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The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
June 23, 2013
The First Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
Sermon: "What's God's Number?"
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
The First Reading:
Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, "So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow." Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.
But he himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." [Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you."] He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.
Then the word of the LORD came to him, saying, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away."
He said, "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. 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 that said, "What are you doing here, Elijah?" He answered, "I have been very zealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away." Then the LORD said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus."
1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a
What's God's Number?
I Kings 19:1-16,19a
A deep hunger is gnawing at the post-modern soul. “Where is God?” people ask. Most of us have asked that question ourselves at one time or another. You may be asking it even now. People who are facing difficult decisions or circumstances ask it. Some ask in simple curiosity, while others ask in anger; defying any answer. You may well have been asked this question yourself by a child, perhaps your own, who simply wanted to know how God could be reached.
I remember trying to address this question in a children’s sermon one Sunday Morning. I was still in seminary at that time, serving as an intern student pastor in a nearby church. One duty that fell to me was the weekly delivery of children’s sermons. There was a lovely group of about twenty children, ages ranging from about seven on down to three years old, sitting upon the steps in the front of the chancel. The “adult” sermon that morning was going to be about reaching God in prayer, so my task was to teach these children all about prayer in three minutes or less.
Now, mind you, only a seminarian would attempt an assignment like this, and actually believe it could be pulled off. I had decided to tell them how prayer with God is like a conversation with a friend: we talk to him and he talks to us. In fact, prayer can be an adventure just as wondrous as talking to someone on a telephone. We can’t see them, but they’re still there. I even went so far as to bring in a visual aid; a toy telephone that responded when dialed, (Dialed! That tells you how long ago this was!), “Hi there! I want to be your friend.” This sermon couldn’t miss.
That’s what I had reasoned anyway. I was just getting to the end of my three minutes with the children when I mentioned how talking with God was like talking on a telephone. Suddenly, one bright-eyed little girl looked up at me with wonder on her face and asked, “So what’s God’s number?” The entire congregation fell into uproarious laughter, and that sermon was, for all practical purposes, over.
With the wisdom of a child, that little girl had pegged the very thought on every adult mind there that morning. Her question pegs our thoughts this morning too. It is a thought we share with writer of the 42nd Psalm we read earlier. For, no matter how we might phrase it, we find ourselves asking with the Psalmist, ”When shall I come and behold the face of God?” With a passion that sometimes overwhelms us we find ourselves hungering and thirsting as the Psalmist does, ”As a hart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God, for the living God.” We want to know God’s “number,” especially in those moments when we’re not sure that God has heard us; in those times of spiritual dryness when God seems so distant as to not even be aware of us. That’s Elijah’s condition as he seeks out God in our First Testament passage this morning, from I Kings. These two passages hold some important truths for us today; truths that tell us where God is to be found; where God’s presence is to be known.
The first truth is this: We are to look for The Living God. As the Psalmist says, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” We want a living God. We cry out, “Enough already with nebulous Eastern cosmic forces! Enough with unfeeling and impersonal mind principles!” We want, no, we need the God who is personal, the God who sees, and is involved, and who cares. We need the God of Jesus Christ: the God who loves, forgives and restores; the god who wants us to know him as we long to know him; the god we can talk with, and commune with, and love in return. We want “The Living God!”
That is exactly who Elijah the prophet seeks. Elijah is at the lowest point of his whole life. He is bereft of all sense of God’s presence. He has all but given up, and he only wants to die. He wanders into the wilderness, to the mountain of God, to the very roots of his faith, in search of The Living God. He doesn’t seek some Ultimate cosmic life-force. He is longing for a knowing and healing hand.
There, as life itself seems to be ebbing, Elijah is found by God. God comes to Elijah. In loving tones, God restores Elijah, and his life becomes directed again. Elijah has sought and been met by The Living God. That is the first truth; we are to seek The Living God.
That leads us to the second truth: God is best met in silent expectation. This connection with God didn’t just happen. Something changed in Elijah’s manner that allowed this connection to happen in his life. Look at the story. God is constantly trying to get through to Elijah, but Elijah can’t hear God. He can’t hear God, because he’s not listening. He’s so busy telling God his agenda and his complaints that there is no space left for a response. Elijah’s prayer had become one long monologue with no room left for a dialogue.
How often are our prayers just like that? We fire off the shopping lists and requests, with maybe a few thank you’s thrown in, then cut off all further conversation by running off to get on with the day. There is no time spent in quiet, no time given for a response. Then we wonder why we lack a sense of God’s voice in our lives. It’s not that God isn’t speaking; we’re just not listening. Prayer was never meant to be our desperate attempt to get through to God. Prayer is to be our opening up to God who is already trying to get through to us. Once Elijah stopped filling all available space with his words and became silent, then he could begin to hear God’s voice.
Silence by itself is not enough, though. We are seeking someone. Therefore, silence is to include expectation. As the Psalmist says it, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him.” We are to expect God’s presence. Elijah may not have been very receptive to God’s voice at first, but at least he was persistent in expecting it until he was finally able to hear. Have you given up expecting God’s voice because you don’t feel he’s really with you to listen? The truth is that God is with you and me whether we feel him there or not.
Expecting God in the silence can be a difficult sense to keep hold of sometimes. Like Elijah, we are apt to look for God in the big stuff, the earthquake, wind and fire of powerful events, while we ignore the still small voice of His Spirit working within us. But God is as present in the smallest incidents of our lives, as in the global events of all humanity. He who counts the stars also numbers the hairs on our heads; (a feat that is becoming increasingly easier for our Lord with me!) So, silent expectation is the second truth; where we are free to hear, and open to the Lord’s presence.
Here’s the third and final truth for this morning: God’s presence is available to you and me anywhere you or I are. Elijah didn’t have to go into the desert to find God. That’s evidenced by God’s first words to him once he arrives there; “What are you doing here, Elijah?” As we can see from the story, God was with him throughout the arduous journey. Perhaps it was just that Elijah had to get worn down enough before he would open up to receive God’s presence. It’s not that way for everyone. It doesn’t have to be that way for anyone. It doesn’t have to be that way for you or me.
The Good News this morning is, we don’t have to wait to begin to hear God’s voice in our lives. We don’t have to hit bottom to finally look up and know his life-giving presence with us personally. The truth is that God is with us right now. He is speaking already, and he is waiting expectantly for us to notice that in the silence of our hearts and minds.
Seek The Living God. Seek him in the prayer of expectant quiet. Seek him today. For, now, you have God’s number.