Alisa Knight, M.Div.
August 9, 2020
I Kings 19:1-13
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 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.” 3 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.
4 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.” 5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6 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. 7 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.” 8 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. 9 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?” 10 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.”
11 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; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 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?”
Life’s been noisy lately, at least in our public lives. There has been a lot of loudness. In protests there have been shouts about Black Lives mattering, shouts about the Climate being in crisis, shouts for safety and sanctuary for refugees, immigrants, and their families. In these situations, shouts are good, shouts are necessary, and shouts are needed to be heard in a world filled with numerous, simultaneous crises needing to be addressed.
What is so interesting about today’s Bible passage in 1 Kings 19 is that God was not found in the shouting. God was not found in the loudness. God was not found in the bigness. In the passage Elijah sort of shouted at God because he had done all that God had called him to do, yet he found himself the only surviving prophet who was wanted dead by the powerful Jezebel. God’s response to Elijah’s strong cry for mercy to just let him die was met by an angel who offered rest and strength for his journey to Mt Horeb. In other words, God met Elijah’s loud despair with a restorative whisper.
While waiting for God’s presence on Mount Horeb, Elijah listened for God because God told Elijah that God was about to pass by. A powerful windstorm came and went. A earthquake shook the earth and stopped. And a fire consumed and passed on. All were awesome, powerful displays of God’s creation! But Elijah didn’t hear God’s voice in any of them. He heard God’s voice in a whisper after those powerful displays, not during them.
I don’t know about you but these days, I long to hear God’s whispers. I hear God’s justice in the shouts of non-violent protesters for police reform. I hear God’s truth when listening to politicians shouting for the end of corruption. I hear God’s Golden Rule when I hear shouts from doctors and medical experts to shelter in place, wear a mask or social distance to stop the spread of the Coronavirus. It’s easy and important to hear God purposes in the shouts when needed and appropriate, but truthfully, even the Godly shouts can drown out God’s whispers. And we all need God’s whispers.
I know that Central Congregational Church is filled with disciples who are faithful dedicated vessels for God’s whispers in the world. Whether that be through serving a meal to those in need, visiting the sick or homebound, sending a note of kind encouragement, listening unconditionally, praying for others, beautifully landscaping a park, or offering a hug of comfort, this congregation is wonderful at being a vessel for God’s whispers. Many of us have known the blessing of that invisible but palpable awareness of God’s healing, quiet work through us, in us, amidst us and sometimes despite us when we are God’s vessels.
There are also those of us here in this community in need of those vessels of God’s whispers. There are those of us here pushed to our limit…feeling like we are in the middle of the windstorm of financial crisis, wondering how we are going to pay the bills, buy the groceries or wondering where the next paycheck is coming from.
Some of us find ourselves in the earthquake of illness. Our lives turned upside down because of a devastating personal illness, or illness of our loved ones. The loudness may take the form of a serious diagnosis…or a poor prognosis…or the burden of a chronic debilitating condition…or the rise in confirmed Coronavirus cases.
Some of us find ourselves in the middle of the firestorm of busyness and success. No matter how hard, or long, or smart we work, there is always room to be “better.” And when that “better” is reached, there is more “better” to be found. And so it goes, the exhausting pursuit of improvement and progress that never ends and is never enough.
My guess is that most of us find ourselves in both situations: at times knowingly or unknowingly being the vessels of God’s whispers and at times needing to be on the receiving end of God’s whispers.
But how and where do we find those whispers in a world where there is a lot of shouting and loudness? I recently listened to a sermon by one of my favorite preachers, Episcopal priest and international spiritual guru, Barbara Brown Taylor. The sermon was on “Sacred Downtime.” In her sermon Taylor talks about the many things in life that clutter our lives and disconnect us from God’s presence; those things disconnect us from the very source of our being and purpose in the world. In her sermon Taylor talks about the importance of stopping, looking and listening for God in our day to day lives through silence. She shared some essays from an assignment that she gave her world religion students to spend 20 minutes alone in silence 3x’s a week and then write a three-page reflection on their spiritual experience. Her students wrote of experiencing the divine in nature, during walks, while eating, and in relationships. Many experienced, what would be called whispers from the Sacred.
In the poem “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, the poet talks about her spiritual experience of holding a grasshopper in her hand on a summer day. She likens the experience to the closest thing to prayer that she has experienced. As she wholeheartedly watches the grasshopper eat sugar out of her hand, move it’s jaw side to side while chewing, wash its face with its legs, and flap its wings to propel itself out of her hand…she watches with awe and wonder…and because she does, she not only sees the grasshopper, but also its Maker. It is only through taking that time to appreciate God’s creature, the grasshopper, with intent, humility and silence that she is able to see the Maker.
In a sometimes loud and shouting world let’s each find that grasshopper, so to speak. When we do, let’s each get lost in the awe of discovering the scared in the profane. For by doing that, we will be more attuned to God’s whisper. Then we can be vessels of God’s whispers OR we can graciously receive those whispers when they are offered to use through others. Let’s all make room for that Sacred Downtime in our schedules and moments throughout our days to not only experience the grasshopper but also its Maker. Amen.
May we all be enveloped in God’s arms amidst
the windstorms of life.
May we all be safely standing on the indestructible
rock of faith during the earthquakes of life.
May we all be like the shrub that burns bright
But is never consumed by the fires of life.
And may we all listen for God’s whispers
And make time for the grasshopper
who points us to our Maker.