Sermon: Do You Hear What I Hear?

24 June 2007

The Rev. Jennifer Whipple
Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)
June 24, 2007

Do You Hear What I Hear? 

1 Kings 19:1-15a

Prayer:   “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts and minds be acceptable to you,
O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.”

             I have been in quite the Christmassy mood lately.  A few weeks ago at the Wednesday Morning Devotions I got a few curious glances when we read the scripture passage from the gospel of Luke that speaks of the angel coming to Mary to tell her that she was going to bear God’s son.  The reasoning for that particular scripture choice is a book that I have been reading a bit at a time called When God Whispers Your Name.  After hearing the scripture about the angel’s visit to Mary I spoke about my ideas surrounding the story.  You see, I don’t believe that the angel came shouting at Mary with trumpets sounding all around… “MARY, YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE GOD’S SON!”  My hope is that God’s messengers have a little more tact than that!  But rather I believe that the angel came quietly and gently to get the message across.  And as I was sitting in my office last week the words the Christmas Carol, “Do you hear what I hear?” came to mind.  Then I read the scripture lesson from 1 Kings that is in the lectionary from this morning and had an “ah-ha” moment about it. 

             After all, Elijah did not hear the word of God for his life in the screaming wind, the trembling earthquake, or the roaring fire.  Rather, he heard the voice of God in the quiet.  The Hebrew in these verses is literally translated to have Elijah hearing the voice of God in the sheer and utter silence.  Elijah heard the voice of God speaking to him gently…in a still, small voice.  If anyone else had been around we might be able to picture Elijah looking at them and perhaps second-guessing himself – “Do you hear what I hear?” 

            As the scripture lesson for today begins we pick up Elijah’s story just after a “battle royale of the gods.”  He was with a band of Baal worshipers and prophets – people who believed that, Baal, the Canaanite god of the weather & fertility, was the most powerful god.  Elijah accepted the challenge though and proceeded to invoke God to prove sovereign by sending fire from the heavens.  After having proven to the worshipers of Baal that Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, was the true God Elijah is overcome by his zealous ways and slaughters the believers of Baal…only to have the threat of that behavior returned to him by Jezebel.  Jezebel sends what we can imagine to be a very loud messenger to Elijah who speaks on behalf of her saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 

            So as we come into the story this morning we see not only one of God’s chosen prophets, but we see a frightened man, a murderer (for all intents and purposes) and a man running for his life.  We see someone trying to escape the awful things he has done and the threat of what might be coming.  We see someone who is trying desperately to give up on everything, even life itself.

             I wonder if any of you have had times in your life when you felt like Elijah must have felt at that moment?  I have….moments when I have felt like everything I am doing is wrong.  Moments when I have felt like the world is ganging up on me.  Moments when I have wanted to run away.  Moments when I have fallen to my knees crying out to God in desperate need of guidance.  And when we humans are not in the best of moods our tendency is to give up, to go away to a far off place by ourselves.

             As the story continues on we see Elijah, alone in the wilderness, protesting to God.  “But I have been so zealous.  I have listened to and done what you have told me to.  I have followed your ways, but only I alone am left to take up your cause.”  It is almost as if Elijah wants some kind of recognition from God for how hard he feels he has worked – a “prophet of the year” award perhaps – something with pomp and circumstance.  A ceremony that would begin with a screaming wind and go out with a trembling earthquake and fireworks.  But, as we know from the story, that is not exactly how it happens.

             Instead God provides for Elijah’s basic needs.  Sends a messenger to Elijah with cakes and water, enough to fill him up and give him energy for a long journey ahead.  God gives him strength for the journey.  Then Elijah is led to a place far away in the wilderness – some have said that he was led to Mount Sinai where Moses was given the Ten Commandments – where the tenets of the faith were first handed down.  And even if Elijah was excited about the possibility there of a ceremony with great clanging cymbals and pyrotechnics – that is not where he truly meets God.  Sure, the wind, earthquake, and fire come, but instead of ushering in some amazing procession they pass Elijah right by.  Instead, it is what follows that changes Elijah’s life.  It is the sheer, utter silence…it is a still, small voice that speaks to Elijah.  “What were you thinking?  And what are you doing here?   Elijah, you are not alone.  There are thousands of believers back in the promised land.  Go back and continue to spread the word about me.  Go back and anoint protectors as kings.  Go back and train your successor.  Go back renewed and refreshed, assured of my grace and protection, and complete what I have called you to do.” 

            God’s grace in that moment was enough for Elijah.  God’s grace is enough for all of us.  God meets us in the places where we are most in need, where we are celebrating, where we are silent and waiting and speaks to us in a still, small voice.  God speaks to us even today.

             I was at a gathering of 20 & 30 something clergy at Synod last week, and it was a time for us to join together in moments of renewal and conversation.  We were able to worship with one another – to listen for God’s call to each of us amidst the everyday.  To listen for God’s word for our lives amidst the sounds of the city street hustle and bustle, the sounds of a mason’s trowel working the bricks into a wall outside the chapel, the sounds of children playing in the playground.  And we had a conversation about religion and its role in our society and in our world.  During that conversation we spoke about what religion in the context of communities of faith means -- what being a part of a faith community means.  We spoke about what our professors in Seminary called “ecclesiology” or what it means to be church together.

             We realized during these moments of worshipful silence, celebration, and conversation that, despite our living in a world where special effects are used to make everything seem bigger and better, God is not necessarily in the special effects.  Just as Elijah discovered so many years ago…God is in the everyday ordinariness of our lives if we just open up our ears to listen, our eyes to see, and hearts to feel.  God is in this place as we gather together this day and will go out with us into the sounds and silence of the life that is all around us as we leave here today as well.

             As our 2030 clergy group gathered together, we hoped that all of our churches, and all the faith communities throughout the world, are places where people can bring their whole selves (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) and be accepted…places where people can know others and be known to others…places where people can be vulnerable and share the concerns of their hearts and celebrate with one another.  Places where people can find a community of believers who encourage and support one another.  Places where people can turn to hear the word of God for their lives in a society where impressing others, where material successes are the mark of “making it.” Places where people can be refreshed and renewed for the work of God in this world.  Whether that work is sharing the gospel story through words, restoring homes in West Virginia , or raising good and faithful children.  Our hope is that each of our faith communities can live up to the United Church of Christ’s motto, “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

Our hope is that instead of running from our communities in times of need—in times when it seems like nothing is going right – that people will run to them…to the support and encouragement of those who sit in these pews each week, to the small group opportunities that await to get to explore faith and know people.  Certainly our tendency is to run away, thinking that no one will understand… “Only I alone am left,” said Elijah.  But we might be surprised at the still small voice of God that we hear in the stories of caring faithful people who have experienced things like those we are living today.  We might be surprised at the still small voice of God that we hear for our lives in the reading of the scripture, the moments of silence, even the preaching of a sermon or two.

God sent a messenger to Elijah who said the following words.  “Get up and eat or else the journey will be too much for you.”   Elijah responded to God.  God had prepared his heart to do so.  But God did not force the response.  God merely prepared Elijah to make a decision.  God works in our hearts to prepare us to make that same decision.  Will we accept God and the amazing things that God does through God’s grace and has done through the life of Jesus Christ?  Or will we turn our backs away, go through the motions to please others but not really feel like it is for us?  And if we accept the invitation to be a part of something bigger than ourselves alone – will we choose to just sit and be or choose to work for change in a world that is in need? 

Elijah’s story did not end with him giving up and going away forever.  Instead, as one commentator wrote about this passage, “the story suggests a way forward – eat and drink of God’s life-giving sustenance, return to the bedrock of faith, listen for God’s still, small, voice.  That may be the way to find new energy, new vision, and a new sense of purpose.”  That may be the way to find strength for all of our journeys.  And as we continue to celebrate an exciting year in the life of this church with our 250th Anniversary Celebrations, a new Brookfield Habitat House, an Anniversary Campaign for the renewal of this place, a new church school curriculum and adult education opportunities being planned, and the 50th Anniversary of our denomination which brings folks from all over to visit with us right here in CT for General Synod, we have a great opportunity to join together in faith and in support of one another – bringing our joys and concerns with us.  It is an opportunity to be renewed, and to listen for God’s still small voice amidst these celebrations and the everyday ordinariness of our lives.

My friends, do you hear what I hear?  It is the good news of God’s continuing work in our world and our call to renewal, service, and change.  Thanks be to God for this good news!  Amen.


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