Sermon – 08-09-20 – Proper 14 – Cycle A
Scriptures: 1 Kings 19:9-18; Psalm 85:8-13; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-33
Sermon Title: “The Act of Silence
“God help me,” I scream through sobs. I have reached the end of my self-help. Thinking I had to do something that effected another person or group of persons, I had brought upon myself extreme humiliation, extreme shame for the emotional hurt I caused.
This is hitting bottom as the saying goes. But, God is absolutely amazing in his mercy and in his purpose and guidance. It is the rough edges that God seeks. It is the rough edges that God smooths one way or the other. In our brokenness, God can get our attention. In our “wanting to die” episodes, God can bring us to the light. God can show us a reality about ourselves that we could not see or could not accept.
It is like bumping into a hard wall, nose first, only to notice hours later that the grass in which we landed softened our landing. The people whom we had hurt were given an abundance of mercy by God. Life moves along, lesson learned, attitudes changed, gradual transformation into the person God created us to be.
There is this prophet named Elijah in the Old Testament, in the days of kings. By the time of our passage, in 1 Kings 19:9-18, Elijah is worn in body and soul. He fears for his life. He hides in a cave on Mount Herod (also known as Mount Sinai, depending on which language is being used), one of the significant mountains in Old Testament times. God calls to Elijah. What is he doing in this cave, God asks. For exciting reading, you may want to find the activities that went before our scene today.
Elijah answers God by saying that he alone is the last faithful person left. There are no comrades in this awful work for God. His enemies are wanting to kill him. Elijah is filled with fear and exhaustion. He has worked hard for God as a prophet. He is weary! He wants out!
First God reassures Elijah that he is not the only faithful person left. God even gives a number. There are seven thousand Israelites who have refused to worship Baal, the popular god. I searched for the phrase “thank you” coming from God’s mouth to Elijahs’ ear but I found none. It you see it, please tell me.
Never-the-less, God does seem to take into consideration the amount of work that Elijah has done for God’s kingdom. God proceeds to share his forthcoming plan for Elijah with Elijah. Elijah shall appoint a certain person as king for Syria, another person as king for Israel, and a person to replace Elijah himself. Each of these persons shall kill the followers of Baal. But the seven thousand faithful believers in God shall live. Then Elijah will be retired.
Elijah did as God directed him. Elijah’s successor is Elisha. The story of the exchanging of power is so powerful and awesome! 2 Kings, Chapter 2 tells the story. In Elijah’s story his fear became the connection to solution. Elijah would have liked to curl up and die in the cave. After all, it seems that he did not eat since the start of his forty-day trek to Mount Sinai or Horeb. How does one live that long without sustenance? But God did not leave this faithful prophet to die like that. God had a spectacular ending for Elijah!
In our other passages for today, we find “fear.” Let us learn if these other cases of fear proved to be as valuable as Elijah’s fear. In Matthew 14:22-33, early in the morning a “ghost” came walking on the water toward the disciples who were in a boat. They cried out in fear! But this voice came from “the ghost” saying, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” The disciples knew this voice. This ghost-like figure walking on the waters of the sea, is Jesus. They are astonished that he is able to do that. Once again, there is this proof that Jesus is divine, the son person of the Almighty God who is all-powerful.
Momentarily, Peter is overwhelmed by the need to be part of the scene; to do what Jesus is doing. So Jesus agrees that Peter should try walking on the water. Amazingly, Peter can walk on the water in his state of mind. But a storm comes along, ruffles the sea, and frightens Peter. He looses his mindset, his focus. And he begins to move down through the water. “Help me,” Peter cries, “Lord, save me!” Sounds a bit like my cry, “God, help me!”
Well, the Lord does save Peter and Peter adds another lesson to his portfolio of lessons learned.
In Romans 10:5-15, Paul is assuring us how to be saved from ourselves; how to be saved for now and for eternity. Paul writes to the people in the church in Rome, saying, “The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart; because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This is tremendous assurance but Paul does leave this astounding news right there.
Paul knows that telling a small congregation this good news will not extend past their deaths. It will not multiply as the Church of Jesus Christ is intended to multiply. Paul exhorts the people in the Roman church to “get a march on, ” to spread the word and leaves our souls singing, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Think of it as dancing the good news! We are to be busy souls, determined to spread this good news that whoever believes will be saved!
These busy souls need refreshment, retreat, refilling of the Holy Spirit. As we retreat to Elijah’s time of fear in 1 Kings 19, we find that God’s presence did not come in the busy wind, or the unsettling earthquake, or the frightening fire, but in the sound of sheer silence.
Jeanne Murray Walker, in the Christian Century magazine of July 29, 2020, shares her writing called “Invocation Beside the Ocean.” Invocation means inviting God.
You, who were not in the candle flame, not in the Mass this morning, season after season why do you keep silence? Come. Roll in on breakers like bright reeking seaweed or drop like a seagull through a crack in the low stratus. Come any way at all. I will be your prey. Lightning strikes above the water in early dark, thunder clears its throat. Stillness follows, one solitary bird piping like the hysterical hinge of a door opening, opening. Nothing holds together. Wind whips these notes away. I will write an invocation, even if it’s in the sand, even if to the dark, which is not nothing, which begins to feel like velvet yard goods folding on itself like waves of the ocean, swatch after swatch of darkness. I only have this body. I climb the dune, my shoes filling
with sand. High on the bluff above the waves, a crash, and lightning reveals two Adirondack chairs. Great Silence, please sit here beside me.” Amen