1 Kings 19.9–18
What do you see in this picture? It’s a wintry scene. It’s winter here now, but our Brisbane winters aren’t at all like this, with its tree devoid of leaves, and a weak wintry sun just managing to peer through the gloom.
The main thing I see though is fog. There must be something else in the distance, but we can’t see what it is. We can’t even see the horizon. How far away is it anyway?
This photo may not mean a lot to some Queenslanders, but it means a great deal to me. We do have fog here especially around the river and in low-lying places, but honestly it’s pretty unimpressive. The sun soon scares it away; I tease Karen that it’s just mist. However, I remember very well having to trudge to school through the dense Yorkshire fog, which was there from the time you woke up right until bedtime. I could hardly see in front of my face! — yet I recall marvelling that as I took each step, the fog would recede at the same rate. I could only see a couple of metres in front of my face. But I could always see that much. Sometimes people loomed up out of the foggy darkness, but we usually managed to avoid a collision.
That memory has become a strong symbol to me of the walk of faith. I’ve had times when I didn’t know what was going to come at me — times of illness or times of grief, perhaps. I didn’t know what was ahead of me, but then I would remember having to walk through fog. If you take a step, the next bit becomes clearer. When you take the next step, you can see enough to avoid that person coming right at you.
I don’t know if the prophet Elijah or the disciple Peter ever had to walk through thick fog. But I do know that they did have to walk by faith.
Elijah had run to Mt Horeb — ‘the mountain of God’ — after a bloody battle with the prophets of Baal, a battle he had won. But in winning he had stirred up the anger of Queen Jezebel, and she wanted his life.
Elijah thought there was no one left on the Lord’s side but him. He ran to find a word from God. He didn’t know where to go except to the holiest place he knew.
Elijah was running for his life, but also running to find guidance from God.
Elijah knew how God spoke. Psalm 29 describes it well. Listen:
The voice of the Lord is powerful…
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon…
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness…
The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
So when there’s a cyclone; when there’s an earthquake; when there’s a bushfire: Elijah expects to feel God’s presence, and hear the mighty word of the Lord welling up within him.
But there’s nothing, zip, nada de nada. Despite what Psalm 29 says, Elijah has no sense of God’s presence, or God’s voice. There’s just nothing.
And then there really is nothing: there is ‘a sound of sheer silence’. What’s that like I wonder? Interestingly, foggy days are very quiet. The fog just absorbs the sound.
Karen and I went on a holiday to a little place a long time ago, so long ago that we were grateful there was a little gate at the top of the stairs to stop Erin toddling down them. It wasn’t foggy at all, but I marvelled at the silence there. At times there was no wind, and no birds sang. It was the sound of sheer silence. The contrast to normal life was almost deafening.
That’s when Elijah heard God speaking. When his heart was stilled enough to listen. Our hearts need to be stilled too. I think that too often when we pray, we come to God with our requests and our shopping list and we don’t listen enough. When we’re talking to someone, we know whether they’re listening or not. We feel the difference when someone really listens. In our walk of faith, we need to listen to God so we know how God is guiding us.
Out of the silence, Elijah hears the word of the Lord.
The Gospel passage shows us Peter stepping out in faith. We often concentrate on the bit where he nearly drowns, but we should remember that this story encourages us to do what Peter did — to act. Faith involves acting as well as listening. Acting in faith can bring a variety of consequences. It threw Elijah back into the political fray of his time. It went horribly wrong for Peter, because it was too much for him.
Wherever it leads us, when we walk in faith we need to keep listening to the Lord. The walk of faith requires us to trust. The Lord of course has gone before us. The Book of Hebrews calls Jesus
the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross…
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus cried out to God,
My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.
Silence from God.
On the cross, he said,
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Silence from God.
The walk of faith isn’t necessarily a walk in the park. It can be through thick fog, it can take us places we’d rather not be. It can feel like we’re having to step out onto thin air. The walk of faith is a walk of trust in the goodness of God, often through times of unemployment, illness, grief. It’s a walk of trust even when we can’t see more than a metre or so in front of our faces.
Some of us feel we’re on that walk right now.
Yet our trust is well placed. As we walk in faith, the fog clears enough to see the next step. As we listen, it is often the the sound of sheer silence that signals God’s presence with us. When the waves of life overwhelm us and drag us under, the Lord holds his hand out to steady us.
God is our guide, God is our strength, and nothing will ever separate us from the love of God made known in Jesus Christ our Lord.