1 Kings 19:9-18, Psalm 85:8-13. Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33
I suspect many people today are wondering, “Where is God,” as this pandemic continues with no end in sight. Many are afraid they will become infected by this virus with is deadly for some. They have shalt shelter from its threat by staying in their homes. For many, this is the best thing to do. Limiting our exposure is the next best thing. Elijah was in fear for his life for a different reason – his enemies wish to kill him. Unlike Elijah, there are ways for us to continue to support one another while we physically isolate ourselves. Like Elijah, we too, can find that God is with us where we are.
Elijah may be hiding, but his time in hiding is not wasted, for he has a conversation with God. He is not asking, “Where is God?”, but God is asking him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”.
Elijah tells God why he is hiding and is told, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” A great wind comes, “but the Lord [is] not in the wind.” There is an earthquake, “but the Lord [is] not in the earthquake.” Then, there is a great fire, “but the Lord [is] not in the fire.” After the fire, there is “the sound of sheer silence.” Where is God? Elijah finds the Lord in sheer silence. Wind, earthquakes, and fire are used elsewhere in the scriptures to announce the presence of the Lord, but here it is in the silence that Elijah encounters God. One form of prayer, centering prayer, is used to quiet our minds so that we, too, can hear God.
In the Gospel reading Peter is able to walk on water toward Jesus until he notices the strong wind and he begins to sink. He steps out of the boat in faith and he, like Jesus, is about to walk on water – until he gets distracted. It is easy to lose our focus on our faith – especially when there seems to be no end in sight to this pandemic. It is difficulty to quiet our minds from the fear and uncertainty of our time and be silent. This pandemic, for many of us is distracting from our faith. Hope can be found in our faith, so worries that overwhelm our thoughts can result in us sinking into despair.
Elijah, we are told, does not find God in wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Like with Peter, the wind is a distraction. We have so many distractions in our lives that is often difficult, if not impossible, for us to know that God is with us. When Elijah hears “the sound of sheer silence,” he wraps his face and stands at the entrance of the cave. Elijah’s story reminds us of the importance of spending time in silence, in prayer, where we can find God.
I like to think that being in God’s presence brings us a sense of peace. It can, but that is not always the case. Here, God confronts Elijah, asking for a second time, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Again, Elijah explains the threat to his life. Sometimes what we need is to be challenged, as the Lord is challenging Elijah. God tells Elijah to return to Damascus, anoint Haz-a-el king of Aram and Jehu (geez/who) king over Israel. He is to anoint Elisha, as well, is to be a prophet. In short, the Lord tells Elijah to get back to work.
Elijah is not allowed to run away and stay in hiding, but here’s the irony of the story. It is in running away that he hears God and knows what he is to do next. Peter loses his focus and begins to sink into the water, then cries out to Jesus for help – and Jesus helps him. Just as the Lord asks Elijah, “Why are you here?” Jesus asks Peter, “Why did you doubt?” This may be heard by some as Jesus rebuking Peter, but I hear the Lord asking questions of Elijah and Peter as a form of teaching.
I often find that my prayers are answered with questions. Despite all my prayers for God to give me a sign as to what decision I should make, I have yet to see a billboard telling me what I need to do. Instead, I find my prayers often broaden my focus beyond my personal concerns and shift my focus back to my faith which calls upon me to do God’s will. Sometimes I get it wrong, and I start to sink. I have learned; however, that the Lord is with me and will help me find my way back – just as God helps Elijah.
This is one of the overarching themes in the Old Testament. God’s chosen people drift away from their faith and start to sink – but God finds a way to restore their faith. Elijah is being sent back to the people of Israel for this reason. He is a prophet of God, and instrument of God, who will help lead the people of Israel back to God.
Today’s lessons remind me that God is with me, even when I am afraid and start to sink. It reminds me that when I feel this way I need to listen, to have faith, and trust that God will direct me and give me the strength to do what needs to be done.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, quiet our minds that in the sheer silence we might hear what you desire from us. Make us instruments of your peace, sharing your love with all those we encounter in our daily lives. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.