Kings 19:1-4(5-7), 8-15a

I.    On the run – the back story you need to know …

We have followed our prophet, Elijah, three weeks now.  We saw him raise the widow’s son, and judge Ahab for his part of the murder of Naboth (for his vineyard), and now we find ourselves … at the beginning of the story.  The events of our passage actually happen before the experiences with the widow and Naboth

Elijah – whose name means “Yahweh is my God” – is called to be a prophet to the Israel nation that is beginning to turn to idolatry, worshipping Baal – the local god of weather.  Elijah speaks abruptly and harshly to King Ahab and the Jewish nation, accusing them of having two opinions and beliefs.  He challenges them to choose whom to worship and do so wholeheartedly.  Then, he proposed a direct test of powers to determine who is the one True God.  (Contest to make fire, the priest of Baal’s failure, Elijah pouring water x4 and it lighting from the sky)

The One True God, of course, wins this test of powers and Elijah orders the death of the prophets of Baal (450 of them!).  Queen Jezebel, herself a priestess of Baal, is not happy about this and threatens Elijah’s life.  This is where we pick up the story …

II.               1 Kings 19:1-15a

A.               Elijah on the Run

Instead of being energized and enthused by his win over the worshippers of Baal, Elijah is running in fear.  He, who had been so clear and focused in his challenging the prophets of Baal, is now running blindly away from the task that he had just started.  Why was he running?

My theory: it started to be about him.  He was elated at his win, but he started to panic thinking that he wouldn’t be able to protect his own life from Jezebel and the power she commands.  Forgetting the power of the God he had just proved, he believes it is all up to him to accomplish everything.  Twice in this passage, Elijah says, “I alone am left …”  Elijah knows there are others faithful to God, but he in his righteous anger and energy, he conveniently forgets that others share his beliefs and could help.  This, I think, is something we are all prone to when we are feeling stressed and pushed to the limits – It is so easy to think that we alone are the ones trying so hard to live faithfully, to work hard, and to do what is right.

When we get into that mindset, it is all too easy to believe that we alone are the ones who have to “make it work.”  It is so easy to let ourselves take too large a responsibility, too large a chuck to chew on, and too big a role to play in saving each situation.

This is why Elijah runs … the responsibility, the expectations he was putting on himself was just too much.

B.               God in the silence

Even though Elijah is not working on the task that God has set before him, God supplies his needs and makes sure that he has what he needs.  Twice, an angel feeds him and tells him to prepare for a long journey.  And the word comes to Elijah to get ready, for the Lord is about to pass by.

Out of the bosom of the Air
    Out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken,
Over the woodlands brown and bare,
    Over the harvest-fields forsaken,
          Silent, and soft, and slow
          Descends the snow.

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

At this point, we should be reminded of another time when God passed by another person bearing God’s word to the people … on the same mountain even!  At Mount Horeb (which is also Mt. Sinai), Moses sees the kabod the glory of God as it passes by.  Moses only sees the back of God, but it is enough.  Elijah does not see God’s backside, he finds God in the sound of sheer silence (KJV- still small voice, NIV gentle whisper).  Perhaps this is a counterpoint to the prophets of Baal who prayed to their false God for rain or fire and other earthly events.  God is none of those things here, God is something that cannot be seen – silence.

This is not the main point of the passage, but still it is important.  God can be found in unexpected places – like the sound of snow silently falling, or in the slow fading of light at the end of the day.  God can be found in silences, in crying, in conversations, even in loud music or offbeat commercials.


1.                The Practice of Waking Up to God

In her book An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor picks up on how we experience God in the natural world:

People encounter God under shady oak trees, on riverbanks, at the tops of mountains, and in long stretches of barren wilderness.  God shows up in whirlwinds, starry skies, burning bushes, and perfect strangers.  When people want to know more about God, the song of God tells them to pay attention to the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, to women kneading bread and workers lining up for their pay.
Whoever wrote this stuff believed that people could learn as much about the ways of God from paying attention to the world as they could from paying attention to scripture …
This is wonderful news.  I do not have to choose between the Sermon on the Mount and the magnolia trees.  God can come to me by a still pool on the big island of Hawaii as well as at the altar of the Washington National Cathedral.  The House of God stretches from one corner of the universe to the other …
I am not in charge of this House, and never will be.  I have no say about who is in and who is out.  I do not get to make the rules …
I am a guest here, charged serving other guests – even those who present themselves as my enemies.  I am allowed to resist them, but as long as I trust in one God who made us all, I cannot act as if they are no kin to me.  There is only one House.  Human beings will either learn to live in it together or we will not survive to hear its sigh of relief when our numbered days are done.[1]

God reminded Elijah of one very important thing in this mountaintop visit.   I am the God here, thank you very much.  You have been doing a good job; and you still have work to do, but it is not your responsibility to do it all alone.  I will orchestrate the timing and the end goals, if you don’t mind.  You just need to remember that I am God and do your part.

III.           How do you renew your faith in God?

Elijah was scared and afraid so he ran away – straight into the arms of the God he loved and trusted.  When you are weary, run-down, and anxious where do you run?  And how might God be reaching out to you in those times?  When you are simply hungry for something More, and looking for something of sustenance to feed your faith, where do you go?  With whom do you speak?  For myself, this last week found me stretched thin by my own decisions, failings, and limitations.  I was hot and irritated, tired and annoyed, and I found my faith in God renewed by fireflies.  Driving home one day just as the sun was finally resting its head for the day, hundreds and thousands of fireflies were dancing in the fields.  I saw the tiny village of lights illuminating entire worlds that I could not see, and somehow the world felt right again.  God was again the God, and I was again the servant student trying to learn.

As many of you take summer vacations and weekend trips, I urge you to remember that God is as much with you there as God is here.  You may very well find yourself in better touch with God at such unexpected times as when you are laughing with your grandchild than when you are closing your eyes in prayer.  Look for God where you have found God before, and expect to find God in those places in which you could not dream of finding God. 

Let us pray,
God you call us to tasks, important things that we must do.  But we are not alone in our tasks.  Help us to remember those people who are also seeking to be faithful to you.  Teach us to trust in your presence and find glimpses of you everywhere.  Give us courage in responding to our tasks no matter how boring or thankless they feel to us.  Amen.

KIDS MESSAGE           1 Kings 19:11-12

An angel came to Elijah when he was in the desert running away from a situation that scared him … has there ever been something you knew you had to do, but didn’t want to do?  The angel told Elijah to “go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” 

How do you think you would have felt waiting for God?
How would you know when God got there?
What does God look like?

I have a suggestion – sometimes we call God, Father.  Do you know why?
Well, there’s lots of reasons but the reason I call God father is because Jesus called God Father. 
Jesus is God’s son … and through Jesus we are all adopted into God’s family … “heirs of salvation.”

What if God looked like our fathers?  What would God look like?
– tall, short, glasses, dark hair, light hair, short hair, beard, mustaches ….

Wait a minute – there are too many different characteristics … how can God look like all of these fathers? 
Maybe God is just like our fathers’ in character – strong, capable, kind, gentle,
If we took all those good characteristics, we’d have a pretty good image of God, huh?
But … what if someone has a father that isn’t a particularly good father?

Here’s the thing: sometimes we get it backwards a little.

We are made in God’s image … not the other way around. 
So God teaches us what it a parent should be like in the best possible way. 
So we see glimpses of God in our relationships with our parents … and in the world in general. 

That is what Elijah found out on that mountain.  He was tired and scared, and he didn’t want to do what he knew he had to do … so God came and reminded him of their special relationship so that Elijah could have courage and do what he had to do.

Let’s pray:

Father God, thank you for finding us when we are scared,
and renewing our energy when we thing we can’t last. 
Help me to see glimpses of you in the world
and to remember our relationship.  Amen.

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, pp 12-14.


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