The Elijah Chronicles - Chapter Three: "In The Silence"


This week we'll be concluding the sermon series "The Elijah Chronicles," a series where we re-imagined the story of the prophet Elijah as though it were set in a post-apocalyptic future.  The world is desolate in our story.  There is an evil king, a military dictator if you will, who is persecuting those who worship God and advocating the worship of idols instead.  There is a remnant, a small group that refuses to give in---the Resistance.

When we last saw Elijah, he had just experienced the most incredible victory of his life---the defeat of the prophets of Baal, the false god that the wicked king Ahab and his detestable wife Jezebel were forcing the people of Israel to worship.  God had sent fire from heaven to demonstrate his power, and his continued relationship with the Hebrew people, and the story ended with the people crying out "The Lord is God!" before executing all the evil prophets of Baal.  It was a huge win for the Resistance, and for Elijah.

The battle was won, but when you read the first verses of 1 Kings chapter 19, you wouldn't know it.  They say:

"Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”

And then we read this:

"And Elijah was afraid and ran for his life."

Elijah is on top of the world.  He just prayed and fire fell from heaven.  He took on four hundred and fifty crazy prophets who were willing to cut themselves in a worship frenzy---and he beat them.  He stared down Ahab, the most powerful man in Israel and Ahab blinked---then ran home and whined to his wife.

But all it took was one negative comment, one nasty word and he is despondent.

I am so glad that I am not all like that, aren't you?  We've progressed as human beings to such a superior place.  That was sarcasm.  I know you knew that.

So Elijah makes a run for it.  He flees into the desert, collapses underneath a broom tree, and tells God that he's done for... it's all over... he's as good as dead.  The voices in his head--echoing the threat of Jezebel, the noise that he couldn't escape... all of it led him to a place of serious doubt and separation from God that made him forget everything God had done for him.

Then God sends an angel who pokes him awake and gives him something to eat.  An angel with heavenly food.  At that point Elijah springs up and says, "I get it, God!  You will never leave me!  I am so sorry for doubting you!"

Nope. He goes to sleep.  Seriously.  We would never react that way, would we?  God provides for us, gives us blessings, shows up in mighty ways in our life to demonstrate his goodness and love---but we ignore all that, and go back to feeling sorry for ourselves in a ball on the couch, with some ice cream and a Lifetime original series marathon featuring all the work of Valerie Bertinelli.

Good thing we've progressed.

So God sends the angel again after Elijah's nap and gives him more food.  So this is the moment when Elijah wakes up, chows down and then heads back into the fray--determined to face down Ahab and Jezebel once and for all, unafraid of what comes next because the God-of-The-Angel-Armies is by his side.

Actually, he doesn't.   Instead, he heads in the OPPOSITE direction and travels for 40 days and 40 nights (where have we heard that number before?) toward Mt. Sinai (or Horeb, if you prefer) where Moses first received the Ten Commandments right after the Hebrew people escaped from Egypt.

Why did he want to go there?  It was a symbolic move on his part. His journey back to Sinai retraced the steps of his ancestors who wandered in the wilderness for forty years (bingo!) before coming to the Promised Land.  So there's that.

But I think it was something deeper than that.  Elijah wanted to go to the one place he figured he would find God.  With all of the voices ringing in his head, with all of the noise and chaos of a world turned upside down...  He wanted to just know that God was there...

I took a noise inventory at my house last week.  And by inventory, I mean I just took note of all of the noise and chaos, which turned out to be an eye opening experience.  With two young boys that are full of vim and vigor (what the heck does that mean?) and schedules that are as jam packed as you can get them, my wife and I experience a lot of noise in our life together.

There was this moment last week that kind of freaked me out.  Each person in the house was engaged in front of a different television.  I was watching football, my three year old was watching some annoying show on Disney Jr and the volume was cranked pretty loud.  My middle son was playing a video game, and my wife was watching a Lifetime original movie about some guy who murdered his wife, starring the guy who used to play Superman on Lois and Clark. The three year old was running around the house brandishing a cutlass and a pirate pistol, chasing my poor cat who was meowing as loud as she could while she fled from him.  We were shouting at one another because that was the only way you could hear what the other family members were saying.  My phone kept making noise because I was carrying on conversations with friends and family via text, and I kept getting updates from Sports Center about the game I was currently watching.

And the dog next door was barking...constantly.

Noise is all around us.  We can't seem to escape it, and more often than not we embrace it rather than run from it.  We surround ourselves with noise quite willingly.  Most of us are never disconnected, never silent, never still.  We are constantly carrying on conversations on our cell phones, watching videos on our iPads, or listening to music on our "i-pizzles" as the younger, hipper people call them. We are never really away from the office, because most of us carry the office with us at all times.  We have 24-hour news channels that are constantly droning on and on in the background of our lives, telling us that things aren't okay in the world, and that what we need to make things okay is to be more connected, more busy, and listen to more noise.  

Some of us might try to act all superior at this point and say, "That's not me!  I don't need noise in my life!  I don't carry one of those so-called smart phones, I still read an honest to goodness newspaper, and I don't turn on the TV news until 6 PM.  And I only answer email ONCE A DAY!"

But what about the long conversations on the phone with our anxious gossiping friend, who can't stop talking about how messed up our other friends are... Or the ongoing feud we are having with that neighbor who does nothing but annoy us... Or the way we just can't be at peace with your family members... Or the constant hum of anxiety that we have at our job because of office politics, stress over a promotion or co-workers who drive us crazy...

We are all affected by the noise around us... It's like we willingly embrace it.  When I lived in downtown Chicago, I got so used to the constant noise of the city that when I moved back to Florida, I couldn't sleep that well at night for a while because it was too quiet.  I even found myself missing the noise, and trying to find ways to replace it.

What if... and this might land on some of us pretty hard... what if we did all of this on purpose?

What if we were trying not to hear?  

People say that God no longer speaks to us---"That stuff happened in the Bible," the say, "but it doesn't happen now."

But what if---God never... stopped... speaking... ?

And what if on some level, we know this to be true... but we don't really want to hear what God has to say?  Maybe... just maybe... it would explain why we want to have so much noise around us.

What I think is that It's Not That God Isn't Speaking.  We're Not Listening.

The story of Elijah is a great example of how sometimes the noise has to be stripped away from our lives---both the noise on the outside, and more importantly, the noise that clangs incessantly on the inside, in our head, our very spirit.

Elijah finds himself at Mt. Sinai, the very place where Moses experienced God's presence for 40 days and 40 nights while God imparted the covenant God would have with the people of Israel.  If there was anyplace on earth, Elijah figured, that he would be able to find God---it was on Mt. Sinai.

Have you ever been at the end of your rope... completely stressed by a crisis... and suddenly you decided to go to church?

So there's Elijah on Mt. Sinai waiting to hear from God, and then this happens:
9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:9-13)
I love how this progresses.  It's such a heartbreaking conversation.  God speaks to Elijah, "What are you doing here?"

"I'm alone." Elijah replies.

"Let me show you that you are not," God says.

"I'm scared," Elijah must have said.

Then came the wind, and the earthquake and the fire...

"There is so much noise!" Elijah must have cried out.  "Where are you?!?"

Then everything fell quiet...

The phrase that is translated "gentle whisper" here is more accurately translated, "a sound of sheer silence."  No sound.  Silence.

God: "Can you hear me now, Elijah? Really?"  

Elijah: "Yes." 

God: "What are you doing here?"  

Elijah: "I'm alone..."  

God: "No you are not.  I am with you."  

Elijah: "Have you always been with me?" 

God:  "You know that I have."  

There is a place on the other side of the storm and noise, on the other side of the struggle and the deafening thunder, where Elijah could finally hear what mattered.  

There is a man named Bernie Krause who has been in the business of recording sounds of all kinds for nearly fifty years.  He relates how in 1968 all it took was 15 hours of recording out in nature to get one hour's worth of sound that didn't include unwanted ambience like airplanes, automobiles, etc.  

Now to get one hour's worth of unadulterated nature sounds it takes nearly 2,000 hours.  Over 183 million people in the world are regularly exposed to noise levels that are medically shown to be deadly.  

Why do we choose this?  What are we trying to avoid?

Could there be something to this notion that what we are trying to avoid, is the very thing that so many of us claim to want----to hear God speak? 

What is keeping you from hearing God?  Is it because you don't want to hear what God has to say?  Have you been taught your whole life that God is angry, full of judgement and can't wait to strike you down because of all of the wrong you have done in your life?  And so you fill your life with noise so you won't have to hear the voice of condemnation... 

Or maybe you wonder secretly if you really stopped to listen for the voice of God that you would never hear it, because He isn't there?  So you surround yourself with a constant hum of noise so you don't have to be disappointed... 

What are some things that you could change right now in your life that would help you begin to hear the ever-speaking, gentle voice of God? 

Is it possible that you have been searching for God in the earthquakes, the winds, the fires of your life---those chaotic moments, the crises, the storms...? and God can't be found in those moments because you are so focused on the storms that you can't hear him telling you...

You are not alone.  I am with you.  I love you.  You are mine.  Rest...  

It's not that God isn't speaking... we're not listening.  

Here's what I want you to do.  Turn off all of the noise around you.

Watch the following video...

Then read the following verses one at a time... slowly.  Just sit with each one in silence... read it over and over again if you need to.  

But be quiet.  




Come to me all you who are weary and over-burdened... 
and I will give you rest. 
- Jesus, Matthew 11:28

quiet...  

Search your hearts... and be silent... 
 - Psalm 4:4

peace... 

Be still and know that I am God... 
 - Psalm 46:10

silence... 

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places... and prayed. 
 - Luke 5:16

Hallelujah... Amen... 
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Comments

  1. Wonderful message. Starts off with an apocalyptic bend, which caught my eye, but never seemed to return to it. Guess I should read earlier entries. Still, the prevailing message of silence being the gateway to revelation is apt and wonderfully stated. Keep writing and editing!

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