Monroe Congregational Church, U.C.C.
June 24, 2001 - Pastor Diane Schmitz
Bigger is better! We've been taught that in many ways in our culture. Drive through McDonalds and the worker will ask you, "Do you want that super-sized?" "King-Size" candy bars are now the norm. We are encouraged to buy bigger cars and bigger houses. "Gigantic sale," and "Colossal Opportunity" are messages we receive daily.
Faster is better: Faxes, cell phones, overnight mail. Recently I drove past a billboard advertising a cell phone company. It said: "We took immediately and made it faster."
All this is supposed to make our lives better. Still, we, like the psalmist thousands of years ago, are longing and thirsting for something that living bigger and faster has not brought us. Many of us wonder at our lives and repeat in our hearts the words of the psalmist: "Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
No matter how much our culture and we may try to cover it up, things are not as they should be. Deep within us we recognize that and it creates uneasy feelings. But, we are tempted, cajoled and implored to forget about these realities by finding comfort in bigger, and faster living. We are urged to find comfort in things, rather than in God.
Elijah, in our story from Kings this morning, felt downhearted and disgusted by the world in which he lived. He was prophet of God and he seemed to be always a disturber of worldly peace; challenging the values of people and the way they lived. In the northern kingdom of Israel many people had strayed from worshipping God, partly because the queen, Jezebel promoted the Canaanite religion. Elijah likely was tired of raising the same concerns over and over again just to see his listeners turn away seduced by other gods.
Our world today is not so different. This old, old story has insight for us as we retrace some of Elijah's story even before he ended up going to the cave where he heard God's voice.
Earlier, Elijah had predicted a three-year drought. He was guided by God to take refuge with a widow by a creek and together they miraculously had enough to eat and survived. The drought was hard on all the people and they longed for some relief.
The coming of rain to the land became a contest between the powers of God and of the Canaanite god, Baal. On Mount Carmel, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. As the people watched, Elijah suggested that each group offer a sacrifice to be burnt that would depend on their respective gods for igniting the wood.
The prophets of Baal implored all day long for their God to light the fire but nothing happened. But, Elijah raises a call to God and fire is sent to the altar he had prepared. All is consumed, even the altar. The people present shout, "This is our God." Elijah orders the prophets of Baal seized and they are killed. Rain clouds appear over the sea and the drought is ended.
Queen Jezebel hears what has happened and threatens Elijah; he flees to southern Judah. Elijah had had enough. He was worn out, discouraged and escaped to the wilderness. He lay down under a tree and fell asleep.
Haven't we all at some time or another done some version of this fleeing? Life gets to be just too much and we get into bed and pull the covers over our head. Or we zone out for hours in front of the TV. Or we find ourselves captured by various addictions - drugs, alcohol or even work - that keep us from acknowledging the pain in our lives.
Sometimes we have been lucky to sense an angel of God touching us, as Elijah was touched, saying to us, "Get up." "Eat." Move out of this lethargy and despair and find some nourishment. Elijah looked next to him and there was a cake and a jar of water. He ate of it and then lay down again.
So it often is with us. We find some energy to rouse us but soon we are overwhelmed again and fall back into despair. But, God did not give up on Elijah and God does not give up on us. The angel returned. "Get up" "Eat or the journey will be too much for you."
Elijah ate again and then began another part of his journey; one that took him many days and nights before he arrived at Horeb, the mount of God. Our journeys towards God often take longer than we would like. It is on these long journeys that we become aware the nourishment we have given ourselves has not been enough or has not truly fed our soul. So much of the "food" we are given to eat today is not true sustenance. Yet true nourishment of our body, mind and spirit is critical so our journey is not too much for us.
Once Elijah arrived at Horeb he took refuge in a cave; his disquieted soul made rumbles even in the silence. He heard the voice of God asking him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" Elijah may very well have yelled out his frustrations at this point. "I've worked so hard to do right and the people have rejected you in spite of my efforts. They have rejected me. They have killed God's prophets and I am the only prophet left. Now they will kill me!"
How many times in our lives have we tried to "do right" and things have not worked out. We have been ridiculed or ignored. We feel alone and abandoned. We feel threatened by situations and people out of our control. We've tried to follow the guidance of God's voice as we have heard it and it has lead to places we did not anticipate and results we did not plan. How often we have longed to crawl into a cave away from our lives and decisions we know we must make.
Elijah heard a response to his outpouring: "Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by." God was about to pass by. Elijah must have had mixed feelings about that. To receive such attention from God was gratifying but perhaps also seemed a bit frightening. For God had been known to come before people in a big way; smoke and fire, burning bushes, great clouds that cover everyone and everything.
We, too, often have a push-pull relationship with God. Yes, we want God knowing us and being with us but not too close. Such an intimacy might overwhelm us, might move us to surrender all that we have held on to. Such a power makes us just a bit uncomfortable for we think it may be more than we can handle.
Elijah, still inside the cave, heard a great wind come by that split mountains and broke rocks but God was not in the wind. Then came an earthquake that mightily shook the ground Elijah was on but God was not in the earthquake. Then came a fire with huge flames and mighty heat but God was not in the fire.
Then came a sound of sheer silence. In that moment of silence, Elijah was able to move and he went and stood at the entrance of the cave. It was then he heard God's voice: "What are you doing here, Elijah?" God asked Elijah again to take stock of his surroundings, his life and his actions. God asked Elijah to do this not in the midst of a powerful blowing wind, not in the midst of the shaking of the earthquake, not in the midst of the fiery flames but in the sound of sheer silence. God was not in the bigger and louder but in the small still voice.
Many of us do not even know what sheer silence sounds like anymore. We are surrounded daily by winds, earthquakes and fires that claim our attention. Often we try to look for God in the midst of that. Now God may be present everywhere but this story suggests that to hear God most clearly we need silence. We need to quiet the other voices that would guide us. We need to discard the cultural norms that would have us race in pursuit of bigger, better and more.
Dag Hammarskjold said this: "If only I may grow: firmer, simpler - quieter, warmer." The order of words he uses is illuminating. His desire to grow focuses first on "firmer." We must become firm in our boundaries with others, our work, and our world to create a place where our longing to know God may be nurtured. Hammarskjold's second word for how to grow is "simpler." When we unclutter our lives with things, with meetings, with the constant barrage of information, life becomes simpler. Out of that simplified life arises a way to embody Hammarskjold's third word: "quieter." We become quiet and we open ourselves in a new way to God's presence in our lives. Our living becomes less hectic and frenetic; we greet each day with thanksgiving and more optimism and hope. In such quiet living we find our direction more clearly and feel God's presence more directly. Such living leads to Hammarskjold's final word, "warmer." We feel safer, more content, and warmed by God's love in a more constant way.
Warmed by God's love and trusting in God's direction we can move forward
as Elijah did after this final experience in the cave.
Elijah still didn't know what was next; he still didn't have any guarantees that things would conclude as he might hope. What he did have was an encounter with God that made all else pale in comparison. His disquieted soul had become quiet. He had beheld the face of God in the unexpected sheer silence. That was the nourishment that made it possible for him to get up and go into the future.
This morning we do not need bigger, better and faster to heal our disquieted souls. We need a slower, quieter pace and a firmer resolve to leave the earthquakes and fires behind to create a space for us to listen in the silence to the special word God has for each one of us. May it be so. Amen.