Sunday, November 26, 2017

Shepherd, Sorting King and Holy Sheep - Matthew 25:31-46

What is a king?  What does it mean to have a king?  Who is a king?  In this land of democracy, which was built throwing off our ties to a king and breaking out on our own without the fetters of a dieing feudal system and its monarchy, what does it mean to say that Christ is king?  England still has a queen and will someday in my lifetime have a King. But the monarchy there is little more than a living parade, a living heirloom of by gone days of England’s past. But many countries still have kings in far off places of this world.
Every year at District Pastor's Retreat, a group of us go to eat at a Thai restaurant. They have three pictures of this very regal looking couple on three of the walls. One year I asked the waitress who this couple was. She told us that they were the king and queen of Thailand. From what I understand, the king and queen of Thailand are held in great affection by the Thai people. The waitress told us quite a bit about how wonderful this couple is and how much they are revered and respected by Thai people everywhere. The owners of this restaurant live here in the states, but they still honor and revere the king of their native land.
A good king is respected and honored by his people. A good king is kind and just and is loved by all those whom he rules. But a king does not have to be these things in order to be king. A king is a king by birth, by having been born in the right family at the right time, or by coo, by over throwing the current king and taking over his throne and establishing his line and his lineage as the new succession to the throne. A king is king by power of the law but ironically in many ways is above the law and not required to adhere to the very law which makes him king. A king can still be king due to this power he wields even if he is cruel and tyrannical. A king can still be king even if he squanders the people’s money and mistreats them at every turn. As long as he can hold onto his power the king. History shows us that a king can be good or bad; kind and just, or tyrannical and bent on nothing but his own gain.
So there are kings who are revered and honored, kings who deserve to be praised for their kindness, generosity and the just way they rule their people. When we look to God, we, as Christians would expect that Jesus, as king, would be the later. This passage presents to us Jesus, as a king who divides people as a shepherd separates sheep from goats. The sheep he allows into his kingdom and the goats are thrown out, not allowed to enter.
In every place I have ever heard of there being a King, the King does not get to choose who his people are. He is born to be king of a particular kingdom and all the people in the kingdom are his people. A king just accepts the people he is given. Just as he was born to be king, everyone else, who was born within the borders of his kingdom, are born to be his subjects. But Christ the king is picky. He does not simply want subjects, he wants a certain kind of subjects. He wants subjects who live and act in ways which he deems worthy, just. He only wants subjects who are righteous, for it is those whom he calls righteous he decides are the sheep and accepts, it is those who do not live in righteous ways whom he calls goats and casts out.
Jesus is not only our king but he is choosy about those who will be in his kingdom. Jesus, the Son of Man will sit on the throne of Heaven and divide up those who are in his kingdom and those who are not. On his left he puts the goats, saying to them that he was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison and they did not feed him, give him something to drink, welcome him, cloth him, take care of him or visit him. To the right he puts the sheep and he says to them, I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison and when you saw me you fed me, gave me a drink, welcomed me, clothed me, took care of me, and visited me. To those on his right, he praises them and welcomes them into his eternal kingdom, to those on his left he will cast out of his kingdom where they are punished.
And all the good protestant Christians, who know that the grace of God and the gift of eternal life are freely given to those who have believed and have and know that entrance into God’s kingdom cannot be earned by merit or by good works, scratch their head and begin to wonder, “when was it that the world turned upside down and how is it that everything we believed to be true about how these things work can proved to be false?” 
What is Jesus saying?  It sounds like he is saying that in order to be accepted into Christ’s kingdom we have to do certain things. Earning our way into God’s eternal kingdom is done by giving to those who are less fortunate. That can’t be right, can it?  It goes against everything that I have ever been taught, when it comes to how the grace, and forgiveness of God works.
But that is what Jesus says there. I just read it, “Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'. . .‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'. . .‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
It says it right there if you give food the hungry, water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, take care of the sick and visit the imprisoned we will be called righteous and welcomed into eternal life. Jesus says it, so it must be true.
It is true, in that, those who love Christ and seek to live as Christ lived and be the people Christ calls them to do these things do these things. It is not true that these are the things that gain entrance into Jesus’ kingdom. Yet it is true, in that because faith and belief came first; faith comes before the actions. In fact faith is the reason for the actions. Those who live the love of God in their lives, those who accept the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and have faith in him for eternal life, will visit the sick, cloth the naked, welcome the stranger, give water to the thirsty and feed the hungry. They will do all these things because their faith compels them to, because the love they have from Jesus will not allow them to not.
Faith is a strange kind of belief. Faith is a belief that is lived, it is a belief which can only exist in action. You can believe that a force called gravity keeps us firmly stuck to the ground. You can believe that the world is made up of tiny electrically charged particles whose properties dictate how our world works but those kind of beliefs require nothing of us. We either believe that these unseen forces are at work in our world or we don’t. There is nothing that believing or not believing in electrons requires of us, but faith in Jesus Christ, requires something of us. It moves us, it changes us and spurs us into action.
Once you know the truth of the gospel, once you come to and understanding of the God of the universe and that God’s love for each and every one of us, that love, that truth changes who we are, it changes how we live. It compels us to move in our world in loving ways. The love of God is a love that requires us to then in turn love those around us. If we truly understand that God loves us and calls for us to love the world around us, we cannot see one who is hungry and desire to feed, see one who is thirty and desire to quench that thirst, we cannot see one whom God loves and cherishes in pain or in need and not desire to reach out with the love that God had given to us and share that love by soothing that pain or meeting that need.
If we truly believe that God loves us. If we truly believe that Jesus Christ showed that love in his life, teachings, death and resurrection and that love calls us into relationship with the God of the universe and then we cannot help but be filled with that love, that love fills us, lives in us and is worked out in our actions and interactions in this world. The love we have for Christ is manifested in our love for those around us.
Christ, the king of heaven, knows that if we truly love him, then that love will be lived out in how we treat those around us. When we love Jesus we will treat each and everyone we meet as if that person were Jesus. As Christians we should see Jesus in everyone we meet, in everyone with whom we interact. We should treat our boss, our siblings, our parents, the stranger we pass on the street with the love, the dignity and the respect with which we would treat them if we truly believed them to be Jesus Christ himself.
Although it might be easy to get the cart before the horse, so to speak, and think that Jesus is telling us that it is the doing of these things which gets us into Heaven. But in fact this passage is not putting forth this kind of works related righteousness. Jesus is not telling us how to earn our way to heaven, instead he is describing what a life lived in love with God, a life living out that love will look like. They are the mark of one who is sanctified. They are the outward signs of Christian perfection. This is what holy living looks like when lived out by God’s people. 
This is not a prescription of how to get to Heaven, feed three hungry people, take a cup of cold water to one who is thirsty and call me in the morning. This is a description of what a life lived completely and totally given over to God will look like; if you love Jesus. This is what a holy life looks like. When the people of God are living out God’s holiness in this world then, the hungry will be fed the thirsty will be quenched, the stranger will be welcomed, the naked will be clothed, the sick will be taken care of and the prisoner will be visited. Those who are in need around you will be provided for. You will live a life of compassion. You will love each and every person as if they themselves were God. You will speak to each person you meet as if they were Jesus Christ. Everyone you meet will be treated with the kindness, the respect, the love you would give if they were Jesus. You will honor everyone as if they were you king. When you love God, you will love your neighbor. When you love Jesus Christ you will love the outcast and the lonely. The love of God will be the hallmark of your life. When people encounter you they will encounter the love of God in you, because you are loving them as if they are God. This is what it means to be holy, to live out God’s holiness in your day to day life.
We love because God loves. We love because we believe. We love because our faith compels us to. We cannot love Jesus without loving those around us. We cannot be people of faith unless we are feeding the hungry, quenching the thirst of the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, taking care of the sick and visiting those in prison, because that is what a life of faith will look like to one who is observing it from the outside. It will be a life marked by action, a life marked by love moving; a life marked by someone who cannot stand by and to allow those around them to suffer.
Our faith moves us in ways that will not allow suffering to continue to go on around us in this world. A true believer in Jesus Christ will not go unmoved when another is suffering. A true adherent to the faith cannot but help but be torn apart when someone around them is hurting. We, as follows of Christ will be forced into action by our faith and by our love for Jesus to mend the broken, and be balm to those who are hurting. The love of Christ compels us, moves us and transforms us in ways so that we are ruled by an over powering, outreaching love that will not stop until we have loved all those we touch and are moving to right the wrongs that Jesus himself came to this world to right. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Fish in a sea of Justice - Amos 1:1-2, 5:14-15, 21-24

The sun is shining through the artistically colored windows. The worship team is at its prime. The people are all dressed in their Sunday best, poised and ready for worship. They are standing tall, faces up lifted toward the sky as the music is about to begin. There is a quiet reverence in the sanctuary. It seems as if nobody is shuffling, nobody is restless, and everyone is focused on the song they are all about to sing. Even the dust gently drifting in the luminously colored beams of light filling the sanctuary seems Holy. The voices raise, the chorus begins, but God can not hear the words of the song because of the chaotic din. The man on the third row is wondering if he can nonchalantly slip his cell phone out of his pocket. He is positive that the service started a few minutes late, will that mean it will run a little late, will he be able to make it downtown in time if the service is 5-10 minutes over. Why did he sit on the third row? He can’t sneak out toward the end, everyone will see him. He stands looking up at the screen singing the words. His face looks focused; by all appearances he is engrossed in worship. There a woman toward the back on the right. She is smartly dressed; her hair is neatly pulled back. She is the picture of modesty and propriety, but as she sings she begins to wonder if she can get away with cutting Amelia’s pay, she just can not afford to pay that woman as much as she is getting paid. Perhaps, she can tell Amelia that the work she did this last time around was just not up to par. Sure she knows that Amelia works herself to the bone and really does a fine job, but sometimes you just have to pay someone a little bit less. She can tell Amelia that the seams were just not right that she was just not as happy and then simply give her 20% less than the agreed upon price for the garment. It will be OK, Amelia will find a way to make up for it somehow, I bet she over charges some of her customers anyway.
As the song proceeds the din grows louder and louder. God looks down on the people, hands over ears waiting, waiting for the noise to stop, waiting for the din to die down, but the service seems to go on. And on the raucous get louder and louder and finally something has to be done. It is at this point that Amos (the tree farmer and sheep herder) shakes his head once again wondering why God can’t give him something pleasant to say to these people, he steps out of his anonymous place in the pew into the aisle and raises his voice above the melodious strains of pious worship and says, “This is what the Lord God has said to me, ‘I hate, I despise. . .’”
God cannot hear the worship. The worship is pointless, the worship is useless, the worship is not worship, when over laid with the din of un-worshipful attitudes which fill the sanctuary. God wants to mourn, God wants to wail, this is an outrage this is deplorable. God will turn their empty songs in to wailing, their hollow praise into mourning. If they want the festive worship over so they can get on with business, God will put a stop to the festivities.
God is a little more than fed up with the people of Israel at this point. When it comes time for the festive observances which God had set up for them; they are not grateful for the break from the routine, they are not joyful in the celebration of how God had provided for them once again; they are not enraptured and engrossed in worship of their God who lovingly and faithful takes care of them in season and out of season. Instead they can’t wait to get back to business.
They can’t wait to get back to their shops and to their markets they cannot wait to get back to work. Not because they need the money and every moment they are spending away from their labors is resulting in not being able to earn the money they need to survive, but because they want to get back to business practices which are just a little on the “shady side” to say the least. They are selling their harvests with bushel baskets which are too small. They are doing business with falsely weighted scales which are in their favor.
Not only are they dishonest in their practices but they are cheating the poor and robbing the needy of their due. God had set up a system by which no one in Israel would go hungry and in their practices they are sweeping up every last grain so they can sell it with their dishonest weights and their small bushel baskets, but they were forbidden by God to sell the sweepings. They were not allowed to go back through the field and harvest what they missed. They were not allowed to take a broom to the threshing floor and pick up every last grain. They were to leave this to those who had fallen on hard times. They were to leave the leftovers for the poor and they needy, so they could come and pick up the scraps which were over looked. But they were not doing this; they were picking every last head of grain and picking up every last wheat berry so that they could turn the most profit, while the most vulnerable in their nation starved to death on their doorsteps, searching for the food which was rightfully theirs by law. They are not respecting each other and in doing so they are not respecting God.
In chapter two is says they are selling the righteous for silver and the needy for sandals. In the ancient near east slavery was a product of extreme economic hardships. These people are being sold in to slavery not because they cannot pay off a great amount of debt, but over small amounts, a single silver piece or the cost of half a pair of sandals, not the cost of both, but just one. They are heartless and greedy and are not doing their best to raise the status of those around them. But instead they are taking advantage of their situation and being cruel in the process. In their practices they are crushing the heads of the poor and pushing the afflicted, those whose physical ailments are lifelong hardships, the blind and the lame; they are pushing these people aside, so they can simply walk past. They have no lack of imagination when it comes to ways in which they can use the misfortunes of others to help better themselves and their situation in life.
The people are doing all the right things in the sanctuary. They are worshiping God in all the right ways, with all the right actions and all the right words, with nary a word about any of those false gods. They know better than that, they know the first commandment. They are gathering for worship, they are participating in a proper Sabbath, they are honoring all the designated festivals, attending all the allotted assemblies with just the right amount of dignity and solemnity which each occasion requires. They burn their burnt offerings, they give gracious amounts of grain offerings, they find the prettiest lambs, the strongest bulls and the goatiest goats and offer each one at the right times. But it is not what is going inside the sanctuary that God is upset about. It is precisely all the things they are doing when they are NOT in the temple that has God all riled up at this point in time.
The thing is, God does not ask for much. God simply asks for them love good and to seek it in all things and to establish justice at the gates. God wants them to love good, to seek what is good. Not just good for me but good for all, good for those around me, good for my family, good for my friend, good for my neighbor, as well as good for the stranger and even for my enemy. Seek good, do good. Seek always in all things to do what is right.
God is saying that good and right practice should be the general rule of life. The people buying and selling things should be fair in the ways in which they do so. The people giving loans should not take advantage of the needy and the poor. Those who are doing evil and unrighteousness as a part of their common business practices should cease. Evil is never best business practice. Unrighteousness is not just a by product of how things get done in the world. God's call on our lives in this passage is simple, don't do evil, instead seek to do good. Do not cheat the poor. Do not take advantage of the down trodden. Do not do further harm to those who are already struggling in their day to day lives.
The first step is to not do these things, to not participate in the evil and unrighteousness that is all around. But if you are already not actively participating in actively harming those around you, your work is not done. You are responsible for yourself and your actions. You are to love good and hate evil; to despise unrighteousness and seek good in all you do, but your responsibility does not stop there. Once you, yourself are doing and seeking good in how you act, then the next step is to open your eyes look around, and see where injustice still occurs, see where and how people are being misused and abused and work to put an end to it wherever it takes place. It is not good enough to simply behave properly ourselves, we are also expected to establish justice. To work to assure that the world in which everyone lives is defined by fair and just practices. We are to work to end the mistreatment and misuse of human beings in our society and the world. We are called to love good and hate evil, but we are also called to work to bring righteousness and goodness to all parts of our world. We are not to not simply stand by and allow the people in the world around us to be mistreated. WE are called to speak up, to work in whatever way we can with our actions and with our votes, to establish justice in all corners of our society.
At the end of the passage God tells us that we are to, “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like and ever-flowing stream.” I make special note of this because this is a rich and amazing metaphor. The words for water and ever-flowing stream are words that indicate water in abundance; water that is always there, always flowing, always moving.
Water was not abundant in the ancient near east. In the spring water would run in streams but for most the year the stream beds were dry. God calls for righteousness to be an ever-flowing stream; a stream that does not ever run dry. This is a picture of water that stays, that does not come and go with the seasons, but water that is always there, cool and life giving at all times.
God does not want us to seek justice that trickles through the land like a tiny water driblet, or righteousness that is like the dew fresh and clean in the morning but gone by the afternoon. God wants justice to be a lake we can swim in and righteousness to be a waterfall we can stand under. There is enough for all, more than enough for all. It is flowing down and over flowing the river beds and flooding the lives of everyone around. This is extravagant justice, exorbitant righteousness. It is enough for everyone to drink and be filled. Enough for us all to jump in and swim around, so much justice that is it unseemly, so much righteousness that it quite frankly wasteful.
The world as God wish it is an luxuriously apportioned mansion of the insanely rich. If justice were gold, the whole thing would be guilt. If righteousness were marble, not only would all the floors be made of it but the walls and the ceilings as well. Some might say that is too much or too far, but God says when it comes to righteousness and justice there is never too much, there is no such thing as going over board.
It is easy to think that the second of these two things God is calling for is the lesser of the two. Surely being responsible for my own actions and my own deeds is the primary call in this passage. Although we begin with ourselves, our actions, our attitudes, the ways in which we act and interact on a daily basis; although it begins with loving and seeking good in all we do, and in every part of our own lives, it does not end there. The second part is just as important if not more so than the first. Not only are we to assure our own actions are good and righteous, that we ourselves are not taking advantage of others, but we are to make sure that we do not allow, or stand by while others in the world around us are continually mistreated by others, by the systems, by the common practices that are just apart of “how our world works.” We are to work to stop that being the way things work, to end the injustices in our society and our world. To break down those systems and repair the broken parts of our society. We are to break down the damns that hold it back and let it flow, let justice go rushing into the the lives of everyone in our society. And let us be the ones who work every day of our lives to break that damn and to allow it to flood our world, so that it is literally the water in which we live. Let us all be fish swimming in a sea of justice and righteousness. Let it be the waters in which we live and the very air which we ALL breath and let us not stop, let us not rest until it is so.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

God of the Silence - 1 Kings 19:1-16

Things never went very well for Elijah. It seemed the people never listened to God. When they did not, Elijah was always asked, by God, to go back to them, and give them the opportunity to change and turn back to God, or suffer the consequences of their unfaithfulness. The pesky thing about always being right is, no one ever listens. Time and time again the people chose to do their own thing and not heed the warning from God, Elijah brought to them. Then, when God's protective hand was removed from them, and terrible things happened, it was always Elijah's fault. God said, “Repent, change your ways,” the people refused and there was a famine and a drought for three years. It was Elijah's fault, so he was forced to hide in the wilderness being taken care of by birds.
Even when it seemed he had won, he lost. One of the huge problems at this time in Israel's history was that the King had married a woman who worshiped Ba'al. She had imported idols and priests and prophets of Ba'al from her homeland. Because of her influence many people had turned away from God to worship Ba'al. Others, in an attempt to keep all parties happy, were worshiping both, which was not at all better in God's eyes. (See the first commandment)
All the prophets of Ba'al had set up a giant reality contest, “Whose God is real, anyway?”  They would get as many people as possible to come to this grand event.  The premise was: all the prophets of Ba'al (450 of them) would build an alter to Ba'al, on one side, and Elijah would build and alter to the Lord God, on the other. They would each place an offering on their alter. Then right there in front of everyone, they would each call out to their god to reign down fire. The god who managed to set the offering upon their alter on fire, was the one true god.
The prophets of Ba'al made a royal ruckus, singing and yellin' and prayin' at their top of their lungs to make sure Ba'al hear them. Nothing. Maybe he was asleep and they needed to make some noise to wake him. When that did not work they began jumpin' and dancin' all around the alter to get Ba'al's attention. Nada. Perhaps, he was binge watching Netflix and was too distracted to notice them.
Finally they started cutting themselves and bleeding all over the place. Perhaps Ba'al was 1/10 shark and would smell the blood in the air and come running with great bombs of fire. Nope, nothing. Ba'al was in the shower, singing, “rubber ducky you’re the one” at the top of his lungs and could not, hear, notice or smell anything that was going on down on that mountain that day.
At this point Elijah, being a good sport about things, started taunting them mercilessly. “Nanni-nanni-boo-boo my God's gonna do what yours can't do.”
Then to show what a really a good guy he was about this whole affair, he dug a three foot wide trench all around his alter. Then he had jug, after jug, after jug of water poured all over his alter. So much water that it poured down over the offering, over the wood for the offering, over the sides of the alter, filling the entire trench that surrounded it. And then Elijah began to pray, and immediately fire came down from the heavens. Fire came licking down over the alter, consuming the offering, the wood, and all of the water, nothing was left, not even one drop of water.
Elijah had won; God is the one true God of the universe. God one, Ba'al ZERO. And the crowd goes wild. Elijah is hero of the day. God is God and Ba'al is not. But like I said, even when Elijah wins, he loses, because this whole thing angers Jezebel, the queen, something fierce and she put a hit out on Elijah. Before Elijah can really revel in his moment of victory, he is running for his life from a band of royally sanctioned hit-men. He leaves his servant in a safe place, because he does not want his servant to die too if they are found together. Out into the wilderness he goes, again. He knows that Jezebel's hired guns are too chicken to follow him, or too dumb to find there.
So here Elijah is, out in the wilderness, the henchmen of Jezebel after him.  He is on the run, but even a man on the run gets hot and tired. So he finds a solitary broom tree way out in the middle of nowhere, a day’s walk everywhere. He looks to his right there is no one, he looks to his left, no one. He is safe, there is no one can be seen in any direction. He sits down there in the shade of the tree and he feels absolutely, completely and utterly ALL ALONE.
When evening comes, he lies down and stares up at the sky; it is mostly void, and partly starry. He stares up into the nothingness and asks God if he might die. He thinks about his life and the lives of all the prophets who have come before him. Where are they now? They are nothing but dust and bones and he says to God, “Enough is enough; I am ready die, for I am no better than my ancestors.” And then he lay down and fell asleep, hoping God would grant his request.
He must have been pretty disappointed when God woke him and told him to eat and drink. So he ate and drank, but miraculous food and drink was not enough to impress him. After eating and drinking food that appeared out of nowhere, he laid down once again hoping to die. But again, God disappoints him, and wakes him up again, telling him to eat and drink and so he does.
This time, God does not allow him to go back to sleep but instead encourages him to keep moving. He travels all the way to mount Horeb, which is also known as Sinai, the very mountain on which Moses met God all those years ago. He climbs the mountain and finds a cave and settles down in the cave.
And God says, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
And Elijah says, “God I am always doing what you tell me to do. I am a good prophet. I tell the people what you tell me to tell them, I do what you tell me do, and nobody ever listens. Nothing I do ever makes a difference. Every time I do the right thing, it comes crashing back down at me. It like a reverse Midas touch, instead of it all turning to gold, everything I touch turns to ash. It is all ruined. I am all alone, and everyone wants to kill me, and I kind wish they would.”
How many of us have felt like this? Nothing we do seems to go right. Everything seems to be torn to pieces the moment we touch it. The world around us has crashed and burned and there are no pieces to pick up. We are going through a rough time. Our heart aches, within us. Our body is one giant nerve in pain. And we look around and there is no one. We are all alone. Nobody could possibly understand how we feel. Nobody is really there for us. Everyone we love is dead. Everyone who could help us, is gone, or nowhere to be seen. We look to the left, we look to the right and there is no one there. On one hand we are relieved. Sometimes it feels good to be alone in our pain, in our grief, in our sorrow, in our hurt. But then again we are all alone, absolutely, positively alone. There is no one here with us in our hurt, in our grief in our pain. And perhaps, on one of our really bad days (or on two or three) we have thought, death would be easier than continuing to deal with than this. That is exactly how Elijah felt that day.
And so God told him to hang out there on the mountain for a little while and left him alone. As he stood there, completely and absolutely abandoned, the wind picked up. It howled in the trees and made a hollow moaning sound in the mouth of the cave. It whipped up over the rock face and whistle against the stone. It was blowing so hard, Elijah had to cling to the rock to not be carried away by it. But even in all its grandeur and force, Elijah knew that God was not in the wind.
As soon as the wind died down, the earth began to quake, it became as mobile as the sea. The mountain, on which he stood, bobbed up and down like a toy boat in a child's bath. The rocks rolled like waves. But even with all its power, Elijah knew God was not in the quake.
As soon as the ground became sturdy again, fire rolled across the mountain. It blazed with a fierceness and with a fury the likes of which Elijah had never seen, but just as with the wind and the quake, even with all its glory, Elijah knew God was not in the fire.
When the blaze died down, Elijah looked across the mountain, across the valley, across all the world that could be seen from his vantage point. He looked around and saw in the barren world around him a stillness that could not be explained. And he heard nothing, absolutely nothing. The world was filled with the sound of sheer silence and in that stillness, in that silence Elijah knew, just as he knew he had ten fingers and ten toes, two eyes and one nose, God was there in the silence, closer than God had ever been before.
When we are struggling, when we are hurting, when life seems too much to handle, we want God to come to us in a thunder cloud, like a bolt of lightning. We want God to be all smoke and lights, to “razzle dazzle” us. We want the God with the booming voice. But when we are hurting the world is muffled. It is almost as if volume of everything around us is turned down. It is as if we are trapped in a jar, able to watch the world go by unable to sense it, to feel it, to hear it. Or perhaps the volume is turned way too high, we feel everything to eleven, feathers are sharp razors and even the dim glow of a firefly on a summer night is too bright. Either way, in these times, we could look in the wind, in the fire, or in the shaking of the earth but we will not find God there. It is not that God cannot be in the cloud, in the smoke or in the fire, in the thunder or in the rain. God has proved at other times that sometimes God can be found in those places. But, when we are hurting, that is not the time for loud booming voices, for burning bushes or pillars of fire, it is not the time to fill everything with smoke or to shake our world to get our attention. When we are soft and vulnerable, when we are hurting and raw, God comes to us in the silence that we feel all around us.
When we are hurting, when the world is all razor blades and blinding lights, or when we are so deep in our sorrow that the world is wrapped in a deep blanket of wool, so far away that it cannot be felt or heard, we know the silence that surrounds us. It is a thing we can touch, it can be felt, it is as sharp as any knife and as soft as a kitten. It is a thick blanket of snow on a frosty winter morn. It is a thing that is there. It is a thing that is known. This silence in which we live, it keeps us company. In these times when the silence around us becomes a living breathing thing which surrounds us, we find that it is God that is there in that ever deafening silence; surrounding us, filling our lives with the very presence of God. The presence of God, encasing us, so that nothing but God can be felt there; can be heard there. When we feel nothing, when we see nothing, when we hear nothing, God is there in the silence, embracing us, holding us. Even when we are hurting too much to feel God; even when we are blinded so badly by the circumstance that surround us that we cannot see God; even when we are sobbing too loudly to hear God, God is there in the silence, in the pain. Even when we wish we are dead, God comes to us and fills our lives so that we can see nothing else, feel nothing else, hear nothing else but the silence that is God in our lives in our hurt and our pain.
And then God picks us up and reminds us that we are not alone, God is there with us. And even when we think that there is no one left for us, God takes us to people. God reminds us that we do not live for ourselves we live for those who come after us.
Elijah declared to God that he was no better than his ancestors. He was no better than the prophets who had gone before him. And he was right; God showed him that he was right. His ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David had all struggled in their lifetimes, with hurt, with disappointment in God. The prophets who had gone before him Moses, Eli, and Samuel, he was also no better than they. They had done what God had called for them to do, and things did not always go well for them.  All of them struggled with how they felt God had left them, abandoned them, and also with their own failings but through it all they had sought God, even in when they failed they called out to God and found God was there. They hurt and struggled, just as Elijah is doing. And their lives are a testament to the ever present nature of God.
Elijah was no better or worse than his ancestors, not in the way he thought, being nothing but dust and bones, but in that they had lived and struggled and found God to be faithful. And God, like God had done with all those before him, assured him that that God was faithful in his life as well. And then encouraged him to be like his ancestors and move forward in such a way that would assure that he like his ancestors before him would live his life in such a way that there would be others who would follow after him. Elijah went and found Elisha and spent the rest of his life assuring that there would be a faithful prophet to come after him so that he could follow in the path of his ancestors, making sure that others would forever come after.
When we are hurting it is good to look back through history and know that others have hurt like we have hurt. It is assuring to see that others have struggled as we have struggled; that others have found God to be faithful and know that we too can find that God is faithful. There is peace and comfort we get from the long line of ancestors we can find along the path behind us. If we look we can always find someone who is “just like” us who struggled in similar ways we do, who hurt in similar ways that we do. We can find God faithful just as they did. But we can also see in them who we want to be, who we aspire to be, people who lead others in the path as well. God does not ask for us to go find whole boat loads of people. God just asks for us to go find one. God sent Elijah to find Elisha. Go find the one Elisha, the one who will carry on the legacy of faith that was begun through all those who came before us. The way we assure that there is a legacy of faith that comes after us, is if we continually have just one person we are working with, loving into the kingdom, training in the faith, living as an example before. Just one. You are Elijah, who is your Elisha?