Scripture: 1 Kings 19:1-18
It was coincidence this week that I was thinking about our scripture about Elijah - and what he experiences on the mountain with earthquakes, wind, and fire - that all around me in the office was the sound of construction as our HVAC team drilled holes through our cinder blocks in preparation for some upgraded systems.
Now there was a great wind…
After the wind an earthquake…
After the earthquake a fire…
And then silence.
But perhaps it was God speaking to me, because life is often like that, right?
We live in a noisy world where there is much vying for our attention - where distraction lurks around every corner.
That distraction may be social media videos that play on endless loop, sucking up our time.
That distraction may be the bitter partisanship marking our culture which our media feeds on.
That distraction may be even something on the inside - messages that we play on loop in our minds and hearts that tell us we are not good enough, that have us fixate on our mistakes, that seek to drive us out into loneliness and despair.
How many of you have made a mistake and entertained the thought that there is no way to ever recover?
How many of you have believed the lie that your life is not valuable because your bank account isn’t overflowing, because you don’t drive a new car, or because your career hasn’t taken off like you hoped it would?
How many of you have believed that your value only comes from relationships, from love that you desperately seek and sometimes is used to abuse and use you?
This morning, those feelings, those thoughts that stick with us, they remind me a lot of that noise that Elijah heard on that mountain.
(PLAY DRILL / PLAY DRUM / PLAY WHAT)
And yet, God was not in any of them.
Elijah had just experienced a mountaintop moment in his history. He had a huge theatric encounter with the prophets of Baal, who claimed that their God had power, but it was Elijah who ultimately pointed to a Creator who could break a drought and bring life-giving rain.
Elijah was feeling so strong and capable, that scripture says he ran down the mountain from that moment and killed all the prophets of Baal outright.
But when he gets back to town, instead of being treated to a hero’s parade, he gets word that the Queen wants to take him out.
From victory and might now to abject fear for his life, Elijah flees into the desert, just like his ancestors did when they left Egypt behind. The prophet is ready to give up - ready to throw in the towel. Despite his success, he feels alone and abandoned.
And yet God provides water and bread and shade in the desert.
Elijah’s journey brings himself to a holy mountain - Mt Horeb or Mt Sinai - where God gave wisdom to people.
God comes to Elijah in this powerful moment. God listens to Elijah’s despair, and even though the prophet does sound a little bit whiny, there is no rebuke. He tells God how miserable he is - how stressed he is - how frustrated he is - lays it all out for God to hear how despite his success, it all seems for nothing. Elijah is at his lowest.
For any of us who have been there in life or may be there right now, we know. We know.
And then something peculiar happens. God tells Elijah that the very presence of God is about to pass by.
Come out of the cave and stand… for God is going to pass by.
But though there is a cacophony of noise and power, though the mountains shake, the wind rages, the fire ravages the landscape, God is not in any of them. God is not in these acts of climactic power. God comes later… in the sudden stillness. In the sheer silence. When Elijah can hear his own breathing… when Elijah is left alone in his thoughts… when Elijah is aware of his own human frailty.
Then God speaks.
And what does God say?
Ultimately, God has work for Elijah to do. Elijah’s ministry, no matter how much he feels like a failure, is far from done. He is not alone. Elisha is on his way to take Elijah’s mantle. There are new kings and leaders who have an opportunity to change the direction of the land. There are faithful people in the land who will stand with Elijah and help him rebuild. God is at work.
Friends, like Elijah, we all encounter moments of deep despair.
As your pastor, I can tell you that I have had those moments when I was young, like as a freshman in college coming to terms with the reality that I had made mistakes and flunked a couple of classes. I have had those moments when I was older, when I doubted my relationships, doubted my call, and believed it would be better to run off into the desert never to be seen again.
If you have not had those moments, someday you will.
And you will be tempted most powerfully - not with the sounds of drills and drums - but with those voices inside of us that lead us to believe we are the worst thing we have ever done. Those messages that tell us our value is entirely tied to how much money we make or how successful we are or how big our house is or how many times we pray. Those narratives that discount and discredit the enormous gifts we have to offer the world.
But God is not in those.
The irony of Elijah’s story is that though he could flee to the desert, God was there all along the way, providing everything he needed. God never abandoned Elijah.
And I believe the good news of our passage that God is with us, even in our despair, even when we feel at our lowest. God is in the silence - in those pockets of life when we learn that we don’t have to be superheroes. We just need to be who God created us to be.
What if we lived with boldness accepting the reality that God is with us?
What if we lived in such a way that our lives shared that reality with others who are getting up each day to fight those messages?
What if our society could learn ways to stoke the shared dignity that all of God’s children embody?
What if we could tell our young people - tell those who feel like running into the desert right now - that God has never abandoned them and God has work for them to do?
Let’s sit in that together.
Thanks be to God.