june 27, 2010

Anna Blaedel
First UMC, Osage
June 27, 2010
Psalm 77:1-2, 11-19
1 Kings 19:1-15a

In the film The Pursuit of Happyness, a child is trying to tell his distracted father an old story, while his father is trying to figure out where the two of them are safely going to spend the night. The story goes something like this:

A shipwrecked man prays fervently to God to save him. A boat approaches, but the man tells it to go away because God, and God alone, will save him. The boat leaves. A second boat arrives, and the man turns it away, saying God and God alone will save him. Soon after, the man dies of exposure. When he gets to heaven, the man complains to God for not saving him, even though he prayed fervently, and believed with his whole heart. God tells the man that God sent not one but two boats to save him, but the man sent both of them away.

When we are sure about how God works, we are almost sure to miss God working in our lives.

When we are certain about God’s will, we are almost certain to miss the clues of how Thy will is done, on earth as in heaven.

When we are crystal clear about the meaning of God’s Word, we will clearly miss God speaking to us, in the wilderness, and the silence.

When we surround ourselves with constant noise, God’s surrounding silence is drowned out.

This morning’s text from 1 Kings teaches us, as one biblical commentator put it, that “God isn’t in the sound bites; God is in the silence bites.” God’s way of getting through to us is not only through the sensational, nor the bombastic; God gets through to us when we take time out from the frenetic pace of our lives and embrace stillness and silence. Then God’s Word comes to us.

Unfortunately for us, our world is packed full with sounds seeking to drown out the “still small voice of God,” the sound of silence in which God speaks. Writer Anne Lamott says, “There is not much truth being told in this world…” There is not much truth being told in this world, and I believe all one has to do is turn on the TV, or listen to talking-head pundits, or look at mass mailings set to stoke flames of fear, to know just how little truth is being told in just how much noise.

The prophet Elijah did not have to compete with 24 hour talk radio, and cable TV, and reality shows, and endless video games. He did not have to learn to drown out cell phones and Blackberries and iPhones and email and texting and Facebook and instant messaging and and and and and and and. But, he was still speaking a truth that applies to us today: The presence of God is not always obvious. The truth of God is not always clear, and it is rarely found in the words and mouths of those shouting the loudest. Sometimes we need to be still, and know God is God, and listen for God’s still small voice.

Silence. Pause. Quiet. Silence. Pause. Quiet. Invites us to experience God’s grace-filled presence.

Now, before I go much further, I want to make it clear that I am with you in this struggle. That I have a hard time making time for silence. That I am more likely to rush on through than pause to listen. That I am more likely to stop what I’m doing and pay attention to the sensational and bombastic, and more likely to miss entirely the still small voice of God’s silence. But. At least I know how much I need to grow in this. Knowing you have a problem, 12 step wisdom goes, is the first step to the solution.

Which is why I love the beach, why I needed to carve time for vacation. While we can’t always go away, can’t always be on vacation, can’t always set aside the “real world” with its real demands, I believe we need to step back from our lives, sometimes step back quite aways, to really see the readjustments we need to make.

My family has found silence. And quiet. And space to listen to and for God at Ocean Isle Beach in North Carolina for most of my life, since we first found it while living in Fayetteville, NC. This is where we go to listen. To each other. To the silence. To the waves. To God.

I turned off my cell phone, and left my computer behind. Their absence made me painfully aware of how incessant their noisy presence has become in my life. I hate to admit, to myself and to you, that I was a little lost without them. Thrown into the wilderness, you might say. And while it was a bit unsettling, it was necessary. A gift.

Rather than read email forward after email forward about what people are saying about God, I listened for, talked with, and sat in the quiet presence of God.

Rather than listen to endless streaming of NPR, I heard the endless washing of waves upon the shore.

Rather than searching for weather forecasts, I stepped outside, walked on the beach, looked for long stretches at the wide open sky, watched storms roll in, and roll back out again.

Rather than tick of day after day on a calendar full of meetings and to-do lists, I marked the days by watching the moon change shape each night, and saw the passing of time in the changing tide, and placement of the sun.

Rather than scour and respond to messages left at either of my two Facebook accounts, two email addresses, three voicemail mailboxes, or two mailbox boxes, I prayed for the people in my life, and gave thanks for the rich relationships, and considered how I might reprioritize my time, so that the people who are most important to me aren’t pushed into small pockets of time when I’m too tired to really attend to them.

Now, hear me: emails and news and phone calls, and yes, even Facebook and weather forecasts have their purpose, and it isn’t all bad. But it is not helpful, it is not even faithful, if we listen to the wisdom of the prophet Elijah, to let the noise overcrowd and overwhelm all else.

I do believe that constantly checking missed calls makes us more likely to miss a quiet call from God. I do believe that constant noise of video games and tv threatens to drown out important voices of our neighbors, our families, our friends, even our God.

Being at the beach helps me get back to basics, reorder my life according to God’s gifts and grace, and my responsibility to respond to and nurture these gifts. This is what silence does.

The beginning of our scripture passage from 1 Kings finds Elijah in a frenetic frenzy of his own. King Ahab had been on a murderous rampage, and there is a price on Elijah’s head. The voice of the ones in power have told him he has less than 24 hours to live. Elijah flees to the wilderness, and gives up. “Take away my life,” he resigns. His life isn’t even worth living anymore. In the 18th chapter, Elijah is confident, cocky, and sure of himself. Here, in the 19th chapter, he is defeated, resigned, and utterly unsure.

The angel gets him back to basics. Eat something nourishing, and good. Drink some cool water. Go to a sacred space—be it beach or mountain top or sanctuary or field or garden. When Elijah settles down, quiets down, he hears the Word of God. “What are you doing, Elijah?” God calls to him in the silence. Meets him in the silence. Gives him direction, not to escape from the wilderness, but to sustain himself while he is there. And Elijah listens to the silence, hears the call of God, and responds.

This week, I challenge each of us, myself included, to make a little time for silence. To, turn off the tv, unplug video games, put down cell phones, and sign out of Facebook. At least enough to notice the difference, the absence. To stop. Pause. Pray. Listen. Look. Be still, and know.

May it be so. Amen, and amen.

1 comment:


Excellent post on an extremely important topic. Nothing is more important for the Christian than communication (including listening) with God.
Thank you for your wisdom and clarity.
In Him,
Abundant Life Now