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The Conviction of Things Unseen

(a sermon for August 18, 2019, the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16)

(Note:  An audio version of this message can be heard here)

It was a small moment, but I dare say that it was one of the more enlightening moments of my summer vacation.

We’d gone up to Mapleton that day visiting both the in-laws and our son and his wife who live nearby.  Zach and Jess’ house is literally out behind where my mother and father-in-law live, and within walking distance, so I’m on my way up there when this old, dilapidated and nearly rusted-out pickup truck drives up beside me, and this old, dilapidated and nearly rusted-out man leans out of the truck window, laughs out loud and says to me (and, by the way, it being church and all, I’m cleaning this up just a little bit), “It really stinks to get old, doesn’t it?”

Now, I don’t know this guy from Adam (!) but he seemed friendly enough, so I just laughed and said, “Oh yeah, it happens to every one of us sooner or later!”  To which he replied, “Well, good for you to be out here walking… you want to stave it off for as long as you possibly can!”  I’m still just laughing, and with my Maine accent kicking in I say, “Ayuh, I figured I’d best be kickin’ that can solidly down the road!” And then the man says this: “Well, you know what, nobody should be out here walking alone… tomorrow I’m coming out to look for you so we can walk together!”  And with that, he just smiles, gives me the official “Aroostook County Wave” and roars off down the road. And as I’m watching him go I’m still laughing, but I’m thinking, how old does this guy think I am?

I mean, granted, I wasn’t exactly at my Sunday best that morning… I’m on vacation, after all, so I’m in shorts and a t-shirt; my hair’s getting shaggy and I’m sure I was sporting some beard stubble, but come on!  I know I’m 60 years old, but did I really look that… that… dilapidated?  Maybe it was the way I was walking down the road; perhaps there was a bit more maturity in my step than I intended (after all, as has been pointed out to me, I may have two new hips, but the rest of my body is still 60)!  All I can say is that apparently I was not only headed to Zach’s house, but also quite literally to the end of the road… my road!   And so when I got back I could let everybody in the family know that it was now official, because the truth of the matter had been unquestionably confirmed for me while on the journey out there on the “old town road,”  so to speak:

I’m old.

Now, don’t misunderstand me here; I’m not headed for a rocking chair just yet!  But I do have to say that for me this chance encounter “on the way” did end up serving as something of a parable, and an apt metaphor for life itself:  simply put, that we’re all on this “walk of life,” aren’t we; taking the journey step by step, mile by mile, year by year, ever and always moving toward some kind of long-term vision for the future; raising a family, having grandchildren, getting ready for retirement, trying to live your life with some kind of integrity so that when you finally do leave this world behind, it’ll be a better place than when you found it.  That’s what we do, right; that’s what our journey, and the walking, is all about!

And yet, we also know how utterly unpredictable life can be, and how quickly things can change in ways that are often wonderful but sometimes… challenging (What’s that expression; I think it’s attributed to Woody Allen, of all people: “If you want to make God laugh,” he once wrote, “just tell him about your plans!”).  So often the hard reality of life is that plans change: there’s a bad medical diagnosis, the loss of a job, a shift in a relationship status — hey, maybe you discover that you’re not as young as you used to be (!) — but at the end of the day some of the things we envision get postponed, others change as we along and a few, well, don’t happen at all.  And as far as leaving the world a better place?  Well, when we look around as we do these days to see that world that keeps spinning recklessly out of control, we can’t help but wonder if that’s even possible.

And yet… and yet, we keep walking, don’t we?  We stay on the journey, we kick that can down the road, we keep on “keeping on,” continuing to go where we are determined to go and to do what we know is right, ever and always staying true to the path that’s been set before us even if at times we’re not all that sure where that pathway’s going to end up!  We walk in faith… because, as our text for this morning has so beautifully proclaimed, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

Understand, friends, that this has nothing to do with wishful thinking, which is the expectation that by some miracle that which has never happened before in our lives will come to pass; nor is it even about optimism, per se, as optimism has to do with the strength and resilience of the human spirit and the confident belief that good will triumph, eventually and finally, no matter what.  And there’s certainly a place for that; but faith is different.  Faith, you see, is all about hope: a hope that is founded in God and which is made real and vindicated because of God’s faithfulness!  Lest you think I’m just talking in circles here, let me put it another way: in the words of Craig Barnes, “Faith isn’t something we get.  It’s something that gets us.  We don’t possess it.  We are possessed by it… faith is a grace from God – a grace that changes everything about your vision of life in this world.”  So faith, then, is the assurance of things hoped for, precisely because that assurance comes from God; it’s not simply our confidence in the triumph of good, it’s our understanding that this is how good triumphs, solely by God’s faithfulness unto us!  It’s how you and I keep walking the path set before us even when we’re not at all sure of what’s ahead; for faith, beloved, is “the conviction of things unseen.”

This 11th chapter of Hebrews, of which we read just a small portion this morning, is considered one of the greatest affirmations of faith that’s found in all of Holy Scripture, and moreover a celebration of the heroes of faith who had gone on before, from Abel to Noah to Abraham to Moses and beyond, all these people who spent their lives believing in this great hope that had its source in an ever faithful God.  But what’s interesting is that if you read just prior to where we picked up the reading this morning, in the 10th chapter, you read how Paul is urging the people to not “abandon that confidence” in their own Christian faith, saying to them, “you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.”  Understand, we’re not talking about a group of people who have turned away from God, but those who have kept on, and who likely have a long way yet to go on the journey.  So, says Paul, you need to know what faith truly is; hence this grand affirmation of faith in the chapter that follows.  Actually, there are two Greek words that are used in that regard:  first, there’s upostasis, which translates as “standing under,” and speaks to “a foundation of belief,” that comes from Jesus himself; in other words, Jesus is the very picture of the “bedrock of God’s identity,” “something basic, something solid, something firm” that “provides a place from which one can hope.” (Amy L.B. Peeler, NT Professor, Wheaton College) It is, as we read, the “assurance of things hoped for.”

The other word used is elegchos, the translation of which is a bit murkier, but is probably best referred to in English as “evidence” or even “proof” of what we have difficult comprehending; that is, in the words of The Message, “our handle on that which we can’t see.”  In other words, even if on this point on your journey you’re having some doubts (I don’t know, maybe some random passer-by has suggested you’re too old to keep walking!), don’t forget there are those who have gone before who continued to stand firmly upon God’s faithfulness, and you would not want to reject that evidence!  Case in point: Abraham, who demonstrated his faith by going to the place where God called him to go, sight unseen, and who continued to be faithful, though “this great obedience never really paid off” during his lifetime, living out his days “as in a foreign land, living in tents.”(Peeler)  And yet, over time and across generations that promise would come to fruition, and Abraham “looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.” Likewise, the promise of descendants as many as the stars up in the heavens did not happen in exactly the way that neither Abraham most especially (!) Sarah were expecting; nonetheless, even though they were elderly and “as good as dead”Paul’s words, not mine, friends (!) – there was a child, the beginning of a great multitude of descendants.

The point is, it was by faith that Abraham and Sarah kept walking; they kept looking and moving forward, firm in the knowledge that God’s faithfulness and his sure and certain promise of a land and a home and a family.  They truly had a “conviction of things unseen,” and the question for you and me is whether we’re willing in our lives – and, might I add, in our care of the world and culture that surrounds us – to keep walking in faith despite all the disruptions that seek to keep us off track; looking forward to all signs of God’s faithfulness and love as we go.  “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” and just as it has been for countless generations of the faithful, what that means for us is that no matter how “round about” the journey has seemed to become for us, “we can depend on God to see us home… [because] the destination of the journey of faith is never in doubt.” (Mark Ramsey, “Today”)  We just have to keep walking.

I have shared with you before that one of my great heroes of the faith is the Rev. Dr. Fred McFeely Rogers, a Presbyterian minister better known, of course, to generations of children and families as “Mister Rogers” from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.  I could tell you about a hundred different things I loved about the man, but here’s the latest, something I just learned this week: did you know that whenever Fred Rogers made a speech to one group or another, or when he was on television apart from the “neighborhood,” and even when he was amongst Hollywood celebrities and accepting an Emmy Award for his work in children’s television, “never failed to end his remarks, not with ‘thank you very much,’ or ‘have a good evening,’ but always by saying, ‘May God be with you.’”  And not, by the way, ‘God bless you,’ because “he knew that God had already blessed them, couldn’t help but bless them, would always seek to bless them.”  No… it was always “May God be with you,” because Mister Rogers’ fervent wish, and indeed, his prayer was that each one of those hearing his words would be aware that God was with them in their lives and along their journey.

As the old song goes, “the road is long with many a winding turn.” So it is with faith, beloved… to walk in the presence of the Lord, never looking back but always moving forward, can often be a daunting task indeed.  You know, one thing that old guy in the pickup truck had right was that nobody ought to be walking alone, and there should be someone to walk along with us when we go.  But the good news is that in faith, we’re never alone on the journey. To quote another Presbyterian Church leader, the Rev. Mark Ramsey from Atlanta, “[Faith] knows the challenges of life and the strife of the world.  But God renews faith daily.  Faith gives us a home.  It gives us a road to journey toward that home.”  And as we keep walking on the journey, “God’s hope is persistent and lasting.  It goes eye to eye with hardship and keeps on hoping.”

My prayer for each one of today is that we’ll have that assurance of all the things we hope for, the conviction of what we can’t see… and that awareness of God’s presence with you along every step of the way.

May God be with you, beloved…. May God be with you!

Amen and AMEN!

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Security Blankets

(a sermon for August 11, 2019, the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, based on Luke 12:13-21)

(Note: an audio version of this message can be found here)

I’m sure that anyone here who’s ever been involved in the lives of very young children knows a little something about security blankets; because, as you also know, just about every child has one… and it matters!

Now, this might be an actual blanket, something along the line of that which Linus always carried in the “Peanuts” comic strips (and from which the very term “security blanket” became part of the language), or else it might be a favorite pillow, a tattered teddy bear or beloved doll.  But the form is much less important than its function: a “security blanket,” you see, serves as something tangible and comforting for that little one to hold on to during anxious times.

And I remember this well; when they were young all three of our children carried around with them some form of “luvvy,” as we referred to them in our house. And I’ll never forget because over those years I engaged in many a scavenger hunt for the sake of recovering a lost or misplaced luvvy!  In the wee hours of the morning, in the midst of torrential downpours, on family car trips turning around to go back home one hour into a three hour drive:  I remember once driving across town back to church on a Sunday afternoon through a blizzard just so I could dig around on all fours in a snow bank (!), all so Jake could have his luvvy and stop crying!  Because, as Linus himself once remarked after a struggle with Snoopy over his blanket, “The struggle for security knows no season!”

But it was okay… as a parent you know that if an old piece of quilt or a rag doll can bring some warmth and comfort to your beloved child on a cold, dark night, that’s what you want; and if it garners you a little bit of extra sleep in the process, so much the better! And besides, they’re only that young for a little while, right; and you know that eventually your children outgrow their need for a security blanket (of course, I’ve known a lot of college students who still quietly count those old stuffed animals as amongst their most precious belongings, but I digress!).

Actually, it seems to me that even as adults, most of us still have some kind of security blanket; it’s just that now they tend to be a whole lot more complex in nature than your average luvvy.  As we grow older, you see, our security blankets take the form of retirement accounts, 401k pension plans and insurance policies.   A warm and safe home, a good reliable car, enough money in the bank to see you through whatever rainy day comes your way: let’s face it; these are the things that most of us seek in order to give ourselves some modicum of security amid the transitory nature of life.  And there’s nothing wrong with that at all; in fact, it’s pretty much basic common sense and responsible behavior to build up an abundance to provide for the uncertainty of the future.  I know that every year when I get these statements in the mail from the Pension Boards of the UCC detailing the growth of our retirement account, I look at those numbers and always think to myself, “Well, there, at least I’ve got that.”  Whatever else is going on, no matter what our challenges might happen to be, there’s this small sense of security in knowing that once I’m retired there’ll be some money coming in.  Granted, by and large clergy don’t “retire rich,” (or at least this one won’t!) but at the very least there will be some level of abundance, right… and that does seem to me like a good thing!

I guess this is why our gospel text for this morning seems so jarring to our ears.  At the face of it, Luke is telling about a couple of brothers feuding over the family inheritance, one of whom who comes to Jesus asking him to settle the issue.  But you realize very quickly that Jesus has no intention of arbitrating the just division of the family estate (in fact, as The Message interprets Jesus’ response, he says, “Mister, what makes you think it’s any of my business” who gets what!); rather, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach on matters of greed and covetousness. “Take care,” Jesus says, “for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  Fair enough, even if that’s not the daily message we get from Madison Avenue and a culture of affluence, though I do think that most of us realize that the pathway of enlightenment is not found while driving the same luxury car that Matthew McConaughey drives!  We know better; most of us know at some level that life isn’t about our money or our things.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there; he goes on to tell them all a parable about a successful businessman who has done well for himself; in fact, he has “produced [so] abundantly” that he needs to build new storehouses for all the extra grain and the rest of his goods.   He’s done well for himself and he’s provided amply for his own future, and it would seem as though he had earned the right, as he himself put it, “to relax, eat, drink be merry,” to retire securely and comfortably, certainly as any one of us would be wont to do.  Or, in his own words (via The Message, again), “I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well!  You’ve got it made!”

But then, as Jesus tells the story, God intervenes and utters words that rip through this man’s self-satisfied plan like a clap of thunder on a hot summer night:  “You fool!  This very night your life is being demanded of you. And these things you have prepared, whose will they be?”   And so it will be, concludes Jesus, for all those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.

So much for retiring rich!  

I don’t care who you are, God’s words come off here as harsh and cold; tonight you die, fool, so what good is a 401k plan gonna do you?  And the worst part of it all is that this so-called “rich fool” really was no different than what you and I would at least aspire to be someday!   I mean, who among us does not want to be “set” financially, at least for a few years; truly, most of us work for a lifetime precisely toward that kind of goal!  So the question becomes, how do you and I make the transition from what we consider to be  good and prudent common sense to that which makes us a fool in God’s sight?    When is it that our “security blankets” offer no security at all?

Well, first off, this parable is a not-so subtle reminder that our lives will not go on forever.  I’m reminded here of a “Far Side” cartoon from several years back in which a woman in widow’s garb is looking out of the picture window of her house at a large cloud in the sky; and as she’s watching, a TV set, golf clubs, piano and even a dog are flying out the door of the house and up to the cloud.  And the woman says, “Aaaaaa… it’s George.  And he’s taking it with him!”  Well, life is not like that; our lives will come to an end and we can’t take it with us.  Our possessions, no matter how impressive, are no hedge against the ending of our lives.  All those things to which we cling, all of that which we fleetingly hoped would secure ourselves against our own mortality; it doesn’t work, it’s a lie.   So Jesus is right:  life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions, any more than wealth can be the source of our well-being.  That’s the mistake that the rich fool made: this assumption that however savvy he may have been about his life and about his financial situation, somehow he was in control of things. He wasn’t.

God is in control of things, and you and I had best figure that out now; for not only, as the parable suggests, is the knowledge of it the difference between life and death, but it’s the place where the kingdom of heaven dwells.

A few years ago at a former parish, I was asked by a man who was not a member of the church if I might come to his home and meet with his wife for the purpose of planning her funeral.   By this time she’d been ill for a number of months, and she clearly knew her time was short; so there were things she wanted to discuss with me before she died, which not only included what she wished to have happen at her eventual memorial service, but also a few things that she was quite adamant not happen!

Actually, as I recall, despite the subject matter the conversation turned out to rather pleasant and quite lively as she proceeded to grill this local pastor about hymns, scripture passages and the theological and social significance of all the various and sundry traditions that go along with such gatherings in the church!  Eventually, however, she began to talk about other matters as well; telling me about things she was doing in these waning days of her life, as well as expressing concern as to some things she felt she needed to do in the time she had left.  Notice that I didn’t say what she wanted to do, but what she needed to do; as evidenced by a long list of tasks, both large and small, that she’d written very neatly and carefully on a folded piece of paper and to which she referred often as we spoke.

For instance, there had been an old friend with whom at one time she’d been very close, but since a falling out years before, had hardly spoken. She’d long regretted what had happened; but now, finally, she’d sought out her friend to apologize and make things right. Her list was filled with things like that, and so much more; most prominently a series of mostly small promises she’d made to her children and grandchildren over the years that she was intent on honoring, as well as bits of wisdom and words of love she was determined to share with husband and family and friend alike.

It was with great enthusiasm and, dare I say, a distinct tone of joy in her voice that she described to me these crucial tasks that lay before her.  And as I listened, it suddenly occurred to me that I was sitting in the lovely living room of a beautiful house, surrounded by a huge yard with a swimming pool in the back; this was clearly everything this woman and her husband had worked so many years to have and to enjoy.  And yet it was also clear that there was not a single item on her list of crucial things to do that had anything at all to do with her home, her yard, her pool, her wealth or her “things.”  Everything on that list had to do with the people she loved; it was about setting things aright; about extending as much love and care as she possibly could in whatever time she had left in this life.  She was determined to make it all happen; and even as frail as her body had become, there was nonetheless a lightness to her heart and a brightness about her spirit that was a true inspiration.

In the end, you see, in her own way this woman had found that which Jesus said had alluded the rich fool, and which alludes so many of us besides: the true treasure that comes in being rich toward God.

Why is it that it takes a reminder of our own mortality to wake us up to the fact that our only true “security blanket” comes in following God?   How is it that we hear this “good news” spoken to us time after time but we fail to truly receive it as our own, preferring instead to cling to so much that ultimately means nothing to us?   Make no mistake, we’ll still make payments toward our retirement accounts, and make sure our life insurance policies are up to date and adequate for our needs; dreaming of the day we might be able to sit back, for once, not worry and take it easy.

And we should… we should be doing all of that.

But here’s the good news of the gospel:  that even as we seek to secure ourselves in this world we know so well, Christ is calling us to live as part of another world: the real world, a place and a way of life where life does not consist in the abundance of possessions, buy where loving God and neighbor is wealth indeed.

Christ calls us now to follow him, and walk in his ways, that we might find that place that we might know what true security is.

Will you follow, beloved?

Consider this as we come to the Lord’s Table, and may our thanks be to God.

AMEN and AMEN.

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2019 in Family Stories, Jesus, Life, Ministry, Sermon

 

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God of the Crushed Silence

(a sermon for June 23, 2019, the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, based on 1 Kings 19:1-15)

The time had finally come for us to go home.

We knew that; we’d actually been preparing ourselves for that inevitability for quite some time.  But given the stress of those last few weeks – trying to pack up everything we own so that most of it could go into storage, dealing with countless last minute details and a few tearful goodbyes, to say nothing of seeking to bring some semblance of faith-centered closure to a five year ministry that had been… difficult – we were not only physically exhausted but also emotionally and spiritually drained.  And if that weren’t enough, quite literally as we were packing the last of what was going with us into the cars, our cats – four of them, mind you (!) – choose that moment to decide to make a break for it and scatter throughout the neighborhood!  It took several hours of Sarah and her best friend Breana coaxing the cats back with an opened can of tuna fish (!) and a night spent at a local hotel, but it did happen: early the next morning we did leave Ohio and were finally on our way back to Maine.

And… all these years later I still remember what a terrible, horrible, awful trip it was.

To begin with, as fate would have it, this was the weekend just prior to the 4th of July, which meant that there was nary a decent hotel room to be found anywhere from the Berkshires east; at least not one that didn’t cost an8 arm and a leg, or more importantly, one that was “pet friendly.” (And which – I guess after all this time I can confess this – eventually led us to literally “smuggle” those four cats into a Motel 6 somewhere in Chicopee, MA!) Moreover, it was inordinately hot and muggy that weekend, the traffic was bumper to bumper and interminably slow all the way to Maine, and the whole trip – hour after hour, mile after mile – was accompanied, by the noise of roaring engines, blaring horns, wailing sirens and hip-hop music being played at excessive volume and bass!

I have to tell you, however, that the worst part of it all was that there was way too much time for thinking… thinking about what had brought our family to this moment; thinking about what went wrong and what I could have done differently; thinking about disappointment, and failure, and – if I’m being honest – about the fear and, yes, the anger I was feeling at that moment about a hard present and an uncertain future.  Now, could this have been, at least in part, the inevitable result of all the stress my family and I’d been experiencing, of too little sleep and too much caffeine, to say nothing of having had all this cacophonous road noise filling my ears and brain for two days straight?  Maybe… but let me tell you what I remember the most about that trip: we finally got to northern Maine and to camp about dusk, and we were so tired we didn’t even unpack; we just made up the beds, crawled under the covers and collapsed.  And I remember lying there in the darkness – too exhausted to do anything else but sleep, but so keyed up from all the driving to close my eyes – and in that moment the only thing I could hear was… the quiet.  “A sound of sheer silence,” as scripture so eloquently puts it; a lack of sound so profound and so all-enveloping as to be overwhelming; almost crushing.

And I’d never before heard – or not heard – anything like it.

What’s interesting about our text for this morning, the story of the prophet Elijah’s encounter with God at the cave on Mount Horeb, is that it really should have been should have been the moment of Elijah’s greatest triumph!  After all, he had just come from Mount Carmel, where he’d challenged – and completely routed – some 450 prophets of the pagan god Baal; God’s singular power and presence had been displayed for all to see, and if that weren’t enough, a long-standing drought had come to an end, just as God had promised and as Elijah himself had proclaimed!  By all reasoning, this prophet of God should have been in high spirits, confident for the future and ready for his victory lap!

And yet, as we pick up the story today, Elijah is far from feeling the thrill of victory.  He’s tired, scared and – thanks to a death threat from a vengeful, Baal-worshiping Queen Jezebel and her power yet spineless husband King Ahab – he’s on the run for his very life; first escaping to the city of Beersheeba and now hiding out in the wilderness.  Needless to say this was not how things were supposed to work out; and Elijah – who by now is lamenting his circumstances and feeling pretty desperate – is also filled up with self-pity.  Never mind that an angel is waiting on him with food and drink for the journey; never mind that the Lord himself comes to ask after him: all the while Elijah is ranting about how much had gone so wrong, and fairly well begging God just “to take him now,” since as a prophet he was such an utter failure; “no better than [his] ancestors,” he says.  And he’s thinking, this whole thing’s so unfair: he’d done what the Lord had asked him to do; he’d stood firm in his commitment to God, against all odds and at great personal risk: that ought to count for something, right?  But no… as far as Elijah is concerned this business of being God’s prophet, it’s all for naught… it’s a losing game.

Not exactly the stuff of heroism, is it; nor of the kind o leadership that’s truly of “biblical proportions.”  But we do understand, don’t we?  We get it… because most of us at one time or another have been there.

It’s been said, you know, that this story from 1 Kings is one of relatively few occasions in scripture where we get insight into the inner thoughts and emotions of the characters in the biblical story; mostly we have to rely on things like translation, history, tradition and the overarching message of holy scripture so we can “read between the lines.”  But not this time; we really do know what’s happening with Elijah, because you and I understand all too well what things like crisis and fear and discouragement and utter despair can do to someone; we get how life will at times become so exhausting, so disheartening, so incredibly soul-searing that you end up feeling like you’ve been trampled upon and are too weak to stand. You and I look at Elijah, and we know that there just seems to come a point when, having been beaten down, burnt out and abandoned in the midst of life’s hardships and injustices, we wonder if it’s all worth it.  It’s what led the Psalmist to cry out in despair, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?” (Psalm 42:5)

It’s truly, in the words of the poet, “the dark night of the soul.” But it’s also the place where God comes with power and with love.

And so it is for Elijah; and it’s important to note here that when God comes to Elijah it’s not out of anger nor is it to chastise him for a lack of faith; rather it’s for what might be referred to as “unexpected encouragement” that defies our expectations.  As it turns out, God does not come in the power of a wind so destructive it was “splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces;” nor was the Lord to be found of an earthquake after that; and no, God’s voice isn’t one of fiery judgment and divine retribution.

When God speaks, it’s with silence.

In fact, in one of the richest images that’s found in the Old Testament, we’re told that the voice of the Lord comes in “a sound of sheer silence,” as it’s often translated, “a still, small voice;”  I’ve even seen it referred to as “a whistling of gentle air.” Actually, I’ll give you still another translation, from the original Hebrew, which directly translates in English to a “crushing silence;” that is, a quiet so all-encompassing that it envelops and overwhelms everything else around it.  Or to put it another way, it’s God’s voice speaking at the exclusion of all others; and this was a voice of mercy, compassion and love, a voice that spoke directly to Elijah’s heart, leaving him so exposed and so vulnerable that, we’re told, he immediately wrapped his face in his robe because it was all too overwhelming for him to face.  I mean, can you imagine it?  Can you even envision how it would be for you and me to stand there with all the noise suddenly silenced and every one of our fears and doubts on full display to God in all his glory?  But it’s precisely in hearing the voice of God in that crushed silence that Elijah could begin to find his healing and hope.

And so it is for you and for me; indeed, so often what it takes is get past the cacophonous noise of our lives – that unending barrage of sound that comes both from outside and within –  so that we might start to hear the voice of the Almighty speaking directly to us in the midst of the quiet.  And while when we finally do hear it the effect might be jarring – even crushing, if you will – when we stop to hear God’s voice, to listen and yes, to actually, pay attention to what’s being said, it’s there we find the peace we’re looking for and we’ve so needed, and might I add, renewal for the way ahead; because it’s also worth noting in this story that when Elijah finally comes out of the cave to, this time, really listen to God, what does God do?  God sends him to Damascus on another assignment!  As Richard Nelson has written, “God’s therapy for prophetic burnout [usually] includes both the assignment of new tasks and the certain promise of a [new] future that transcends the prophet’s own success or lack of it.”  In other words, friends, in the silence God helps us to move forward in faith, in service and in love.

Now, I would like to tell you that on that dark night of my own soul so many years ago that having experienced a truly “crushing silence” that I was suddenly aware of the voice of God speaking to me, and that immediately everything was okay and life went on much better than before; that certainly would have been a better ending to my story today, but the truth is that I still had a rather long and occasionally arduous journey ahead of me.  But I will tell you this much:  that night I slept better than I had in weeks; months, even.  And the next night, once again retiring to the evening quiet of our “pond,” it was the same thing all over again.  In fact, all through that summer, I came to look forward to those times of dwelling in the “crushed silence,” because it was there, away and apart from all the noise, I could let go of anguish and the fear and the despair; it was there where I could weep; it was there I could pray… and there where I could listen.  And I didn’t know it at the time, but it was there where I was being encouraged to move forward and to be led along the very first steps of a journey that, while still involving a few twists and turns, would by God’s grace and mercy eventually lead me… here.

It is a noisy world out there, beloved, and sometimes it’s just more than we can take!  My hope and prayer for each one of us today is that we would seek to come away and apart from the cacophony so that we might truly hear and listen to our God of the crushed silence, who even now is calling our name and offering up peace, comfort… and life for today, tomorrow and always.

In praise of the one who speaks in that still, small voice, may our thanks be to God.

Amen and AMEN.

© 2019  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 

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