We will begin the sermon this morning listening to a piece of music by the modern composer John Cage.
(Stand without saying anything for as long as we can stand it)
Imagine if you had paid money for a seat at a concert, and the orchestra just sat there, still. Not a single instrument playing, the conductor just standing there, no one singing, no one even speaking, not for 30 seconds, not for even a minute or two, but for four minutes and 33 seconds.
That is the name of an actual piece of music, Four minutes, 33 seconds. It is the idea of composer John Cage. The composer wanted to experiment with silence, but actually not even true silence, because there is always sound. What did you hear as we sat here? The sounds of quiet, of expectation, of being uncomfortable, of patience and impatience, the sound of breathing, whispering, murmuring, these for Cage were music.
Of course you weren’t expecting that, you were anticipating some notes, chords, a melody, a tune. Instead we heard ourselves, heard one another in a way more quiet and admittedly more uncomfortable.Not true silence, just being quiet, just having stillness is uncomfortable and disconcerting. There is now so much more sound to life than possibly ever before. We live a noisy life. Sirens, alarms, notifications, ringtones, music everywhere. We expect to be if not bombarded by noise, at least to be surrounded by sound.
So as Elijah is up on that mountain, in that cave, seeking refuge, hoping for guidance, looking for that vision of God, he’s ready and prepared. First he hears the clamor of thunder, wind, shaking and breaking rocks, hears the roar of a blazing inferno. Even in their destructive cacophony, The prophet Elijah could probably take some comfort, comfort in the predictability–the expected sounds of an awesome epiphany. These are the sounds that have been heard by God’s people before. When God has revealed his presence in power and might. But then something changes, the earth shattering heavenly percussions cease. And Elijah is there in quiet, in silence. Well, it could be silence, but evidently the Hebrew is a bit vague or confusing. So, what Elijah heard or didn’t hear has been translated as:
“a gentle whisper” New International Version
“a sound. Thin. Quiet.” Common English Bible
“a gentle breeze” Contemporary English Version
“a still small voice” King James Version
“a sound of a gentle blowing” New American Standard Bible
“a sound of sheer silence” New Revised Standard Version
“a soft murmuring sound” Jewish Publication Society
As I was working on this text, this story, I came up with my own translation, could possibly be the sound of sweet nothings. It is actually close to the words found in the translation called the message, where scholar Richard Peterson — a gentle and quiet whisper.Of God whispering in the prophets ear. So, I tried a little experiment and I posted on Facebook the question, if God could whisper a sweet nothing into your ear, what would you like, what would you need to hear? Some of the responses where:
You’ve been blessed!
everything will be okay
forever and always yours
“I’ve got your back.”
Well done, good and faithful servant.
“Rest yourself. I got this.”
Yes calling you shows I have a sense of humor!
“Go back to bed.”
Don’t beat yourself up
And one I find refreshingly honest – “eat more chocolate!”
So, there’s a something, some kind of sound, exactly what we do not know. What we do know is it’s not bombastic and fantastic — it is different, and whatever it was, it draws Elijah out, out of his cave, out of a place of hiding, fear, and despair. Now he was ready to listen, to follow as God sent him on another mission. Elijah was able to carry on.
We all need to hear something from God. Our spirits need to hear that whisper, that rumbling, a still small voice. Sometimes we really need a word from God, perhaps it is in times of grief, as we miss a loved one who has joined the saints with God, maybe it is in a time of confusion, a feeling of purposelessness, meaninglessness. Maybe life has just gotten too to be much. So, this morning you can take a moment, we’ll have a time of quiet for you to think, to listen to your heart, and listen to the presence of one your brothers and sisters, all the saints all around us, and then you can write on the piece of appear your own prayer, what word you want, you need to hear God whisper to you.
But as we know Elijah didn’t stay hidden in the wilderness. He returned to face his world, to face the challenges. So after your write that prayer, write what you feel God is calling you to do, calling you to change in your life or in our world. Instead of collecting these slips of prayer paper, you may take it home. This may even be a spiritual discipline you take up, to each day do this, in the morning before you face your day, or at the night as you finish one day and move to another.
Elijah was a prophet in his day. He spoke God’s word. Sometimes things went well for him, and sometimes they didn’t. Today, All Saints Sunday we remember that by God’s grace we all are saints. Some of us have gone to be with God as saints in light, but we are saints in this life. People claimed at the waters of baptism to be God’s voice (prophets),God’s hands, God’s love. Some days this all works out, and somedays it doesn’t. So we come here together to hear I whatever way God whisper into our ears a word for us. amen.