Sermon: “Not in Calamity, but in Silence”

June 19, 2016: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 19:1-15a
Galatians 3:23-29

When I was a child, my parents would sometimes bring us to tour factories while we were on vacation. In Battle Creek, Michigan, for example, we went to the Kellogg’s factory, where they made the breakfast cereals that my brother and I loved to eat in the morning.

I don’t know why they kept doing this, though, because all too often either my brother or I would, well, throw a fit over something, and refuse to enter. At one place, I know, I refused to wear the required safety glasses, and at another I wouldn’t wear the obligatory paper hat.

I wonder if my beleaguered parents would have felt better if they’d known that I would come to wear glasses all the time, and that I rarely step outdoors without a hat. It might have given them a laugh or two, one they sorely needed. Because one parent got to go on the tour with the child who was well behaved that day, while the other had to sit in the car with the rebel of the hour. As I recall on this Father’s Day, it was usually my father who had that unhappy task.

Elijah had much better reason to be afraid of Jezebel than I did to be afraid of safety glasses or a paper hat. Jezebel was queen of Israel, and she was much more capable than her husband King Ahab of getting things done, like executing a rebellious prophet.

So Elijah ran for the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula, the desert where his ancestors had wandered with Moses generations before. Mount Horeb is another name for Mount Sinai, where Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. So it’s a good place to go if you’re Elijah: It’s one of the holiest places of the faith, rich with the power of God, and it’s a long way from Queen Jezebel. So there he is, waiting in his cave much like I used to wait in the back of the family car.

And like my father in the car, Elijah found that God was a little testy: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Because Elijah had someplace else to be, something else to do, that was considerably worse than wearing a paper hat to tour a cereal factory, but nevertheless was the place he should be. As scholar Lawrence Farris imagines the words of God: “How can you fulfill my purposes if you are not where I need you to be?”

God hears Elijah’s complaint, how he is the only faithful person left in Israel. And God answer this complaint by saying, “Go back and do my work.” There’s good list of tasks that follows, which we haven’t read, but among them we learn that Elijah wasn’t alone after all. There were thousands of faithful people in Israel.

As a child, I got to stay in the car, safely away from the scary paper hat. Elijah had to leave the cave and go back to the chaos.

So which are we? Are we children, or are we Elijah?

Friends, you and I are not children.

In the turbulence of today, what are we called to do?

Saint John of the Cross wrote, “Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be a better light, and safer than a known way.”

We are called to pray, as we did on Wednesday evening for those who died at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando: Pray God’s mercy on the slain, God’s comfort on the grieving, and God’s healing on the injured. We’re called to embrace those who are suffering even if they are far away. But the suffering goes farther than the boundaries of Orlando, or of Florida. I saw deep pain on many faces on Wednesday.

We are called to make it better, to not accept the world as it is. At minimum, we’re called to not make it worse, and to dissuade others from making it worse. Some have done precisely that in the last seven days. Voices have pronounced judgement on the dead of Orlando from the pulpits of religion. They’ve said these people deserved to die because they were gay, because of who they were and who they loved. Voices have proposed policies that combine racism and religious bigotry and would raise a demonic barrier to welcoming new Muslim people to our nation.

It was wrong in 1942 to intern American citizens because of the nation where their ancestors were born. It is wrong in 2016 to ban Muslims from this country because of a conflict with a few.

Laws and systems that disadvantage already marginalized people because of their race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation, that obstruct their access to housing, employment, education, social position, or religious expression – these make it worse.

Let’s prevent things from getting worse.

Lawrence Farris said of Elijah: “Remarkably, it is neither the experience of God’s dramatic nor quiet presence, for which so many long in the midst of such feelings, but in attending to the work at hand and needing to be done through which life is renewed.”

So we are also called to make things better. We must somehow break through this notion, which expresses itself again and again and again in violence and death, that fear, anger, deprivation, and self-righteousness entitle us to hold another’s life in our hands.

We must somehow break through the notion that human difference inevitably leads to human conflict.

We must learn and teach the lesson of the First World War, when the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles deepened the desperation and the resentments that exploded into the Second World War.

We must learn and teach the lesson of the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt the nations of both sides after the Second World War, and fostered peace among those nations.

We must give up retribution so that we can plant the seeds of peace.

We must give up retribution so that we can plant the seeds of peace.

We must attend the words of the Apostle Paul, who knew that in the sight of Christ differences in doctrine, differences in social status, differences in economic means, differences in gender, make no difference in human worth.

We must attend these words, from the Rev. Thea Racelis, a UCC pastor who has been offering spiritual care in Orlando this past week: “The love of God is made manifest to us. Let’s love each other, then, as an act of faith, as an act of defiance, as an act of survival, as an act of justice. Love wins in the end.”

Rev. Racelis heritage is from another island, that of Puerto Rico, so she would use a Spanish word for love. But here in Hawai’i we know God’s grace in the fullness of aloha. Aloha wins in the end.

Aloha wins when we insist that all people have a full place in our society. Aloha wins when we lay aside our privileges to lift up those who’ve been disadvantaged. Aloha wins when we decide to offer an embrace instead of a rebuke. Aloha wins when we leave violence behind.

G. K. Chesterton wrote: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

As I look around at the world 100 years later, I can’t say we’ve made that thorough a test.

So let’s give it that try. It is difficult, and it will be difficult. We’ll be called dreamers, ignorant, naïve, careless. We’ll be dismissed and discounted, we’ll be ignored and ill-used.

But love means risk; God’s aloha means risk; and the God urging us to this work is the same God who is the fount of life, the same God who will be at our side as we take the peace of the gentle whisper, the sound of sheer silence, the still, small voice, into the chaos and calamities of the world.

For God’s aloha, and the world’s blessing, let’s take the risk, and give the Christian ideal a try.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , | Posted on June 20, 2016

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