Rose Park Sunday School (Adults and Children) at 8:45 a.m. / Worship at 9:45 a.m.

Madison Sunday School (Adults and Children) 10:15 a.m. / Worship at 11:15 a.m.

The Silence of God

Based on 1Kings 19, Galatians 3, Luke 8

Pastor and spiritual writer, Frederick Buechner, in a sermon entitled, “The Truth of Stories” has this to say about God’s silence:  “Somebody should write a book someday about the silences in Scripture. Maybe somebody already has. ‘For God alone my soul waits in silence,’ the psalmist says (62:1), which is the silence of waiting. Or ‘Be not silent, O God of my praise,’ which is the silence of the God we wait for (109:1). ‘And when the Lamb opened the seventh seal,’ says the book of Revelation, ‘there was silence in heaven’ (8:1) – the silence of creation itself coming to an end and of a new creation about to begin. But the silence that has always most haunted me is the silence of Jesus before Pilate. Pilate asks his famous question, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18:38), and Jesus answers him with a silence that is overwhelming in its eloquence. In case there should be any question as to what that silence meant, on another occasion Jesus put it into words for his disciple Thomas. ‘I,’ he said, ‘I am the truth’ (14:6)….”

Buechner failed to note in his litany a couple of other mention of silence…Psalm 46:10, “…Be still, and know that I am God…” and our scripture for today from 1Kings where Elijah, fresh off his destruction of the prophets of Baal, is in hiding in a cave on Mount Horeb (God’s mountain) from the death sentence handed down by Queen Jezebel.  Elijah is not stirred by the wind, earthquake and fire, but is moved to hide his face when all the ruckus ceases, and he is awed by the “sheer silence” of the presence of God.  The Message paraphrase says, “…after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper….”

Our scriptures for today offer us some ways that we can experience God.  An experience in fact, for which we long with a deep and desperate passion.  The demons inside the Gerasene demoniac know the power of God as made manifest in Jesus and the man longs for release from them.  Paul writes that through our baptisms we become one in Christ Jesus and heirs to the legacy of Abraham through faith.  Elijah has seen the power of God in the fire that destroyed the prophets of Baal but experiences the majesty and intimacy of God’s presence in God’s silence.  To know God is to know that the fullness of God is made manifest in God’s quiet relationship with us.  Let us go to God now in prayer and thanksgiving that God speaks most insistently when God says nothing at all…

Paul is writing to the believers in Galatia – and if you thought the Corinthians had issues…whew!  Get a load of what’s going on in the church plants in Galatia!  They have fallen into in-fighting over following false prophets and the churches are coming apart.  The beginning of Chapter 3 has Paul writing emphatically, “you foolish Galatians!”  Truth be told, Paul would probably be writing the same thing to the churches in the U.S. right now as well – but I digress.  Paul tries to get them back on track by reminding them from where they are descended and what faith in the Christ really means.  It means that we can have a right relationship to God through our belonging to the Christ and thus come to know God firsthand.

Luke’s Gospel has Jesus confronting a legion of demons who were inhabiting a poor soul in the Gentile area known as the Decapolis.  The demons immediately recognize Jesus’ power and beg to not be driven out of the man.  Instead, Jesus gives them permission to move into a herd of pigs – who then drown themselves in the sea.  The tormented man is released to his own mind, and he goes on to be the first evangelist for God in that area – spending the rest of his life telling all just how much God had done for him.

The great prophet Elijah has had all the prophets of Baal killed following a powerful display of God.  Queen Jezebel hears from King Ahab all that Elijah has done and Jezebel tells Elijah that she will kill him for his actions.  Elijah…somehow forgetting the power of God, flees into the wilderness and goes into hiding.  He prays for God to let him die – but God has other plans.  God sustains the prophet and brings him 40 days march to Mount Horeb – the mountain of God.  Elijah spends a night in a cave on that mountain and God comes to him there in the silence and isolation.  God sends a mighty wind, an earthquake and then fire from the sky – but God didn’t pass by the prophet in any of those.  When all the noise was finished, God passed by Elijah in absolute silence – or as Eugene Peterson paraphrased it…in a gentle and quiet whisper.

I find it ironic, in the fullest sense of the word, to be up here preaching about finding God in silence.  Yet, there is no other way to communicate to you something which I know by experience to be true…God comes to us in the silences in our lives.  The silence of our dreams, of the moments which take our breath away, when we are struck silent by beauty or majesty, when words fail due to joy or grief or a perceived dead end in our lives.  Maybe you haven’t attributed to God the things that happen when you are in these types of situations, but God is definitely there.  A lot of folks now days think that they “get over” those silencing times – or they celebrate them as acts of coincidence.  They totally miss these God moments as opportunities to move deeper into relationship with God.

Let’s take an example from every one of our recent lives.  We have all been living like Elijah over the last couple of years – haven’t we?  We had been given a potential death sentence from a Jezebel named COVID-19, and we ran and hid in our caves.  We walled ourselves in and we forgot about the power of God.  I’m not saying that if we had been cavalier about reasonable protection procedures that God would have saved us – God doesn’t work like that.  What I’m saying is that like Elijah, we decided that hiding out was the strategy that worked for us in the long run, and we got comfortable.  However, God has come calling for all of us.  God is now asking us, “what are you doing here?!”

This is not God saying, why are you here in this church, instead God is saying to each of us and to the Body of Christ in total, what is it that you are doing as my disciples in the world?  How are you using the gifts that I alone have given you to help me transform the world into my kingdom?  What are you doing here, in Madison County, to make disciples of Jesus the Christ for the transformation of the world?  What are you doing in your own lives and spiritual journeys to deepen your love to God and to all of your neighbors?

I hear God telling me to tell you that it is time to get out of our caves and get back into the game.  Again, we need to take proper precautions based on our risk of significant negative outcomes from an infection, but it is time for us to come out and look around, because God is passing by.  Life and God’s creative love did not stop as we were holed up – and there is a lot of work to be done with God in our world.  God is saying to us, “look around at your world and see and hear what I am doing while you have been in lockdown”.  Don’t look for God in the showy and the gaudy – or in the false prophets that shout their heresies on TV and the internet.  Instead, look for God in the small and insignificant, in the marginalized and the weak, in those whose voices are routinely silenced and ignored.

God needs us to come out and to use our gifts, individually and collectively, to confront the prophets of Baal in our own time.  Those well-meaning folk who mis-quote or misunderstand scripture, who seek to control everyone with laws and rules, who are nostalgic for a world that never really existed; all so that they don’t have to actually be in right relationship with people or situations that make them uncomfortable.  The world has changed and will go on changing – that is God at work.  This week, your homework is to spend some quiet time reflecting on the presence of God in your life and listening for that quiet whisper of God.  The awesome whisper of sheer silence that will change your life – not in an easy way, but in a painful way that leads to true transformation and salvation.  I wonder what the whisper of God – the silence of God has in store for you?  Only time and God’s grace know for sure.  Amen and amen!