If you’ve been following the news, you’d know that California has been experiencing some crazy stuff. The powerful Santa Ana winds that have bellowed and bolstered the wildfires that seem to just come up out of nowhere. All we need is an earthquake, we’d have today’s reading from 1 Kings.
This story comes on the heels of one of my favorite bible stories where Elijah the prophet challenges the prophets of the god Baal to a match. In a nutshell...YWHW comes through in the most powerful way. And the prophets of Baal lose more than they bargained for. But that’s a whole other sermon.
READ: 1 Kings 19: 9-13.
These verses are best understood in the larger context of 1 Kings. In the previous chapter, Elijah is a completely different person. He has raised the dead. Ended a three year drought. He’s challenged and defeated 450 prophets of Baal in the most specular competition. And boldly and bravely ordered them to be killed.
But when Queen Jezebel here’s about this she vows to kill Elijah in retaliation. Even after witnessing what God can do...Elijah is afraid for his life. He flees into the wilderness, sits down under a tree and prays to God to die.
Elijah, who had been so powerful and courageous is now despondent and discouraged. Full of God-inspired imagination before, Elijah now, can see no way out. He feels like a loser, believing he has failed God and his calling. Abandoned and alone, Elijah goes away to have a pity party for himself. He’s done speaking for God. It’s not worth the risk. He just wants to die.
Have you ever felt so broken or alone that death seems like the best possible solution? If so, you’re not alone.
Have you ever wandered in the wilderness...or trudged up a lonely mountain to feel closer to God only to sit and wait…wondering if Heaven has closed its doors. If so, you’re not alone.
Have you ever knelt by your bed and prayed intently for answers until your knees are screaming? Or sat in a pew clutching the bible to your breast waiting in faith and expectation while the airwaves remain silent. God is not home. If so, you’re not alone.
Silent but not alone. This is what Elijah teaches us.
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Two years ago, I went to visit my friends in Mexico. I was in a bad place. Like Elijah, I too felt like a loser and a failure. The church wasn’t growing like I expected it to, nor did it look anything like I had imagined. I was struggling with my faith, my confidence, and my call. I was desolated and ran away to Southern Baja to find consolation.
My friend’s built a beautiful beach house where every window had a calming view of the sand and the sea. Getting to that beach was a bit stressful. The pathway was rough- built with rocks, shells and broken glass – each stood out like orange caution cones along the highway warning of danger ahead.
The path eventually gave way to the sand, which was soft and deep. Each step was a struggle... like marching through mud in flip flops. The sand did its best to keep me from advancing any further. But I was determined.
After a hundred yards or so of this thigh burning march, I came face to face with an enormous wall of sand dunes. I felt like I was in Game of Thrones and the giant ice wall was keeping me from going where I needed to go. And so I climbed, pushing through the soft sand.
Atop of the dune the wind off the Pacific Ocean screamed past my face, “Go back. Go back.” But I did not listen. And walked towards the sea. The beach was at least three big city blocks wide and no less than four miles long. I had the entire place to myself. There was not a person in sight anywhere. Talk about being alone.
My focus was on the water that was beckoning and calling me like a salty siren leading a ship into the rocks. A part of me wanted to jump in and be carried out to sea. But with all the energy of the vast Pacific Ocean at it’s disposal something was pushing me back – I was refused and rejected.
Like Elijah, I felt exhausted, alone, self-righteous and under attack. So I screamed and yelled and shouted and cried out to God. The only response I received was a mocking tempest. After hours of this my voice gave out and I simply gave up. God wasn’t at this address.
Back in the solitude of the house I looked through the windows and saw where I had been. In the silence, a sense of peace and accomplishment settled within my soul. It was then I realized God was not absent, but waiting silently for me.
God tells Elijah to go stand on the mountain. Violent forces of nature break underneath him and whirl all around him. Yet God is not in these overwhelming demonstrations of power. Rather, it is out of sheer silence that God finally speaks.
This story reminds me that God’s silence is not God being absent. It’s a way for God to draw us closer to the Divine where we can vent, melt down, and feel sorry for ourselves because sometimes that is exactly what we need the most. As my wife so brilliantly stated, “God silent is God listening.”
This makes me wonder about our listening. Perhaps we have trouble hearing God speak because of the winds, earthquakes and fires that are erupting all around us.
Social media and 24 hour news constantly vie for our attention. Some of us have marriage or financial troubles, health issues, a problem child or a dying parent that steal our focus from that small voice within. How many ways have you been distracted while reading this message, muchless this past week?
Sometimes we have to move beyond ourselves to hear what God has to say. But sometimes we don’t hear God speak, because we don’t like what God has to say.
Elijah knew what God wanted him to do. But when doing it put a price on his head, Elijah go the heck out of Dodge. It's not that unuaual.
Think about all the people who profess Jesus as their "personal Lord and Savior" but completely ignore what he taught or what he has called them to do.
How many churches are in the middle of building a bigger sanctuary even though Christ called them to build bigger homeless shelters?
Listening is not just hearing words spoken. Listening means fully taking in what God has said and living it out in our lives. It’s listening with the intention of hearing.
My dear friend Dawn and I have a special relationship that provides a sacred space to complain and vent our frustrations. We listen intently, offering ourselves to be the vessel by which God can speak to the other. Through her smoky southern drawl, I often hear God asking, “Are you done with your pity party?”
Sometimes we don’t know we aren’t listening to God. Or sometimes we ourselves are making too much noise to hear God speak to us. And sometimes God is just allowing us a space to vent. But in each of these situations...just as it is in all of life... God is very much present.
If you feel defeated or despondent, distracted or deflated, or like God has left you on your own, don’t despair. God is not absent, but silently at work. Despite Elijah’s fears and failings, God does not give up on him. And neither does God give up on us.
Jesus is our proof of how far God is willing to go to make that point. Jesus knew what it was like to be abandoned. Alone on a cross he cried out the psalm “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” And yet, God was with him. In life and through death. Just the same God is with us, leading us home to the Divine.
We ought to find it encouraging and comforting that God is faithful even in the face of our fear and depression, our worries and our weariness, and our blindness and deafness God does not abandon us. We abandon God. And even then, God sent the Christ to be the open arms of our loving creator.
If we see and do what Jesus does, then we too can help bring people back to the Divine Love of God that waits for them. That’s what God is calling us to do.
So I hope you will remember this: If God appears to be silent, be reassured that God’s loving kindness is never failing even when we can’t feel it.
In these seasons of silence, we need to look within ourselves where there is always a still small voice whispering, “You are my beloved child. Go and be who I called you to be.”
We may be thinking that we’re waiting for God, but really it’s God who silently waits for us.
Bartlett, David L. and Barbara Brown Taylor. Feasting on the Word, Year A, Vol. 3 (Westminster John Knox: 2009).
Bloom, Jon. When God Seems Silent. (July 18. 2014) https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/when-god-seems-silent
Harris, Tania. Three Reasons God is Silent. Relevant magazine (May 15, 2014) https://relevantmagazine.com/god/3-reasons-god-silent/
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”