And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely come to you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.Exodus 13:19-22 (NRSVUE)
Our world, like our faith, is full of mystery. The word “mystery” means something that is difficult to understand or explain. Now, there are plenty of things that we can explain about the world around us. And there are plenty of things that we can explain about the things we believe in. But sometimes it’s the mystery, the things that we can’t fully explain that help us experience the sacred, the holy, or a sense of awe.
I wonder, have you ever seen a moose? Not a picture of a moose like on the bulletin cover, but a real live moose out in the woods? You would think that it would be easy to see a moose, especially a male moose, also known as a bull moose, because bull moose grow to be almost two thousand pounds, with antlers that grow up to six feet wide from tip to tip! And though they may look slow and clumsy, a baby moose or a moose calf can outrun a human at five days old.
Forest rangers sometimes refer to moose as “the unicorns of the forest” because they are awe-inspiring and highly sought after but rarely seen. Despite their enormous size, moose actually move very quietly and gracefully through forests and can camouflage themselves very well amid surrounding trees. Now they do still enjoy wide trails, access roads, and fields where they have more freedom to move around. But, like a unicorn, a moose can disappear in an instant!
Years ago, when my kids were young, my husband, my three kids and I were hiking up at Mount Washington in New Hampshire. It was getting near dusk as we were heading back down to the parking lot. It had been a very long day, and we were all quite tired. Suddenly we looked up, and about thirty or forty yards in front of us, by the edge of the trail, was a moose–a huge bull moose with enormous antlers. We all froze in our tracks as we stood as still as we possibly could, and we just watched him. His antlers were so huge, that I wondered how his neck could support them, let alone how he could travel through the thick of the forest with them.
Time seemed to stop as we all stood there just staring at the massiveness and the beauty of this animal that God so beautifully and carefully created. Then my husband, being my husband, whispered quietly to my kids. “You stay here, I’m going to try and ride him.” Now we all know that you never approach a wild animal like that, But my husband then took a few very loud steps forward, trying to let the moose know we were there.
The moose turned and looked at us, probably wondering why we were in his woods. Then he gently and gracefully took a few steps forward and disappeared into the forest. And I mean disappeared. We literally searched and searched and never saw or heard from him again. Wouldn’t you think that something so big and commanding would be easier to find and see?
Well, I’m sure that’s kind of how Elijah felt about God in our scripture reading today. Like moose, there is a mysteriousness about God, too. There is a lot about God that we can’t explain or fully understand But for many of us, there is a lot about God that we know in our hearts to be true.
Now, there are some people who don’t like mystery because they want hard, fast, black-and-white answers. They want proof beyond a doubt and 100% assurance that something is true, but that is not what faith is about. Faith is about being filled with wonder and trusting and believing in things that you can’t see.
Now, there are times when we all experience doubt. And I’m sure that day in the cave at the top of the mountain, Elijah was starting to wonder. He was so sure about God or in his words, “zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts,” that he literally put his life on the line and was running for safety.
Here in Oldtown, we are people of faith, but I don’t know that our faith has taken us that far. In our scripture reading today, Elijah was searching for God. He was longing for God’s presence and waiting to hear God’s voice so that he would know what to do next.
I wonder if you’ve ever felt like Elijah. Perhaps something has happened in your life and you wanted God to give you a sign or help you to know that everything is going to be okay, but the more you longed for God, the more empty you felt. Have you ever felt that way?
My friends, there are many times in our lives that we long for God’s presence, and we start to get frustrated when we can’t hear God’s voice. It seems like the world around us is spinning too fast, and God is nowhere to be found. It can be a terrible feeling, can’t it? But let me give you a little hint. Usually, when that happens, the problem isn’t with God; the problem is with us. Just think of Elijah in today’s story. He is longing for God’s presence, and he wants to hear God’s voice, but he has been running for forty days and forty nights! He has been afraid that King Ahab’s army is going to catch him, and I am sure that he has been running all of the possible scenarios of what might happen over and over in his head. He wants to hear from God, but he hasn’t stopped, he hasn’t taken a breath, and he hasn’t actually taken the time to listen for God’s voice.
Friends, we are very good at telling God about our wants and needs, and the wants and needs of others. We are even pretty good at thanking God for the gifts in our lives, but for some reason, we get frustrated when we ask God a question and God doesn’t respond. But the truth is, my friends, the problem is not usually that God does not respond; the problem is that we don’t have the patience to listen. I want you to think about that for just a minute. The problem is not that God does not respond; the problem is usually that we don’t have the patience to listen.
Mystery is not something we experience quickly. It’s not something that we can plan or be in control of. It’s something that we need to open our hearts and our minds to receive, like the moose we saw along the trail on Mount Washington. We hadn’t planned on seeing it and we couldn’t control it. All we could do was stop in our tracks, take a deep breath, and experience it. Or like Elijah on Mount Sinai. First, he expected God to be in the great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces, but the LORD was not in the wind. He then thought that the LORD was in the earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. Finally, Elijah thought the LORD was in the fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. Now I imagine that Elijah may have been getting frustrated at this point, but it wasn’t until Elijah took a deep breath and sat in sheer silence that God arrived.
Friends, I know that many of you have experienced God in your lives in many different ways. And what an awe-inspiring blessing that is. But God’s presence is not something that we can turn on and off like a light switch. It’s something we simply need to be open to. Because God doesn’t usually come to us in the times and places that we expect it but rather in the simple ordinary moments when we least expect it.
Elijah finally did hear the voice of God, which he had been hoping and praying for. But I don’t think God’s call was exactly what Elijah was looking for. You see God told Elijah to return to where he had come from, for there was more work to be done in Israel. And though Elijah was afraid, he did what God asked him to do because Elijah trusted God.
My friends, sometimes God calls us to do things that are difficult but be assured that no matter how scary or how impossible God’s call to you might seem, God always equips us for the call.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, slow down, remember to breathe, and listen, not to the news and the gossip and the noise of the world around you but listen for God’s call in your life. And if you sense God calling you, please don’t be afraid to say, “Here I am, Lord, send me!”
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, AMEN!