The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 14A (8/10/2008)

The Still Small Voice of God

Lessons:      1st Kings 19:9-18      Psalm 85:8-13      Romans 10:5-15      St. Matthew 14:22-33      Semicontinuous Reading and Psalm           Genesis 37:1-4,12-28           Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b

Prayer of the Day:      O God, our defender, storms rage around us and within us and cause us to be afraid. Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons and daughters from fear, and preserve us in the faith of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

19.9 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?" 14 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." 15 Then the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him."

1st Kings 19:9-18, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Risendal family is back from our three-week family vacation. After a week of fishing in Montana, a week-long retreat at Holden Village (a Christian community and retreat center buried deep in the Cascade Mountains near Wenatchee, Washington), and a few days on the San Juan Islands (just ask me some time about the Orca pods!), we arrived home rested, relaxed, renewed, and ready for the new day.

But now, just a couple days downstream, it is painfully evident that we are back from vacation. We are no longer able to have long, lazy relaxed mornings. We no longer sit up chatting with our boys until nearly midnight. We no longer wake up in the morning and wonder what we ought to do today. We are back to meetings, deadlines, doctor's visits, and house cleaning... the regular, hectic routine of our suburban lives.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not complaining. I love my family, and am grateful for the time we have together. I enjoy my work, and would do it all day long if my body allowed me to. And when I get a chance to pull out my banjo and pick a bluegrass tune or two with a friend, well that is just icing on the cake. My dilemma is that there is just too much good stuff in my life. My desire to have it all causes me to run at a hectic pace. As a good friend of mine used to say, we live in a time when people are trying to squeeze three lives into one.

The casualty of that pace, far too often, is our relationship with God. When we are trying to squeeze so much in, what often gets squeezed out, is the time we spend in the presence of God.

In this week's first lesson, the prophet Elijah is on the run. He has just prevailed over the prophets of Baal (killing some 850 of them), and Queen Jezebel is determined to have his life. He flees, by himself, into the wilderness to hide. Along the way, he doesn't check into the local Holiday Inn (with high speed internet, cable television, a swimming pool and an exercise facility). He stays in the darkness of a lonely cave. And there, in the quiet of the night, he lays still and listens.

What he hears, is the very word of God.

God commands Elijah to go out and stand on the mountain, and wait for God to arrive. Elijah stands there, and witnesses a great wind, and a great earthquake, and a great fire. But God is not in the wind. God is not in the earthquake. God is not in the fire. After it all comes the sound of a sheer silence.

Elijah hears this "sound" and returns to the quiet of his cave. It is then that God's word comes to him again, eventually calling him back to his ministry - back to the work God had appointed him to do.

When running for his life, when standing in the face of wind and earthquake and fire, Elijah is consumed by his despair and discouragement. But when he finds time for God to speak to him in the silence, his hope is restored, and he is able to continue.

We, like Elijah, need those times of sheer silence, if we hope to stay in touch with God's word. It is no wonder we rarely hear God's voice today: we rarely stop for long enough to listen. We need to take a break from the rush of daily life, and rest in the presence of our gracious God.

I hope and pray that you can seek out, each day, a moment or two of sheer silence. May God fill those moments of silence, and may God's word fill your hearts and souls, empowering you for faithfulness.

David J. Risendal

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. What was causing Elijah's heart to be filled with fear and discouragement?
  2. What enabled him to once again hear God's voice?
  3. Why do people (why do we...) so rarely hear the word of the Lord today?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. When am I least likely to take time to listen for God's voice?
  2. What habits of discipleship can help me to stay more connected with God's word?
  3. What ministry that I might prefer to flee, is God calling me to address today?