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Music used for this service:
More Voices 19 “Maranatha”
Words: traditional liturgical text; French trans. More Voices, 2007. Music: Louise Skibsted
Voices United 220 “Praise to the Lord”
Words: Joachim Neander. English translation: Catherine Winkworth. Public domain.
Music: Stralsund Gesangbuch. Public domain.
Voices United 467 “One Bread, One Body”
Words, Music, Harmony: © 1978 John B. Foley, New Dawn Music, administered by Oregon Catholic Press. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Voices United 960 “The Lord’s Prayer”
Adapted from a chant by R. Langdon. Public domain.
“Go Now in Peace, Never Be Afraid”
Words: Don Besig and Nancy Price, 1988. Music: Don Besig 1988. Words and Music – ©1988 Shawnee Press.
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE, License # A-734863. All rights reserved.
We do not live by bread alone,
O nourishing God,
so we come with spiritual hunger,
to be restored and refreshed.
Jesus said, “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,”
so make us hungry not for things of the earth,
but hungry for the well-being of our neighbour,
for the restoration of creation,
for the cleansing and renewal of our souls,
that we may seek these things, plant them and grow them,
in the name of the one who blesses us in our hunger,
Christ Jesus, who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
When I was doing my undergrad in university, which was in English literature and creative writing and getting more into poetry than I had been in high school, we were obsessed with the idea of the romantic poet, both the big-R Romantic (a poet from the late 18th to mid 19th century: Goethe, Shelly, Keats, Coleridge) and small-r romantic, the tortured soul who just poured out their emotions on the page and suddenly had a brilliant and moving work with no trite lines or metaphors. If you just got broken up with, write a poem. Go out and deliberately get hurt, we thought, surround yourself with drugs and poverty and as much pain as you can and you’d be living a real poets lifestyle. What you would write would be truth, man.
The big-R romantic poet William Wordsworth defined poetry as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions . . . ” and I thought that was all I needed to know, forgetting the second half of his definition: “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful emotions later recollected in tranquility.”
Sometimes we look for meaning in thunderstorms, and forget the truth that speaks to us in the quiet. And that is the truth Elijah finds in this story.
Continuing on our series about finding the passages in the Old Testament that show a God of love and forgiveness and passages from the New Testament that show a God of challenge, we come to this story, my favourite in the whole Hebrew Bible (and I know I have a lot of favourites, but this is genuinely my favourite OT story).
Elijah seeks out God in the wilderness, the same wilderness where Moses saw the burning bush. He runs for his life, from Jezebel, who is angry that he has publicly proven the cult of Baal to be a sham and had their prophets executed—okay, there’s some values dissonance in this story, what with the religious intolerance and all—and Jezebel seeks to kill him.
He looks for God in a howling wind, in an earthquake, in a firestorm, but in each of these we are told that God was not in them.
We expect revelations of God in big and flashy ways. We say, “prove yourself, O God,” and expect the heavens to break open, for a big booming voice, for a strike of lightning from on high. And when those things don’t come, we wonder if that means that God doesn’t exist.
We expect God to make our lives better in drastic, miraculous ways. We pray to win the lottery. We pray for sickness to go away instantly. We pray for world leaders to suddenly come to their senses and begin advocating for justice. Instantly, dramatically. And when these things don’t happen, we wonder if that means that God doesn’t really care about us.
Why can’t people just get along? Why can’t God change their hearts? Why can’t we have a COVID vaccine now, so we can get back to normal?
We look into howling winds, earthquakes, and firestorms and expect to find God.
And instead, Elijah listens in the silence that follows, the recollection in tranquility. The translation of this passage is interesting. We had a joke in our bible study group that if you look in the footnotes of the Old Testament, at least in the NRSV, somewhere on every page will be a note saying, “Meaning of Hebrew uncertain.” That isn’t the case here, because the word definitely has something to do with silence. “The sound of sheer silence, here in the NRSV. The “still small voice,” in the KJV. “A gentle whisper,” in the NIV.
And it is what this whisper says to Eijah that is all-important to this story. Elijah has run, he has sought safety and security from the agents of Jezebel, and God asks him, “What are you doing here.” Afterward, God tells him to return to Israel and continue being a prophet, not a hermit in the wilderness.
What is God doing about COVID? What is God doing about racial injustice? What is God doing about climate change?
What are we? What are we doing here, God asks us.
That still small voice is comforting, because it reminds us that God is with us at all times, even in the silence, when we might feel more alone than ever. God’s voice is gentle, not harsh and violent. God cares tenderly, motherly, with concern for Elijah She asks, “What are you doing here?” With purpose and encouragement, He tells us we have things to do.
We, as Christians, as people who have faith in God, have a mission to live out that faith by loving each other. That is our only job. When we find it hard and want to run away from it all, like Elijah did, God is there to comfort us and gently turn us back toward our neighbour. We find the truth of God, the poetry of God’s love for us, in the gentleness of that voice, in that barely audible whisper, in the silence. Listen for the silence. Amen.