Sunday, June 19, 2016

“Encountering the Holy” (I Kings 19:1-15a)

I think that when it comes to television I am sort of an anomaly.  According to the Nielsen media ratings company’s 2014 report, the average American watches more than five hours of television a day . . . I’m lucky if I watch five hours of television in a month.  A big part of the reason I do not watch television is because of the commercials that dominate the screen.  Did you ever notice that the volume goes up whenever a commercial comes on . . . the television actually gets louder?  Madison Avenue is yelling at the viewers to get them to listen and buy their products.  Studies show that in an hour-long show, over one-fourth of the hour is dedicated to commercials.  Since most commercials are 15 to 30 seconds in length, that is 30 to 60 commercials per hour.  Is it any wonder that we are a consumer nation?

Commercials drive me crazy while watching television.  They are intrusive.  They are pushy.  And, they are loud.  Again, studies show that the volume goes up whenever a commercial is aired.  Those companies want you to hear what they are selling.  About the time that I moved to Montana I had had enough.  I was tired of being hollered at as singer John Prine says in his song, Quit Hollerin’ At Me.

I don’t want your big French Fry
I don’t want your car
I don’t want to buy no soap
From no washed-up movie star
You are so much louder
Than the show I wanna hear
With your sugarless gum
Gee, but I’m dumb
Non-alcoholic beer
It’s enough to make a grown man
Blow up his own TV
Quit hollerin’ at me
Quit hollerin’ at me

As I have gotten older, I have grown tired of all the voices hollering at me.

Aren’t you tired of all the voices hollering at you?

We are in the thick of the election year and the voices of all the candidates keep getting louder and louder.  Vote for me!  Vote for me!  From the community we live in to the highest office in our country, the politicians are out in force hollering at us.  Add to that all those who support the various candidates . . . their rants and raves are getting louder and louder too.

Adding to the symphony of hollering and noise we have our already elected officials who can’t seem to stand in the same universe without hollering at one another and us.  No one in politics talks, they holler at each other.  Also, adding to the noise in the world around us in which we live our lives on a daily basis.  There is a whole lot of hollering going on.  The voices cry out from those places where there is rampant violence taking place . . . wars, terrorism.  The voices scream from those touched by crisis and natural disasters.  The hollering comes from those who are starving and dying because there is not enough food.  The noise escalates from the oppressed, the persecuted, and the forgotten.  The world is a noisy place and it is always hollering at us all.

Add to that those voices who holler at us in our own personal lives.  We all have them.  The boss . . . the spouse . . . the children . . . friends . . . the community . . . even, the church.  They are all hollering at us . . . wanting our attention.  Then, add to all that hollering the hollering we do at ourselves.  We live in a time of noise.

Don’t you want to do what John Prine does?  Don’t you just want to shout, “Quit hollerin’ at me!”  Don’t you just want to run away . . . to get away from it all?

In the story of the prophet Elijah that we have heard over the past couple of weeks, we know that he was chosen by God to bring the people back to God.  A tough job in a dangerous time . . . especially when one considers that he is taking on a well-entrenched religious machine in the religion of Baal that is spreading like wildfire through God’s people.  But, he does as he is told.  He confronts the people.  He confronts the proponents of the Baal religion.  He wins and destroys the prophets and priests of Baal.  And, yet, the people do not come back.

In defeating the prophets and priests of Baal . . . actually he has them all killed . . . he upsets Queen Jezebel.  In her anger she promises that she will kill Elijah for what he has done.  This is a pretty serious threat that Elijah takes seriously.  Fearing for his life . . . well, he runs.  He runs as far away from Jezebel as he can get.

That is where we pick up the story.  Elijah is on the run.  When he finally stops and takes a break from his running is he exhausted . . . he is hungry . . . frustrated . . . and, too weak to continue running.  He confesses to the Lord that he is tired of it all . . . tired of all the hollering taking place in his life.  He asks the Lord to let him die and be done with it all.  He falls asleep.  Eventually he gets awaken by angel. There is food and water.  He is told to get up and eat, which he does . . . but, the exhaustion of it all is too much and he falls back asleep. 

Again, the angel awakes Elijah.  Tells him to eat and drink a second time.  But, this time the angel acknowledges the feelings and emotions that Elijah is feeling: “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”   And, so, Elijah does as he is told.  Finding renewed strength, Elijah begins to run again.  He runs for 40 days and 40 nights until he comes to the place of God, Mount Horeb.  There he crawls into a cave, exhausted, and falls asleep.

As Elijah is sleeping . . . the voice of God comes to him.  The voice comes to him and wants to know what he is doing there.  Elijah basically tells God that he is tired of being hollered at . . . “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty.  The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword.  I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me.”  Elijah is tired of all of the hollering in his life, including the hollering from God.

What makes this passage . . . this story . . . so powerful is the fact that we know exactly how Elijah feels.  We know how he feels because we have felt the same way at points in our own lives and in our own journeys of faith.  We can identify with Elijah . . . we can identify with the tiredness and frustration of being yelled at by all the voices in our lives.  Tired of all the hollering.

But, you cannot escape God.

Elijah is told by God that soon God would soon pass by.  God tells Elijah to go and stand in the presence of the Lord.  “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”  Elijah did as he was told . . . he waited for God’s arrival.

First a wind storm came destroying the mountain and all the rocks, but God was not in the wind storm.  Next came an earthquake, but God was not in the earthquake.  Then came a raging fire, and still God was not in the fire.  Finally, a quietness . . . a stillness . . . and, a gentle whisper.  Elijah heard it and went to the mouth of the cave, covering his face, and stood before God. 

God did not come to Elijah in the noise of the world, but came to Elijah is the quiet stillness of the moment.  The Lord did not yell at Elijah, but spoke in a gentle whisper.  God asked, again, what Elijah was doing.  And, again, Elijah told the Lord that he was tired of all the hollering.  The Lord listened.

Then, the Lord said to Elijah, “Go back the way you came . . .”

And, Elijah did as he was told to do . . . he went to finish the job that the Lord had called him to do.

The world in which we live in is never going to be any quieter . . . it is always going to be a noisy place in which there will be constant hollering around us and at us.  And, yes, all that hollering is going to get tiresome and frustrating as we attempt to discern God’s will and touch upon our lives.  And, yes, we will have those moments when we want to run away and call it quits.  Yet, we can never escape God.

When people holler and yell and scream . . . they do so because they believe that they can be heard better . . . and, if they can be heard, well then, they will be given the attention that they desire.  Any good school teacher knows that the quickest way to quiet a class and get their attention is not in yelling, but in being quiet . . . in speaking softly.  God speaks softly to each and every one of us.  It is we who need to find that space in our lives where the quiet whisper of God can be heard. 

Once we have stepped into the quietness of God’s presence, heard the gentle whisper of the Lord, we find strength and hope to go another day.  Then we step back into the noise and all the hollering . . . renewed.  May it always be so.  Amen.

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