Still Small Voice

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A Still Small Voice

1 Kings 19:9-18 (NRSV)
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; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
            Have you ever felt alone? I mean really alone, abandoned, broken, forsaken, and lost? Have you ever felt like you were the only one bearing the world’s burdens? The only one who was true, dependable, and reliable, when everyone else around you has checked out, neglected their duties, or not lived up to their obligations? Have you felt like you have been looked down upon, excluded, or marginalized for trying to do the right thing? For trying to be virtuous and honest, when so many others have advanced through dishonesty and corruption? If so, you may have a taste of what Elijah is feeling in today’s Old Testament reading.
          In this passage, Elijah is running for his life. In the previous passage, Elijah demonstrated how righteous and powerful he was in a little competition with the 450 false prophets of Baal. Maybe you recall the story. Elijah enjoins the false prophets build an altar to Baal and slaughter a bull there and cry upon their god to bring fire down to light the altar. After a day of marching in circles, and shouting, and even cutting themselves, their god does not answer them. Then Elijah builds an altar, slaughters a bull and places it atop a pile of wood. Then he has the Israelites dig a trench around the alter and pour massive amounts of water on and around the altar. He cries to the Lord and fire comes down and sets his water-soaked altar aflame. It is a huge triumph, resulting in the destruction of the false prophets, and in the following day, a huge gush of rain, ending a three year drought. You think after all this, Elijah would be welcomed by the people and their king and queen as a hero. But that’s not how the story plays out. The wicked king Ahab and his wife Jezebel are enraged, because the Baal priests served them. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go. Elijah has upset their machinations of power and dominance. He has destroyed the royal priesthood of Baal. He is a threat and a danger to their power, and must be eliminated.
          When they call for his death, Elijah does what any of us would do. He flees. He runs away. He runs a day into the desert and lies down by a solitary broom tree. And when he finally stops to take a break he collapses, physically, mentally, spiritually emotionally. This may be the most compelling part of the Elijah story. He has proved himself a hero, done amazing things with the help of the LORD. Yet, here under this solitary broom tree, he is exhausted, diminished, broken. He even calls upon the Lord to take his life, wishes he were never born. With our clinical definitions, we might say that Elijah was depressed.
Those of us who have struggled with various forms of depression may be able to relate to how Elijah feels here. That he doesn’t want to get up. That he just wants to stay in a fetal position under that broom tree, totally unable to motivate himself to do anything. If you are feeling that way or know someone in your life who does, you know how powerful a stranglehold depression can be. We now know that there are many reasons for depression, including chemical imbalances, as well as social, and psychological factors. In Elijah’s case, I think he is depleted. We need to be careful here. Factors for depression can vary widely, from person to person. We need to be very careful not to generalize from Eliajah’s case to others. Spiritual and emotional depletion may or may not be a factor in any given person’s depression. But it certainly seems to be the case here.
Have any of you heard of the starving baker? It is a wonderful image for depletion. The starving baker provides for everyone else. She or he is always ready to lend a hand, provide support, go that extra mile, but does too little for themselves in the process. This is a recipe for spiritual and emotional depletion. Many of you may have been there. You may be the primary caregiver for a loved one. You may be the breadwinner and responsible one, cooking, cleaning, keeping things in order for the ones you love. Sometimes, the mothers among us find themselves in that role, caring for aging parents, helping the kids financially, providing childcare for the grandkids, all the while maintaining a household, holding a fulltime job. Starving bakers tend not to provide themselves selfcare. They find themselves in positions of leadership and responsibility, but don’t take the time they need; or get the resources they need for their own support. Oftentimes when we get to the point of depletion, we get toxic ourselves. We begin judging others, and gossiping about others, we play the martyr complex. We begin saying things like, “I always give 110%, I’ve given my all to _________fill in the blank (my church, my workplace, my family, etc.). And when we get to the pinnacle of exhaustion we lie down under a solitary broom tree in the desert and just want to die.
          But the story doesn’t end there. Two days in a row, an angel of the Lord visits Elijah. He brings him a jug of water and some stone-baked flatbread to nourish him. And on that sustenance Elijah has the strength to travel forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mount of God. It is here where the reading we heard this morning picks up.
          When he gets to the mountain, he decides to sleep in a cave. It is at this point that the Word of the Lord comes to him and asks him why he is hiding. Elijah tells him out of the depths of his exhaustion, “I have been zealous, all the other Isrealites have forsaken your covenants, but I alone have remained zealous, killed the false prophets, and now that I’m alone, the king and queen are seeking my life.” As an answer, Yahweh tells Elijah to go stand on the mountain.
          It is at this point that YHWH reveals true power. First there is a massive wind, a wind so strong that it can split the mountains and break the rocks, “but the Lord was not in the wind.” Then came an earthquake, moving the ground, strong enough to bring down buildings and throw people off their feet, “but the Lord was not in the earthquake.” Then came a fire, a terrific, horrifying fire, “but the Lord was not in the fire.” After the fire came a sound of sheer silence, as some translations say, a still, small voice. That’s the LORD!
          In this shimmering silence is where the LORD speaks to us through this text in ultraprofound ways! Be not mistaken. The Lord is not in the fire and fury of our atomic weapons. The Lord is not in our locked and loaded military might, not in our B2 bombers, or gigantic aircraft carriers. The Lord is not in our international threats, or our angry rhetoric. The Lord is not in our alt-right protests, waving Nazi and Confederate flags! The Lord is not in our spewing hate, or in the bricks we throw at each other, or the gas we spew at each other. The Lord is not in our ideologies and our need to win arguments and put each other down. Indeed, the Lord is not in our efforts to be lone rangers and heroes whether for our nations, for our communities, our families, our churches, or our workplaces.
Where is the LORD?
The LORD is in the shimmering silence. The LORD is in the still small voice. The LORD is in sheer and utter quiet. The LORD is in those moments when we are truly alone, worried and confused by all the anxiety, talk of war, conflicts, everything swirling around us, and it seems there is no one with us.
          Yes, we are in turbulent times these days. Conflicts are brewing. Extreme racists and nationalists are coming out of the woodwork with the disgusting and horrifying language of hate. We have a leader who is eschewing the traditional language of diplomacy in favor of ratcheting up tensions with a nation led by an unpredictable madman who is armed to the teeth with traditional and nuclear weapons. But we must remember. The Lord is not in this. The LORD is in the sheer silence, with those who choose to follow Christ and walk in peace.
          What does that mean for us? As I was writing this sermon, I was watching Facebook and Twitter feeds of those who were at the rallies in Charlottesville, I was astonished to see a small group of clergy in a sea of right-wing protestors. They were beautiful, dressed in clergy garbs, with their robes, and their stoles, and brightly colored clergy shirts and collars. And what were they doing in the midst of the chaos? The were silently walking, arms locked, separating the two sides. They were a testament to God’s still small voice in the midst of the chaos. As protestors were spewing hate, throwing water bottles, trying to pepper spray each other, the clergy, arms locked, were singing a children’s song, “This Little Light of Mine.”
          This Little light of Mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Brothers and sisters, that is our testimony, that is our call: to look for and be God’s still small voice in midst of chaos, anger, and fear. Our Christian brothers and sisters make up about 30% of the population of South Korea. It is one of the places in the world where over the past decades, Christianity has grown by leaps and bounds. I guarantee you that on this Sunday, those beloved brothers and sisters of ours are lifting their voices to God in a prayer for peace. Can we join them?
          You see, in the end, after God reveals God’s self on the mountain in the still small voice, The LORD tells Elijah that he indeed is not alone. He will anoint a successor, Elisha. He will will anoint Hazael as king of Aram, and Jehu, and King of Israel. In addition, the Lord will rise up 7000 in Isreal, all those who have not kneeled down before the idolatry of Baal-and they will be on his side.
          Brothers and sisters, we are not alone. God is in our midst, working often unnoticed, in those quiet moments, in midst of our hectic lives. We have brothers and sisters throughout this world, 15 million in Korea alone, joining us in prayers for peace, for love, for God’s will to triumph. We need not be afraid. We don’t have to be the heroes. We don’t have to be the starving bakers anymore. Our God is with us. Peace will prevail. God’s still small voice lives in all our hearts. God’s love already won on the cross and in the resurrection. There is nothing more that can harm, neither bombs, nor sticks, neither missiles, nor teargas. God’s still small voice is greater. To us is promised the resurrection. To us is promised new life in God’s beloved and chosen community.

Amen!

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