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I rarely post sermons because often what I end up preaching only resembles the manuscript.
I write out a full manuscript, usually by Thursday, for Sunday’s sermon. But I only review the manuscript a few times before Sunday, and I do not take the manuscript with me into the pulpit.
In seminary, my homiletics professor used to come up to the pulpit and take my manuscript away while I was preaching, because he said I was too stuck on the words. It took me five years in pastoral ministry before I finally felt comfortable enough to let go, and I believe I’ve been a better preacher for it–but that’s because this is my style that works for me. It definitely is not everyone’s style, and I have heard amazing manuscript preachers.
Anyway, I was asked to share today’s sermon, so here is the manuscript. It’s not word-for-word what I preached, but it’s a good summary.
TL;DR: Sometimes, silence is the only answer, and God is with us in the silence.
Rev. Mindi Welton-Mitchell
Queen Anne Baptist Church
August 12, 2018
1 Kings 19:1-16
Have you ever felt like the world was against you? That nothing you did mattered? Have you ever felt like just giving up?
Elijah is one of my favorite prophets because the world really was against him. But like us, he may have exaggerated a bit. The odds were definitely against him, but not the whole world. He was a prophet for God during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel of Israel. Jezebel was the princess of Sidon, and worshiped the god Baal, who required human sacrifice. But as with all things, it’s not only her fault. Ahab was a pretty awful king before he met Jezebel, but the two of them together did a lot of damage. Jezebel basically told the prophets and priests of God that they had to worship Baal or die, and some of them chose to worship Baal. But there were some, just in the chapter before this, that refused to worship Baal, and the prophet Elijah hid them in a cave, fifty at a time.
When we reach chapter nineteen, Elijah has managed to outsmart Jezebel and Ahab, and not only did he hide the prophets of Israel, he ended up killing many of the prophets of Baal. Jezebel promises to do to him what he did to her prophets.
Elijah ends up on the run, hiding in Judah to the south, and he’s done. He’s ready to die. “Let me sleep with my ancestors,” he says to God before he falls asleep with exhaustion. But an angel comes to him and says, “get up and eat.” He ate and drank and went back to sleep. The angel wakes him up a second time. “Get up and eat—otherwise you won’t make it.” Elijah finally eats, and then he goes on the rest of his journey to Mount Horeb, which is where Moses encountered God in the burning bush long ago.
When Elijah comes to Mount Horeb, he finds God there. God asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” and Elijah begins with, “I’ve been very zealous for the Lord. Everyone else has abandoned you, there are no other prophets left, I’m the only one, and they’re trying to kill me!” Well, we all know that’s not true! We know that Elijah helped some of the prophets. We know he’s not alone, but he certainly feels like it, and the wonderful thing is God doesn’t call him out for his exaggeration. God does scold Elijah for lying. Instead, God understands what Elijah feels. Our God understands when we feel like giving up.
So God tells Elijah, “Go and stand on the mountain, and I’m going to pass by.” And first, there is a great wind, so strong it split mountains and brought down rocks, but God was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake. And after that, a fire, but God was not in the fire. It was after all that, in the sound of sheer silence, that Elijah put on his mantle over his head, and went out to meet God.
When it feels like the world is against us, we can think that God is in the destruction. We can blame God for the bad things happening to us and to the world around us. We can blame God for a lot of things, but God is not in the things that destroy and break down. But notice that God doesn’t come with angels singing and blazing light shining, either. God comes in the silence, in the absence.
What does it mean for us to sit with the silence of God? When the world feels against us, when we feel like we don’t want to get up, we want God to do something. We want God to show force. But instead, God is in the silence. In the stillness. In the absence.
Elijah knew this was God. So God asks him again, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” and Elijah begins his complaining again. “I’ve been very zealous for the Lord, the people have abandoned you and your ways, and have killed your prophets, and I’m the only one who’s left, and they want to kill me.”
God hears Elijah. God doesn’t tell him everything’s going to be all right. God doesn’t even say he’s going to make Elijah’s problems go away. Instead, he tells Elijah to go to Damascus, and on the way, to anoint a new king over Aram, one of the neighboring countries, and a new king over Israel. And a new prophet to take his place.
God doesn’t wave a wand and make everything right again. Elijah still has some work to do. And even bringing Elisha on board, Elijah will have to train him. But what God has done is tell Elijah he won’t be alone. God is sending help, through these new kings, through this new prophet.
When we feel like the world is getting us down, and we just want to give up, and we don’t want to get out of bed, God understands. God let Elijah mope about a bit. God made him get up to eat and drink, but God let him mope basically for two days, then Elijah at least had the strength to go on for another month, but notice that he didn’t feel better. He still felt pretty miserable by the time he got to Horeb. God understands when our lives are hard. And God doesn’t just make everything okay right away. However, God sits with us in the silence. God is with us when we are lying down and don’t want to get up. God is with us on the long journey. And God isn’t in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the silence. God is with us when we feel utterly alone. And sometimes its in that most vulnerable place, where we feel completely abandoned, that we finally recognize God’s presence has been with us, all along.
Sometimes, there really are no words. There’s only silence. Sometimes, the lesson isn’t that things will get better. It’s that we’re not alone.
Sometimes, the lesson isn’t to wait for God, but rather to be like God in this moment for someone else: to not say that things will get better. To not provide all the answers or the platitudes. To not try to cheer someone up. Instead, maybe we’re the ones called to sit in the silence.
There’s also the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, who was with his closest friends, watched them all abandon him as the night went on. Before he was arrested, Jesus was in the garden with three of his closest friends. He prayed for God to take away what was going to happen, but he also prayed, “Not my will, but Thy will be done.” And while he was struggling—the scriptures say he was distressed and agitated—his own friends fell asleep, not noticing what he was going through. We all have been there, felt like our friends didn’t understand our struggles, not sure how to get them to wake up and see what was happening. Jesus went through all of that, and was abandoned to death. Even Peter, one of his closest friends, said “if everyone else abandons you, I will not,” and only a few hours later denied that he ever knew him.
And yet… Jesus got up. That third day, the tomb was found empty. He got up. And we know through Christ’s life and death that we have the promise of new life now. We have the promise of eternal life with God. And we have the promise that God will never leave us or abandon us, not even in death. Jesus knows most of all what it is like to sit in that silence, and death is the ultimate silence. But even in that silence, God was with him. God did not abandon his only son. And God does not abandon us.
At the end of Elijah’s earthly life, he was taken up in a whirlwind by God. Elisha tried to keep Elijah from leaving him. He didn’t think he was ready. He wanted to inherit a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit. But God was ready to take Elijah then, and Elisha had to go on. God knows when it is time for us to move on, to take the next step. God doesn’t abandon us along the way. And God sent other priests and prophets to Elisha during his prophetic ministry.
God is with you, even when it feels like the world is against you, the world is bringing you down. God is with you, especially in the silence. With all the noise of the world, with all the death and destruction and division around us, know this: God is with you. God is with us. And God will help you, and all of us, to get up when we are ready. Amen.