Divine Sweet Nothings – Narrative Lectionary, 1 Kings 19.1-18

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.”

Keep going!

It’s ok.

Yes calling you shows I have a sense of humor!

“Go back to bed.”

Welcome home

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.

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I don’t believe in Iron Man

this is pretty close to what I preached yesterday

I am no Iron Man. I’m not talking about being a triathalete who swims, bikes, and then runs 26.2 miles. no i’m talking about the mechanized superhero. I’m not him, and i don’t believe in him either. It’s not that I don’t think he’s are real, well iron man is a fictional character, but his movies and merchandise are very real. What we shouldn’t believe in isn’t a particular character like iron man or green lantern, captain America, or for the ladies out there, batgirl. The problem is with the whole myth of the superhero, the myth of these others who save the day.

So let’s look at this, you all have probably watched tv or read a comic book, and although the Man of Steel is in theaters now, Superman is not new, he is 80 years old, as he was born so to speak in 1933. These superhero characters are not new. So what do you need, what goes into, what are the characteristics of a superhero?

Cape, arch enemy…
Special power, some are born that way mutants, some are created through circumstances or freak accidents right? Now here’s maybe a more difficult question. Are they always happy, or content? You might think so, just because they are so powerful. But doesn’t that also become the source of their angst. Angst is just a fancy word for: apprehension, anxiety, or inner turmoil. Our more modern superhero stories often include a time of questioning, a time of psychological or spiritual upheaval.

Let us now compare these superhero and heroines (after all I grew up the bionic woman and Wonder Woman) with the prophet Elijah we heard about this morning, and if you’ve bone lucky enough to be here in worship for the last several weeks, we’ve been spending time with Elijah for about 4 weeks now.

What do we know about Elijah, and just so you know the first reading passages assigned for us by the Lectionary have been jumping around a bit in his story, but what do we know about this guy Elijah.

Called by God to be a prophet
King Ahab and Jezebel arch nemesis
Declares a drought
Revives a widow’s only son,
Has a showdown with the priests of this other god named Baal. That’s actually what happens right before our reading for today.

This part of the story was read 3 weeks ago, and it could be a great dramatic scene fit for any big screen Hollywood production. Elijah is standing in front of all these other priests of this other God, I can just hear him saying, there ain’t room for the two of us in this here promised land. And Elijah bests them, destroys them. You would have thought that such a miraculous display of power would mean Elijah would win. Roll the credits. the good guy would win, and the bad guys runaway scared. But no. This morning we heard how King Ahab runs and tells his queen Jezebel what happened, and like any evil villain she vows revenge. Well, Elijah wasn’t prepared for that; he didn’t think there’d be a sequel. He expected to win, to be paraded as a hero, but no instead his life is in danger. So he does what a lot of people do he flees. Now he’s retreating, as fast as his legs can carry him into the desert away from everybody.

Now again, if Hollywood were producing this story, as the prophet Elijah slips into the cave on the mountain, amid the dark, spider webs, and dust he’d find an object from space, a relic of a distant society, emanating a radiation that agonizingly turns him into some kind of mutant super man who can face down evil King Ahab, his armies, and most dramatically the queen of all evil Jezebel, her henchmen and minions. Or to make it a bit more humanistic, there in the dark cave he’d suddenly remember some great injustice, he’d get in touch with his inner core of strength and return to the battle with a renewed motivation to smite the evildoers, to right wrongs. That’s what it would look like on the big screen or in the comics, but the bible isn’t just another book of fiction and fantasy stories. This story, the story of Elijah, the story of our relationship with our God may be more real than many of us might feel comfortable.

Because, well were not a bunch of superheroes, at least I know I’m not, I’m not even a spiritual superhero. Elijah, you me, well we’re just regular people called by God to follow. And well regular people go through all sorts of things in life, sometimes everything is going well, and that’s great, but other times it’s not, and well sometimes it’s hard to see how, see in what ways what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Life can be too much, even without a diagnosis of depression, or anxiety, addictions, what some of us struggle with every day. I don’t know about you, but sometimes running away and hiding in a cave sounds like a really good idea to me.

We all, or a vast majority of us all go through periods of questioning, times of trial and doubt. Sometimes, we may think that because of this, well were somehow not a spiritual superheroes we imagine are out there, think we’re supposed to be, simply we’re not as good a Christian. That if only we were better, that our faith isn’t rock solid 100% of the time, that we are just deficient.

Sermon for June 9

The other day as my family sat in front of the tv together, flipping the channels, one of my all time favorite movies happened to be just starting. Evan Almighty, the 2007 movie staring Steve Carrell, Morgan Freeman, and Wanda Sykes. I know that this movie was not a box office hit, but it had all the right things for me. It had animals, lots of animals, it had slapstick humor, and it had God. If you didn’t catch the movie, or weren’t able to be part of our bible study that watched and discussed the movie, or simply don’t remember it. God played by Morgan Freeman wants Steve Carrells’ character (Evan) a recently elected US congressman, to build an ark. That’s right a big boat, for two of all the animals and such to be saved from a flood. But of course this is present day Washington DC, and while Congressman Evan’s slogan was “change the world”, well he didn’t really mean it, especially if it meant changing how he lived.

Evan is a reluctant worker for God, and that’s where some of the comedy comes in. But that’s also where some of the good bible truth comes in as well. Because, well as the saying goes, “no good deed goes unpunished”. For Evan in the movie following God’s call to live faithfully meant well he basically lost his job as a congressman, neighbors laughed at him, at one point his family left him, and because it’s a movie he grew long grey hair, beard, and even wore long flowing robes.

For Elijah, the story is a bit different. First of all, for those of you who were here last Sunday, we read about Elijah doing what? A quiz. Defeating the priests of Baal. That story actually comes after what we read this morning, for whatever reason, the designers of the Lectionary had us read from chapter 18 last week, and now we backtrack to chapter 17 where we first meet the prophet Elijah. Guess it’s like a flashback, you know from the movies.

So getting back to Elijah. As a prophet, Elijah speaks for God, calls the people back to God, not just any people, but in many cases, the king. That’s what’s going on here. The king is Ahab, he marries a foreigner, and more than that starts worshipping her god, something by the name of Baal. Elijah declares that there will be a drought, no rain, equals, not food, so Elijah is not very popular, especially with the powers that be. So, he ends up leaving, not just town, but the country, leaves the promised land and finds his way to stay with a poor widow. That’s where we begin our reading for today.

As this poor woman is gathering the last little sticks, to eat up their last food, facing starvation, Elijah comes and is really looking for a handout. Something that we here are all too familiar with. The widow’s plight, her own poverty doesn’t deter him. He makes a promise to her, and well she gives in, she goes along with him, and welcomes this stranger into her home. She’s done a good deed right?

You would think that she should be rewarded, right? Well, there is enough food. That’s good, until as we read, her son gets sick and dies. It’s not just a grieving mother who complains, but the prophet himself who sees and prays, and complains. This isn’t right. They trusted in God, they did the right things, she welcomed the stranger, she gave practically all she had, and now look pain,death, and loss–is that how they are repaid?
In this instance, not exactly, the prophet is able to plead with The Almighty, and the boys life is restored.

Of course, that doesn’t always happen, and it doesn’t mean we are any less faithful. No one knows why. But sometimes it just seems that even for us, no how about especially for us people of faith no good deed goes unpunished. No wonder we sometimes don’t talk about what we believe, no wonder we don’t open our hearts, even open eyes. We don’t want to see, we don’t want to get involved. I know how it is.

The thing is, the good thing, I mean the really good thing is that God doesn’t make that same choice. God wants to get involved in our world, in our communities, in our families, in our lives. God knows it may not have a Hollywood or Sunday school happy ending. We do a lot of stupid, mean, heartless, and thoughtless things. We’re going to here more about Elijah and his struggles with king Ahab, Jezebel, in the next several weeks but God still wants to get involved. God doesn’t give up on Elijah, the widow, God doesn’t give up on the people. God isn’t giving up on us. So when that opportunity comes along and you can share a word of peace, a word of love or forgiveness, or even call someone to turn from the path of destruction, don’t close down, don’t shut down, don’t pretend to be dead to this world. You know what? You know our God’s in the business of raising the dead, of bring what was empty and lifeless back to vitality and joy. That’s what it’s all about folks new life, in a widow’s home in Zarapheth, in a town called, Nain, to a man who hated the church called Saul, who God turns into a great proclaimer of the Gospel-that’s right Paul– right here on our little corner of Milwaukee, at our community garden, when we walk these streets tomorrow evening, when you are at the grocery store, getting your hair cut, or your nails done, or your blood pressure checked, with your family, your friends remember for each and every one of them, for us, for you. God doesn’t give up. Amen.