Yr C ~ Pentecost 2 ~ 1 Kings 19:8-15a
A person has a need, a deep spiritual need. They’re at the end of their rope. They’ve realized that their own energy and capacity is maxed out, and they need more than what they’ve got. They’ve had tremendous highs, accomplished incredible things, done tremendous good, but at this point they’re just done. The accolades have faded, the tides have turned, and now they’re shaken to their core. The appropriate word just might be despondent.
And so with nothing left in the tank they completely let down their guard and surrender to God. I would imagine that, “I’ve had enough, God! I give up!” is a prayer just about every person here has prayed.
And then, exhausted, they fall asleep. And in their sleep, when their guard is completely down and there are no distractions, an experience of the Holy happens. Presence is felt – spiritual nourishment is given – energy is restored. The person then goes through a time of spiritual transformation and growth, has even more powerful and transformative experiences of and in God’s Presence, and is refreshed, renewed, and given a new mission of living God’s way.
That pattern of spiritual renewal is exactly what the prophet Elijah experienced, and it can be true for us today too.
Elijah was perhaps the greatest prophet of Israel. Just before today’s reading he stands alone in a foreign land (albeit one where many Jews are living) and challenges 450 prophets of the god Baal. You see, the Israelites there were falling away from God and turning to the cult of Baal, in the land ruled by Queen Jezebel. Isaiah had to prove that Yahweh, the one true God, the God above all other gods, was worthy. So he challenges the Baal prophets to a prophet-off! The problem was if he lost the challenge he’d be killed, but if he won the challenge Jezebel would still probably kill him. But he had to fight.
It’s a colourful story. There were pyres erected, and bulls were cut up, and the challenge was that using only prophecy and spiritual power could the fires be lit and the bulls burned. 450 prophets of Baal danced and chanted themselves into a stupor and a big fat nothing happened. One lowly prophet of God, Elijah, prayed and called forth God’s power and lightning came and started the fire and burned it all up. Elijah won, and all 450 prophets of Baal were put to death.
Winner winner chicken dinner, right? Big man on campus, right?
The next day, Elijah was visited by a messenger of Jezebel who said the queen sent him to kill Elijah.
So Elijah fled for his life, thinking he was done for. He ran and ran, deep into the wilderness, expecting to be killed. Despondent, he laid down under a desert bush and he prayed, 1 Kings 19:4 “I’ve had enough, Lord! Take my life. I’m no better than my ancestors.” The last part is pretty cryptic but the first part is pretty relatable. “I’ve had enough, God! I give up!”
He slept, and an angel visited him, woke him, and provided food and water.
Refreshed Elijah travelled for 40 days and 40 nights – sound familiar? That’s a number signifying transformation.
And he comes to Mt Horeb, where Moses got the 10 Commandments, and just like Moses, Elijah experiences God’s Presence in a magnificent way.
Ok, that’s the background.
How did Elijah get there, and how do we get to a point where we’re ready to experience God so vividly?
There’s a pattern: openness and surrender, receiving spiritual nourishment, a time of transformation, and physically being in a quiet place where deep experiences have a greater chance of happening, and making yourself ready, preparing yourself, to hear.
Now let’s look at the experience.
How do we expect to encounter God? What would it be like to encounter the very Presence of God?
Here’s how it was for Elijah. 1 Kings 19:11-12
(Elijah is told) “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.
The King James translation says it was a still, small voice.
That ain’t how it works in the movies!
Generally, God is depicted as all-powerful, shaking mountains, causing earthquakes, chucking lightning bolts.
We expect God to dazzle and amaze, to knock our socks off with power, and fireworks, and throngs of angel choruses singing alleluia!
Silence is the opposite.
Silence is the absence of all those flashy things.
I guess it’s because we have a sense that God is so great, and so awesome, and so holy, and so magisterial that we can’t help but associate those things with showy and noisy displays of such awesomeness.
But clearly, according to this scripture and many others, God’s Presence is known in the silence.
In the silence!
It’s completely counter-intuitive.
It turns our perception and expectations completely upside down.
Come to think of it, that’s exactly how God usually seems to work!
It shouldn’t surprise us though. read on