The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
Print This Page

Online 10.30      9th August 2020
Elijah and the Still Small Voice
Jan Rushton

Trinity 9 Year A  2020   
1 Kings 19.9-18;  Romans 10.5-15;  Matthew 14.22-33
Our readings this morning are each stories 
of personal terror, struggle and despair.
In our gospel, Jesus’ disciples are terrified 
in the midst of raging storm on the Sea of Galilee, their lives on the line.
Twenty-five years later, among the most important converts to Christianity, Paul wrestles in deep personal torment over the position of his people, 
the Jews, in the new structures of salvation. 
Just how is he to resolve the conundrum of the supplanting of Israel 
as God’s chosen people, by the new Israel, the Church?
And lastly, nearly nine hundred years earlier, 
a story of despair concerning God’s chosen prophet Elijah, 
-480despair so deep he longs for death.
The story I would like us to focus on this morning.
Elijah has faithfully obeyed God’s call. 
But now, utterly exhausted, pursued by those determined to kill him, 
what is the point in any of it!
Forgotten is all that God has achieved through him.
We are lucky indeed, if we can say that we have never experienced 
such confusion, despair, terror for our futures.
In the divided kingdom, the northern tribes of Israel 
are ruled by Ahab and his infamous Phoenician queen, Jezebel. 
Jezebel who led her husband to build a temple in Samaria 
to her Baal gods, bringing to attend the temple many Baal priests 
- and, ordering the killing of Yahweh’s priests and prophets!
Faithfulnes to the Law and Covenant with Yahweh, God of Israel, 
has faded from the land, and with it, righteousness and justice. 
Into this scenario Yahweh calls the prophet Elijah to challenge Ahab!
As punishment from Israel’s God, Elijah calls a drought across the land!
After three years he calls a truce!
offering a trial of strength between his God Yahweh and the gods of Baal.
Before the people on Mount Carmel Elijah, 
and Jezebel’s Baal priests and prophets each set up sacrifice to their god. 
It will surely be the true God who when called upon by his prophet 
will ignite the fire to burn the offering?
Of course, it is Elijah’s offering which is consumed by heavenly fire!
Slowly, slowly, the clouds gather in the sky.  Rain is coming!
Elijah has won the challenge - and, 
orders the death of the defeated Baal priests.
Now he must run for his life from Jezebel’s murderous wrath!
Run to the mountains of the south, out in the Sinai desert.
In increasing mental and emotional turmoil, Elijah hides in a cave.
First and perhaps most obviously - Elijah needs rest.
Always when we have rested things look different. 
Alone in the safety of his hiding place,
Elijah hears the word of the Lord asking him what he is doing!  
He responds with bitter complaint! 
He has been utterly faithful - and look where it’s landed him!
But God calls Elijah to come forth, to experience God’s presence with him.
Not in the power of the whirlwind, the earthquake, 
so great they can break mountains.  Not in the power of burning fire.  
Not in power, but in silence, is God’s presence to be experienced.
As Elijah responds to the stillness, as he learns to be still, 
he will hear God’s word for him, hear God’s promise to him, hear 
the renewed call to ministry, work which he still has to accomplish for God. Will find the strength he needs to go on.  
Elijah lived in violent times, 
violence in which he himself was also caught up.
Elijah’s God has more, far more to reveal to his chosen people, 
and it will take time for them to understand.
The people of Israel are called to live with justice together, 
to live with a care for the poor - and, the foreigner.
And if we read on to the end of the chapter, indeed, 
wholesale slaughter of any group of people will become questionable.
So what of us?  What I wonder, are the Baal gods to whom we bow down?
Fear of losing out and the drive to power - focused in status - or money?
Covid 19 has highlighted many inequalities - among them 
the deep inequalities of power to be found within our government.
An unlikely modern-day prophet, Julian Lewis Conservative MP, 
defied the Prime Minister to take the Chair of the Intelligence Committee and release the Russia Report - 
revealing the extent of collusion in Westminster, 
with Russian oligarchs fleecing the Russian people, 
and laundering this dirty money in London. 
Of course for a goal and a price - the destabilising of our society.
And Mr Lewis for his principles, losing the Conservative whip.
Our Prime Minister is keen now, on tackling 
our growing and increasingly out of hand, obesity crisis.
Since of course we cannot survive without food, 
the ‘Food Industry’ is indeed, big business - very big business, 
and not far behind the pharmaceutical companies in its reach and power!
Precisely because there is so much money to be made out of food, 
there have always been, and historically so too, 
those willing to tamper with our food to make their fortunes!
Today our ‘ready for oven’, processed food is laden with hidden sugar, 
and other addictive substances, offered to children and adults alike, 
fuelling our addiction to carbohydrate, our comfort eating -
and a giant-sized looming health crisis!
We need, not just a tax on sugar, we need legislation 
which precisely stops our Food Industry from peddling addiction!
We need the Law to control the ingredients put into our food!
Is Boris really ready to ‘save the NHS’?
Is he still listening to that still small voice 
he heard on the Intensive Care ward?
Or is the booming voice of big business drowning it out?
God did not and will not abandon Elijah!
As Jesus has not and will not abandon his disciples in the storm.
As the power of the Spirit of Jesus 
will not leave Paul in terror for his people the Jews.
The Spirit’s answer to Paul’s dilemma is to bring him, 
through convoluted argument, 
to a place of understanding that God’s will is to save all!   
Universal salvation!   The astonishing generosity of God!
A generosity Christians continue to struggle with, 
for such all-embracing generosity would appear to leave justice behind.
Nevertheless, it is such generosity to which we are called.
A habit of generosity which will help us in difficult times.
Life is not fair.  To use that proverbial succinct phrase:  shit happens.
Nevertheless, prayer, honesty with ourselves, careful listening, 
action born of integrity, 
will all carry us into the wholeness of life God wills for us - as for Elijah. Amen.  

Print This Page


Sermons from previous years are here | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005