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A Sound of Minute Stillness

A homily on 1 Kings 19:1-15a and Luke 8:26-39, first delivered at the Village Life gathering on Saturday, June 22, 2019.

“What are you doing here?”

These five words comprise the oracle Elijah received from the Lord.

I wonder if he found it satisfying?

It seems likely he hoped for more. He probably brought his own agenda to the conversation with God. He probably had something in mind he hoped God would say; or at least a question that God would address. Instead he got six syllables and a question mark:

“What are you doing here?”

By this point in the story, Elijah is tired.

He has been on a mission: to wipe out the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth and to establish Yahweh as the undisputed God in Israel. To do so, he directly confronts the fearsome royal couple—known for their cold brutality. The other prophets are hiding in caves. God has miraculously provided for him through ravens and a widow. He has resurrected the dead, travelled thousands of miles, covered all four points of the compass, and called down fire from heaven on Mount Carmel. Having commanded the execution of 850 of his opponents, he outruns Ahab’s chariot in a marathon-length race.

Elijah is no mild, piously-religious man. Not known for kindness, he is more like The Incredible Hulk than Mr. Rogers; more like Richard Sherman than Pope Francis. All the boys in the land have big-biceped Elijah action figures on their bedroom shelves!

Now in our scene, in 1 Kings 19, Elijah is under direct threat

for his life. He has headed south and, contrary to his macho image, is depressed to the point of suicide. He falls asleep in the desert under a bush, and an angel comes and cares for him in his sadness and exhaustion. The angel, in essence, says, “There, there. You’re tired and your journey is long and hard. Eat, drink, and sleep for a while.”

Have you ever needed to hear words like that?

This is an apropos message for me right now. I need an angel to feed me and encourage me to rest. Running hard for years in multiple ministry roles, I’ve had significant successes and painful failures. After thirteen years as a professor, I taught my last in-person class a week-ago Tuesday. My new job is a blessing and comes with a nice paycheck, but is a hard-left turn for me career-wise. In some ways, I feel I am back to where I was before I started seminary all those years ago!

Tina and I went last week to be evaluated by Psychotherapists and grilled with hard questions for three days. The results from the personality tools were different than what I have seen all the times I have done this before (I didn’t recognize myself) and the evaluators offered a blunt summary of my flaws that really stung. So, I stand before you today feeling a little like Elijah—minus the superhero part!

I should pause here and ask the question: How is your journey with God? Are you feeling affirmed and in-the-zone, or have you taken a few blows yourself? The journey with God is long and is often confusing and painful. We need angels to feed us and give us water, to lull us to sleep, and then to gently nudge us on our way.

Where are you in your journey?

What Elijah does next can be interpreted in a number of ways, but here is one thought. He wants a clear revelation from God, so he heads to the place where dramatic God-epiphanies famously happen: to Mount Sinai, the place God met Moses in the quakes and clouds and fire and smoke. Moses got a word from God there, one that fills the books of Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—an expansive word that resonates down through history. Words. Pages. Paragraphs. Chapters. Books. “I need a word like that: I’ll go there!”

So, still in conversation with God, or God’s angel, he stands in the mouth of a cave and watches. The Hebrew is unsatisfying in its presentation of the events that follow. It’s hard to tell if they really happen of if they’re part of an imaginative dialogue between God and Elijah. But the narrative conclusion is succinct and pregnant with meaning:

“Not in the wind is the Lord.”

“Not in the earthquake is the Lord.”