Sunday, 26 June 2016

The Sound of Sheer Silence–God the Gentle Whisperer

Trinity 5 – Sunday 26 June 2016 at Wingrave Methodist Church

Old Testament 1 Kings 19

The Lord appears to Elijah

And the word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

10 He replied, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.’

11 The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

New Testament Galatians 5

Life by the Spirit

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Hymn 2

· Lord for the years 470

Gospel Luke 9

Samaritan opposition

51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

The cost of following Jesus

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’

58 Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

59 He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’

But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’

60 Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

61 Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’

62 Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’


Lewis Hamilton — world champion — suddenly everything conspired against him — sullen and depressed — kept trying.

Elijah — everything went his way — confronted kings and priests of Baal — raised dead — called down lightning from heaven. Chapter 19 — intimidated by opponents esp. Jezebel — lost all confidence in God — ran away.

Ran away from peril, or ran to God? Mt. Horeb / Sinai — presence of God. After Q Jezebel’s threat to kill him — 40 days and nights in wilderness — arrives Mt Sinai. Story like Moses in Exodus — given commission by God — 40 years in wilderness — meets God on mountain. Story like Jesus — tempted 40 days — emerged stronger.

Direct encounter — persistent God v. despondent prophet. Elijah (like many agents of God) expresses frustration, discouragement and apparent failure. Why does God allow this? Why don’t others pull their weight and help him? Retreats into self-pity — borders on suicide — “end it all”

All know people “on a high” — nothing go wrong — tipped into despair — build up no resilience. Ministers. Suffer depression — lose all confidence — give up.

Where is God in all this? Elijah claims he has done his part — been zealous for God — done wonders in God’s name — in return God allows persecution, despondency, even threats to his life. So Elijah heads for Sinai to confront God face to face.

Goes to cave where he knows God has been present. Looks for God in wonders of nature. God sends Elijah out of cave.

1. Great and powerful wind

2. Rocks shattered

3. Earthquake

4. Fire

God was not manifesting himself in any of these devastating marvels of creation. He was in all — but not as Elijah expected.

God was a gentle whisper — God was the sound of sheer silence — God there all the time but not where or how expected to be.

Like a diesel engine running in next road — not aware of its presence until the noise shuts off. Like peace when no mobile phones or other distractions. Like somewhere no cars can be heard, and no constant traffic or sound. God in candle not searchlight. God is in the sound of no sound.

Elijah recognised God at once:

13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Other readings teach the same lessons. Paul in 1 Corinthians talks about pitfalls in the Christian life:

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

Paul in Galatians — fruits of the Spirit. Popularity? Zeal? Making presence felt? Getting your words and actions noticed by all? No.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

In today’s gospel — Samaritans rejected Jesus — did not call down fire and consume them — just went on to another place. Likewise the man who wanted to go home and wait for his inheritance money to come through — not ready to put his hand to the plough in service of God.

Our god is not a noisy God. We do not expect to trip over him in everything we do. We are not guaranteed success (as we see it) nor does God prepare a way for us to smooth out the bumps and potholes of life — lurking to trip us up.

That phrase — No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back — was probably a well-known saying used by Jesus — same as others in today’s reading. In one contemporary work by an author by name of Hesiod, a ploughman is described as one “who attends to his work and drives a straight furrow and no longer gapes after his comrades, but keeps his mind on his work.” In other words, to look back from the plough (whether to family living or dead) was to risk cutting a crooked or shallow furrow and thus ruining the work altogether!

There is no place for looking back or even trying to look sideways, or in two directions at once (being “two-faced”). The message to would-be disciples, and to us today, is that we must be single-minded in purpose, setting our faces like Jesus on the task at hand, and looking nowhere else but to him. Amen


Camille de Fleurville said...

Hello Robert!
Same 2nd lesson and Gospel at mass this morning. Noted that Jesus set his face with determination towards Jerusalem. This is emphasized in our new official translation of the text.
Predicator (?) - mean preacher - insisted upon our freedom (Paul), saying again that God always proposes but each of us may choose to accept or not. If we accept, then, we enter God's freedom which is not our meaning.
It is awfully difficult to love enough to give all of one's life for another. Even if I have set myself with determination (and burnt my boats) to live the life that suits my sister? fall down regularly and regret what I have lost.
Definitely not a good follower of Christ!

Robert said...

I would say on the contrary you ARE a good follower of Christ, with understanding of what it means to set your hand to the plough and not look back, and to rise up again and continue on the narrow path.

Camille de Fleurville said...

Your comment gives me more fortitude (courage in French), strength, and some hope that I am not doing wrong things. Or when I fall down or fail my duty/love (it becomes a duty when I feel tired and despaired but I do it for love), I may be forgiven and come back in God's love. I could not go on without him!
Thank you.