In the Chaos and in the Silence

Chaos-Silence

This sermon was preached on June 23, 2013 at Winnetka Presbyterian Church in Winnetka, IL as I candidated to be their new Associate Pastor. My two texts were  1 Kings 19:9-18 and Luke 8:26-39. You can hear the sermon below.

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Now, I know that for many of you, this passage in 1 Kings is probably quite familiar.

Many of you have heard about the “still small voice of God” and its origins are here in this passage. But I think there is so much more to this passage as well.

Here we see Elijah on the run…fearing for his safety. Just a chapter earlier, Elijah had participated in a “battle of the Gods,” a match between him and the prophets of Baal…a contest to see who was the one true God…as you may recall, the prophets of Baal didn’t have any luck getting their sacrificed bull to catch on fire. They cried out to Baal from morning to the evening…and no response.

Elijah prepared his sacrifice upon stones, added dry grain, and ordered those around to drench the bull, the altar and the surrounding area with water…he wanted there to be no question in people’s minds that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was the one true God. Eventually, we are told that “the Lord’s fire fell, it consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the stones, and the dust. It even licked up the water in the trench!”

And that’s when Elijah killed the prophets of Baal….all 450 of them.

And now, in our text today, we are told that Elijah receives a note from Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, that read: “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.”

All of a sudden the courageous Elijah who defeated the prophets of Baal…he was terrified. He’s receiving death threats, he’s on the run, and then he encounters God in the desert. After forty days and nights, he finds himself at Horeb, also known as God’s mountain. God asks Elijah why he is there, and then directs him to wait for the Lord:

“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

And then we come to the part of the passage that is quite familiar to many of us:

First there was a great wind. A wind so strong it was breaking rocks in pieces and splitting mountains. And yet, with all of that strength, with all of that power, with all of that ability to change the landscape…God was not in the wind.

And then there was an earthquake. As if splitting mountains and flying rock pieces wasn’t enough, now Elijah is standing on a mountain…in an earthquake. And yet, with all of the earth-moving vibrations, with all of the shaking, rattling and rolling…God was not in the earthquake.

After the earthquake, there was a fire. Now, fire has certainly signified the presence of God before; we think of the burning bush that Moses encountered and the pillar of fire that led God’s people out into the wilderness…and yet, with all of that history, and with all of that light and warmth…God was not in the fire.

And then…?

The sound of sheer silence.

The Common English Bible reads: “After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.”

And we are told that Elijah heard this silence, wrapped his face in his mantle and then went to the entrance of the cave.

Now, the text doesn’t read: “When Elijah heard it…he knew God was in the silence…” but the implication is there – that something holy has happened.

And so in the hushed stillness. In the silence. In the sound. Thin. Quiet……God showed up.

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Now let’s leave Mount Horeb in the Sinai desert, and go up to the Gerasenes’ land, across the lake from Galilee, in what would be modern day Jerash, in Jordan. Our scene from today’s Gospel reading was anything but quiet, still and silent.

Here we have Jesus’ encounter with the Gerasene demoniac, a man who is, according to the gospels, believed to be possessed by a demon, and essentially, our story is about Jesus performing an exorcism.

Now, modern day readers of this story might question whether the man actually was possessed by a demon, or rather had some severe form of mental illness…

But I think worrying too much about details like that distract us from allowing ourselves to enter into the story, and really hear the word that God has for us…

After Jesus rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and calmed the sea…he and his disciples finally arrived in the country of the Gerasenes, before they are immediately approached by the demon possessed man. The text tells us that this man no longer lived in the city, but had been homeless and living in the tombs. Try and just picture the scene: Jesus and the disciples barely have the boat on dry land, when a crazy-haired, screaming, yelling, naked, dirty man comes running up to Jesus…

And before the demon-possessed man has even had the chance to address Jesus, the text tells us that Jesus had already commanded the demon to come out of the man.

Now, we soon find out that it isn’t just one demon possessing this Gerasene man, but rather a Legion of demons. There are a legion of forces distracting this man, pulling him in different directions, commanding his attention and causing him to lose control of himself, his body, his mind and his entire life.

While we might not use the same language and name them as demons…haven’t we all felt, from time to time, that there are forces in our world, in our lives, that distract us, that pull us in different directions, that command our attention…that cause us to feel like we’re losing control of our lives…?

Maybe we too sometimes feel like we are going a bit crazy and we also want to be able to run up to God and ask for help.

And so a very troubled man has an encounter with the Divine, with Jesus the Christ, and his life is changed.

Something clearly happened. The Gerasene man met Jesus and in a dramatic moment, one that was most likely filled with loud noises, a jeering crowd, disciples who were trying to keep order, and overall mass chaos…in that moment, which was anything but silent or still or quiet…God showed up.

God shows up in the chaos.

God shows up in the silence.

God shows up.

And as I spent time with these two texts over the past few weeks, that’s been what has stood out to me the most. In these two stories, in different geographic places, in different eras in history, in different manifestations, the same God shows up, makes Godself known, and changes people’s lives.

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I’m guessing that many of you have experienced times in your life when you could say: “God showed up.”

Maybe it was the birth of a child, or the time you saw the most exquisite sunset, or rainbow, or waterfall, and just knew that God had to have been involved in that. Or maybe it was the moment your father or mother passed away, and as you experienced a deep sadness, there was also a clear presence of the Holy.

Maybe it was just a conversation with a close friend? Or the simple reminder that God was present with you as you sat in traffic on Willow Rd…? Or the way you felt when the Blackhawks won game 5 last night WITHOUT having to go into Overtime?

And as we get to know each other better, as I begin my ministry here with you all, I look forward to hearing those stories, sharing some of my own, and working together so that we can create those spaces where people will walk away from, saying: “God showed up.”

My wife, Sarah, is a spiritual director, and if you want to know more about that ministry, you should check in with her. And I meet with a spiritual director once a month…but essentially, spiritual direction, for me, is having someone help me to become more aware of the times and places and ways in which God shows up in my life. And through those conversations, I’m able to become more and more aware of where God is at work in my life, and in the world.

And I think that’s really one of the goals of being a follower in the way of Jesus – the goal is to always become more and more aware, and be on the lookout for God.

And that is one of the things I’ve loved learning about all of you here at Winnetka Presbyterian Church. I think you’ve been doing this very thing.

You’ve been on the lookout for where God is at work…whether that’s in the Ukraine, in educational opportunities throughout the year, in small groups, in the work that you do with Family Promise and A Just Harvest, or with your ministry at the Jonquil Hotel…you have proven, time and time again, that you are a community that is looking for those places where God shows up.

And I’m excited about the opportunity to walk alongside you all as we explore where God might be calling us in the future to be on the lookout for God…because it’s possible that we will find God showing up in some surprising places.

When Elijah was running for his life…God showed up in the sound, thin and quiet…

When the Gerasene Demoniac was running to Jesus to get his life back…God showed up in the chaos of an exorcism and a healing…

And I don’t know about you – but I need that reminder sometimes. I need to hear these passages of people’s stories intersecting with God’s story, and the radical transformation that can come out of those experiences.

But I need to not only to hear those stories, I need to be reminded to share those stories.

At the end of our passage from Luke, the man whose life had been forever changed by Jesus, pleaded with Jesus to let him go along, to be with him. And who can argue with that? He had just been given a new life by Jesus, of course he would want to follow him and remain close to him. But what does Jesus tell him?

“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

When we have these experiences of God showing up, when we encounter the Divine in a way that changes and shapes who we are, we can’t just keep that to ourselves. We shouldn’t want to!

Jesus’ words to the healed man in Luke speak to us as well:

“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

Those of you who have just returned from the Ukraine this past week, I know you have stories to tell…and these are Jesus’ words to you:

“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

Now, Presbyterians don’t generally like to talk about the “E-word” – you all know which word that is right?

Evangelism.

But we shouldn’t fear evangelism. At its core, evangelism is simply sharing our stories. Sharing the ways in which we have encountered God showing up in our lives…

Our passages today give us a reminder of the diverse and varied ways in which God has shown up in the Bible, and I think, they encourage us to always be aware of how God continues to show up in our world today, in ways that make sense to us, and in ways that surprise and confound us.

And when we have experienced the presence of God, when we have been changed and formed and shaped by the times in our lives when God shows up, let us not be afraid to share those stories with others as Jesus encourages us to:

“Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”

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