A sermon, based on 1 Kings 19.1-15 (with references to Psalm 42 to Luke 8.26-39), preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost June 23, 2019.
Where do we go and to what, to whom do we listen for the voice of God?
Elijah slew the prophets of the god Ba’al. King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, followers of Ba’al and benefactors of the cult of Ba’al, swear to kill Elijah. In fear, he flees. On his journey, he encounters God. The one who answers (the one who is the answer to) the psalmist’s thirst: “As the deer longs for the waterbrooks, so longs my soul for you, O God.” God speaks. Not in the earthquake, wind, or fire of the violent threats against Elijah’s life and not in the turmoil of his fear, but in “a sound of sheer silence.” Or, in the King James Version, “a still, small voice.” An inner word reminding Elijah of his identity, who he is, one “zealous for the Lord,” and his destiny, what he is to do, “Go, return” to your prophetic ministry.
This thirst to hear God, especially amid strife, led the poet John Greenleaf Whittier to write, indeed, pray:
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm.(1)
Where do we go and to what, to whom do we listen for God’s voice?
Daily, I ask this question. For, daily, I am conscious that have more life and labor behind me than before me, which provokes an inner urgency about my identity and destiny, being and doing all I can with all I have left (and who knows, surely, not I, how much that is!).
Honesty also compels my confession that my daily concerns pale in comparison to Elijah. I did not slay 450 prophets of Ba’al.(2) I did not flee for my life under the threat, the promise of death. And, unlike Jesus, I did not confront a demonic Legion to free another from the depths of spiritual possession. I cannot claim to have faced these greatest of dangers.
Nevertheless, three things, three “nevers” I have learned…
First, never compare my experience to that of others, especially those whose circumstances I consider are worse than mine…
For when I do that (for though I say “never,” the temptation to do this very thing, likely due to the human tendency to see others and ourselves through the common lenses of our circumstances, is ever-present), I tend to dismiss my concerns as unimportant and, thus, ignore that inner, whispering voice of conscience that reminds me of who I am and what matters to me.
Second, never measure importance by the degree of my life’s difficulty, the weight of my worry and woe…
For when I do that, I tend to look for meaning only in the big events; the earthquakes, winds, and fires of existence. Grave illness. Death. Natural calamities of tempest and flood. And when I do that, I miss the grace, the wonder and power of those counterbalancing joys. Health. Birth. After nature’s storms, the noble labor of recovery engaged by countless hearts and hands.
Third, never disregard spontaneous moments of discovery…
A conversation with friend or stranger in which an insightful word is spoken that answers a vexing question…
The ethereal images of a dream, barely recalled upon waking that, in the light of conscious thought, reveal something to me about me that I little knew or least understood…
An occasion when I behold another practicing my values of love and justice more credibly, more incarnationally than I’ve seen in myself (in other words, someone who is and does my best self better than me!); the vision of which commends, commands the renewal of my vow…
At such moments, as Elijah standing on “Horeb, the mount of God,” I hear “a sound of sheer silence,” “the still, small voice of God” reminding me of my identity and my destiny.
Where do I go and to what, to whom do I listen for God’s voice? Everywhere and to everything and to everyone.
So, standing in the presence of all of life, with Whittier, I pray that my sense be dumb, that I reject my trust in my wisdom, and that my flesh retire, that I relinquish my often frantic and futile efforts to fulfill my will, so that I can hear God’s voice.
This is my answer to the question. Where do you go and to what, to whom do you listen for the voice of God?
(1) From the poem, The Brewing of Soma (1872), in which the poet, John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), referring to the ritual, intoxicating drink of the Vedic religion, whose adherents consumed the beverage in quest of an experience of divinity, lauds the Quaker method for contact with the divine – selfless lives dedicated to doing God’s will and, through the veil of silence, listening to the “still, small voice.”
(2) See 1 Kings 18.22
Illustration: Elijah Dwelleth in a Cave, James Tissot (1836-1902)