He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”1 Kings 19:10-12 (NRSV)
Elijah Meets God at Horeb
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.
Friends, I have a few questions for you today. Are you ready? Do you long for God’s presence in your life? Do you experience God more in the noisy, busy moments of life or when life is quiet and still? And it’s okay if you answer “both” or “neither.” And finally, if God called you to do something difficult, how would you respond?
There is a man in the Bible named Elijah, and Elijah was searching for God. He was longing for God’s presence in his life 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 happened in your life and you wanted God to give you a sign or help you to feel that everything is okay, but you find that the more you long for God, the more empty you feel.
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. Have you ever felt that way? 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.
You see, this man Elijah from the Bible had been longing for God’s presence, and he wanted to hear God’s voice, but he had been running from King Ahab and his army for forty days and forty nights! I’m sure that he was afraid that he would be caught. And just like we sometimes do, I am sure that he had been running all the possible scenarios of what might happen over and over in his head. Elijah wanted to hear from God, but had he taken a breath? Had he slowed down and actually listened for God’s voice?
Friends, just like Elijah, in our prayer lives 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 usually that God does not respond; the problem is that we don’t have the patience to listen. Because you need to have patience, to pay attention, and sometimes you need to wait. And though we may not always be good at doing those things, they are absolutely necessary if we want to feel the presence of God in our lives and if we want to hear God’s call.
Elijah was told to “Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by. While Elijah stood there, there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.” Elijah couldn’t hear God in the wind, or in the earthquake, or in the fire. He needed to wait for the silence, and that may be true for you too. But the fact is, though it may be more difficult to hear God in the midst of the wind and in the earthquake and in the fire and in the busyness of our lives, that doesn’t mean that God’s not there. It just means that we are distracted by what is happening around us, and it means that the hustle and bustle of the world have taken our attention away from God.
Friends, we have had silence in our worship for a year and a half now. Besides a few background sound effects by my dog Rufus and my cat Cornbread, worship has been silent. Now some of you may have enjoyed the silence. It may have been easier to take a deep breath and listen. But I’ll be honest, I can’t wait for a little more worship noise!
Friends, one of our treasures in Oldtown is our children. And we know that sometimes they might make a little noise in worship. But you know what? Sometimes our adults do too! But those giggles and laughs and shared thoughts and ideas are some of the things that I can’t wait to hear again on Sunday mornings. I can’t wait to hear God’s voice again in a baby’s cry or in the whispers of children, in the slamming of a pew door or in restless feet that can’t reach the floor so they tap on the back of their seat. I can’t wait to hear God’s voice in the questions and thoughts and dreams and prayers of our congregation when we gather next week. Or in the greetings and conversations as people gather together again. But friends one thing that we need to keep in mind is that we are all out of practice. It’s been a year and a half since we have sat in in-person worship. So we need to be patient as we learn to sit again, as we remember what in-person worship is like, and as we learn new ways to listen for–and to hear–God’s still-speaking voice, remembering that sometimes it takes a village, or at least a caring church family, to help with that.
Friends, speaking of voices, for a year and a half, all that you have heard, with a few exceptions, is my voice in our online worship services. And it is my hope and my prayer that that changes as we get back to in-person worship. For those of you that only worship online with us, don’t worry! Because our Oldtown Shorts will still continue, even after we resume in-person worship next week. And hopefully, we will find other ways to continue to share pieces of Oldtown online. But friends, wherever and however you worship, be assured that God is always with you, in the silence, and in the noise, and in the commotion. Sometimes you just needed to be patient, to listen, and to wait.
Our friend Elijah couldn’t hear God in the wind or in the earthquake or in the fire, but he did hear the voice of God in the sound of silence. He had been hoping and praying that God would tell him what to do and God did. But it wasn’t the call that 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, whether you are heading back to in-person worship with us next week, or staying here online, know that God is always with you, guiding your steps and sometimes even pushing you in the right direction. And be assured that whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, that you can hear the voice of God–sometimes, you just need to listen.