The Sound of Silence

The text of the sermon, based on 1 Kings 19.1-15a with reference to Luke 8.26-39, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 2nd Sunday of Pentecost, June 19, 2022.


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. Ahab and Jezebel, followers of Ba’al, swear to kill Elijah. In fear, he flees.

On his journey, Elijah encounters God. The one who answers (who is the answer to) our deepest thirst: “As the deer longs for the waterbrooks, so longs my soul for you, O God.”[1]

God speaks. Not in the earthquake, wind, or fire of the violent threats against Elijah’s life or in his fear. Only through “a sound of sheer silence.” Or, in the King James Version, “a still, small voice.” An inward word that reminds Elijah of his identity, who he is: “zealous for the Lord.” And his destiny, what he is to do: “Go, return” to his prophetic ministry.

This thirst to hear God, especially amid strife, inspired John Greenleaf Whittier to write, aye, to 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.[2]

Where do we go and to what, to whom do we listen for God’s voice?

Daily, I ask this question. For daily, I’m increasingly aware that have more life and labor behind me than before me. This realization, this reality stirs an inner urgency about my identity and destiny. An urgency to be and do all I can with all I have left. (And who knows, surely, not I, how much that is.)

Now, admittedly, my daily concerns pale in comparison to Elijah. I didn’t slay 450 prophets of Ba’al.[3] I didn’t 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.

Nevertheless, three things, three “nevers” I have learned.

First, I never compare my experience with yours. Especially when your circumstances appear worse than mine. For when I do that[4] I tend to dismiss my concerns as unimportant. Therefore, I ignore that inner, whispering voice of conscience that reminds me of who I am and what matters to me.

Second, I never measure importance by the degree of my life’s difficulty. 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. Mass shootings. Death. War. Tempest and flood. And when I do that, I miss the grace, the wonder and power of those counterbalancing joys. Birth. Baptism. At the end of war, the advent of peace. After nature’s storms and life’s tragedies, the noble labors of help and healing and recovery engaged by countless hearts and hands.

Third, I 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; 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. To everything. To everyone.

So, as long as I live, I pray that my sense be dumb. That I reject my trust in my wisdom. That my flesh retire. That I relinquish my often frantic, futile efforts to fulfill my will. So, that I can hear God’s voice.

Where do you go and to what, to whom do you listen for the voice of God?

© 2022 PRA

[1] Psalm 42.1

[2] From the poem, The Brewing of Soma (1872) by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), in which the poet, 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.”

[3] See 1 Kings 18.22

[4] Although I say “never,” the temptation of comparison, likely due to the human tendency to see others and ourselves through the common lenses of our circumstances, is ever-present.

Illustration: Elijah Listening for the Voice of God, James Tissot (1836-1902)

#listeningforGodsVoice #thestillsmallvoiceofGod #thesoundofsheersilence

2 thoughts on “The Sound of Silence

  1. Wow did this sermon speak to me!! I know I’m running out of time to do all the things I still want to do before my life ends…

    I try to always see and hear God everywhere I go! Most days that works well! I love meeting new people and learning from them and I know part of those encounters are all about God!

    I’m going to forward this sermon to Kris as she loves you. Yesterday we sat on her porch and talked about a lot of the kids who have “rung the bell” to signify their end of cancer treatment at the house where she and her son stay Bobby stay during his treatments. We’ve gotten close to many of those kids including one who graduated from high school last week to a standing ovation! Kris and I talked about how Bobby will NEVER ring that bell because he’s terminal. I wanted to find the right words for her as we both cried and then across the road in the trees she saw something orange high up in the tree. It was some flowers that neither of us had ever seen before. We both thought of Tim and God in those trees and it gave us a new perspective on our very sad conversation. I’m so glad we have each other and God too….

    Much love

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love Kris. Please, share with her that I have held her, Bobby, and their family in my prayers for all best outcomes…whatever those may be. For I cannot imagine what it is to face the terminal living of a loved one. And then, continually, I think of Tim and how none of us knew that he was ill-unto-death. Thus, I’m left, in this instant moment, to ask myself: Is it better to know or not to know? Immediately, I answer: I’m not sure it matters, for, when death comes, whene’er, howe’er, grief descends as an all-consuming cloak of darkness…

      This leads me to contemplate your word: “I’m running out of time to do all the things I still want to do before my life ends…” Daily, and at several points during each day, I think of the swiftly, lessening measure of time that I have left, which, I assume, is true, for, at the age of 70, doubtless, I will not live another 70 years (or, even, perhaps, a half? a third? a fourth? a fifth? etc. of that!). And then I think of the elasticity of time, which is to say, as long as I take breath and can entertain sentient thought and have a range of motion and movement, then, in each present and passing instant moment, there is an eternity for me to think and to feel and to intend and to act for good. Dare I not waste the precious moments!



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