Readings: 1 Kings 19:9-18, Romans 10:5-15, Matthew 14:22-33
As I sit writing this there is a summer storm going through, the wind is howling, the rain hitting the windows hard and the family have lit the fire and settled down in front of the TV. But if anyone has been out at sea in a storm, they will realise just how uncomfortable and frightening it can be, especially in an open boat. There is nothing like a storm in the open ocean to make you realise the latent power of creation – indeed we used to say that “happiness is 500 feet (submerged!) in a Force 9”. But the storms of life can be just as frightening and disconcerting. Sometimes we bring them on ourselves by our choices, our actions, our words. Sometimes life’s storms come from nowhere, taking us completely by surprise and, quite literally, blowing us off course.
I suspect that Elijah felt a little blown off course by the events leading up to todays reading. He had stood up for the Lord and the result was rejection, violence and flight from his homeland. This was not the treatment expected for the righteous. The power of the Lord was needed; the power to show who was God, who was in charge. There are many times in Hebrew literature where the power of the Lord comes in some major physical way, floods, droughts, fire and so on. It is always tempting to think of God in terms of power and strength, of being an “impactful” God – and what can be more impactful than a wind that breaks rock! But God actually appears in the calm, the “sheer silence” according to the NRSV.
We do find silence difficult, don’t we? Have we ever sat in a silent period in worship feeling uncomfortable, wishing the minister would get on with it? Have we ever blurted out something completely inappropriate or stupid (maybe even rude) to avoid the embarrassment of a silence in a conversation? I know I have, and I know that my words have been far worse than any silence could be.
For there is power in silence. It requires strength and resilience, confidence and love to stand silently alongside. To listen and hear. To calm the inner turmoil. It is so tempting to rush in an fix, impose our own views and solutions. After all we are in the moment, we can see clearly, we understand, of course we do! But often we don’t really. Often, we only partly listen. We only see part of the picture, and rarely what me theatre loving family call “the back story”. In our busy, turbulent lives silence is powerful but also threatening.
How many of us actually seek out and revel in silence? Do we have the radio or TV on? Do we seek to speak to people (or hope they will speak to us)?
But sometimes we have to consciously turn away from the tumult, no matter how fun and productive it can be. No matter how much we feel we are achieving. Irrespective of the “good” we are doing. We need to have the confidence to reach out through the storm and seek the silence and peace. We need to know when to let the hustle and bustle, noise and violence pass us by and when to step out and listen to the silence, to let the silence fill us and not to try to fill it.
And that’s always our temptation, to try to fill it with our works, our voice, our will. But actually, it’s not about what we do for God, its about what God has done, and continues to do for us. It is about salvation through faith in the true God who reaches out to us, who sent his Son to us, whose Spirit is with us still. Our relationship with God is at His request. It may be our wish, but it is His doing.
So what should we do about it?
Well firstly we must take comfort in the silence. So often when we pray, we want and instant and powerful response. Elijah got it in the section before today’s reading but the effect was to turn the authority of the day, Queen Jezebel, to anger and violence and so he finds himself in a cleft in the rock surrounded by powerful forces of nature – but God wasn’t in them. So, when we pray and seem to have sheer silence in return, we mustn’t give up or despair as God is in the silence and we must wait for Him there.
And we must have faith that God will be there for us. Peter may have expected Jesus to somehow make him immune from the storm and walk across the water as though it were dry land. But he doesn’t get that, the storm still rages, and Peter loses confidence, loses faith that Jesus will protect him. So, we mustn’t lose faith. There will be lots of times when it all seems like the storm is still raging, we know Jesus is there, but we can’t see Him, we can’t feel him. And so, we try to calm the waters ourselves – and guess what? It often fails.
And we will fail too if we think that we can calm the storms of our hearts. We will fail if we think we can hide away, whether in a submarine or just behind a shell of our own making. So, we must find time and space for silence. We must work our way into it and cherish it. We must allow the God of silence to work through and in us. God is a god of power, but we find that power in quietness, we just need to look there!