Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Still Small Voice Sermon

1 Kings 19:1-15
August 15, 2010

Before everyone had refrigerators in their homes, people used ice houses to preserve their food. Ice houses had thick walls, no windows, and a tightly fitted door. In the winter, when streams and lakes were frozen, large blocks of ice were cut, hauled to the icehouses and covered with sawdust. Often the ice would last well into the summer.

One man lost a valuable watch while working in the icehouse. He searched diligently for it, carefully raking through the sawdust, but did not find it. His fellow workers also carefully looked, but their efforts too proved futile.
A small boy who heard about the fruitless search slipped into the icehouse during the noon hour and soon emerged with the watch. Amazed, the men asked how he found it. “I closed the door,” the boy replied, “laid down in the sawdust, and kept very still. Soon I heard the watch ticking.”

Often in our faith lives the question is not whether God is speaking, but whether we are being still enough, and quiet enough to hear. I believe God comes to us in many ways, and Elijah’s story reminds us that one of the most powerful ways that God comes to us is with a still, small voice. Some translations even say it was with “the sound of sheer silence” that God chose to come to Elijah. Let’s us tune our hearts and mind to listen for the voice of God in Elijah’s story this morning.

Sometimes being a servant of God will wear you out! Elijah reminds us that the things we are called on to do on God’s behalf are not always easy. As our scripture reading begins, Elijah has just come off of a tremendous victory for God against the prophets of the god Baal. Elijah called down fire that God provided- proving that his God was superior to theirs. Then he led the prophets down near the water and killed them. This angered the Queen Jezebel who has now warned Elijah that she intends to kill him.

This is more than Elijah can handle. He comes off of a big victory and immediately someone is looking to kill him. Working for God is not always easy. Doing what God calls you to do will not always win you friends. In fact, you will most likely run into other people’s attitudes that may make you want to run and hide. Hopefully no one will ever threaten to kill you because of what God has asked you to do, but there are times when you will want to throw in the towel.

Elijah has gone from celebrating to running. He simply cannot handle the fact that Jezebel wants him dead. He’s gone from feeling on top of the world, to the lowest of the low. Elijah runs for his life into the desert- a wilderness where it is not easy to survive on your own. He takes shelter in the shade of a broom tree and there he prayed to die. He asks God to take his life. This prophet is worn out- he has served all he can- he feels like he has nothing more to give to God. Then he falls asleep.

When we are at our lowest low, worn out from serving, fed up with God’s call, often we receive nourishment for what God has in store for us. After Elijah makes his desire to die known, God sends him nourishment. Elijah is nourished by the most basic of human needs, an angel provides him fresh bread and a jar of water. After another quick rest, the angel comes back with more nourishment for Elijah. Taking care of his most basic needs helped prepare Elijah for God’s next call, a forty day journey to mount Horeb.

When we are worn out from serving, rest nourishes us as well. Perhaps nourishment also comes in a kind and unexpected word of encouragement from a friend. Perhaps nourishment comes from a sermon that deeply connects with us, or a song that lifts our spirits and speaks to our souls. I truly believe if we stick around long enough, God will provide nourishment for us when we are worn out from serving. We need to be open to receiving the nourishment God has for us.
Last week Dee decided that nourishment for her journey might take the form of a trip down the Hiawassee River and she invited me and our friend Kara to join her. Being in nature is what nourishes Dee’s soul- brings her back to the source of all creation and puts her in touch with God. I have not always been an outdoor adventure girl myself. In fact, I only besides church camp the only outdoorsy things I have ever much done have been since I moved to Livingston. When I turned 30 I decided to start doing things that scared me- including camping outside without indoor plumbing, white water rafting, and last week- floating down the ice cold river in an inner tube.

More about that adventure later, let’s get back to Elijah’s adventure in the desert. After being nourished by God, Elijah began preparing himself for God’s next call on his life. He journeyed 40 days to Mt. Horeb- a famous mountain also known as Mt. Sinai. It was on this mountain that Moses also had an encounter with God and received the Ten Commandments. This mountain is where God will speak to Elijah directly. Elijah finds a cave in which to rest from his travels. After a night of rest God asks Elijah, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” A fair question I think, not accusatory but simply a statement of direction that could mean so many things like, “Why are you running,” and “What is your plan now?”

After Elijah shares his fears, disappointments and brokenness with God, God invites him to stand outside and wait for the powerful, divine presence to pass by. Now I don’t know how Elijah was expecting the presence of God to appear. Perhaps knowing the story of Moses’ encounter with God- he thought he might have to hide his face. As Elijah waits for God to pass by there comes a powerful wind that tore apart mountains and shattered rocks- that must be the presence of a powerful, almighty God, right? But God was not in the earthquake. Next there was a great earthquake. But God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a roaring fire, but God was not in the fire either.

After the fire something interesting came next. Our translation this morning says that there was a gentle whisper. Some translate the Hebrew as, “the sound sheer silence” and the King James version says, “a still, small voice” came bringing the presence of God. It was this silence after wind, and earthquake and fire that brought the presence of God to Elijah. Again God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here Elijah?” Elijah tries to explain himself once again. What he receives from God are step-by-step instructions on what to do next. He is to appoint a new king and a prophetic successor.

God’s voice came to Elijah as still and small. The still small voice was a quiet sound in profound contrast to the roaring of the mighty wind, earth and fire. I’m sure there has never been a quieter moment in the history of the world as just before God spoke to Elijah. Well, maybe not a quieter moment until later in the history of our faith- the moment just after Jesus breathed his last breath on the cross. I believe God was speaking in that silence as well.

God’s voice can resound from the mountain tops and shake the foundations of the earth. God’s presence can come to us as a burning bush or many other natural phenomenons. But God’s voice can also be made known to us in a moment of silence. Do we ever create spaces of silence for God to speak? Do we nourish our own spirits so that on occasion there is quiet time- a time when there are no other sounds for God to enter in and speak to us? If we are making noise all the time- how will we hear God’s still, small voice?

I want to take you back to me floating down the river with my two friends last week. We were driven 6 miles away from the outfitter’s station, plopped into a river where the temperature was 54 degrees and sent off in an inner tube. We didn’t start out close enough to one another- so I hopped out of my tube and swam toward the girls so we could hold on to each other- getting back on the tube was my first challenge of the day. When I was safely back on my tube, I began to notice how the trip down the river was a metaphor for our faith lives. Sometimes, you travel your journey with friends- holding on to each other for dear life. Then, the first major rapid comes- and one friend ventures out on her own (that was Dee- she’s an introvert). Sometimes you can help each other to navigate the tough places- and sometimes you are still going to hit your shin against a rock. Then there are times when you can’t hold on to any other person and you will travel alone for a time (there was a time I didn’t see another human for 15 minutes on the river).

There are some times when you will feel the warmth of God’s love on your face like the sunshine- and there are times when you will wonder if anyone is still with you including God. I found myself in the middle of a grove of trees and then shot over a rapid that flipped me upside down with the tube on top of my head. I felt a little like a fed-up Elijah at that moment. But I got back on my tube- and even though we had taken different paths, we three friends still finished in the same spot at about the same time. God’s voice was speaking to us when we were laughing hysterically as I tried to get back on my tube, and God’s voice was speaking to us when all was quiet and we were able to lay back and just float.

Sometimes I think God is going to come to us in an earthquake. I think if you asked any of the missionaries from Tennessee that survived the Haiti earthquake earlier this year; they would tell you that God was in the earthquake (or at least in the aftermath of the earthquake). Sometimes God will come to us as a raging wind or a burning fire. But sometimes, God comes to us in the sound of sheer silence. Will we be there listening for God’s instruction for us in the silence?

I want to leave you with some words I read this week in a journal called, Direction. “The story (of Elijah) suggests a way forward- eat and drink of God’s life-giving sustenance, return to the bedrock of faith, listen for God’s still small voice. That may be the way to find new energy, new vision and a sense of purpose.”
I pray for each of us a new energy, new vision and new sense of purpose. May God’s still small voice renew us when we are feeling most burnt out and fed up. Amen.

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