“Elijah and the Silence” – 08-10-14 – Proper 14 – Cycle A

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture – 1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 105:1-6; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33

Sheer silence! Elijah may have wondered if God stopped the world just for him. Elijah meets God!

Where have you met God? God surprises me each and every day. Does he surprise you? Are we holding our breath for these times. Sometimes our breath is gone, depleted. We reach the end of our own brain power and realize that persistence has disappeared. We need to confess, often in tears, that we have reached the limit of our human thought and will power. There is a wall in front of us. Sometimes it is a wall of total fear or maybe fear mixed with shame and guilt.

Elijah was there. He found a cave which let him in. A good hiding place. But guess what, God knew where Elijah was. God said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I am the only one left! I am alone and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

God tells Elijah to come out on the mountain. God sends a great wind, and an earthquake, and a fire. Elijah could not sense God in any of these extreme happenings. Then … then God sent 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?”

As often as I have read the stage directions for this experience, I am puzzled. God tells Elijah to come out on the mountain. Apparently Elijah did not get himself out of the cave in obedience soon enough (I am thinking that he was immobile from his fear and depression). It seems that he was still in the cave when the silence happened because we read, “When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.”

God does not seem to reprehend Elijah for this inaction. Instead God listens to Elijah explain why exactly Elijah is hiding. Oh, that we as pastors and counselors or friends would stop scolding and listen. Listening is the best salve for wounded souls. It is a matter of leaning back in relaxed posture, pressing our lips together and being present.

What does God do after listening to Elijah? He gives him some close-to-retirement responsibilities (big ones) such as anointing a few kings, a-n-d anointing a prophet to replace Elijah. So this was not a useless counseling session that was held on the side of a mountain at the entrance to a cave. God was listening and had compassion. Elijah had evidently earned his retirement. Do you know that after these tasks were completed, Elijah did not need to suffer as death overtook him? No, Elijah was swept into heaven on a chariot. Pretty awesome, don’t you agree?

Are you looking for your God-moments of silence? Do you think you missed one or more? Maybe, just maybe, we have all missed moments of silence – myself especially. I tend to rush. Sometimes I seem to be the fearful wind rushing past God. Sometimes in my life I have been the earthquake – shaking and effecting people’s lives who deserved much better. God was surely wanting to shake me. The fire! I don’t know. Have you ever been the fire – burning yourself by your behavior, burning other people, cauterizing any cords of relationship? Yes, I was fire.

God is so merciful! It could have been ever worse, but God protected me. I thank God daily for this protection and for his claim on my life. When did I listen to God? When I was totally in despair. God heard me declare my helplessness and inadequacies, yes my sins. I proclaimed by state of being, sometimes in total agony. Then I became quiet from exhaustion. God took over. When God takes charge after I relinquish control, it is awesome. Absolutely awesome. God how did you do that!” I exclaim. Freedom. Life comes together with God in the middle. I feel like this verse in Psalm 85:10: “Steadfast love and faithfulness have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

Shall we just let this state of affairs alone for fear of disturbing the peace? No, we shall proclaim the greatness of this God and what has been done for us. We have not been recipients of God’s attention because of how we ask or do, but because it is simply there. When we say, “Jesus Christ is Lord!” these are not just fancy words. These are working words. These words are connected to the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead and therefore we are raised, saved. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans in chapter 10:13-15, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

It is easy to think that “pastors” are the ones with beautiful feet. But this is an “equal opportunity” opportunity. Not a mistake here. Everyone, absolutely everyone, can have these beautiful feet. The secret is not in expensive creams or massages. The secret is an open invitation for anyone, who believes that Jesus Christ is Lord and our salvation, to walk with these feet and proclaim. Paul said, “How can people be saved if they do not know about this gift which God is holding for each and every person.”

This reminds me of the unclaimed money which is sitting in state treasuries or federal treasuries and which belongs to specific people who do not know that it is there. In my case, a relative of a relative told me that he thinks there is money sitting there which belongs to me. Someone proclaimed to me something which I did not know but which would benefit me. Sure enough, when I went to the correct website, there was my name more-or-less. Bits and pieces of the listing were correct. You know, maiden name mixed with married name, wrong address, but the right insurance company. Verification did indeed happen that the $400 belonged to me from an insurance policy placed in my name at birth by my parents. Even though I never moved from the same property in all my life, that money never found its way to me. Someone needed to proclaim that news to me.

We need to be proclaiming this good news of Jesus Christ to everyone – even people who will not stand still to receive this infusion of information. These people simply do not know the freedom for which they are longing. It is something like thinking we have years to go until retirement when, without warning, we are informed about a little-known clause in the company policy which means our subsidized freedom can start tomorrow, in fact it could have started a year ago, had someone known and proclaimed.
That sounds very good, does it not – suddenly getting this exciting news! Well, not everyone gets that message. We plod along trying to stretch meager incomes, making ourselves smile because that seems to work better than being grouchy and wearing an upside-down smile. No matter how we roll things in our mind, we never reach a workable or pleasurable ending. Either troubling health or lacking financial resources or stretched relationships bar our way into the future. When is it time to fall on our knees in faith and take our crumbled lives into our hands and figuratively and literally hand them to Jesus? Now, we let Jesus control our checkbook. Now, we let God be in charge of our physical health. Now, we let God take charge of our relationships. It is our time of silence.

Then God speaks after the silence. God proclaims to us that we have freedom waiting for us. We have this gift called salvation waiting just by going to the correct website. The website is named “www.jesussaves.org.” You may have noticed that it is not “.com.” That is business. I think that salvation includes businesses but “.org” expresses a freedom to serve, a freedom to be us – not a selfish us – but instead freedom to respond to this great gift of salvation. It is like being given a plane ticket to heaven – not a time card to board the train or elevator into a coal mine.

How can we get on board the plane instead of the dreaded elevator or train? First we need to hear, then we need to develop a relationship with the pilot – God. Before we know what happened we notice that we have “faith.” We believe that God exists and is present in our lives and that the Jesus person of God has willingly given his life temporarily so that we can also rise as did the risen Christ. We are resurrection people. If we think we are still on the cross as was Jesus, we need to open our eyes and look at ourselves. Christ arose, so we might arise. We are resurrection people! So, then we need to proclaim how this “www.jesussaves.org” works.

Not only do we need to proclaim, we need to check our own faith level. On a scale of 0 to 10, name your level. In our gospel lesson from Matthew 14:22-33, the disciples were dismayed and quite fearful when they realized that it was Jesus walking on the water toward their tossing boat and not a ghost. Of course they were relieved to know that Jesus had not deserted them but did he really need to walk on water to get there? Well, yes he did! They had left him on the shore apparently at his command. He wanted to be alone to dismiss (which could mean “get rid of”) the crowds and then he wanted to be alone in silence to pray. I think they all expected the boat to stay closer to the shore but the winds had their way with the boat.

So here is Jesus arriving at last. Impulsive Peter shouts to Jesus, “Help me to walk on water to come to you.” Jesus said, “Come.” At first Peter’s impulsiveness and trust and faith carried him to walk on the water. But quickly Peter came to his senses and realized what he was doing and that it was not a natural activity. Peter started to sink. Jesus said, “O ye of little faith, why did you doubt?” It is to be noted that Jesus did offer his hand to Peter so that Peter did not sink. God’s hand is always available to keep us from sinking. But our level of faith determines if we are personally sinking or personally staying on top. Faith. Are you compiling a list of the times God helped you in troubling situations or for great occasions? Are you letting God speak to you from his word, the Bible? Are you letting other people of faith speak to you? Are you talking to God in prayer or in the middle of tasks? Then try the silence. After the sound of sheer silence, God speaks. He surely does! Amen