August 10, 2017 – God in the Silence 1 Kings 19:9-18

Elijah-in-the-cave

At that place he (Elijah) 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.” 1 Kings 19:9-18 (NRSV)

The Lord was not in the wind.

The Lord was not in the earthquake.

The Lord was not in the fire.

 

After the fire, a sound of sheer silence- then the Lord spoke.

Elijah was pretty depleted and worn out at this time- having just dealt with Ahab and Jezebel and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:20-46 and 1 Kings 19:1-8) He was looking for God to come to him in a big and dramatic way, wrapped up in the whirlwind, but God waited to speak to Elijah in the calm after the storm.

Most of us have been in places where the storm around us is so intense that the breath is sucked right out of us, we fall to our knees, and we have no words with which to speak. God does not abandon us in those moments, but often He waits to speak to us until the storm is over- whether the storm is the shock of a physical injury or a sudden tragedy or the blow of a deep disappointment- or, like Elijah, when we are coming to the end of ourselves and what we can handle. He lets us rage and scream and bargain, and once we have completely emptied out our hearts and souls, God steps into that silent, empty space.  He speaks words of comfort and peace and healing, but after the storms, in the silence. He speaks through the silence so we can’t help but hear His words.

There is a strong theme of redemption and restoration and continuity in this passage as well. God reminds Elijah that he is not alone (even though he thinks he is the last man standing, he is not) and that God’s work will go on even after Elijah’s work is done.  In the silence after the storm, after God passes over Elijah’s fatigue and frustration and burnout, God spells out what Elijah has left to do, and who will carry on after he is gone.

Elisha will finish off and continue some of the projects that Elijah started. It’s encouraging to hear that, that the work we do for God’s kingdom is part of an ongoing endeavor.  We build on to the work of those who were before us, and God will ensure that there are people after us to build on the work we have done, even though sometimes when we are tired and burned out and overwhelmed by grief and sorrow , we think, “I am the only person doing anything for God.”

The truth is that God’s work will get done.  We as individuals aren’t called to do it all. The laborers might be few and the work intense, but God finds a way.  That doesn’t mean that we should just bow out and miss out on the joy of serving because “someone else will do it,” but it does mean that we are in this together.  Everyone has his or her purpose in God’s plan along with others.  Bringing about God’s kingdom here on earth is something we do together, not a solo effort.

Do we trust God that He does speak to us in the silence, and that we are not called to be-all and do-all, rather we are called to complete the purpose He created us for, to contribute a piece of an ongoing tapestry, to write a chapter in a never-ending story?

In the end, in the silence, God brings us rest. There will be a day when we will see Jesus and He will say to us:  “Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”-  Matthew 25:21

July 27, 2017- Is God “Audience Appropriate?” Psalm 119:130

spiritual-awakeningThe unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple. Psalm 119:130 (NRSV)

As a person who has hyperlexia, the phrase “audience appropriate” is a concept I always have to keep in mind in both written and spoken communication.  I write far more effectively than I speak, because I speed read (always have) and I have a broad vocabulary because I read constantly and compulsively.  I retain information better when I read it as well.  If I want to remember what someone says, such as in a lecture or sermon, I do better to write it down, (which is why I am always scribbling down notes during Pastor’s sermon) because I process language visually. When I listen to people speak, I have to visualize the words in my head written out in print so they make sense.

This processing style can make communication with others difficult, because most people don’t process language this way. I memorize much of what I read, because I can see the print in my head.  As a child, I assumed that if I knew the meaning of a word or a concept that everyone else automatically knew those meanings as well.  I found out very quickly that I had no idea what it meant to be audience appropriate. I was communicating in a way that I could understand, but no one else around me was privy to the conversation.  I was not communicating effectively with others.

All through elementary school (and later in life too) I have been reprimanded for “talking over everyone’s heads.” I didn’t talk over people’s heads on purpose, but over the years I have learned (and constantly continue to learn) how to be audience appropriate and to communicate effectively with the people I am speaking with or writing to.

The message doesn’t matter if the messenger can’t get it through.

Fortunately God finds a way to speak to us exactly where we are.  God is beyond our understanding and His knowledge is infinitely over our heads, but He finds the right language to speak directly to our hearts and minds. He walks beside us as we learn and grow at our own pace.  God unfolds and reveals His wisdom to us as we are able to understand. His revelation and unfolding of His wisdom is more like slowly turning on a dimmer switch and gradually brightening the room, rather than blinding us with a flaming bright spotlight.  He enlightens us gently and gradually- as we are able to absorb the light and soak it in.

Sometimes we all have difficulty being audience appropriate, and not just in the realm of written or spoken language. It can be difficult for us to empathize with others, to put ourselves in the place of those who are suffering or weary or troubled.  How often do we write off someone who claims to be “fine” when we know full well they are anything but “fine?”  We are prone to get lost in our busyness or buried in our own concerns to see how a simple act of kindness toward another could communicate a vital message of reassurance and love.

God’s words in Scripture are unfolded and revealed as we study, as we pray, and as we worship and praise in songs and hymns. God’s words are also unfolded and revealed as we strive to make connections with others that bring light and wisdom and understanding.

The Holy Spirit is always available to us to intercede on our behalf, to step in and pray for us when we don’t have the words.