Welcome & Call to worship
Have no anxiety about anything; but in everything,
by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving,
let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
We come together, in spirit and truth, to worship God,
to hear the scriptures and listen for God’s word,
and to pray for ourselves, and the whole of creation.
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
O God all-powerful, true and incomparable, we adore you.
You are present in all things, yet limited by none,
untouched by place, unaged by time,
unhurried by the years, undeceived by words,
you are above all corruption,
you are beyond all change,
living in light that none can approach,
invisible, and yet you make yourself known to us;
and you are found by all who seek you
with their whole heart.
Eternal Lord God, you are worshipped and adored by all the hosts of heaven:
we join our thanks and praise with the triumph song
of prophets and apostles, saints and martyrs,
and the faithful of every age,
praying that your grace may enable us,
unworthy as we are,
to worship you adoringly on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
He was wounded for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the chastisement he bore made us whole,
and with his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)
We confess that we have sinned against you
in what we have said, what we have thought and what we have done.
And we have left so many things undone, because of our own pride, laziness and neglect.
But most of all, we have not loved you with our whole heart;
and we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
We ask you to forgive us, and to strength us,
so that we may step out confidently in faith,
to live lives to your glory,
through Jesus our saviour.
Assurance of forgiveness
I will make a covenant of peace with you;
my dwelling place shall be with you,
and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 37.26-27)
God is light, in him is no darkness at all.
If we walk in the light, as God is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5, 7)
So hear Christ’s word of grace to us:
‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Thanks be to God.
Music: Lord of creation, to you be all praise
1 Kings 19:9-18
9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.
The Lord Appears to Elijah
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn 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 too.”
11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.
Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
14 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn 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 too.”
15 The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”
Jesus Walks on the Water
22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Strengthened by God
1 Kings 19:9-18
What are you doing here?
That’s the question that God asks Elijah in today’s reading from the first book of Kings.
Of course, God knows what Elijah doing there – because, after all, God is God! And yet, God asks Elijah anyway.
This, it seems to me, is God being a counsellor to Elijah. Elijah’s answer is not revealing anything to God, but the answer is revealing to Elijah.
The scriptures (1 Kings 18) in the chapter before today’s reading, tell of the contest between the prophet Elijah and the priests of Baal. Elijah was the only prophet of God, but there were 450 priests of Baal - who were supported by King Ahab and his wife, none other than Jezebel. But Elijah was zealous, and he challenged the priests – they would kill a bull, and so would he, and then they would offer it to their respective gods.
You may know the story: The Baal priests went first, putting the pieces of their sacrifice on wood, and they prayed to Baal, but there was no answer. They danced around their offering, and Elijah even taunted them to “pray louder”, and the priests ranted and cut themselves but they received no answer from Baal.
And then Elijah prepared his offering, on a rebuilt altar, putting the pieces of the bull on wood. He had a trench dug around the altar and filled it with water. And then Elijah had water poured over the wood. And then more water.
And then Elijah prayed for God to let the people know that the Lord was God. No ranting, no dancing, no cutting. Just an earnest prayer.
And we read that God “sent fire down, and it burned up the sacrifice, the wood, and the stones, scorched the earth and dried up the water in the trench. When the people saw this, they threw themselves on the ground and exclaimed, “The Lord is God; the Lord is God!”” (1 Kings 18:38-39).
Now Elijah was not the forgiving sort: He had the priests of Baal seized, took them down to the river and killed them all. All 450.
Unfortunately for Elijah, Jezebel wasn’t the forgiving sort, either. She sent a message to Elijah: “May the gods strike me dead if by this time tomorrow I don't do the same thing to you that you did to the [priests of Baal].” (1 Kings 19:2)
1 Kings 19:3 tells us that Elijah was afraid and fled for his life…
Which more or less brings us to our reading: Fleeing for his life, Elijah goes to a special place, a cave on Mount Horeb.
And while Elijah is sheltering in that cave, God challenges him: “Why are you here, Elijah?” he asks.
Elijah gives a thorough response:
“I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” (19:10)
His response is certainly thorough, but doesn’t really answer the question. He claims his own great faithfulness – “I have been very zealous”, he blames others “the Israelites have forsaken your covenant”, and details their wrongdoing – tearing down altars and killing prophets. And then he laments “I alone am left” and despairs “and they are seeking my life”.
Have you ever been in such a position? Done the right thing, as asked, but others have failed to do their bit or let you down or even turned on you? Failed, but through no fault of your own? It’s not a nice place to be, and it’s a very human response to run away, to get out of the situation, to take refuge – maybe not in a cave, but somewhere that feels safe and secure - to lament and to despair.
I’m sure we’ve all been in that place, and I’m sure we are all too familiar with others in that place as well. We’ll generally sympathise with their position, we tell them that we know and understand how they feel, and we encourage them to put the experience behind them and move on. Hopefully we don’t simply pat them on the head and say “There, there, it will be okay” – nor do we say “What do you have to moan about?” Hopefully. Though I expect we all slip from time to time.
God doesn’t do those things. There’s certainly no flippant dismissal of Elijah’s woes from God, but neither does it seem there’s sympathy or encouragement. Instead, something quite amazing happens.
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” (19:11). Which brings to mind the experience of Moses. Elijah, like Moses before him, will be in the very presence of the living God.
Then we read that “there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord”. Genesis 1 tells us of the wind or spirit of God hovering over the waters at the moment of creation, and so we start to think that the great and powerful wind is the presence of God. But the Lord, we read, was not in the wind.
And then the earth shakes! The mountain heaves! Again, it seems that God is being revealed in a mighty display of power… but the Lord was not in the earthquake.
And then, after the earthquake, a fire. A fire, perhaps, like the mighty pillar of fire that had guided the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. Or the fire that Elijah himself had summoned to demonstrate the power of God before the priests of Baal. But the Lord was not in the fire.
And after the fire… came something quite different.
The NRSV bible translation tells us that after the fire came “…a sound of sheer silence.”
And this is one particular passage of scripture where we can gain a better understanding from by using a range of translations.
The Good News Bible tells us of “the soft whisper of a voice” while the NIV tells us of “a gentle whisper”.
The wording used is quite different, but I think the varied translations all serve to highlight the contrast between the wind, the earthquake and the fire with what came after.
Perhaps most famously, the King James Version tells us that after the fire came “a still small voice.”
The sound of sheer silence. The soft whisper of a voice. The gentle whisper. The still small voice.
However it is described, Elijah heard it, and went and stood at the mouth of the cave.
The contrast between the wind, earthquake and fire with what came after, encouraged Elijah to leave the shelter of the cave. To step out, in faith.
And I think this is often how we encounter God. It’s not in the noise or the disasters or crises we experience, but in the quiet that comes after them. We might not encounter God in the upheaval of a landslide, but we see God revealed in the miraculous rescue of a survivor. We might not encounter God in the inferno of a bushfire sweeping through houses, but we see God revealed in the outpouring of generosity and the new life afterward.
It is the effect of disasters to cause people to ask questions of God – usually to challenge God’s sovereignty or judgement. “A loving God couldn’t let this happen”, they might say. And Christians traditionally respond with arguments and justifications “We live in a fallen world”, “People don’t let God control their lives, so why should they expect God to control others’ lives” and so on. Which are good responses in terms of defending our faith, but to outsiders, they can so easily be seen as excuses.
But I think the experience of Elijah points to a better way: After the wind and earthquake and fire, the gentle whisper of God, the still small voice of God is revealed. After the noise, the sound of sheer silence. After the chaos, tranquillity. After the clash and conflict, peace – the peace of God which Paul reminds us surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7).
In the face of a demand “Why is God doing this?” we cannot give an answer that will satisfy anger and grief. But we can show love. Rather than argument, we can show our faith in the gentle whisper of God.
We are in the midst of a global pandemic. And many people are asking where God is in the pandemic. And we see glimpses of God’s love even amongst all that is going on, but whatever happens, after the loss of life, after the isolation, after the economic turmoil, God will be there. God’s peace will be there. In Jesus’ death on the cross, the power of death was overcome. As Paul wrote to the Romans, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
After the wind and earthquake and fire, the sound of sheer silence.
And sure enough, in the silence, God spoke to Elijah again: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Again, Elijah responds: “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” If that sounds familiar, it is - because It’s the same response as he gave earlier – verse 14 is the same as verse 10.
The same words, but I think they now have a different significance. Elijah talks about his own zealousness and the evil of the Israelites, and his situation now. After the metaphorical wind and earthquake and fire of the sin of the Israelites, Elijah is left on his own, with the still small voice of God.
The words might be the same, but now Elijah is ready to continue. God tells him to go back the way he came, and then go further “…Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.” Because anointing kings is the work of the prophet.
And God tells him to “Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel” – which would mean that Ahab’s days were numbered, and not just as king: Because there was no succession in those days, you remained king until you were dead, and once another king was anointed you were living on borrowed time.
The third anointing Elijah is commanded to carry out is that of “Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place” - In that command, Elijah knows his mission as God’s prophet is almost complete.
And the time to come is going to be tough for Israel “Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill.” (19:17). There will be devastation for the nation of Israel, the nation which has rejected the covenant with God, torn down God’s altars, and put the prophets to death with the sword.
We might think of the destruction of Israel as God’s revenge on the disobedient, just like in the months after the terrorist attacks of September 2001, there were claims made that they were God’s judgement on the USA. But this episode tells us that God isn’t in the wind, the earthquake or the fire: we know that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) but even though we are sinful and underserving we are assured “Everyone who invokes the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
The equivalent of a mighty wind, a terrible earthquake and a raging inferno will ravage Israel… and yet… in the gentle whisper of God, God tells Elijah:
“Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (19:18)
Just like the gentle whisper of God which came to Elijah after the wind, earthquake and fire, so will hope come to the nation of Israel, after the terrible consequences of their turning away from God are realised. Those who had not honoured Baal would be saved by God.
Always with God, there is hope. There is the offer of salvation: God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world (John 3:17).
Even when we have come to know Jesus, it’s not all easy. Sometimes we all need to run away, to take refuge from things. Perhaps not in a cave on a mountain like Elijah did, but to get away, to take a break. Sometimes we might even need to take refuge from our church activities. After all, it was Elijah’s zealousness for the Lord that had triggered the death threat from Jezebel and Elijah’s fleeing to Mount Horeb.
We read in the Gospel accounts of Jesus withdrawing from the crowds when he learned of the death of his cousin John, and of him going alone to pray in anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus knows the pain and hurt and exhaustion of being human. The pain and hurt and exhaustion that Elijah felt, and that we all feel.
But whatever pain and hurt and exhaustion we feel, we know (Romans 10:13) that “Everyone who invokes the name of the Lord [that is, everyone who calls out to the Lord for help] will be saved.”
And we can and should claim that promise, we should call on the name of the Lord and be saved! But in response to God’s saving grace, we need to step out from our places of refuge – to go out, renewed and refreshed by God’s spirit, and to go out despite our fears: to share the good news with the world, just as Elijah did.
Our call as the church – and as individuals – is to be the messengers who bring that good news to the world.
So in whatever we face, remember that:
God is not in the wind.
God is not in the earthquake.
God is not in the fire.
God is not in the terrorist attack, nor in the school shooting, nor in the sinking of a refugee boat
God is not in the pandemic
But God, the God who loves us with an everlasting love, the God who sent his Son to save us all, is in the silence after all those tragedies have passed.
Not in the wind. Not in the earthquake. Not in the fire.
But in the still small voice, in the sound of sheer silence.
Music: God has spoken by his prophets
Music: My Jesus, my saviour
We thank you, Gracious God, for all the gifts of human life: for all that we have and all that we are.
Most of all we thank you that even when we were far away from you, you gave your son to us. He lived a human life, died a human death, and opened the way to eternal life for all who turn to him.
In response to all that you have done for us, we offer ourselves to you as a living sacrifice, and ask that your Spirit will work in us and through us, so that we may be witnesses to you wherever we may be.
Word of Mission and Blessing
When God asks you “Why are you here?” what will you say?
God offers us refuge. Jesus said “Come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest”.
But the refuge and the rest isn’t the end of it, because that refuge and rest is part of the good news of Christ, good news that we are called to share with all people to the very ends of the earth.
Let us remember that God is not in the wind, nor the earthquake, nor the fire. But it is the gentle whisper of God, which goes with us always, and as we go out from wherever we are, go out with the blessing of God Almighty: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Looking Out: Crossing to the Other Side – With Jesus!
Next week (August 16):
Psalm 133 or Psalm 67
Genesis 45:1-15 or Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matt 15:10-20. 21-28
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8, Matthew 15:21-28
Theme: “Faith without borders”