1 Kings 19.9–18
Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. — Deuteronomy 6.4
Abba Arsenius prayed to God in these words, ‘Lord, lead me in the way of salvation.’ And a voice came saying to him, … ‘Arsenius, flee, be silent, pray always, for these are the sources of sinlessness.’ — Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
I have a granddaughter, E., who lives with her mum (my daughter) and her dad in South America.
E. is two in October, and she is growing up bilingual. She is learning to speak Spanish and English. At the same time.
My daughter is fluent in Spanish, but she speaks to E. in English.
E.’s dad is improving his English. His English isn’t bad, it’s better than my Spanish. But he speaks to her in Spanish.
E. is growing up hearing both languages all the time.
One day, she’ll separate them out and speak both English and Spanish fluently, but right now anything goes. She was playing with the family cat the other week. She calls him ‘Gato’, which is Spanish for ‘cat’.
Gato is ve-e-ery patient with her, but when he gets tired of being poked and picked up in awkward ways, he just trots off.
It happened the other day. As he was moving somewhere quieter and safer, E. called out, ‘Bye bye, Gato’.
As far as she is concerned, ‘bye bye’ and ‘gato’ are words in the same language. (Maybe it should be called ‘Spanglish’!)
It’s cute for her to speak Spanglish right now. But by the time she’s my age, it won’t be cute any longer. She’ll need to have it all sorted out.
She will do that by listening to her parents, and to others, and sorting out which words belong in which language. E. is going to make lots of mistakes. We can’t call them mistakes yet, it’s all too cute, but one day she may embarrass herself be getting English and Spanish all mixed up. She could feel a failure if she does that.
Failure’s bad, right?
And success is everything, yes?
You know, success isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Success can be a hard place to be—where do you go to from there? Do you have to keep reaching greater and greater heights?
Success can be lonely—there are people who might want to knock you off your perch. You know, the Tall Poppy Syndrome?
Success can lead to self doubt—do I really belong in this position?
Success can lead to pride—I’m better than other people, look at them down there.
We met a great success in our readings today: his name was Elijah.
When we met Elijah today, he didn’t look like a success. He was in a mess and waiting for God to send a word.
You might wonder why he’s sitting there, a bundle of nerves, on Mt Horeb—aka Mt Sinai—aka the Mountain of God.
Of course, this is the place where Moses was given the Ten Commandments; the one place Elijah feels he can guarantee God to speak.
It’s perhaps a bit odd that Elijah finds himself here, downcast and fearful. According to the story, he has just had a raging success.
Remember the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal? Elijah had just faced off against four hundred and fifty prophets of the god Baal on another mountain, Mount Carmel.
Mount Carmel is a great place to visit. From there, you can see the whole width of the modern state of Israel, from the Mediterranean in the west to the Jordan in the east.
On Mt Carmel, Elijah had challenged the priests of Baal to get their god to send fire from heaven to consume a sacrifice of a bull. It didn’t work.
For Elijah’s God, it was a cinch to burn up the sacrifice even after it had been dowsed with buckets of water.
But Elijah’s being a success directed the anger of Queen Jezebel toward him. She threatened Elijah with death, and all his success just crumbled into dust.
He ran for his life, forty days and nights, even after this great success. His success turned to failure.
Elijah ran to the Mountain of God. And waited for a word.
At least he knew where to go.
But he was expecting the wrong thing.
He’d come fresh from a great display of God’s power, and he expected another display.
After all, when Moses received the law on Mt Sinai,
…the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking… (Exodus 20.18)
That’s what Elijah expected this time. And indeed, there was earthquake, there was wind, and there was fire.
But the Lord was not in them.
The Lord was in the silence that followed.
We’re not a silent culture. We live in a noisy age. We have messages coming at us all the time, from TV, radio, social media. We can have music or the news at the flick of a switch.
And sometimes, we expect to hear God in the midst of various kinds of noise.
People often report feeling uncomfortable if it’s too quiet; but God was there, in the silence.
People define prayer as ‘talking to God’. You know, that’s less than half of it. Prayer is mostly listening to God. You know what they say, you have two ears and one mouth—for a reason.
God is there, in the silence.
Can we talk less and listen more in our prayer life? I hope so.
I went on a spiritual retreat once; the task I was given was to meditate on one verse in Isaiah for a whole day. I didn’t do very well. In fact, I failed.
But you know friends, success isn’t everything. In fact, we can learn more from failure than from success.
We can learn humility, trust, grace. Priceless gifts!
We can learn that God is present in the everyday, ordinary things as well as the occasional spectacular event.
Where is God in your life, and in the life of the very north of Tasmania, here in Georgetown? God is present in random acts of kindness, in the care people show to one another. God is present in people who endure suffering, and in those who help. God is present when people love God and love their neighbour.
You don’t have to climb Cradle Mountain to hear God. That still, small voice is here.
We need to quieten ourselves inside. We do need to keep our eyes and ears open.
We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, ‘the pioneer and perfect or of our faith’.
Let’s end with part today’s Second Reading, from Romans 10. It contains these words:
…the righteousness that comes from faith says,…
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
It’s all there, in your heart.
The word of the righteousness that comes from faith.
It is ours, right now.
So we can listen in trust, and walk by faith. God is here. God is near.