Reading: I Kings 19:1-16
Sermon: Leaving the comfort of our home cave
Of all the Elijah stories, this one is a favourite. It’s that “still, small voice” – or “the sound of sheer silence.” It seems personal, close and safe. It’s encouraging and affirming to know God can be so intimate and interior that any of us can hear God’s voice if only we’re quiet and still enough.
I worry, though, about people who hear voices. John Hinkley heard voices telling him to kill John Lennon. Or was it the man who shot President Reagan? I wonder too if Omar Mateen heard voices eight days ago telling him to open fire with an automatic weapon on patrons of a gay night club -- leaving fifty dead and that many again severely injured.
And only two weeks ago in worship we read about Elijah slaughtering 450 prophets of Ba-al after disgracing them in a game of Whose-Sacrifice-Will-Be-Accepted. Was it God who quietly told him to do that? Or was it his own prophetic ego-mania – the religious projection of his own very human solution to the problem in front of him?
Even believers like us – willing to question what we think, and open to what others believe – when we make decisions, take action, and pray that it be God’s will, is it really? Or is it just what people in our position do, without it being really of God at all?
With Facebook and other social media that can open us up to the world but all too easily just entrench us in habitual ways of thinking and in self-enclosed niches and virtual neighbourhoods, how do we know if what we are hearing is the voice of whole truth, or just the repeated echo of our own little cave?
I wonder sometimes about discernment of spirits – and what it is discern the full mystery of God's voice from other and lesser voices in our life.
In today’s story Elijah makes 2 journeys that open him up to the voice of God. Twice he leaves behind a particular kind of prison to be opened to a voice and a vision beyond. I’d like to think about these journeys for a bit this morning.
The first is what may be called the journey out of the world – the journey away from, and beyond what’s wrong about our time and our culture. It’s the journey of 40 days and 40 nights through the wilderness beyond Beer-sheba to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God.
It’s a journey of escape from Queen Jezebel. It’s also a journey of liberation from the idolatries and evil of the kingdom. It’s a re-enactment really of the first exodus of the first people of Israel under Moses from the empire of Egypt – except this time it’s not a foreign power, but the evils of his own kingdom and his own people that Elijah has to be free of.
It’s a journey God’s people make and remake, undergo and re-undergo all the time and we all have made at some point in our lives. We walk away from what’s wrong in our time and our culture, to be available and able to live in a way more in keeping with what we know of God’s way.
We wouldn’t be here in worship otherwise. In fact, just coming to worship is part of it – part of the life-long journey of leaving behind the way of the world week after week, to let the Word and Spirit of God guide us week after week in a different way of being. The first journey to be able to hear the voice of God is the journey away from the world.
And then there’s the second journey – a journey I didn’t even notice in the story for the longest time. It’s that subtle, but it’s also so critical that without it the first journey maybe never really succeeds. It’s the journey away from, or beyond the self – beyond the self we are used to, and used to being.
Remember Elijah. He’s escaped and left behind what’s wrong in his time and culture and he’s on the mountain of God. He finds a little cave there, and when night comes – when the night-time of his own aloneness and despair surround him, he crawls into the little cave and once inside there just surrenders to what he’s feeling – to what he is, in and by himself. It’s something he’s done before in almost every story we have about him. It’s just who he is. It’s his accustomed and familiar way of being and doing in the world.
Then the Word of the Lord comes to him: “Go out. In other words, come out of your cave and stand on the mountain, Elijah, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
And then that part of the story we love so much:
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. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him …
Do you notice the order in which things happen? And the second journey Elijah has to make really to be in the presence and really to hear the voice of God?
The wind comes, and the Lord is not in it. The earthquake comes, and the Lord is not in it. The fire comes, and the Lord is not in it. Then, there is nothing left but the still, small voice – the sound of sheer silence, that is God. At which point finally Elijah comes out – makes the journey out of his cave – out of himself, to be in the presence of God.
All the big, noisy, fearsome things Elijah encounters while he’s in the cave are not of God, but are of his own making. They are the products of his own fears and anxieties. They are the projection upon the world of his own demons and ego. They are the echo of his own personality and of his own imperfect and broken humanity, repeated over and over and magnified in the cave he inhabits. They are signs of what he would do if he were God.
And is only when all this is done – only after the sound of his own little cave and the fury of his imperfect self are spent,
- that the sound of sheer silence can be heard
- that the stillness of God is able to draw Elijah out from himself
- that Elijah is able to be truly in the presence of the holy One
- and that God, who holds all things together for good, is then able to send Elijah back into the world to do one last good thing, more good and more lasting than he’s yet been able to do.
We know the first journey – I know we do, the journey away from the ways of the world, to gather at the mountain of God.
I wonder, though, sometimes – how we undergo the second journey out of the caves and little niches we all inhabit.
How do we come out from the cave of our selves?