In the Midst of Silence
As you know, I like to keep everyone up to date as we move from one season into the next within our church calendar. Now, I told you a few weeks ago about the time we were about to enter. You may remember with the colors changing to green and us entering into the summer months, that we are beginning the long season of ordinary time. I hope you recall my frustrations with such a name “ordinary time”, I felt it didn’t accurately capture the church’s vision and hope for the future. Does anyone remember my suggestion, instead of ordinary time we were going to call it what?
*wait for responses*
Extraordinary time! That’s right! A time in which we not only expect great things from God, but great things from ourselves as well. Now I know, life is only getting busier and busier. The church often has to compete nowadays for people’s time and I certainly recognize that I am biased, this is my vocation, my passion, and I want to share that with all of you. I want us all to realize that we can do so much good in this world, that we can make a difference. I’m especially encouraged when we have things like out community care days project that took place this past weekend, where churches and people from around the community come together to help those right here in Monmouth. I was talking to an individual on Friday morning as we were doing some yard work and we were asking questions about each other, where we worked, which church we were associated with, the usual small talk questions, you know the ones that place ourselves into certain categories, the one’s that often give us our identity. I came to the funny realization, however, that if it weren’t for this ecumenical community event, I might not have ever met this person, taken the time to get to know her.
We’re so quick to create these communities and these bubbles, and we give ourselves labels and it can become so hard branch out, to reach across denominational lines. But because we did, because we reached a little further, we were able to come together united in the goal to make some real change in the world…Well, ok we were just doing yard work, but the point is, even in the small acts of kindness, even in the little things, in the act of coming together, we show that we are truly capable of the extraordinary.
We find ourselves in the midst of extraordinary events this morning. Our scripture passage follows the recent actions of the prophet Elijah. To give some context on why Elijah is fleeing for his life this morning, we must remember the scene that took place just before these passages. Only a little while ago, Elijah had faced off before 450 priests of the god Baal. It was a contest of sorts to prove to the people the truth and power of Adonai, the God of the Israelites. The challenge was to see which god could ignite a pyre of wood simply by calling on that god’s name. You may remember in the story that, try as they might, none of the priests of Baal are able to conjure any fire. To make matters even more embarrassing for them, Elijah douses his pyre with water three different times and then with a simple prayer, his altar erupts into a hot a mighty flame, one that consumes the pyre, the stones, and the water around it. The text sort of glosses over Elijah’s final act as he has all of the priests of Baal killed.
You can imagine then as news of this reaches King Ahab and Queen Jezebel that they were none too happy and, as Jezebel was from Phoenicia, she was particularly upset at Elijah’s insult and threatens to take his life. So we meet Elijah on the run in the wilderness, unsure of what to do next. We read in our text that Elijah is so distraught that he even asks to die, his duty, he reckons, has been fulfilled. He is at his last leg. Whether visions from the heat or miracles from above, Elijah is sustained to go on just a little bit further and further and further, for 40 days and forty nights until he reaches Mt. Sinai, that holy mountain.
I think many of us have probably felt like Elijah at times, perhaps questioning our paths, our purpose in life, perhaps even running away from what we have done or what was done to us. It’s not difficult to imagine the questions that may have been running through Elijah’s mind. “Did I do the right thing?” “Am I going the right direction?” “I don’t know what to do next”. It’s that last question in particular that would resonate with me. “I’ve gotten this far, but what now?” I’ve often dealt with and talked to people who have struggled with “impostor syndrome”. It’s the idea that no matter how much training you have, no matter how qualified you are, no matter how many life experiences you have, you look around, see others succeeding, and feel like you yourself are an impostor in a world full of people who have it figured out. You don’t know how you could have possibly ended up where you did and you are afraid to be found out, that if people discovered you don’t know something, your entire life may come crashing down.
It’s a largely irrational fear, but it’s one that’s felt by many trying to make their way through life. Often the world’s problems can seem like too much to handle, let alone the supposedly simple things like finding a job or buying a car. For some people, those simple things become not so simple. More and more people nowadays are struggling to afford even rent, loan payments or getting enough food for their families. Many are just a hospital bill away from bankruptcy. We might even find ourselves asking in these times, “Where’s God?”. We might wonder what justice is in the world that such a God would allow things like severe poverty, violence, war and famine to even take place. Where is God in such a loud and destructive world?
As Elijah neared the end of his journey, he stood atop a mountain and we read in our scriptures that, “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……….." Than, a voice. After everything that Elijah had been through, after the dramatic events that took place with the priests of Baal, God speaks not through mighty acts of nature, not through the voices of famous prophets, but in the silence.
Our world today is so loud. On t.v., on social media, you can’t escape the people who insist they know how to live the perfect life and that they’ve got everything figured out. There are a million causes for a million different things and it can all be just too much sometimes. In those times, we often must quiet our hearts and our minds and begin learning how to listen. Listen for that silence. Listen to those who have been silenced in our communities. Because God is in the midst of the silence. Listen to the people in the margins, the people struggling, the people who society has labeled as “other” because the second that our world tries to silence their stories, their experiences, their pain, we know that God is there in the silence.
It may be tiring at times and like Elijah we may just feel like we want to give up, we may feel like we’re unqualified, but in those times, let us remember the silence, let us remember that as Christians, our duty becomes lifting up and affirming the voices of those who haven’t been given the chance to speak. Let the silence be a deafening call to our ears to never stop, to always call out injustice, and to always seek the full flourishing of God’s people. And after we listen, then we can act. I am reminded once again of Gustavo Gutierrez, the famous liberation theologian who did just this, he listened to the cries of his people, he witnessed the injustices being committed in Latin America, and he knew that God was with the marginalized, with those suffering under colonial power and he knew he had to act, that God was calling him to act.
But where do we start? It’s one thing to recognize that there is a problem but another to realize that these issues often seem like an unclimbable mountain. We start here, at home. We help our communities, our friends, those most vulnerable. We lift up each other, we go where we are called, we speak out when there is injustice. We hold our leaders accountable and we lift people up to lead who can be the voices of those who have been silenced. Like Elijah we are all called. We may question that at times, and we may wonder why God ever chose us, but let us remember as we listen today that God is in the silence and will lead us to create a world far better than we could have ever imagined.